We’ve used the title ‘Wrecking Crewe’ to describe two previous Swindon Town versus Crewe Alexandra games at the County Ground and this time won’t be any different. Adam Tanner was there to witness the perfect end to a fantastic week.
Town approached the game on the back of a superb performance and result at QPR, but with a modest haul of 4 points from four League One matches. Performances had varied considerably, although the two home games had produced plenty of clear positives. 7 points had been my personal target at the start of August. To achieve this, a win would be required.
Two changes were made from the side that started on Tuesday. Jay McEveley replaced the injured Alex Smith at left back, and Ryan Mason replaced his namesake Ryan Harley in midfield for his first start since 6th August.
The first half an hour was uneventful in terms of clear cut chances. Town patiently and accurately knocked the ball around, but without any real zest or purpose. Neither side managed an attempt of note, and a couple of Swindon corners were really as good as it got. At this stage, I suspected that Crewe would be the happier side; they had achieved the clichéd away team objective of frustrating the hosts and establishing themselves in the game.
The first real chance came when Nile Ranger intercepted a square ball and showed a decent turn of pace to bear down on goal. Unfortunately, his touch deserted him at the critical moment. The ball was smothered by the keeper and, with penalty claims relating to a tug by one of the backtracking defenders waved away, the moment was gone.
A couple of minutes later, McEveley drifted infield to intercept a loose ball, before playing a simple pass forward to Yaser Kasim. His through ball for Ranger was perfectly weighted, and this time the one-on-one finish was emphatic, hard and low to the left of the keeper. 1-0.
With half time approaching, a second goal emerged from nowhere. Massimo Luongo collected the ball down the left and effortlessly breezed forward 30 yards, aided by a smart one-two with Mason. Regardless of what he says, I daren’t believe that a player of Luongo’s ilk might overhit a cross. I’ll resolutely stick to my belief that his left-footed delivery from wide of the area was aimed at the inside of the far post, which it clipped on its way into the net… and let you make your own judgment call as to whether he had been targeting the lurking Nathan Byrne. Either way, his permanent signing is terrific news, and an immense compliment to the club.
The second half began perfectly. Town almost immediately worked their way forward, and the impressive Nathan Thompson fizzed in a 20-yard left-footed drive, which Alan Martin could only beat back into play. Crewe missed a couple of chances to fully clear, before the superb Kasim dispossessed Kelvin Mellor with a fine tackle, turned his man inside out, and set Mason through on goal inside the left of the area with another expertly weighted ball. His quickly-taken finish across the keeper was crisp and accurate. It seems astonishing that, at 22, Kasim had a single Football League appearance behind him prior to August. Full credit to whoever was responsible for tracking him down. We really are spoiled for choice in central midfield, to the extent that to play any less than three in there would seem wasteful.
Town soon scored again, for the fourth time in around 20 minutes. Not for the first or last time, McEveley and Pritchard linked up nicely down the left. Pritchard played a killer through ball for Ranger, and his presence inside the area drew a lunging foul from the advancing keeper, who escaped with a yellow card. Mason drilled his penalty hard and low into the left of the net.
The fifth goal wasn’t too far behind. Substitute Harley played Alex Pritchard in down the left, and as he jinked into the area no visiting defender dared to make a challenge. He eventually cut inside and hit a goalbound right-footed shot, which Mason helped in with a slight touch. It’s been a while since we’ve regularly had a pure, ‘old-school’ winger like Pritchard in the team. Like all players of his type, he can occasionally be overindulgent, and Di Canio would never have had the patience for him. But he’s a genuine talent, and will improve further as he learns the ropes of lower league football.
By now, Town were really purring. Jay McEveley, who has still never scored for Swindon, arrived late to head a fine Nathan Thompson cross just wide at the far post. Harley then had a dig, with a fierce 20-yarder that could only be parried away. A lively cameo from debutant Nicky Ajose shouldn’t go unmentioned, and he whipped in an excellent low cross which a teammate really should have attacked.
Deep into stoppage time, Ranger was brought down by Mark Ellis to win another penalty. Mason grabbed the ball again, but this time his shot was too close to Martin, who beat it away. He therefore failed to become the second Town player in 2013 to manage four goals in 45 minutes.
Even so, there was still time for Nathan Thompson, once again steaming in late at the back post, to clip the bar with a strong header. One short year ago, his career seemed rudderless; he had made it to 21 without ever gaining a run in the side. Since finally getting his chance, he has generally been nothing short of excellent. He defends resolutely, and with the nous and composure of a far more experienced head. His crossing ability is good, and he can evidently offer a goal threat. What’s more, he clearly takes great pride in playing for Swindon. I hope Paul Caddis enjoys watching him from the stands as much as I do.
It’s been a terrific week, and it now seems bizarre to think that 14 short days ago we limped to a tame defeat at Shrewsbury. So what’s changed?
- Nathan Byrne definitely seems more comfortable and effective on the wing than at fullback. His pace and directness are a useful complement to the slower and more elaborate style of Pritchard. Meanwhile, Jay McEveley adds steel, experience and aerial presence to the defence. When Byrne plays back there, he still tends to commit himself too easily.
- In the 3 games that Nile Ranger has started, we have scored 9 goals. In the 4 that Andy Williams (remember him?) began, we managed 2. Without doing anything remarkable, Ranger has challenged for headers, held the ball up, laid it off, drawn fouls… and scored some goals. All the little things that a good forward should do. Another astute signing.
- With 6 of those 9 goals having come from midfield, it looks as if we are set for a regular flow from the middle, for the first time in many years. Notably, Luongo has scored 4 goals in his last 9 league games. Mason obviously has 3 from his last 1. Byrne and Pritchard have also contributed. By contrast, striker Williams managed 1 in his last 14.
- Grant Hall is quickly learning the ropes. A few of the early goals that we conceded could be traced back to him. But he hasn’t panicked, and has made the necessary adjustments to his style without losing the “ball-playing centre-half” label that seems so pivotal to our system. During the last 2 games, against footballing sides, he has been faultless. Now, he must learn to deal better with physical opponents. If he can do so, he’ll be a great success.
It’s worth remembering that our next 2 games are both away to strong sides, and we are yet to manage an away point or goal in the league. But to have a team capable of doing what ours has done this week is significant. As per my previous article, the strong start will enable us to approach a tough month with real confidence. I for one can’t wait for next Saturday.
What could possibly go wrong?…
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