Can Swindon Catch the Parked Bus?

Thamesdown Bus 9

With Town on a roll, teams are increasingly coming to the County Ground aiming for a draw. But how can you beat an ultra-defensive side? Alex Cooke looks at Di Canio’s options.

Part of the fascination, and some of the frustration, of football lies in that one team can always beat the other regardless of the gap, or gulf, in ability. England did it to Spain the other day, Greece did it to an entire continent in 2004 and a few weeks ago Bradford did it to us. This Saturday, Aldershot have their chance to park the bus…

Whatever the team, their basic tactic remains the same: a deep defence shielded by a compact midfield. From Mourinho’s European Cup win with Inter to Walter Smith’s Rangers in Europe in 2008, the idea if not the formation remains the same. If a team rarely leaves the 18-yard-box there isn’t any space behind them. If their wingers ‘double up’ with the full-backs your wingers won’t be able to isolate their defenders and get crosses in. If their midfield sits just in front of the back four, you can’t thread passes between the central defenders. In short, they park the bus. Or, if you read the coaching manuals, use what is also called an ultra-low block.

Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas believes the solution comes with patience. Speaking to the Independent, he pointed out the value of drawing teams out of position, of using possession and pressure to create indiscipline.

“You will have to learn how to provoke them with the ball. It’s the ball they want, so you have to defy them using the ball as a carrot.”

That means being picking your moment to drive at the opposition with the ball; to force them to be decisive, to dive into tackles rather than simply jockey or block. It is the exact opposite of what Paul Hart’s Swindon side did when passes across the 18-yard box masqueraded as attacking play.

For most managers there is no need to make radical changes in shape or personnel, not straight away anyway. Instead the team need to focus on what they’ve learnt in training, to be positive and not resorting to speculative shooting from range. That is not until your continual movement has caused the opposition to drop right to the edge of the 18-yard, then Matt Ritchie and Jon Smith should be able to do some damage. But until then, Town need to keep the keep the ball, keep their shape and wait until their probing and pressure leads to defensive mistakes.

Because Swindon do have the players to destroy teams with movement and rapid passing. Richie, Simon Ferry and Lukas Magera in particular have the touch and mobility to perform this role, provoking, teasing and passing through the gaps their movement opens up because the number of bodies in the box matters less than the movement in, and out, of it. And when the reinforcements are required Etiënne Esajas, Lander Gabilondo and Ahmed Abdullah are all very comfortable on the ball.

Another reason that Town do need to be patient is that we do lack is the lump up front. As the clock ticks down there is no Grant Holt to be wheeled into position to bully and bustle the ball into the back of the net. Lukas Magera and Jake Jervis are both slight, despite their height, Alan Connell attacks the ball well but isn’t huge and Medhi Kerrouche’s touch is too loose and he’s too weak in the air to profit under tight marking.

Former Ajax boss Louis Van Gaal advocates a similar solution to Villas-Boas as he places his faith in ‘continuous circulation’, in which the ball is moved quickly from one side to the other, until you change direction, a space opens up inside and you go through it. For Swindon this means using the full width of the pitch, pushing the wingers high and wide and moving the ball swiftly from one side to the other.

This works because an effective ‘parked bus’ usually has a very narrow back four. The defence do this because it allows any gaps to be plugged and knock-downs to be cleared. With the full-backs tucked inside the 18-yard box it also demands that the wide-men shuttle up and down outside them, almost as additional full-backs. And so space exists for in the wide positions for the attacking side, particularly for the full-backs and particularly on the touchline.

For the wingers, Di Canio would need to swap his usual inside-out wingers. Ritchie could still operate on the right but as Bradford proved, Raffa De Vita is too right-footed to offer width from the left. Gabilondo looks to come inside regularly but has the ability to play either side, but with a crowded box Esajas could be a better fit, and his ability to shoot from range would prove valuable if the block starts to drop too deep.

The full-back can be even more important than the wingers as they are the ‘spare men’ in that if the opposition are playing a 442 with the full-backs inside the box they have no direct opponents. For them to be marked the opposition forwards need to track them, or risk one of the midfielders coming out to meet them, again leaving a gap for the likes of Simon Ferry to pass or run through.

Town do have an inherent advantage when it comes to moving the ball from flank to flank; Alan McCormack. While most Division Two teams have a pair of lumps at centre back, Swindon have an experienced central midfielder.

With the opposition forwards sat back, he should be free to anchor the attacks, while also leaving sufficient defence cover. And while long-range passing isn’t the strongest part of McCormack’s game, he should still be able to keep the ball moving quickly and the opposition shifting their position.

But what if all of this doesn’t work? What if the bus stays in place and every pass and is blocked? Gus Poyet, former Town assistant boss, has another solution:” It’s important to mix up your game. If what you do all the time hasn’t been working, a deep defence can get comfortable, so change it around …the option of going more direct can cause defenders problems and surprise them. Play the odd ball earlier than usual.”

So once you’ve passed and moved, waited and circulated, and even lofted early balls into the box, what can be done to beat a truly well-organised defence? Absolutely nothing. That is at least according to the great Arrigo Saachi. The former Milan boss told Jonathan Wilson about his training sessions in which pitted his defence of goalkeeper Giovanni Galli, Mauro Tassotti, Paolo Maldini, Billy Costacurta and Franco Baresi against a 10 attacking players, including Ruud Guillit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten.

“They had 15 minutes to score against my five players, the only rule was that if we won possession or they lost the ball, they had to start over from 10 metres inside their own half. I did this all the time and they never scored. Not once.”

So we’ll be fine the next time a team park the bus at the County Ground, so long as Town show belief, patience, control and happen not to be playing against probably the best defence ever created. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Photo courtesy of – Swindon Bus Garage (Martin Addison) / CC BY-SA 2.0

AFC Wimbledon 1 Swindon 1: Town draw after being denied blatant penalty

111119_162414_H 6

After Swindon Town knocked AFC Wimbledon out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on penalties at the County Ground 11 days earlier, both teams met again, this time in the League and for the very first time at Kingsmeadow writes STFC007.

Having missed the start of an away game in London once due to traffic jams, a trip to London from Wiltshire by car to watch a football match is never one I look forward to. At best half the time is spent getting to the outskirts of London and the other half is spent in frustrating stop-start traffic to get to the end destination.

Today was no different, but there was good news: the sun was out, Swindon Town had sold all their ticket allocation and surely the Swindon team had learned from the mistakes 11 days prior when they failed to capitalise on the large amount of chances they created.

It was my first time at Kingsmeadow where the facilities haven’t been able to keep up with the speed of AFC Wimbledon’s meteoritic rise through the leagues. They aren’t quite Football League standard especially if you consider that there are schools in the Netherlands that have bicycle sheds that are larger than the terraces at The Cherry Red Records Stadium.

After listening to a sponsored play-list consisting of Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, the Swindon Town team sheet, when it was announced, created some discussion among the supporters.

Despite Kennedy having a good game at left back in the 4-1 FA Cup demolition of Huddersfield Town, Ridehalgh coming in to replace him was not unexpected, but Risser retaining his place however, was somewhat of a surprise. A tough AFC Wimbledon side surely would require some battle hardened players in midfield and Smith would clearly be a better match to counter this physical thread.

The referee, inconsistent with his decisions throughout the match, allowed from the start several rash challenges to go unpunished, playing into the hands of a physical Wimbledon side; what they were missing in technique and footballing ability, they made up for in endeavour and work ethic though.

During some lively opening exchanges, AFC Wimbledon created the better chances and somewhat fortunate went 1-0 up in the 6th minute. A cross from the left was completely miss-kicked by Risser and a deflected shot by Hatton, which wrong-footed Wes Foderingham, found the back of the net. This scuppered any chance of the loanee goal keeper achieving a 6th successive clean sheet in the League and equalling Peter Downsborough’s 1968/1969 record.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Town were not allowed to get into their stride by Wimbledon who seemed more eager and quicker to the ball than Swindon.

Town were closed down and put under pressure the moment they were in possession causing simple mistakes when trying to pass the ball to a team mate. This resulted in Swindon’s midfield being often overlooked as the long ball was used trying to find either Connell or Jervis upfront. Despite Connell’s obvious height disadvantage this remained Town’s approach for most of the match rather than trying to re-create the 1st half of 11 days prior when through passing football Wimbledon were made to look a very average side. Ferry was searching for an outlet but had to rely too often on the full backs coming into play which was limiting Town’s options to keep possession and to vary build-up play.

Town though created several chances and if Connell would have been more clinical and accurate with his finishing, Town could have been up at half-time. As it stood, Wes Foderingham with some fine saves, kept Swindon in the match going into the break. Reflecting on the first half during the interval, it reminded me of the Burton Albion away game earlier in September, where Swindon were bullied into defeat.

The second half was better from Swindon. Gabilondo who came on for the somewhat ineffective De Vita before half-time posed more of a thread on the left hand side. A number of blistering runs weaving between players with some good crosses created some of the danger.

The best chance after the interval fell to Connell. After Jervis was hacked down once again, this time at the half-way line, the referee allowed play to continue, a good cross found Connell, whose somewhat weak and miscued shot bobbled eventually against the far post. Luck seemed not on our side, especially after the referee waved play on after a penalty appeal, when Connell was clearly pushed to the ground – both push and player clearly much better suited for the Twickenham stadium up the road.

Esajas replacing Ritchie midway through the second half started to create more space allowing finally an outlet for Ferry to combine with and when Smith eventually replaced Risser, some 70 minutes late, Swindon were starting to apply pressure and becoming more dangerous in search of the equaliser.

When it finally came, there was initially some confusion as to who scored it. The traveling support didn’t care; Jervis took his shot well and was deflected into the goal by Connell. There was now renewed belief and Swindon could have made it 2 not long after, had Flint managed to make contact with the ball as he tried to volley a cross into the net at the far post.

Play was now end to end as both teams tried to force the winner; With 5 minutes remaining Cadis went on one of his trademark runs down the right hand side. Having passed most people that were presented to him, he was about to shoot on goal with only the keeper to beat when his legs were taken out from underneath him by Jake Midson. Instead of the referee pointing to the spot, he decided to award Cadis a yellow card for his efforts to the dismay of most people in the stands, and later disbelief of Jack Midson and Dons boss Terry Brown. This decision though was totally in upkeep with the referee’s performance thus far – well below adequate.

With only injury time remaining, Swindon were now in the ascendancy and their vocal supporters continued to urge them on whilst Wimbledon seemed happy with a point as they tried to run down the clock with a couple of injury treatments.

On reflection, a draw may well have been a fair result, but when the final whistle went I could not help feeling that we had left 2 crucial points behind, confirmed by the match stats later; if only Swindon had been a bit more accurate and clinical with their finishing with the 8 shots off target, we would have left Kingston Upon Thames with all 3 points, and not lost any ground with the teams above us in the table.

However, still plenty of games to play for, still in a Play-Off position and the unbeaten run continues!

Your STFC Man of the Match: Tie for 1st: Wes Foderingham & Lander Gabilondo both with 25% of the vote

Leaving it late for the loans

With the promised link with West Ham finally coming to fruition in recent weeks, has Paolo Di Canio left his loan signings too late? Andrew Steele-Davis investigates.

Upon his eagerly anticipated arrival on the managerial scene, Paolo Di Canio promised that Swindon Town would benefit significantly from links with Tottenham Hotspur and Paolo’s old stomping ground, West Ham United. There was also talk about a possible link with AC Milan but this rumour was, not unexpectedly, quickly brushed under the table.Continue Reading

Accrington 0 Swindon 2: Travel Sickness stemmed for now

Scot Munroe ventured north on Saturday hoping to be rewarded with a Swindon victory over Accrington Stanley.

A long journey which paid off as we witnessed a Swindon away win, which as we know has been few and far between this season in League Two.

What we witnessed was a very astute, comfortable and professional performance. This was all against one of the division’s typical physical and strong sides, and away from home. Many including myself hadn’t been expecting such a fantastic result. Continue Reading

Swindon 3 Hereford United 3: Rampant Bulls Frustrate Town

On Saturday League Two strugglers Hereford United were the visitors at the County Ground with the home side expected to record a comfortable victory. However, as we all know all too well, football is not that simple. Reports Andrew Steele-Davis.

Swindon were going into the game having just come off the back of an excellent midweek 2-1 victory over Exeter in the Johnston’s Paint Trophy, a welcome away win after the shambles that was Macclesfield a week earlier.Continue Reading

Your Reactions to Exeter 1 Swindon 2

A fine 2-1 win in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy away at Exeter City last night.

Unfortunately there won’t be a match report on this game, so here are a few of your post match reactions to us on Twitter last night.Continue Reading

Macclesfield 2 Swindon 0: Silkmen Sink Substandard Swindon

Swindon slumped to yet another away-day defeat at lowly Macclesfield, extending their wretched and unpredictable run of form away from the County Ground in the process reports Tom Otbrebski.

The performance at Moss Rose bore a striking resemblance to the showings at Cheltenham and Burton earlier on in the campaign: a tale of missed chances, a penalty that perhaps should have been awarded and, above all, frustration that they could not build on a convincing win in the previous fixture as they were outfoxed by a thoroughly average home side.

Continue Reading