Swindon Town entertained Brentford in game 42 of Sky Bet League One, with the visitors on the road to automatic promotion. Town manager Mark Cooper made four changes from their previous game against Carlisle, a 1-0 loss thanks to former transfer target Gary Madine. Matthew Peach was at the game to report on the action at the County Ground.
Following a run of one win in ten, Swindon have finally put some form together collecting three wins out of three thanks to the victories over Preston, Tranmere and Sheffield United. However the solitary strike from Gary Madine at Carlisle coupled with Peterborough winning their games in-hand meant Swindon’s play-off hopes finally appeared to be over. So for Town this was a chance to experiment, use youngsters and see who is ready for a promotion fight next season (always the optimist me). With the visitors defeating Town twice in the league last season and of course in that epic play off semi-final, revenge was very much a thought on Town players minds, as Jay McEveley had said earlier in the week.
Town lined up in a 3-4-3 formation. The back three were Southampton loanee Jack Stephens, Troy Archibald-Henville and Raphael Rossi Branco with Wes Foderingham between the sticks. In front of them was a midfield constructed of Captain for the day, in the place of once again dropped Darren Ward, Nathan Thompson, with Louis Thompson and Massimo Luongo in the centre and McEveley playing a left midfield role. The front three were Nathan Byrne, Alex Pritchard and spearheading the team was Michael Smith. Pritchard was handed a starting place for the first time since the derby at Bristol City due to his three match suspension.
All in all a good line up that could equally quash Brentford’s scintillating attacking threat and penetrate what is a very good defence. In Brentford’s line up were two former Swindon skippers in Alan McCormack and Jonathan Douglas, with the first of the two becoming something of a pantomime villain.
Town got underway shooting at the Town End. In a game in which I expected the visitors to have a majority of the chances, Town carved out the first chance of any real quality when McEveley swung in a free kick that evaded Smith and Branco by the smallest margins. A sign of things to come perhaps? Unfortunately not as Brentford started to get into the swing of things, and with jeers aimed at McCormack, they drove forward trying to make the break through. Their attempts were never going to trouble fantastic Wes Foderingham.
Shortly after the ten minute mark Pritchard picked up the ball and drove at Brentford’s full back McCormack, twisting and turning he cut in and went to cross or shoot. Before he could do so he was brought down by the former Town captain and Swindon were awarded a penalty, something that the Brentford team felt aggrieved about. Smith lined the pen up and powerfully placed it into the bottom left hand corner, but despite Smith’s best attempts the Brentford keeper managed to get down and force it wide for a corner. That was a miss I thought we would come to regret if we wanted anything out the game.
As the first half proceeded it was Brentford who started to create the real chances. This was no doubt down to the amount of space we allowed arguably Brentford’s most potent player, Clayton Donaldson. This was thanks to how narrowly McEveley and Branco were playing, allowing Donaldson to hug the touch line and constantly be a threat. Throughout the first half Brentford came close, hitting the woodwork thanks to a header from Douglas and Marcelo Trotta volleying a cross just wide of Town’s goal.
Swindon could only muster corners and free kicks, however it was Town who made the incisive break through when Button passed short from a goal kick into Douglas, however as he turned Louis Thompson mugged him of possession and ran in to coolly slot round the keeper into the back of the net. 1-0 Swindon. This was his second goal in as many home games. This goal came just before the scheduled 45 minutes were up and after three minutes of added time Town went in 1-0 to the good, a goal at the perfect time.
No changes were made during the interval. Swindon came out and had the first real chance when Michael Smith played a delicate through ball to Nathan Byrne who attempted to lob the opposition keeper. The attempt fell just wide of the goal, but this was a promising start to the second half.
One worry I did have was that this Brentford team could only get better – I mean, you’re not second in the league for nothing. And duly the worries were realised. After pumping the ball into the box the ball fell to George Saville who smashed a thunderous volley towards the goal, a hit that only the best keepers could get close to. But at Swindon we have that, Foderingham threw himself at the volley and tipped it wide, a candidate for save of the season no doubt.
From here I thought Brentford would really kick on and perhaps find the equaliser. Their hopes were dealt a huge blow when Adam Forshaw, League One player of the year, lunged into two ugly challenges, both worth a red card in my opinion, and picked up two bookings in the space of 60 seconds. Did he have a bet on himself to get sent off? Two very stupid, rash challenges in less than one minute. Swindon’s hopes of getting something out of this game just got a lot better.
Unfortunately Brentford kept making chances even with just ten men, and their best chance of the second half came when Bidwell picked up the ball and ushered it millimetres past Wes’s far post. A huge let off for Town. To see the game out Cooper replaced Smith with Ben Gladwin. To be fair to Smith he put in a good shift but there are several things he needs to sharpen up to be the real deal at this level.
Brentford’s last real chance came in the 80th minute when after a corner fell nicely to former Oldham centre half James Tarkowski who only managed to slice the ball wide. After that Town did well to see the game out with relative ease. In the process they brought on Miles Storey for Pritchard to try and exploit his pace against a tired Brentford back four. He got a few breaks but not much to feed off of.
After five minutes of added on time the final whistle went. Relief for Town who have now got three wins on the bounce at home. With not much to play for any more it was good to see Town try and express themselves against a top team, and like Cooper said in his post match interview, see how far away we are from pushing next season. On that display not very.
Where now? With only four games left the campaign is coming to an end. For me a very good campaign with changes on and off the pitch. With the right personnel brought in during the summer here’s to what could be a good season next year (touch wood).
Matthew Peach – @MattJPeach
Header image – swindontownfc.co.uk