Jay McEveley: Only missing a goal…

Jay McEveley - Mad Mac Poster Cropped 4

When Paolo Di Canio finally left the County Ground Brendan Hobbs penned a personal eulogy to the departing managerial enigma, and he to be fair was bit of a berk. So we think it’s only fair that Brendan should do one about another passionate individual, one who like Di Canio was equally driven to win at all costs, but this one seemed a real decent guy.

I received confirmation about James McEveley’s departure during the post-match radio ramble as I drove away from the County Ground on Saturday – I guessed something might have been up when he appeared shirtless and waving on the pitch moments before. But like a spurned lover still awaiting a return text from a cheating partner, I chose to totally ignore the reality. As I moseyed down the DRS steps at full time I overhead someone say, “Look, Jay’s obviously off”,  I turned and laughed manically, trying to force my hope that this was in fact a cruel joke. Alas, no-one joined in, so I shoved my fingers in my ears and tra-la-laared my way down the steps thinking why would people joke about such things?

When I got home I had to accept the reality, I sat in my car on the drive listening to Jay’s post-match interview. I couldn’t finish it; it was like hearing a break up speech from a special girlfriend, so mid scouse sentence I turned off the ignition and walked away, personal effects and slushy mix-tape in hand. My mind was a maelstrom of confused thoughts, of wasted opportunities – I hadn’t got around to producing a Washbag shop Tee for the guy, I hadn’t even used him as a subject of one of my puerile photoshopped posters.

Jay McEveley was one of Di Canio’s shrewdest signings; he arrived late in the 11/12 season, initially on loan from Barnsley. His Town career didn’t have the greatest of starts even though it did happen in the grandest of settings – Wembley Stadium. Yes, Jay was catapulted straight into the starting eleven for house paint’s showpiece occasion, the Johnstone Paint Trophy final. Understandably Jay didn’t deliver his most convincing performance in a red shirt.

McEveley had pedigree though, with over 50 Premier League games behind him and goals against Arsenal and Liverpool under his belt, I knew he would shine.  He was also one of a select group of international players who have turned out on both sides of the border (three full caps for Scotland, one cap for England U-21’s.)

If Jay was an accomplished left-back in real life, he was also an absolute legend in early versions of Championship Manager, one that you always tried to sign as soon as the game started. Dozens of forum threads and articles dedicated to his computer simulated brilliance can still be found littering the interweb to this day, here are just two examples:

Jay McEveley - Spanish

Jay McEveley - Forum

In his debut season with Swindon he managed nine appearances and quite rightly joined in with the championship celebrations, a bit too early though for PDC as Jay was one of famous five disciplined and dropped for premature partying.  At the end of the season Barnsley decided not to renew his contract, so Town quickly snaffled him up on a free.

Despite suffering numerous knee injuries Jay went on to make 79 appearances in total for Swindon, mostly at left back but he sometimes dabbled (successfully) as a central defender. He also recently shone whilst playing in the middle of the park, showing his adaptation and commitment.

Jay always played at full tilt and was a born winner. His command of the left-back craft was always a joy to behold, he was rarely skinned by an attacking winger, often using his good positional sense to nullify raids rather than resorting to last ditch tackles. But when he was called upon to make a tackle he was always committed and full-blooded – he simply had to win the ball – and was visibly angry if he failed to do so or gave away a free kick.

He was equally as dedicated when rampaging forward, or bollocking Raphael Rossi Branco for being out of position, or bollocking himself for a shanked cross – his will to win was constantly apparent. If we conceded, he’d react like he’d been knifed in the heart, if it had come from the left side of the pitch (it rarely did) he’d be apoplectic with rage.

The one thing his Swindon career was missing was a goal, and it so nearly came in his last appearance. A crashing drive from a well-worked corner routine nearly smashed the cross bar into County Road, the reverb noise caused ears to bleed in Blunsdon, fans had heads in hands and I let a bit of wee escape. Mark Cooper admitted in the post-match conference that Jay had instigated the routine, so close yet so far.

When I had finally composed myself at home, like most men I decided to mask my feelings behind a façade of humour, so I tweeted:

 “Thought @jaymcev03 was awesome today, he’ll be even better next…sorry, what’s that you’re saying?… he’s what?…Boo hoo hoo hoo…#eveningruined

I felt much better, but unfortunately Jay then ‘favourited’ the tweet so my wife was left with the unenviable task of explaining to our two boys why Daddy was crying….

So Jay, you finally get a mocked up poster, I used George Millers apocalyptic masterpiece Mad Max 2 as the template purely because the final line of the film is “He lives now… only in our memories” and this sadly is now is true.

Jay McEveley - Mad Mac Poster

Washbag Podcast: Episode 28 – Season in Review

Podcast1crop

Episode #28 of TheWashbag.com Swindon Town FC Podcast is now available to download…

Host Ron Smith is joined by Swindon Advertiser’s Chief Sports Reporter Sam Morshead, FLICWiltshire Sports Editor Andrew Steele-Davis and Town fan Brendan Hobbs.

It’s the end of the season so there’s no better time to record a new podcast to review events at the County Ground.

As usual there’s plenty to cram into our podcast, including a brief look back at the 2-1 home defeat by Rotherham United; the implications of the ongoing ownership saga; Nile Ranger’s recent off-the-pitch antics; who deserves to be the player of the season; your moments of 2013/14; the retained list; and Mark Cooper’s first season in-charge.

Hopefully the podcast will return over the summer to discuss events at the County Ground and England’s progress, or otherwise, in the World Cup…

Get involved with the podcast, please submit your comments and questions by emailing thewashbag[at]gmail[dot]com or tweet @thewashbag

Subscribe to TheWashbag Podcast on iTunes

Add this Podcast to your RSS feed

Click here to download the Podcast MP3

Listen now…

_____________________

Subscribe_on_iTunes_Badge_US-UK_110x40_0824

Mixcloud_logo

Swindon Town 1-2 Rotherham United: See you in August

2014.05.03 Rotherham

With the farcical end to Notts County bringing the unlikely play-off hopes to a formal end, the visit of Rotherham United to the County Ground was a chance (within reason) to relax and enjoy the final Swindon Town game of the campaign without too much tension. Writes Scott Keith.

There were several changes to the side – three were enforced thanks to the red cards for Nathan Thompson and Troy Archibald-Henville, plus Alex Pritchard’s return to Spurs. Jack Barthram replaced Thompson (N) at right back, with Jay McEveley slotting in the defensive three and Nathan Byrne put on to the left in a 3-5-2. Louis Thompson and Ben Gladwin joined Massimo Luongo in midfield, and Connor Waldon was handed his first start alongside Michael Smith. The bench was heaving with youth, including new pros Matt Jones and Curtis Da Costa and teenage striker Will Randall.

With the roll of honour taking place before kick-off, the applause had barely died down before Rotherham took the lead, breaking the play up in midfield and slipping in Wes Thomas inside the penalty area. The one time Town transfer target slid the ball past Wes Foderingham with less than 60 seconds on the clock.

That would set the pattern for most of the first half. While some teams decided the best way to deal with Town at home was to cede possession up to the halfway line, they had a different plan, which was to swarm around live a hive of hyperactive slate grey bees. No-one was able to bring the ball out, and chaos was often the result. Jack Stephens had his least impressive game to end his loan spell, and we saw the more chaotic side of Raphael Rossi-Branco. Only Jay McEveley, in what proved to be his final game, looked with it.

Stephens was caught in possession in the move that lead to the second – the ball was sent quickly out to blonde haired left winger Ben Pringle, and a deep cross was watched by Branco as it reached the head of Thomas, who stuck it in via the crossbar. At this point it felt as if a reversal of the 4-0 at the New York Stadium was more than possible. Rotherham don’t really do art or sophistication (see their manager) but they did do ferocious hard work and then sling it in the box.

Stephens headed one cute free-kick from McEveley straight at the ‘keeper, but if this had been half-time in October a volley of boos would have greeted the performance. It was a tough half for Waldon against two physical centre halves and he was feeling the weight of their aggression.

Most of the talk at half-time centred on the possibility of Bristol Rovers exiting the Football League.

The second half though, was infinitely more acceptable fare. Michael Smith could have had a hat-trick, heading wide two chances and then having his shot tipped away after the hulking Claude Davis lost his footing. But Smith would get partial redemption after Luongo was tripped by Icelandic defender Kari Arnason inside the box. He took the penalty despite missing his last one at home to Brentford, and tucked it in to the keeper’s right.

George Barker had replaced Ben Gladwin by this time, but his career so far remains mostly ineffectual. Teenage forward Will Randall was also brought on for his senior debut with Waldon, as it turned out, doing enough to be offered terms for next season.

It might have all ended with the ideal finish for McEveley, who smacked the cross bar with a ferocious striker from a pre-planned corner routine when he received the ball at the edge of the box, but the final minutes all felt slightly chaotic.

The absurdities of the Steve Evans touch line routine came to the fore, and Matt Jones was added to the “two generations played for Swindon” list when the son of Tom was thrown on late to allow McEveley an ovation all of his own.

But no equaliser was forthcoming. The energy of the second half and the lack of relevance of the final result made defeat a fairly tolerable experience, and the moving on was brutal, with the retained list hitting the doormat barely an hour after the final whistle.

Alex Smith was perhaps the most surprising name to be ushered out, after some good wing-back performances in between injuries. The others, for a mix of finance, ability and/or enthusiasm, were largely anticipated.

It may take more shrewd work in the loan market to produce an equally competitive team in August but at least it’s not Goodnight Irene. Now she’s got a summer and a half to contend with.

2013/14 STFC Player of the Season – Wes Foderingham

Wes Foderingham

Your votes have been counted and we can announce that Wes Foderingham has won TheWashbag.com Swindon Town Player of the Season Award.

Foderingham wins the ‘Fraser Digby Tortoiseshell Comb Award’ for the second successive year.

Wes secured 33% of the vote, comfortably beating Louis Thompson into second with 16% and Jay McEveley in third with 11%. Popular favourite Alex Pritchard only secured 4% of the vote.

  1. Wes Foderingham 33%
  2. Louis Thompson 16%
  3. Jay McEveley 11%

Foderingham is a deserved winner of the award. His influence to the side has remained consistent throughout his two and a half year association with Swindon Town. We can typically depend on the ‘keeper to pull-off an outstanding save, such as was recently the case in the home game against Brentford. Wes has been out of the side through injury this season and his return coincided with Town’s return to form, surprising us all with a late charge for the play-offs.

He remains our most valuable asset after building his reputation as one of the finest goalkeepers outside of the Premier League. Here’s hoping a likely summer of discontent in the boardroom doesn’t equate to a dash to sell Foderingham…

Previous Winners:

2010 – JP McGovern

2011 – Nobody deserved to win…

2012 – Alan McCormack

2013 – Wes Foderingham

2014 – Wes Foderingham

 

Notts County 2-0 Swindon Town: Seeing Red…

Troy Archibald-Henville Sending Off vs Notts County 2

Adam Tanner went to Meadow Lane hoping for some joy against the Magpies…

Swindon Town went into the game looking for their seventh win in eight games; and aiming to keep faint hopes of a playoff place alive into the final day. Mark Cooper made only one change to the side that beat Bradford on Monday, with Nathan Byrne replacing Miles Storey as one of the forwards in what can most easily be described as a 3-4-3 formation.

Notts County started with a high tempo, and immediately gained the upper hand. After four minutes, James Spencer headed a very decent chance wide after getting the better of the Town defence. This set the tone for the afternoon; none of our centre backs could cope with Spencer’s use of his body, and they had their most difficult afternoon for some time.

Town’s astonishing knack of conceding to former players reared its head after just nine minutes, when the unmarked Alan Sheehan collected a simple pass and hit a firm, low effort into the far corner from 18 yards. Three former Town defenders (Sheehan, Aden Flint and Sean O’Hanlon) have now scored against Swindon this season, but somehow none of our six current regular centre backs have managed a goal for us. A lack of bodies in wide areas cost us the goal, and proved a major issue all afternoon.

Town responded quickly and Pritchard curled a first time shot narrowly wide after linking up with Nathan Thompson, but sadly missing the target became the theme of Swindon’s day. Michael Smith wasted a good chance from close range around 15 minutes later, before lashing a wild volley about 20 yards over the bar. Smith gave his all as usual, but nothing went right. He badly needs a break, and some more support by August, whether from Nile Ranger or, most likely, someone else. He has had too much on his shoulders for a lad of his age and experience. Whilst I understand Cooper’s frustration with Dany N’Guessan, I would question whether freezing him out altogether has really been fair on Smith.

The second half began with standing water on parts of the pitch, after extensive watering by County at half time. Presumably this was geared towards keeping Town subdued, and, if so, it worked a treat. County had several chances to double their lead, most notably in the 50th minute, when former Swindon loanee Ronan Murray should really have scored when put one-on-one with Foderingham; our star man closed him down and made the save with his feet. Town also endured a few close shaves from various set pieces.

Swindon were little more threatening than during the first half, although our best chance of the game came in the 63rd minute, when Luongo broke free in the County area but put his shot into the side netting. With five minutes to go Pritchard broke forward and hit a firm shot straight at County keeper Bialkowski, which he held at the second attempt. This was our first and only serious attempt on target.

Then came the main event. The scuffle appeared to start with Troy Archibald-Henville pushing over Spencer in the penalty area in the build-up to a throw in, but after that point I really didn’t see anything besides a huge pile of bodies. It went on for longer than any on-field brawl that I remember seeing, and after it finally died down, and the referee had spent a couple of minutes checking with his linesmen that he hadn’t imagined it all, a total of six cards were shown; three to each side. Town were reduced to nine men, with Archibald-Henville shown a straight red, and Nathan Thompson given a second yellow.

We then had the small matter of nine added minutes to handle. Wes Foderingham ended up coming forward for a Pritchard free kick, and when that was cleared he could only watch as County effectively walked the ball into the net to seal the points.

Here are my thoughts:

Player Discipline

We have now had eight red cards this season in all competitions, and three of our players (McEveley, Archibald-Henville and Nathan Byrne) have been sent off twice. Byrne has been quite unlucky, but the others have themselves to blame. Alex Pritchard, Yaser Kasim and Nathan Thompson also receive far too many cards. As the link below shows, our record is strikingly bad.

How have we managed this when, as we all know, we have a slow, patient style of play? Cooper must take a chunk of the blame. I can’t understand managers who seem convinced that referees, as a group, have some kind of vendetta against their team; it makes no sense on any level. Sadly, Cooper falls into this bracket, and perhaps this false sense of injustice rubs off onto some of our players, who must be confident that, however badly they behave on the pitch, their manager will let them off the hook.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the fans help in this regard either. When, for the umpteenth time, Jay McEveley gets booked for slamming the ball into the ground like a spoiled brat after a minor decision has gone against him, the last thing we should be doing is chanting his name. Equally, I refuse to give Troy Archibald-Henville a standing ovation when he has just been sent off for violent conduct. I can’t buy into the British Bulldog theory that anyone who doesn’t go steaming around like a lunatic, filled with anger and rage, isn’t really trying. Fortunately, most of our young players rise above the poor example set by their experienced colleagues.

Lee Cox

I know I’m repeating what I said in the Carlisle report, but I still cannot understand what Cox is doing in the team. I have no real issue with him; I’ve seen worse central midfielders, and he scored a nice goal against Bradford. But he simply isn’t as good a holding player as Louis Thompson, and, as the stats show, we are a much better team away from home when Thompson starts. I can’t believe that Cooper hasn’t noticed this by now. With five central midfielders under contract for next season, surely we cannot entertain thoughts of keeping Cox, a player who three different managers avoided like the plague for more than two years until late March.

Summary

With one game to play, we have averaged more than two points per game at home, which represents the third best record in the division, behind the runaway top two. Meanwhile, we have averaged less than one point per game away, and have a record no better than that of Tranmere, Colchester or Crewe. We’ve managed to lose away to each of the bottom three, as well as the likes of Notts and Gillingham, without scoring a goal. Although our blip at home to some poor sides during February and early March was frustrating, it’s hard to look beyond the away form as the reason why we have fallen short.

Although Saturday was ultimately a bridge too far, an excellent run of form leading up to it had kept the season interesting for a few weeks longer than we had expected. We can now focus on giving Rotherham’s charming manager his usual warm reception, followed, more importantly, by giving the players and management the credit they deserve for a very decent nine months’ work.

Follow Adam Tanner on Twitter @adamtanner87

Swindon Town 1-0 Bradford City: Seriously…what happened..?

Bradford City Gent

Another three points for Swindon Town at home to Bradford City just about kept Town in the race for the League One play-offs. However Ron Smith couldn’t watch most of the action so this is light on detail, but fortunately he didn’t miss much…

Swindon Town certainly know how to end a season with a run of five wins from six games in the lead up to the encounter with Bradford City. Peterborough in sixth were tantalisingly close and while a 4-1 victory for the Posh over Carlisle United today ensured the gap would remain four points, with two games remaining anything is possible although a Town finish in the play-offs does look highly unlikely.

For me, kid-a-quid ensured a second visit to the County Ground for my daughter. Now two and a half she already expected watching football involved plenty of goals having watched Town’s 5-2 victory over Port Vale back in early November. Clutching her toy Rockin’ Robin and fuelled by various snacks I diced watching the game with responsibilities of feeding / entertaining / pandering / comforting etc…

Not long after we arrived I needed to add consoling to those responsibilities. Where was Rockin’ Robin and why wasn’t he doing his Haka? It’s strange how a bloke in an oversized fluffy animal costume captivates toddlers and the lack of the pre-match ‘entertainment’ disappointed one little girl. “Where’s Rockin’ Robin? Where’s Rockin’ Robin?” was all I heard until ten minutes into the game. Given that the day was a kid-a-quid it seemed bizarre the mascot wasn’t there. Yes it’s Easter, but surely some tit willing to be dressed up as a mischievous bird for the afternoon could be found at the County Ground. So we had to make-do with Bradford’s Billy Bantam, itself a poor replacement for the ‘City Gent’. In the end I accepted her answer that Rockin’ Robin “had gone shopping”.

So to the game, what I watched of it. Mark Cooper made two changes with former forgotten man Lee Cox replacing Ben Gladwin and Miles Storey took Nathan Byrne’s place in a 3-5-2 / 3-4-1-2 with Alex Pritchard behind the front two. Michael Smith also received a slightly ironic and very loud cheer from the crowd to counter those boos “he’s been the target of recently”.

Amongst the parental duties it was fortunate that I have nothing significant to miss / report on those opening 45 minutes. The pace of the game was slow, Town didn’t have an answer to Bradford’s regimented back-line and even when creative Pritchard found space between the Bantam’s defence and midfield he frequently wasn’t the eventual target of the pass. Jay McEveley also spent the half wandering infield and compacting the already limited space, I guess under specific instructions. Apparently Wes Foderingham’s save from a Gary Jones free-kick was good, although I didn’t see that.

Finally, the second half witnessed Town not just content to play possession. A series of organised attacks, predominantly through the central to right side of the pitch allowed Town to finally make a breakthrough.

That goal came from an unlikely source. Former ‘outcast’ Lee Cox’s recent appearances have arisen following injuries to the five man midfield. In truth, apart from the goal he never looked to be needed as Bradford’s low risk football meant he had little to contend with. As for the goal, Pritchard’s initial blocked shot rebounded to Cox who was composed and alert enough to sweetly curl his shot into the bottom corner.

A captivating game this wasn’t. I was still hardly distracted to respond to the action on-the-pitch with the exceptions of a close-range header from Michael Smith and a few efforts from Pritchard. Away from the goal and as the half drew on, a series of fierce tackles from Bradford’s combative side didn’t even warrant enough attention from usually card-happy referee who was probably bored and was looking forwards to his drive home to Surrey.

At least there was a welcome standing ovation for a returning Rafa De Vita, which marked an innovative way of recognising a returning former Town player judging by recent crowd reactions.

This turned out to be Alex Pritchard’s final home game as the terms of his ‘youth loan’ from Spurs means he cannot play following his 21st birthday – small print I and many others missed. It’s a shame he’ll miss the Rotherham United game, however I’m sure he’ll be in attendance to bag the silver – not to prejudice our own player of the season vote later this week.

After a miraculous turnaround of the early 2014 results, Town have the form but are quickly running out of games to catch Peterborough. So for the remaining two games we can sit back and relax in the knowledge that Mark Cooper can actually manage a winning side and perhaps the youthful approach can match our ambitions for a real challenge for promotion in 2014/15.*

*Caution! – this is dependent on the continuing ownership saga  

As we return home and still disappointed the robin wasn’t gracing the pitch, she’ll need to make do with this…

 

 

 

Swindon Town 1-0 Brentford: Dogged Robins sting the Bees promotion push

Louis Thompson - Celebration vs Brentford 1

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).

COYR

Matthew Peach – @MattJPeach

Header image – swindontownfc.co.uk

 

Bristol City 0-0 Swindon Town: Mark Cooper makes a point…

Bristol City - Ashton Gate

Adam Tanner made the short trip to Ashton Gate for a derby day fixture that has become quite a rare event in recent seasons.

Swindon Town went into the game hoping to avoid a third consecutive league defeat for the first time all season, and aiming to extend an eight-game unbeaten run against Bristol City, stretching back to 2002. Mark Cooper made six changes to the side well beaten by Wolves on Tuesday night. There were welcome returns for Wes Foderingham, Nathan and Louis Thompson. Debutant Jack Stephens joined fit again Troy Archibald-Henville in central defence, and George Barker made his second start for the club as an attacking midfielder in a 4-3-2-1 formation.

The pattern of the first half was familiar. Town generally looked comfortable, and had plenty of possession but, as has often been the case in recent weeks, struggled to find a killer pass, and did not manage a serious attempt on target. Bristol City shaded the first half an hour without causing too much of a threat. Archibald-Henville did well to block a Sam Baldock shot, before Foderingham got down quickly to parry a Wade Elliott strike that was creeping towards the bottom corner, and Jay McEveley dealt with the follow-up. Town improved as the half wore on, and managed a couple of half-chances during its final 15 minutes (at least as far as I could tell from the City away end, where the acoustics are a great deal better than the view). Massimo Luongo hit a right-footed shot across the face of goal and wide, and Ryan Harley scuffed a 20-yard effort wide when he probably had time to do better. Neither side could really complain about a goalless first half.

The second half began at a much higher tempo. Although Town generally looked sharper and livelier than before half time, Bristol City had two significant early chances. First, Wes Foderingham made a smart save from Scott Wagstaff’s close-range shot, before Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, who generally had a quiet game, hit the foot of a post after a long cross found him in space inside the box.

The game’s key moment came on 55 minutes, when Alex Pritchard’s response to a foul by Wade Elliott was to get up and push his opponent over. It was a stupid thing to do, and a red card was inevitable. Pritchard will now serve his third suspension of the season, which we could do without in the absence of Nile Ranger, Ryan Mason and, by the look of things, Dany N’Guessan. He receives far more cards than a 5 foot 6 inch winger ever should, and he needs to sort out his temperament before it restricts what should become an excellent career.

Town’s best moment of the match actually came within seconds of his departure. Ryan Harley’s firmly struck free kick was pushed wide by Frank Fielding, and the resulting corner caused a scramble in the City box. Michael Smith got a shot away, which was pushed by Fielding back towards Smith, six yards out. Sadly, he couldn’t control it quickly enough, and his second effort lacked the pace or height to beat the recovering Fielding.

It was tempting at that stage to fear the worst, but, as at MK Dons and Peterborough earlier in the season, Town coped admirably with ten men. Cooper made the right changes at the right times, most notably bringing on Yaser Kasim for George Barker and switching to a 4-3-1-1, with Luongo playing off striker Smith. In fact, I think Cooper got just about everything right on the day, and therefore deserves great credit.

City posed relatively little threat until around the 75-minute mark, when the inevitable push began. The typically excellent Foderingham made good saves from Emmanuel-Thomas and substitutes Marlon Pack and Martin Paterson, and the defensive application of the entire team was admirable, with countless blocks and interceptions made during the latter stages. I struggled to be excited by the return of Troy Archibald-Henville a few weeks ago, but he has greatly exceeded my expectations, and wins my man of the match vote for the most dominant aerial performance I’ve seen from a Swindon defender this season.

Town did have one real to snatch a famous win at around the 90-minute mark when, on the break, the ball was squared towards substitute Ben Gladwin inside the box, but he couldn’t bring it under control. An away win would have been harsh on City, but I think I could have lived with that.

Five minutes of stoppage time were played almost entirely in and around the Swindon area, with a range of long throw-ins, crosses and shots fired in from various angles, but the lads weren’t to be denied and hung on for an excellent point. Credit to the 2,004 away fans, who backed the team strongly.

Here are a few brief thoughts:

1.       Louis Thompson

Swindon have lost one of the last nine away games that Thompson junior has started. And we have lost six of the last six away games that he hasn’t started. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. For a lad of 19, his impact on the team is amazing. Against Wolves, we saw 45 minutes without him, followed by 45 with him, and I certainly know which I preferred. I would like to think that a long-term contract extension is a high priority.

His only mistake yesterday was getting a silly booking after one minute, I think in an attempt to play up to the crowd. It’s never ideal for a defensive midfielder to play 89 minutes on a tightrope, and he was visibly a bit jittery for the rest of the match. I’m sure he’ll learn from it.

2.       Darren Ward

Ward has struggled all season, not least on Tuesday night. Although he has barely missed any football since joining the club 18 months ago, Cooper was totally correct to leave him out yesterday. His lack of pace and mobility, and poor distribution, represent major issues.

Without him, a back four containing a debutant, and with an average age of 25, really excelled to keep only our second clean sheet since November. Ward’s experience and rumoured leadership qualities (which I have never personally been convinced about) clearly weren’t required. Let’s see whether he can now rise to the challenge of winning back his place.

3.       Player Commitment

Cooper is fully justified in pointing out that this performance demonstrates the high levels of commitment and desire of the team. For all sorts of reasons the side has hit poor form, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that half of our players aren’t interested, and, having seen most matches, I can’t agree with any suggestions that effort has been lacking. I have to say that anyone who turned up for the testimonial of Christian Roberts in 2009, but is willing to query the mentality of our current squad, has standards that are very different to mine.

Prior to this week we hadn’t lost consecutive home games since the days of Paul Hart, and so, whilst yesterday didn’t go entirely to plan, both the performance and result were very welcome. We can now face a Preston team that has lost only four of its 36 league games with some confidence and credibility restored.

Follow Adam Tanner on Twitter @AdamTanner87 

Swindon 1-4 Wolves: Town drivel as Wolves’ fans drool

20140312-112957.jpg 8

Michael Smith’s second-half goal provided scant consolation for Town fans in a stinging 4-1 home defeat by a Wolves side bustling with strength, collective effort and, Leon Clarke, writes Alex Cooke.

Swindon manager Mark Cooper labelled 45 minutes of this display “outstanding” but seemed to choose the wrong half and the wrong team, for despite Swindon’s improvement after the break, Kenny Jackett’s predatory side had torn Town’s defensive unit to pieces with an ease and economy of effort that showed why they deserve promotion this season.

Not that Swindon made it hard for the visitors, the defence shorn of the pace of Troy Archbald-Henville and Nathan Thompson through injury, sat high and looked shapeless as Raphael Rossi Branco was frequently became drawn out of position. Branco was trying to support Nathan Byrne at right back, whom Wolves seemed to have targeted by pushing the muscular Nouha Dicko up against him, but the protestations and gestations of Jay McEverley did little to pull the Brazilian back into line.

A lack of pressure in the centre of the pitch did little to help Town’s back four as Swindon’s trio in the middle seemed unable to impose themselves on their Wolverhampton peers. And with Dany N’Guessan on the right flank, in for Louis Thompson, moving only through continental drift, the task was made even harder.

The first goal came from a weak Byrne clearance, but that was only the final error in a long string of mistakes. James Henry then swung a cross towards Tyrell Belford’s back post for Bakary Sako to headed home. It was simple, as was much of Wolves play, but it showed the value of having millions in parachute payments to pay players of this quality and speed.

Wolves dominated the half, in terms of territory and physically, but Swindon still found pockets in which to play just in front of their defence. Alex Pritchard took a pair of shots sandwhiching a cross from the by-line to Smith, only for the striker to head over the bar under pressure.

Sadly Town again failed to apply such pressure to Wolves’ midfield as Dicko and Sako were released time and again by balls behind Darren Ward. Many will blame Swindon’s captain for his lack of pace but to create a situation in which he had to defend almost alone against balls dropped behind the backline wasn’t of his making. Against a team this enthused and talented defeat was always likely but tactically Town seemed to help them play to their numerous strengths.

Twice more in the half Belford was beaten, through no fault of his own, once by Sako, once by Dicko, both after Town were carved open through the middle. And it could have been more with Dicko hitting the post, as well as talented pair Henry and Michael Jacobs having chances.

In a game which seemed to be dribbling to a horrible close, the second half saw an improvement in Town’s team and tactics. The defence were allowed to drop deeper and given a shield as over the next 12 minutes Cooper made three substitutions. Immediately N’Guessan with George Barker as Pritchard was shuffled to a more central position and Jack Barthram added width to the right flank replacing the potentially injured Byrne. Yaser Kasim also came off for Thompson and it was the former trainee who first injected energy into Swindon with a couple of driving runs into the channels. A scoring chance disappeared when he drove across the face of goal rather than look up to see Smith pulling to the edge of the six-yard-box but Town were finally showing what they could do.

Jackett’s men were undoubtedly coasting but Swindon’s confidence swelled when good work from Barker and Pritchard gave Massimo Luongo a chance from the edge of the box only for the Australian international to side foot over. In the 73rd minute Smith’s effort was rewarded when he turned defender Danny Batth inside the box and finished neatly. It was the first goal Wolves had conceded in almost 680 minutes.

If the game was petering out, Branco, Sako and Dicko kept interest up with a spat, or spit, on the right flank, before Dicko was withdrawn and Leon Clarke was introduced. McEverley almost sealed a man-of-the-match display with a back-header against the bar from a delightful Smith cross, but it wasn’t to be.

Instead Clarke roused Wolves, waltzing through the Town defence and lifted a delightful finish into Belford’s net. If the goal was harsh on Swindon in the second half, it wasn’t for the game overall; Swindon were poor while Wolves attacked and defended as a pack. Their unity and hunger showed, and so it should with a team unchanged in nine games and funded by £16 million in parachute payments. There is a correlation between a club’s wage bill and its league performance, and last night it was clear where both side are financially.

But there were positives for Swindon, largely taken from the second half, particularly in Pritchard, McEverley, Thompson and Byrne. Barker also showed a neatness of touch and moments of incision, while Smith demonstrated again that he can score but will need to be given more than hopeful crosses and hoofed clearances.

After the game Jackett admitted that Wolves tried to “manage” the game, admitting that his side, “rode their luck and at times we were fortunate not to concede more goals”. But why did it take so long for Swindon to find their feet, their fight and to sort their shape?

Peterborough United 2-2 Swindon Town: JPT Report

Johnstones Paint Trophy 1

On a ‘cabbage-patch pitch’ two very similar teams, in terms of league position and form, went head to head in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Area Final 1st Leg at Peterborough’s London Road. We were promised goals and drama and the game most certainly delivered, writes Jonny Leighfield.

Mark Cooper made five changes from the team that put in that pathetic performance at the weekend against Oldham. The front three were changed from Nathan Byrne, Michael Smith and George Barker to a more powerful, threatening front two of Dany N’Guessan and Nile Ranger. The midfield transformed from a three to a midfield four of Yasser Kasim, Louis Thompson, Massimo Luongo and Ben Gladwin and finally Jay McEveley came in for the cup-tied Jamie Reckord at left back.

Swindon made a positive start to proceedings at London Road putting in early crosses and pressing from the word go. It was encouraging to see this feature in our game re-emerge as it seems to have gone missing from previous fixtures, certainly away from home. The early pressure lead to a couple of corners before Gladwin swung in a cross for N’Guessan, but the big Frenchman got the timing on his header all wrong, possibly due to the stickiness of the pitch, and the ball skewed away.

Yet, as is the Swindon way, all of our hard work and early pressure was in vain as defensive errors cost us. Posh earned a corner on the right which was poorly dealt with by the Swindon defence at the first time of asking and thanks to a much better delivery from Grant McCann, Raphael Rossi Branco had little option but to head emphatically past Foderingham. As a defender at a corner he did everything you can ask. He followed his runner, stayed tight and attacked the ball. Unfortunately, he put his clearance in the worst possible area, his own net.

And if Swindon wanted to make their task an even bigger uphill struggle, they got their wish thanks to some charitable defending from the whole back line. Several weak clearances and feeble tackles later the ball ended up in the net for a second time. A tidy reverse finish from debutant Kyle Vassell put Peterborough two-nil up inside fifteen minutes.

The next ten minutes followed a similar pattern where Swindon’s defending looked frail and the tackles that we were making were unusually rash. Nathan Thompson was, in my view, extremely lucky not to be sent off for his challenge on a Posh midfielder after he raised his foot and left his studs up. He received only a yellow but it could and possibly should have been more.

Gladwin particularly impressed me throughout making some good runs and getting early crosses into the danger area for Town strikers to attack. The step-overs he cleverly deploys may become a regular feature in the Swindon line up if he continues to grow in confidence and learns to play more cohesive football with his team-mates. He looked greedy at times, not getting his head up to find a team-mate but this could be a strategy Cooper had asked him to play with to see if it harvested results. His style of play was certainly causing the Posh defence problems as midway through the first half the step-overs came out before some neat footwork ensued, but a shot over the bar tainted a sparkling run. An exciting player to watch nonetheless.

On the thirty minute mark Swindon were back in the tie. Kasim played a lovely through ball to Ranger before the prolific striker opened his body up and slid the ball past Peterborough ‘keeper Olejnik. There was a hint of offside before Ranger began his descent on goal but the linesman’s flag stayed down so the goal stood.

Then the most contentious decision of the game. A quick throw down-field from Olejnik left Britt Assombalonga one on one with McEveley on the right flank. Both were travelling at a fair speed when McEveley raised his left leg around head height to clear the ball. Assombalonga went down holding his face and the referee brandished a red card. On first viewing live at the game, I thought the decision was borderline. After seeing it in real time on T.V when I returned home I thought the referee got it wrong. Yes, his leg was high but there was no intent there and it certainly wasn’t malicious. It was just an honest attempt to win the ball and a yellow card would have sufficed. Either way McEveley had to go, but as we all know every cloud has a silver lining. Swindon’s cloud must have had a pretty thick one as Assombalonga, Peterborough’s £1.5 million pound, 22 goals already this season, striker had to be substituted with a swollen right eye.

And if you thought we had run out of luck by this point, you’d have been wrong as deep into ‘Fergie time’ a massive slice of luck came Swindon’s way as Shaun Brisley sliced past Olejnik into his own net from a pacey Gladwin cross. Comical, but could yet prove vitally important in Town’s bid to reach Wembley for the third time in five years. Two goals each in the first half of a crazy game of football.

The second half started fairly slowly with both teams seemingly shutting up shop in a quest to not concede an early goal which could significantly affect the tie. It did, for a brief moment, spring into life as Darren Ward leapt above all others to plant a powerful, wind assisted header just inches wide of Posh’s right hand post. Most of the away followers thought the ball was sailing over Olejnik into the net but alas, it was not the case.

As I hinted to earlier, I was impressed with Gladwin’s performance even if his over exuberance to go past defenders and not look for a team-mate frustrated most. Once again a quick, counter attacking Town move lead to the youngster being given a chance to show what he can do but he blazed his shot into the stand-less end Swindon were attacking.

The rest of the second half was played out in cagey manner with not many clear cut chances being created, but nevertheless Swindon were the more dominant team with most of the ball and more of the half-chances that did occur. The pitch began to cut up and the wind picked up making it even more difficult to play any sort of organised football. Peterborough did have a chance on 75 minutes when a corner was swept in around the six-yard-box. Foderingham was fouled when a header looped up into the air and Vassell jumped into him but the referee didn’t give it. Luckily Vassell couldn’t prod home and the official’s blushes were spared.

After a really poor start from Town, they produced one of the most resolute and surprising performances I have seen away from home in quite a while. Most teams who were a goal down with ten men would have crumbled into oblivion but Swindon showed the sort of fight that ideally you would like to see every week.

However, Swindon’s hard work was nearly undone late on when Nathaniel Knight-Percival, who produced a stunning volley against Town at home, was allowed a free header from six yards out. Fortunately he headed over though, with thanks to some pressuring from Branco as he met the header.

Then to a sombre event that will live long in the memory. On 87 minutes a Peterborough fan unfortunately collapsed at the side of the pitch, plunging London Road into silence as paramedics and doctors on site rushed to his rescue. I for one have never experienced anything as saddening or shocking as this at a live sporting event and it really showed the lowly importance of football in the scale of life. Our best wishes and thoughts are with the fan and from everyone here at TheWashbag.com, we wish him a speedy recovery.

Play was restarted after the referee had made the decision to remove all players from the pitch to allow the man to be treated with care and peace. After play was restarted a solemn mood surrounded London Road with neither team perhaps having the fight or feeling it was appropriate to go for a winner in the circumstances. Common sense should have perhaps prevailed where both teams agreed to move on with the draw but such are the laws, the game must be completed to stand. Maybe someone needs to update those laws as I really didn’t feel it was appropriate to continue the game given the circumstances.

In the end, one of the strangest games of football I have ever witnessed was overshadowed by a sad event late on putting football and a gutsy comeback from Swindon a distant second.

2-2 the final score, with 90 minutes (and the possibility of penalties *shudder*) separating either team from a trip to Wembley.