Matthew Peach reports on a storming and stylish victory for Swindon Town over promotion favourites Sheffield United.
Swindon went into their clash with Sheffield United unbeaten in their last five and finally starting to look like they can be a real force this year in Sky Bet League One. This is because of an impressive win away at Bradford City and two hard-fought draws at home to Coventry City and Oldham Athletic which demonstrated despite not playing to their full potential, Town were able to pick up points – something that was lacking last season. The game against the hard working Blades would prove a real a test and start to finally give an indication to the Town faithful what their team are capable of achieving this season.
Manager Mark Cooper named an unchanged line up from the draw against Oldham. This meant no place for Jack Stephens, who was still unavailable due to illness, as well Andy Williams who impressed last game with his wonder strike. One thing Town had to make sure was that their midfield trio of Louis Thompson, Yaser Kasim and Massimo Luongo were firing out of all cylinders, this because as seen on Tuesday, when they aren’t playing to their best abilities we seem to struggle to get going. As for Sheffield United they fielded former Town villain-cum-hero Jay McEveley. He was sure to get a mixed reaction from the crowd during the game.
Town kicked-off kicking towards the Stratton Bank looking to replace their opponents in the top six. It only took four minutes before Town had a chance on goal. They won a free-kick about five-yards outside the area and dead ball expert Kasim stood up and whipped the ball over the wall and crashing onto the bar; a sign of things to come perhaps for Swindon? Yes. Shortly after Town created a chance through open play when Brad Smith was put through and he cut back for Jon Obika to narrowly fire wide. A promising start from Swindon.
Within minutes of that chance Town made the breakthrough. A storming run from the half way line to The Blades box from Louis Thompson allowed him to lay the ball on to Michael Smith, who calmly stroked home for his first goal since his brace away at Luton in the Capital One Cup. A much deserved goal for Swindon who continued to dominate the first half. Luongo had the next chance, he found himself one-on-one with Blades keeper Mark Howard before shanking his shot onto the pole holding the net up. During the first half Kasim picked up a yellow card, his fifth this season meaning he will miss a game. The game would be the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie with Newport, so depending on how you view it getting the ban out of the way in the JPT is a shrewd move by the Iraqi international.
Town controlled the first half with Sheffield United looking off the pace, their only chance being a Marc McNulty shot that was saved point blank by Wes Foderingham. Their lack of pressing allowed Swindon to make countless runs through the heart of the Yorkshire side’s team. Despite being one goal up you did have to wonder if not taking their chances would come back to haunt the Robins, as the Blades surely couldn’t play this bad after half time?
After a slow start to the second half, another powerful run from a Swindon central midfielder, this time Luongo, won Town a penalty due to United centre-half Neil Collins catching the Aussie as he was scything through the Blades. Initially there was worry when Luongo went down, but fortunately the physio, Paul Godfrey, fixed him up to play on. Michael Smith stepped up and drilled the ball into the bottom left-hand corner. Despite going the right way Howard couldn’t stop the Geordie getting his third brace of the season. At last a bit of a cushion for Swindon who thoroughly deserved to be ahead with United offering next to nothing.
Within three minutes of scoring their second, Swindon were at again. The lively Brad Smith, who has had a mixed start to his Town career, produced a fine cross to Obika – who slotted home to make it four in three for the former Spurs striker.
Swindon at this point were running riot. But things were about to take a turn for the worse. Cooper replaced Obika with Andy Williams, and within minutes of his introduction McNulty this time managed to beat Foderingham and give the travelling fans, all 873 of them, a glimmer of hope. It was Williams with the next chance for Swindon. Shortly after the Blades pulled one back he curled a sensational strike towards the top corner, but Howard was equal to the striker’s shot. The Blades though rallied after their goal and pushed forward again. A Ryan Flynn cross found its way to Ben Davies at the back stick and he tapped home to really give the travelling fans something to shout about. Things were getting worrying for the Town fans, with just five minutes between the strikes, was a collapse on the cards from Swindon with 20 minutes to play?
No. Not with this team. After Luongo and Raphael Rossi Branco went off injured and were replaced by Jake Reeves and Josh Lelan respectively Swindon broke forward and Brad Smith played in Williams to divert home to add breathing space once again for Swindon. A great relief for all in the Swindon camp. You sensed this broke Sheffield United’s spirit.
Swindon went on to score a fifth, and what goal it was. While trying to waste time in the corner Kasim managed to play the ball through the legs of one United player before beating another. He continued his run before rolling the ball back to the edge of the area for local boy Louis Thompson to thump home in off the bar. A truly majestic goal that summed up what Town are capable of going forward. The whistle went shortly after and that performance sent out a message to the rest of the league that Swindon can compete with the big guns in the league and are a force to be reckoned with.
So what’s next for Swindon? On Tuesday they are off to face Newport in the JPT before two tough away games at recently relegated Barnsley and play-off final losers Leyton Orient. There is still a long way to go yet and no doubt tougher tests. However, if Swindon can keep up similar performances to the one shown against Sheffield United who knows where they will end up? maybe we will even be mentioning the ‘P’ word come April/May time.
Matthew Peach – @MattJPeach