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).


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

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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.

What’s going wrong at Swindon Town?

HoS New 2

Swindon Town not only lost against Oldham Athletic but they also failed to score in a home league game for the first time since last March. Considering Town managed a grand total of one attempt on target and two corners, that result is hardly surprising, so Adam Tanner assesses what went wrong.?

1. Managerial Input

Cooper made a couple of odd decisions yesterday, which I don’t feel helped our cause.

Yaser Kasim appears to have been left out to avoid collecting his 10th booking and being banned for two games, which would have ruled him out of the JPT first leg on Wednesday. On that basis, maybe Kasim shouldn’t have played at Walsall either, in case he had been booked there. And, assuming that he doesn’t get booked at London Road, are we going to leave him out of the following two league games, to ensure that he doesn’t miss the home leg? Perhaps we should also leave Wes Foderingham out of those matches, in case he gets sent off? Suspensions, like injuries, can arise at any time, and I would prefer us to just deal with them as and when they arise. Kasim is a key player, who I feel should at least have been on the bench. I would gladly have forfeited him at Peterborough in return for a win, or even a draw, yesterday.

Elsewhere, I appreciate that Cooper wants to ease the likes of Troy Archibald-Henville back into contention, but I struggle to accept that the correct move at half time was to replace one centre back with another. Whereas Ward has struggled lately, he was not really part of the problem in the first half as I felt the defence had generally looked stable. Although we had played poorly in the first half, the match was clearly in the balance, and a more positive change may have been more worthwhile under the circumstances.

2. Nile Ranger

On the subject of positive substitutions, Nile Ranger didn’t make it on until the hour mark, when he replaced Barker, who had a quiet game. I know that management of Ranger is not straightforward and I accept that there have been times when the club has needed to freeze him out of the squad, for various reasons. But when he is involved, I find it desperately frustrating to see him start games on the bench. Prior to yesterday, we had won each of our previous four home games, during the course of which Ranger had provided two goals and four assists. I genuinely don’t think we would have beaten any of Coventry City, Peterborough United or Shrewsbury Town without him on the pitch.

I’m unconvinced by Cooper’s regular suggestion that Ranger doesn’t work hard enough during games. He easily holds his own physically, and is a great aerial asset at both ends. Ok, perhaps he doesn’t track back 50 yards on a regular basis, but if we are playing with a lone striker the last place I personally want to see him during open play is in the left back position, in the same way that I don’t expect to see Darren Ward tearing down the wing when we’re attacking. The fact that a footballer is not charging about at all times like a bull in a china shop does not mean that he isn’t trying. Personally, I consider Ranger to be our best outfield player, and as long as he has been behaving reasonably I’d prefer to see him on the pitch at all times.

3. Senior Players

A team as inexperienced as ours, with the huge majority of players aged 23 or under, inevitably requires the few active senior players to take a positive lead. This is currently lacking.

Jay McEveley has generally proven himself to be a solid defender with some (quite raw) attacking instinct and a strong winning mentality; however, he has been substituted three times in recent weeks, and his injury gremlins appear to have returned. Darren Ward has struggled throughout the season to adapt to our new style, and his playing days look numbered. Above all, Ryan Harley has so far been a great disappointment. I was quite excited when we signed him; I expected him to become the focal point of our midfield. This hasn’t yet happened. He was poor yesterday, and I sense that he is playing in a comfort zone. I expect to see an improvement from him.

4. Junior Players

A large percentage of our first team regulars, especially in midfield, have made more first team appearances this season than in the rest of their careers combined. That’s a big deal, and it’s probably unsurprising that many are struggling to hit the standards that they did in October.

For instance, Massimo Luongo looks to me like a class act who just badly needs a break. And Nathan Byrne had a pretty bad day on Saturday. He kept working hard and did not hide, but he barely got a cross or pass right. In fairness, he is a better player than his recent form suggests, and I suspect that he is suffering from his perceived versatility. I think we need to establish what his best position really is, and try to confine him to it for the time being. He is probably too young to cope with rotating between so many different roles.

The season is a long slog (this one will contain a minimum of 55 matches) and I think that, six months in, we are starting to see a bit of fatigue, both physical and mental, from several of our youngsters. The bad news is that, as well as playing every Saturday, we have midweek matches scheduled for five of the next eight weeks. So I suspect that most of the lads will need to soldier on.

Follow Adam Tanner on Twitter @adamtanner87

Gillingham 2-0 Swindon Town: Just miserable…

Priestfield Stadium Gillingham

Vic Morgan spares few words in describing another miserable away performance; as Swindon Town were defeated at our Kent rivals Gillingham.

After Swindon’s dismal Tuesday defeat at Stevenage, over 300 Town fans travelled to Kent hoping for better against their old rivals. History wasn’t on the Wiltshire team’s side. It was 1986 when the Town last won at the Priestfield Stadium. With three centre backs and two full backs set to go forward, Swindon manager Mark Cooper seemed to have attacking intent. However it was the 41st minute which saw the first real effort on goal when Ryan Mason’s effort was saved by Nelson in the Gills goal.

By then Swindon were a goal down. Leon Legge had the freedom of the Town penalty area when heading home Joe Martin’s free kick on just 18 minutes. The rather pedestrian build up by the Town allowed the Gillingham defence to set themselves up and that proved difficult for Swindon to break down. On a cold Kent afternoon, the game was again turning into a chastening experience for the visiting supporters.

Things started brighter in the second half. The rather frosty reception for the players as they went to the half time break perhaps spurred them on. It didn’t last long though. Again the ponderous passing game allowed Gills to cover easily. Alex Pritchard did get the ball into the home net, only for the effort to be ruled out for an obvious use of the hand. Pritchard was rightly booked for the offence. It rather summed up the afternoon. There was precious little attacking threat from the largely anonymous Nile Ranger and most Swindon efforts were from midfield. There was something inevitable about a second from the home side. Michael Harrison’s first league goal sealed Swindon’s fate.

It was another away day defeat in a season which has seen precious little reward on the road for the loyal Town fans who put in the miles. It’s okay winning at home, that’s where the majority of the supporters see the team play, but the continued use of a slow build up brings scant reward away from the County Ground. Jay McEveley and Raphael Rossi Branco both deserve credit for their performance and would get a joint men of the match from me. Sadly though a familiar story pointing to a lower mid table finish. Optimism turning to feelings of pessimism on the way home. Cure these away problems and quickly. Otherwise thoughts may turn to those below rather than above us in the league table.

Swindon Town: Foderingham, Thompson, Ward, Branco, Hall, McEveley, Kasim, Luongo, Mason, Pritchard, Ranger Subs: Byrne for Thompson 73, Barker for Hall 53, N’Guessan for Mason 79 Not Used: Belford, Thompson L, Harley, Storey. 5-3-1-1

Bradford City 1-1 Swindon Town: Was this Pritchard’s final goal for Town?

Alex Pritchard 2

The Alex Pritchard show may be entering its final series at Swindon Town but with such stellar performances over the Christmas period, which Town fan in their right mind could begrudge him a switch to the Championship in January? Writes Daniel Hunt.

Where the on loan Tottenham youngster was denied several times by his former youth team-mate David Button at Griffin Park, Bradford City were powerless to stop Alex Pritchard tip-toeing his way from the right hand touchline into the box before placing neatly into the bottom corner to equalise in the 63rd minute. It was a magnificent goal worthy of winning any game but an open second half would result in neither side going on to seal the three points.

With the charitable Nile Ranger spending his hard-earned wages helping to keep a Bristol nightclub in business on Boxing Day evening, Dany N’Guessan struck down with a virus and Mohamed El Gabbas seemingly out of favour pending his inevitable release in January; Mark Cooper put out as attacking a side as he could with Nathan Byrne and Pritchard playing either side of the lone front man – Nicky Ajose. Miles Storey and Ryan Mason had to be content with places on the bench with Louis Thompson and Yaser Kasim supporting Massimo Luongo in central midfield.

I just want to congratulate Cooper on the set-up of the midfield as it caught Bradford out slightly. Luongo played as the deepest central midfielder and I think this improved Swindon’s link up play between defence and attack. This allowed Kasim to play as the most advanced of the three and he’s actually a very good footballer as he showed in the first half. Perhaps it was a result of his recent virus, but Kasim faded in the second half and was replaced by the towering Ben Gladwin – who definitely looked more assured than he did at Brentford on Boxing Day.

Bradford City were combative opponents, backed by the most vocal support I’ve encountered in League One so far this season. They carried twin threats, little and large, in 15 goal Nakhi Wells and the returning target-man James Hanson. For the 28 minutes that Wells was on the pitch before going off injured, Town’s defence were given a difficult time dealing with his intelligent movement in either channel. Former Swindon loanee, Mark Yeates, replaced Wells but barely made an impact on the game as Town’s task became much simpler.

The Bantams started with quite a rigid 4-4-2 formation that allowed Alex Pritchard the freedom of Yorkshire to get on the ball ‘between-the-lines’ (feel dirty saying that phrase but hey, this is ‘modern’ football) and repeatedly terrorise the home defence. The first chance of the match was a Pritchard shot that went narrowly over the bar and the midfielder would twice more go close to scoring before half time – forcing McLaughlan to parry a low shot in the 37th minute and curling a 20 yard free kick just the wrong side of the upright two minutes later, following a strong run from Jay McEveley.

Left winger Kyel Reid was the most impressive player for the hosts but he was well shackled all afternoon by Nathan Thompson – who looked noticeably fitter and stronger than in recent displays, suggesting that ‘Nasty Nath’ has fully recovered from his injury troubles. Swindon would shade the first half but went into the break a goal behind courtesy of one of Bradford’s main strengths, set pieces.

I remember Rory McArdle well for a towering headed goal against Aston Villa in last season’s marvellous League Cup run and sure enough, he was at it again in the 16th minute. A left wing corner was flicked goalwards at the near post by McArdle and with the assistance of the underside of the crossbar, Bradford were ahead. The Swindon response to falling behind was measured and if Nicky Ajose had brought his shooting boots, Town could have found themselves at least level before half time.

In the 26th minute, a heavy second touch meant that Ajose fluffed his lines when one-on-one with McLaughlan following a neat through ball. As if that wasn’t frustrating enough, a similar move in the 34th minute saw the on loan Peterborough striker pull out of challenging the keeper when through on goal again. Although the incident was at the opposite end of the pitch from where I was sat, it looked like Ajose bottled the challenge I hate to say.

I’m as yet unsure whether Ajose is eligible to play against Crawley Town on New Year’s Day – the terms of his loan deal expire on the 1st January – but I hope he gets the chance to sign off in better fashion. He’s done very well during his time at the County Ground and deserves a good send off. An injury to Jay McEveley would mean that Miles Storey, Swindon’s only other striking option in the match day squad, made it on to the pitch in first half stoppage time. I worry for McEveley from what I saw from the away end, as he slumped to floor to receive treatment from Town physio Paul Godfrey, the left back looked very resigned to his fate. Hope it’s not a reoccurrence of his long standing knee injury for his sake.

Storey provided a good outlet for Swindon in the second half, particularly as the game became stretched and Bradford defenders tired in the Yorkshire cold. Unfortunately for Miles, he didn’t capitalise on the breaks that came his way and several promising moves broke down before an effort on the Bantams goal could materialise. By comparison, fellow youth team graduate Louis Thompson got stronger and more influential as the game went on – a significant feat given how few sets of 90 minutes the youngster has completed in the first team.

Two lovely Louis Thompson moments I’d like to call out for different reasons;

1. Early in the second half, Louis was felled by Mark Yeates, a foul which drew a yellow card from referee Oliver Langford. Brother Nathan was on the scene quick as a flash to defend his brother’s honour, squaring up to Yeates – reminiscent of a tag-team wrestling pair! Genuinely touching in a funny way.

2. As the second half was drawing to a close, Louis still had bucket loads of energy to chase back and harry one of his Bradford opponents into a mistake on the half line. Once he’d stolen the ball, he knocked the ball past another player and ran on to his own ball forward in a lung-busting, breathless piece of play. The move fizzled out moments later but with every passage of play that passes, Thompson junior is looking more and more like the brilliant midfielder we all hope he’ll become.

With Byrne already switched to left back covering for the injured McEveley, the defence would be further de-stabilised by an injury to Grant Hall in the 53rd minute. Hall had twisted an ankle and manfully tried to play on before being replaced by Raphael Rossi-Branco – an unused substitute sixteen times this season. The final straw came when Hall tried to challenge Hanson in the air but luckily for Foderingham, Hanson’s header was straight at the Swindon keeper.

Rossi-Branco had some early shaky moments but brushed these off to deputise well alongside captain Darren Ward. Promising signs from a defender who Cooper had himself described recently as ‘not being ready’ for League One football. With two tall members of the back four now in the treatment room, Wes Foderingham drew praise post-match from Cooper for his efforts in coming out to punch the numerous crosses which rained down upon the Swindon six yard box. This trait was noticeable during the second half and it certainly helped ease the pressure on an inexperienced backline.

The play switched from end to end in an exciting second period and Foderingham had to be on his mettle to keep out a swerving Doyle shot in the 81st minute – it may have been going wide but Foderingham made sure. At the other end, Alex Pritchard continued his excellent game by inducing a trip on the very (and I mean very) edge of the eighteen yard box with six minutes to go. Pritchard struck the free kick into the wall and from the resulting short corner, Nathan Byrne dribbled across the box before curling agonisingly wide of McLaughlan’s left hand post – it was close.

Roared on by approximately 350 Swindon fans in the top tier of the away end, Swindon smelt blood but the two final chances fell to Miles Storey who could only force the ‘keeper into one save when it fell on his right foot on the right side of the box. A draw felt about right at full time but you get the sense that Town will come away disappointed they didn’t go on to win the game.

I was personally very critical of how Mark Cooper set the team up (the much discussed 4-6-0 formation) for two winnable away ties at Crawley Town in November and Sheffield United earlier this month. My biggest issue with that approach is the message it sends to the opposition – we’re here not to concede and nick a one goal victory at best. Full credit to Swindon Town though for the way they’ve approached two daunting away games over Christmas, despite only gathering one point in six.

Brentford are a very good side at this level and we’ve given them one of the toughest home games they’ll have all season, while Town created many chances to win the game at Valley Parade. The approach has been much more positive and it’s resulted in two entertaining games that have been well worth the trip for our loyal away followers. I feel that Swindon are so close to turning the corner away from home, I just hope that Cooper retains a positive approach because with so many pure footballers in the side, it’s a shame to play any other way but positively.

There’s going to be a few changes at the club in January, some that we may not like at first but all I ask of my fellow fans is that we also keep a positive approach to how Swindon cut their cloth accordingly…

Cheers Pritch! Thanks Nicky! Don’t go Wes! Oh, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out will you Nile?

Happy New Year from all at ‘The Washbag’!!

Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88

Andy’s Angle: Top five performers so far…

Yaser Kasim Swindon Town 3

With 2013 rapidly coming to a close Andrew Steele-Davis picks out a selection of his top five players from the first half of the 2013/14 season…

With Christmas now just seven days away I thought I would enter into the festive spirit by treating you all to something a little bit different this week. There have been many stunning individual performances to savour so far this season so with the first half of the 2013/14 season drawing to a close it is the perfect moment to reveal which players have wowed and stunned me so far.

Top Five Players:

  1. Yaser Kasim – I have churned out so many superlatives to describe Yaser Kasim’s performances in a Town shirt this season all of which he richly deserves. The ‘Swindon Xavi’ has been both instrumental and influential in what is a very talented midfield and some of his performances in that engine room have been truly stunning. The former Brighton man, who endured such a frustrating time on the touchline at Luton and Macclesfield last season has in my opinion put himself well ahead in the race to be claimed ‘steal of the season’ and is the biggest success story of Swindon’s new recruitment policy. Yaser has earnt praise for the way he can grab a game by the scruff of its neck by his ability on the ball, his wide range of passing and the way he can effortlessly dictate the tempo of a game and Yaser has earnt the tag of my top performer so far this season.

  2. Nicky Ajose – The on-loan Peterborough man has been lethal in front of goal this season and is slowly justifying why Manchester United once had touted him as a future star. With nine goals to his name so far Ajose is the club’s leading scorer in all competitions and has popped up with some vital goals, that last minute winner against Wycombe in the JPT springs to mind. Notching a brace on only your second start for the club and against your fierce rivals as Ajose achieved against Bristol City in September is certainly one way of endearing yourself to your new set of supporters. I know I am not the only one when I say that securing the permanent signature of Nicky Ajose in the January Transfer window would go down as a smart bit of business by Town.

  3. Jay McEveley – The former Derby County man came in for some perhaps harsh criticism a few months ago after his own goal against Preston but since then the left-back has found a new lease of life and has become Town’s most consistent performer. McEveley has been solid at the back but it is his new found penchant for attacking play that has caught the eye and his now common surging forays on goal have helped add another element to Town’s attacking play. One of the most experienced campaigners in this young squad, Town’s ‘Mr Reliable’ will have a big part to play in the New Year if Swindon are to achieve their ambitions of a top six finish.

  4. Alex Pritchard – Every supporter the land over crave and relish a ‘luxury’ sort of player who can get bums off seats in an instant with a sublime bit of skill or a defence splitting pass. And in Alex Pritchard the Town faithful certainly have their ‘luxury player’ with the Tottenham loanee putting in a string of majestic performances. The young winger is unplayable on his day and his ability to unlock a defence with a single, precise pass is unmatched as is his prowess at dead ball situations. Pritchard’s stunning, exquisite free-kicks against MK Dons, Rotherham and Wycombe will surely all be in the running for goal of the season contenders at League 1 level. Alex will need to start producing his home form on the road however if Town are to stake a serious claim for a play-off place.

  5. Wes Foderingham – When debating the best ever goalkeepers Town have ever had between the sticks then Wes Foderingham surely has to come into the argument. Foderingham has produced a whole portfolio of stunning and breathtaking saves since his arrival at SN1 two years ago and he is has been in superb form yet again this season, his heroics against Walsall springing to mind. Foderingham has a stunning clean sheet percentage and has been regarded as one of the best young keepers in The Football League for a while which is testament to not only his ability but also his consistency. Foderingham is the focal point of this Swindon side and with Bournemouth circling it is vital the powers that be at Swindon do everything they can to keep Town’s best ever goalkeeper since Fraser Digby at the club.

So there you have it, my top five Swindon performers of the season so far. Do you agree with my selection? Who would be in your top five? Let us know in the comments selection below and make sure you join me next week when I shall run through my top five memorable moments of 2013.

Until Next Time…

Swindon Town 3-1 Carlisle United: Pritchard spares Swindon’s blushes

Alex Pritchard 3

Having not won for the last two games Swindon Town looked to get back to winning ways against Carlisle United in game week 19 of the Sky Bet League One. Swindon, who came in to the game off the back of a hard-earned point against now managerless Crawley, were keen to get the three points in order to maintain a play-off push, as Matthew Peach reports.

As Swindon approached the final month of 2013 they were sat in 8th, only a single point outside the final play-off place. Despite this they have had a largely inconsistent start to league, winning eight, losing seven and drawing just three.

Town gratefully welcomed Nile Ranger back into the first team squad after being in an ‘exile’ of some description since that game up in Macclesfield. Swindon also had Jay McEveley back after his one match suspension, however, due to another debatable red card in midweek the former Spurs man Nathan Byrne had to sit this one and the Johnston’s Paint Trophy area semi-final tie with Stevenage out in the stands. Town adopted a fluid 4-5-1 / 4-6-0 formation against Carlisle. This was a variant of what had been on show in the away games against Colchester and Crawley; Nicky Ajose and Alex Pritchard operated wide forward roles with Massimo Luongo supporting them in a withdrawn striker role, similar to that of one Lionel Messi.

The game commenced with Swindon attacking the Town End in the first half, having lost the toss. Within the first two minutes both teams had a corner each that came to nothing. Talking of corners, I can’t be the only one who has noticed the poor delivery of corners by Pritchard and co.? With Ranger, N’Guessan, Ward, Hall and McEveley in the ranks it would be good to see a good corner whipped in so one of these could have a half decent chance of attacking it.

Anyway enough about me ranting on about set-piece strategies, let’s talk about the first real chance of the game, and it came from an unlikely source: Jay McEveley. The left back, who is either hated or loved by the Town faithful (personally I love him), evaded a couple of chances and found himself in the box… what were we to expect? A goal? An assist? A new roof needed for the Town End? Unfortunately none of these. After skipping past the last defender he set himself up on his weaker right side and blasted the ball… high and wide of the goal. Despite this early disappointment Town continued to make chances. This mainly came down the left flank, with Ryan Harley and McEveley creating chances at will.

Swindon’s dominance finally paid off when after great work from Alex Pritchard, dispossessing the Carlisle full-back and playing it into Massimo Luongo who calmly swept it passed Manchester United loanee Ben Amos to get town off the mark. Swindon kept up their dominance until the end of the half, however, Carlisle, who were a threat all afternoon from set pieces, threatened with a looping header from much-travelled Lee Miller. The Scottish striker looped a header onto the woodwork with Wesley Foderingham sprawling in an attempt to push it away to safety.

After most fans got something hot at half-time – it was remarkably cold – Carlisle started the second half. Town were hoping to pick up three points for the first time since the 16th November and send the fans into the festive month with a smile on their faces. They did it, albeit the difficult way. This season Swindon have struggled to complete a ’90 minute performance’. They have very often torn teams apart for 45 minutes, such as Wolves and Crewe. However, doing this over a full 90 minutes has proved to be a struggle. Unfortunately, after playing so well in the first half, Town let their standards slip and invited Carlisle to play their game. After slowly creeping their way back into the game they finally got a break when a free kick was pumped into the Town area and guess who? Sean O’Hanlon headed in to Wesley Foderingham’s far post to drag Carlisle back into the game.

Town needed to get into gear. Who would step up to make the change? Shortly after conceding Town won a free kick about 20 yards out. Swindon needed a bit of magic and up stepped Alex Pritchard to lusciously whip a free kick over the wall and into the top corner. Just what the doctor ordered. Straight after Swindon got back in front a certain Mr Nile Ranger returned to first-team affairs and his presence was felt immediately. After having a ten minute run-about he latched onto a delicious through ball by fellow substitute Ryan Mason and crossed first time for, wait for it, fellow substitute Dany N’Guessan to tap home. Game. Set. And Match. Three points in the bag.

Swindon Town now have a much needed ten day break to recharge the batteries and make a promotion push over Christmas. First we have an JPT Area Semi-final game against fellow League one opposition in the form of Stevenage; a game that Town really should be winning in order to get a step closer to the place that shall not be named.

In the meantime, get in the festive spirit, and see you at the County Ground on the 10th…


Matthew Peach – @MattJPeach

Header image from skysports.com