Swindon Town 2-1 Peterborough Utd – Episode VI: Return of the Ranger

Nile Ranger Celebration 1

Swindon Town finally had a chance to kick off 2014 by entertaining Peterborough United at the County Ground. After collecting four points from three games over a rather testing Christmas period, Swindon would be hoping they could pick up the perfect delayed New Year present for the Town faithful, as Matthew Peach reports.

As the team news came out, many Town fans were left surprised at the line-up selected by manager Mark Cooper. Cooper made four changes from the team that picked up a valuable point at Bradford City last time out with Raphael Rossi Branco, Ryan Mason, Dany N’Guessan and Nile Ranger returning to the line up in place of Jay McEverley, Louis Thompson, Nicky Ajose and Nathan Byrne respectively. With three centre backs in the team many people were left wondering what formation Town would adopt to combat Peterborough’s attacking football. It worked out as the tried and tested 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 formation, with Grant Hall deputising at left back. As well as a puzzling line up, new signing George Barker had his first taste of football at the County Ground, starting out on the bench.

But this was not the major cause for surprise among Town fans. It was the return of Nile Ranger that really got the fans talking. After being told his contract would be terminated, it seemed that there would be no way back for Ranger… again. However, as the club organising a meeting with his representatives, Ranger managed to haggle himself a last chance and after apologising to his team mates, he was back. He trained in the week and was handed a surprise start. Despite everything appearing to be rosy again with Mr Ranger, Swindon fans were left in the dark before the line up was announced. It was Friday afternoon when rumours slowly started circulating on Twitter, and come lunch time on Saturday there was picture evidence of Nile Ranger’s shirt hanging in the dressing room. Relief. Well that does of course depend on how you see the troubled character…

Enough about Ranger and his shenanigans, back to the football. Swindon got us underway at a mightily cold County Ground, attacking the Town End in the first half. Town made a slow start with Peterborough controlling most of the early parts of the game. As a result, the visitors created the first real chance of the game when former Town striker Nicky Ajose – who had returned from his loan spell a matter of days before – popped up with a header that was comfortably saved by Wes Foderingham. As it seems with all Town old boys, surely he was bound to score on his return? After some early Posh pressure Town mustered their own chance when wing wizard Alex Pritchard produced some quick skill and fired a cross come shot over the Peterborough ‘keeper, Bobby Olejnik’s bar.

After a few half-chances Town finally made the breakthrough. After a well worked short corner by Pritchard and Massimo Luongo the ball found itself sitting perfectly for guess who? That’s right, Nile Ranger to head home. You couldn’t write it better if you had tried. A goal for Ranger after his absence from the first team. Town were in the lead, perhaps undeservedly so, but that didn’t matter to the 7,000 plus fans. Unfortunately after the opening goal the Posh continued to create chances with £1.5 million striker Britt Assombalonga proving to be a thorn in Swindon’s back four along with teammate and former Celtic target Lee Tomlin, who turned into something of a pantomime villain. The half ended as Tomlin whipped a free kick over Foderingham’s goal and into the Stratton bank to jeers from the stands due to Tomlin staying down after a light challenge with Yaser Kasim.

As soon as the second half commenced it was all Peterborough with them very much controlling the opening 15 minutes of the second half. The Cambridgeshire side, who had only won once in the last seven in all competitions, were desperate to get back into the game. With the Posh midfield dominating the game chances were coming left, right and centre. However, one player who would continue to preserve Town’s lead was Brazilian defender Raphael Rossi Branco. He continually found himself in the right place at the right time making blocks, tackles and interceptions throughout the afternoon; although even he was powerless to stop Tomlin’s curling drive that clipped the post and went out of play. This was a warning sign for Town.

As a result, Cooper brought on Louis Thompson for Ryan Mason, who had been largely ineffective. Thompson sat in front of the back four, mainly picking up Tomlin as and when he went forward searching for an equaliser. Within ten minutes of Louis Thompson’s introduction Swindon grabbed a goal against the run of play. Kasim picked the ball up just over the halfway line and drove at the Posh’s defence. He kept running and running with N’Guessan drawing defenders off of him, before unleashing a ferocious drive from the edge of the area that nestled in the bottom corner. At last some breathing space for Town in the most unlikely of circumstances.

During the goal celebrations Cooper took off N’Guessan for Nathan Byrne to solidify the left hand side, as a lot of Peterborough’s play was coming down that flank. Many people have had a dig at Cooper, calling him tactically naive sometimes, but personally in this game I though he nailed it. Unfortunately for Town the away side continued to create chances and finally struck home when left back Nathaniel Knight-Percival volleyed home from a corner. A long ten minutes for the home side to hold on for a much needed three points against promotion rivals.

There was a twist in the plot though for Town, remember Lee Tomlin? The pantomime villain? Well he was up to his old tricks and in the attempt to take a quick throw-in he pushed Town hero Kasim to the ground, prompting his marching orders. Within minutes of this, all-hell broke loose on the touchline with a ten-man-plus brawl breaking out, which resulted in Jimmy Walker, Peterborough’s goalkeeping coach, being sent off. This was turning into a real cracker of a game.

Once last chance fell to Posh youngster Jermaine Anderson, a header from six yards that he managed to blaze over the bar. Shortly after the final whistle blew. Relief. Satisfaction. Call it what you want. Town hung on to pick up their first three points of 2014. With thanks to wayward Ranger.

Where does this leave Town now? With a midweek trip to bottom side Stevenage before another away trip to Gillingham, Town have a real chance to start making up some serious ground on those above them. This is all before a home game with Shrewsbury, which sets Town up for the vital game away at Walsall. So a big month for Swindon who have a real chance now to secure a place in the play offs.

COYR

Matthew Peach – @MattJPeach

 

To Exeter with Sam Parkin and a welcome to George Barker…

Sam Parkin, New Signing

It’s Friday, so it must be time for the latest blog by BBC Devon’s Vic Morgan.

It’ll be nearly a fortnight since Swindon Town have played a game. We’ve yet to kick off in 2014, so it’s been a bit frustrating for us fans. With the inevitable postponement of the New Year’s Day game against Crawley, it should mean the Town squad will be pretty fresh come Saturday against Peterborough United.

Rather than sit at home watching the score lines roll in on my telly, I decided to nip down to nearby St.James Park to watch Exeter City take on Mansfield Town. It also meant a chance to watch ‘Super Sammy’ Parkin in action for the Grecians. Sam now may not be as quick as he was in his Town days but his touch is still superb. I’m of the firm belief that Sam should have stayed at the County Ground. Of course he had the chance to play at a higher level with Ipswich Town and so made the move to Portman Road, but we Swindon fans know his best was with us.

A true Town legend. Won’t ever forget the hat trick on his debut against Barnsley and his terrific season in tandem with Tommy Mooney who undoubtedly brought the best out of Big Sam. Unfortunately for Exeter, Sammy was unable to help them to a win. Mansfield coming away with the points despite City hitting the woodwork three times and having the ball cleared off the line a couple more.

The transfer window has brought a new striker to Swindon in the shape of George Barker and maybe more signings by Saturday. It’s fair to say not many know too much about the new man from Brighton but he comes ‘highly rated’ by coach Luke Williams and we wish him well. If his career flourishes then it means so might we, so good luck George and here’s to a long and prosperous stay.

Peterborough it is then on Saturday. The first of three meetings between the teams in the next month. So they have a big say in the shape of the rest of the season. Three league points would be great and it will also give us an indication of what we can expect in the JPT area final to come. We also have the Posh to thank for the contribution of loanee Nicky Ajose, a player who always gave of his best in a Town shirt. We kicked off our campaign it seems an age ago at London Road and suffered a narrow defeat. How far have we come since then? We’ll find out Saturday.

Keep it loud keep it proud keep it SWINDON.

Vic

Here’s that video of Sam Parkin scoring that famous hat trick for Swindon…

STFC Player of the Month Result: December

Player of the Month

Our TheWashbag.com Index calculates the Swindon Town Player of the Month by assessing the key statistics from all league and cup matches. The December result is in…

2013.12 Player of the Month

Nicky Ajose returns to parent club Peterborough having secured our December player of the month award. The forward has been awarded with 21 points after scoring the equaliser in the JPT tie with Stevenage; scoring another and providing an assist in the away defeat at Brentford. Ajose also picked up the full complement of ten points from the five matches in December.

Alex Pritchard is the monthly runner up with 15 points after featuring in all five games and scoring a wonderful solo goal in the draw at Bradford City. With the transfer window now open we’re all hoping that Spurs allow Pritchard to fulfill his season-long long at the County Ground.

Fellow loanee Ryan Mason secures third place with 12 points in this low-scoring month. Mason featured in four of the five games, scoring once at Brentford.

Without any cleansheets during December Wes Foderingham, the defenders and defensive midfielders have scored few points, hopefully that’ll change soon…

Agree or disagree with the statistics..? Who receives your vote for the December Player of the Month?

How it works…

Swindon Town players receive a score based on their performance in all league and cup fixtures based upon the statistics collated by the Press Association and published by BBC Sport. The format of the scoring is very similar to that used in the Fantasy Premier League, with some exceptions.

  • For playing up to 60 minutes = 1 point
  • For playing 60 minutes or more = 2 points
  • For each goal scored by a goalkeeper or defender = 6 points
  • For each goal scored by a midfielder = 5 points
  • For each goal scored by a forward = 4 points
  • For each hat trick scored = 3 points
  • For each goal assist = 3 points
  • For a clean sheet by a goalkeeper or defender = 4 points
  • For a clean sheet by a midfielder = 1 point
  • For every 3 shot saves by a goalkeeper = 1 point
  • For each penalty save = 5 points
  • For each substitute appearance having a positive impact on the final result = 2 points
  • For each substitute appearance having a negative impact on the final result = minus 2 points
  • For each penalty miss = minus 2 points
  • For every 2 goals conceded by a goalkeeper or defender = minus 1 point
  • For each yellow card = minus 1 point
  • For each red card = minus 3 points
  • For each own goal = minus 2 points

January departures, arrivals and a LIverpool link for Swindon?

January

The January transfer window is usually a panic-filled month for Swindon Town fans. Recent January transfer windows have seen key players such as Charlie Austin and Matt Ritchie depart the County Ground and it looks like further departures are likely this year, but also we should expect some arrivals… Writes Calvin Hothi.

The departures..?

Alex Pritchard – Midfielder

The Spurs midfielder has taken the County Ground by storm since arriving in the summer. His performances haven’t gone unnoticed however. A host of Championship clubs including Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Blackburn are interested in securing the services of the loanee who is rumoured to be only valued at £1 million by the Spurs hierarchy.

Pritchard has been a stand out performer, contributing goals and assists throughout the season. He’s a player who will surely go on to play at a higher level. I’d say that £1 million looks like a bargain, but would rather Alex remained at Swindon until May…

Nile Ranger – Striker

Previous chairman Jed McCrory took a punt on the controversial striker in the summer. He was brought in to be our target man in replacement for Andy Williams and hasn’t disappointed on the pitch, notching six goals and contributing greatly by enabling Mark Cooper to play with a sole striker.

Off the pitch however Nile has disappointed, missing training on multiple occasions, being late on others, crashing his car and not avoiding headlines. Lee Power and Cooper have come to the end of their tether and will sit down with Nile to discuss terminating his contract next week. This is a sad way for Nile’s Swindon career to end, particularly as he is arguably the most naturally talented forward in the side.

Wesley Foderingham – Goalkeeper

Foderingham has been a constant performer in the Robins’ side since making the loan move from Crystal Palace permanent in January 2012 under Paolo Di Canio. A good shot stopper and a reliable ‘keeper is something teams strive for. Interest in Foderingham has been high since the start of 2013 with Bournemouth being the most likely to lodge a January bid.

Swindon fought off an approach from Brentford for his services in the summer, but how much would it take for Lee Power to part with Wesley? The issue for any potential purchaser is how much they’d need to pay for Foderingham because of his rumoured large percentage of any future fee being owed to Palace. Town will need to recoup a reasonable sum should they wish to replace Wes with a decent ‘keeper with Football League experience.

Mohamed El-Gabas – Striker

The Egyptian forward has played a bit-part role in the Town side since signing. A couple of substitute appearances and starts in the JPT means we have not fully seen El-Gabas. We can’t really judge him, the only ones who can make a good judgement are Mark Cooper and Luke Williams who see him train. His contract is up this January and so far it does not look like an extension will be handed out.

One who’s gone already…

Nicky Ajose – Striker

As I write this, news has come out that Nicky Ajose has been recalled a game early by parent club Peterborough. Ajose may not have started as many games as he would have liked but it didn’t stop him netting ten times in Swindon colours. Without him our JPT run would be over. He always put 100% into every game and was a thorough professional. A player that will be missed.

With 18 months on his Peterborough contract remaining, it appears we have been priced out of a permanent move for the former Manchester United trainee and I wish him the best for the future.

Potential arrivals..?

January has also seen some fairly good incomings to the County Ground, Wes Foderingham, Darren Ward and Matt Ritchie joining on a permanent basis. Here are some possible replacements that could be lined up…

Wes Thomas – Striker – Bournemouth

The 26 year old forward joined the Cherries from Crawley Town in January 2012 for a ‘six figure fee’ and has scored 11 goals in 46 appearances. After failing to secure his services in the summer and on-loan in the Autumn (owing to the disclosure of the deal via social media), the Robins are thought to have gone back in for the AFC Bournemouth striker in the past week.

Thomas has only played a bit part role in Bournemouth’s season making ten appearances off of the bench with just two starts, two shots on target and zero goals. The problem for Town is that Bournemouth aren’t keen to sell and have dismissed a new £100,000 bid this week.

Wes Thomas has the potential to be a replacement for Ajose or El-Gabas, however his lack of height means he wouldn’t be able to play the target man role so perfected by Nile Ranger. A further problem could be if Thomas would be willing to take a wage cut. There are rumours that he’s on ridiculously high wages on the South Coast with Cheltenham chairman Paul Baker described his wages he was signing for Crawley on as “staggering”.

Cheyenne Dunkley – Center Back – Kidderminster Harriers

Mark Cooper has reportedly sent scouts on multiple occasions to watch the former Crewe trainee. Cheyenne has played 19 games for play-off chasing Kidderminster in the Conference this season.

Cover for Town’s centre back pairing Darren Ward and Grant Hall is needed with both playing every game this season. Rafael Rossi-Branco has recently impressed against Bradford and Troy Archibald Henville, although nearly returned from injury, seems to be out of favour. Could the 21 year old Harrier be set to bolster the defensive ranks?

Liverpool link?

A rumoured link with Liverpool could see us gain access to some of their finest youngsters. With a few strikers and a defender needed, some of these could be seen making a temporary move to the County Ground in the near future…

Michael Ngoo – Striker – Liverpool

A towering striker who also possesses a burst of pace is someone who could be brought in as a replacement for Ranger. Earlier this season the 20 year old England youth international loan spell with Championship side Yeovil was ended by mutual consent after making six appearances but failing to find the net. Ngoo had a more fruitful loan spell with Hearts between January and May 2013 when scoring four goals from 15 appearances.

Lloyd Jones – Center Back – Liverpool

Considered to be one of the brightest starlets in the Liverpool youth side, Lloyd Jones recently signed a professional deal with the Reds and is tipped to step up to Brendan Rodgers side in a couple of seasons.

The 18 year old defender was ever present in their NextGen team. He signed from Plymouth Argyll in 2011. A short term stint with us could provide perfect experience in professional football needed to make the step up, but does he have the experience we sorely need in defence?

Joao Carlos Teixeira – Midfielder – Liverpool

18 year old Teixeira signed from Sporting Lisbon and is tipped to go onto big things with Liverpool. A flamboyant playmaker, he could prove to be a replacement for Alex Pritchard should he leave. The ‘new Deco’ can be deployed on either wing or down the middle and much like Lloyd Jones, could gain vital experience from a loan stint.

Jordan Ibe – Forward – Liverpool

Ibe signed from Wycombe Wanderers he can be deployed on either wing or up top. He became Wycombe’s youngest ever goalscorer when scoring on his first start in a 2-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday. Brendan Rodgers handed him his senior debut on the final day of the 2012-13 season. Now 18, Ibe has been awarded the no.33 squad number at Anfield and has made one appearance this season in a League Cup victory over Notts County.

January 2014 will be a big month in deciding how our season pans out, play offs or mid table finish. With departures likely, replacements are a must. We must invest in a couple of forwards and if Alex Pritchard is to leave, he must be replaced.

Lets make 2014 a good year.

Raining on the parade…

Raining

It’s Friday, so it must be time for the latest blog by BBC Devon’s Vic Morgan.

It was a soggy start to the New Year then… I particularly enjoyed driving most of the way to Swindon from Devon, only to have to turn round again when I heard that the Town’s game with Crawley was off. Mind you I wasn’t surprised. The M5 resembled a canal and the sides of the roads a new ocean. Incredible and with more to come, thank goodness there’s no game this weekend.

Before that, I had an early start for the trip to Bradford. The ongoing Nile Ranger saga meant he wasn’t in the line-up at Valley Parade  and not surprisingly it looks like his time at SN1 is up. A shame really. A player with so much talent and somehow not able to channel it into his football career. Enough said on that matter.

More should be said on the excellent defensive display by Swindon. Too often this season defensive lapses have proved our undoing. When the home side went in front early on with an almost free bullet like header, things didn’t look promising. Grit, determination and some good football got us back into the game leading to a wonder goal from Alex Pritchard. It was reminiscent of Ricky Villa’s effort in the Cup Final all those years ago. A mazy dribble and a great finish in front of the Town fans. Wonderful moment and made the long trip worthwhile.

It was also farewell to Nicky Ajose. The loan from Peterborough has come to an end. A player who always gave his all and looked as though he cared. He scored the goals which have got us to the latter stages of the JPT. Ironic that we face his parent club in the area final.

So what of 2014? A top eight finish would be tremendous. Play offs even better. We don’t know what sort of squad we’ll have at the end of January so it’s difficult to judge how strong we’ll be. On the evidence of Valley Parade, Branco is one player who’ll come into the frame. Coming on as a second half substitute, he was superb. So a real backbone emerged and that’s what we’ll need over the second half of this campaign.

A weekend off then and a chance to make sure my house doesn’t blow away. Enjoy.

Keep it loud keep it proud keep it SWINDON.

Vic

September & October 2013: League nitty-gritty and cup glamour

2013 MK Dons Alex Pritchard

2013 was a truly eventful and unforgettable year at Swindon Town. Brendan Hobbs jumped at the chance of writing our review of 2013, which has turned into an epic feature of writing; you’ve now made it to part seven and its now 2014, so a Happy New Year!

September

The first bit of business for Swindon in the new month was to secure two more strikers to join the fight. Unknown Mohammed El Gabbas was drafted in on a short term deal and Dany N’Guessan joined after Millwall cancelled his contract. One Millwall fan on Twitter denounced N’Guessan as the worst footballer he had ever seen, which was music to Swindon fans ears as I remember a Charlton fan saying exactly the same thing about Alan McCormack. N’Guessan was no stranger to scoring at the County Ground after grabbing an 88th leveller for Boston United way back in 2006.

Town were provided with the opportunity to flex their muscles on live TV with a tricky away encounter at MK Dons. Alex Pritchard provided one of those ‘wow’ moments and probably the only time I’ve rewound ‘live’ TV on my Sky Box (I know, I’ve not lived) with a fantastic free kick, curled into the top corner. Swindon looked impressive at times, but the Dons always looked dangerous and grabbed an equaliser via another top flight loanee Patrick Bamford. This all happened after a previously comfortable Town were controversially reduced to ten men after Nathan Byrne received his second red card in a Town shirt.

A daunting trip to nailed-on promotion favourites Wolves provided the next test for Swindon, N’Guessan was to net his first goal for his new club in an impressive team performance, the team ultimately going down though 3-2, with Ryan Mason netting the other with an absolute beaut from 35 yards.

The run of punishing fixtures continued with a tricky home game against local rivals Bristol City, who despite being on a wretched run of form, possessed a lot of quality in their line-up, including one time target Marlon Pack and former favourite Aden Flint. It was Flint (obviously) who scored first, nodding home direct from an early corner, Town got back level via Nicky Ajose’s first goal for the club, turning Nicky Shorey brilliantly before firing low into the net. The status quo didn’t last for long though as the impressive Emmanuel-Thomas cut in from the touchline to fire viciously past Foderingham. It was down to that man Ajose again to grab his second to tie the match up just before half-time. The second half was a tight, nervy affair before Nile Ranger deservedly grabbed the winner with three minutes to go.

League Cup fever gripped the Town on Tuesday 24th September, as Swindon were pitted against a genuine Premier League Billy Big Balls outfit in the shape of Chelsea. Town cashed in on the opportunity with the whole corporate thing moving into overdrive as dining tables were crammed into the sponsors lounge as never seen before. And when the lounge wouldn’t take any more some sort of tented village was erected outside to take the overflow, giving the paying customers the effect and experience of a high-class refugee camp – as the majority of the in-mates all ended up their wallets fleeced at the end. The TV cameras were out as well, perhaps sniffing a possible upset, with TV execs imagining an inexperienced Chelsea D team being roughly turned over by a bunch of seasoned professionals from the lower leagues.

When the two team sheets were issued, I’m sure some Sky executives ummmed and arrred about packing up and going home as the Chelsea team was pretty much their ‘A’ affair. True, there were some of the back-up squad were on show, unfortunately for Town, they included players like Juan Mata and Michael Essien. I’m sure some gear was already packed away before someone said, “Well we’re here now and I’m sure the half-time buffet will be good.”

Chelsea never got out of third gear, securing a routine win with two excellent strikes courtesy of Fernando Torres and the mononymous Ramires. I enjoyed the game, and the ground did have a big-time feel about it, with the scrolling electronic advertisements and the instant replays on the big screen but on the whole I felt the atmosphere was a little lacking. It would’ve been interesting if Dany N’Guessan’s effort in the second half hadn’t been ruled out for offside, just to see if Town were capable of mounting some type of Villa style comeback, spurred on by a molten Town End.

As we all filtered out at the end, pushing our way through all the big-time litter and past the shanty village of TV vehicles and marquees I felt a certain joy, maybe because we didn’t embarrass ourselves, maybe it was because of whole spectacle of the game – I’m not sure , but the game felt enchanting and exciting to witness. I hope we have a few more of those sort of nights in the future.

The September programme and difficult run of fixtures came to a close away at Preston, a place that has special memories for Wes Foderingham, who can now add conceding a bizarre own goal to his list of Deepdale joys, with Jay McEveley giving him no chance by looping the ball over his head into the net.

In some way this game provided a turning point for McEveley who had been showing some wretched form. The own goal provided a zenith for his recent poor displays as he finally emerged from his appalling Kim Heiselberg shaped chrysalis and burst into the light as a beautiful Cafu butterfly.

On the whole, the Preston game was very odd, Town were totally outplayed for much of the match but at the death almost spewed up an unlikely point. N’Guessan grabbed what seemed only a consolation with the score at two nil, but Town then laid siege to the Preston goal and a scorcher from Yaser Kasim almost grabbed the leveller, their ‘keeper making a last ditch tip over to deny the Iraqi.

October

October brought a mixed bag of results, first off was a home encounter against a struggling Tranmere side. I did the whole ‘corporate thing’ for this game and was in the Royal Box, it was a good job I did as the game itself was pretty awful, the chocolate torte I enjoyed at halftime however, was not. N’Guessan grabbed the only goal via the spot after Pritchard was hauled down just as he was about to pull the trigger, I was livid; I had a tenner on the diminutive winger to grab the first goal. I booed and whistled but N’Guessan finished with aplomb.

Next up was a thumping four nil away win at Rotherham, a score line so unexpected considering all the home pressure endured by our wobbly defence in the first quarter. Pritchard, Luongo, Ajose and N’Guessan all on target.

Town then dispatched Notts County back at the County Ground, with the effective partnership of Ranger and N’Guessan grabbing the goals, this propelled Swindon to the lofty heights of fifth, not many saw that coming at the start of the season, this ‘cutting your own cloth’ business was seemingly not too bad after all.

Sadly, we were all brought back down to earth with a bump when slick Walsall oozed into Town. A commanding, disciplined performance saw the Saddlers run out 3-1 winners, with Ranger grabbing a consolation goal in the last ten. This left many Town fans panicking, suggesting our style ‘had been found out’ and that the inevitable slide down the table was now just around the corner, now you could never brand our fans ‘kneejerk’ could you?

After a disappointing away showing at that World War II film set that is Boundary Park, Oldham, in which we only had an own goal to show for our efforts in a two-one loss. We pulled up our trousers, rolled back our sleeves and got back to work with a topsy-turvey 5-2 drubbing against Port Vale.

Read the rest of our review of 2013

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