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

Brentford 3-2 Swindon Town: The Bees pack the punch on Boxing Day

Brentford football ground, griffin park

On a day with which the phrase “cold turkey” is synonymous, Swindon Town made themselves look like a team of the festive birds as they were unable to capitalise on a bright start and ended up being Brentford’s boxing day lunch. Writes Jonny Leighfield.

Mark Cooper made two changes to his starting line up by reintroducing Nathan Thompson to his usual right-back slot and switching Nathan Byrne to left-back whilst starting Yaser Kasim instead of Ryan Harley.

Swindon started very brightly on a bitterly cold day in West London with Alex Pritchard crossing early for Nile Ranger but the big frontman couldn’t direct his header on target. Swindon continued to play some fast, flowing football and their reward came in the 9th minute with Ryan Mason taking a cross brilliantly in his stride before side foot volleying Town in to the lead. The goal was exactly what Swindon deserved and they continued their dominance through the early stages of the first half restricting Brentford to half chances and long range efforts.

Along with Adam Forshaw, Sam Saunders was a stand-out player for Brentford for most of the game, but during the first half it was Saunders’ right foot that continuously troubled the Swindon defence sending in tough crosses for them to deal with. A dipping free kick from just left of centre by Saunders sent Wes Foderingham flying across goal to tip over on 15 minutes.

The game gradually began to slip from Swindon as the balance in power shifted and the balance was finally tipped back to all square (with a little help from the referee) on 27 minutes when Sam Saunders fell just outside the box. On the first attempt Saunders slipped causing for a rare moment around a football ground these days, laughter from both sets of fans. However the second time round only one set of fans had a smile on their face. It was the Brentford contingent as at the second time of asking Saunders bent a free kick over the wall and into the top left hand corner of the goal, wrong footing Foderingham. His celebration suggested the referee had perhaps been deceived but such is the modern footballers’ prerogative to do as he pleases.

Swindon saw out the rest of the first half with the minimum amount of fuss restricting the largely uninfluential Clayton Donaldson to half chances. Although things did begin to get heated when Donaldson went in hard on Nicky Ajose and was booked for his troubles. The first half fizzled out into a scrappy exchange with neither team able to keep hold of the ball for any serious period of time.

On the balance of play Swindon could consider themselves unlucky to be drawing at the break. However Forshaw and Saunders were gifted far too much space by Massimo Luongo and Kasim to dictate play and Swindon would have to quash that threat in the second half if they were to come away with all three points.

Much like the first half Swindon came out all guns blazing, pushing Brentford on to the back foot and asserting themselves in the game with some early shots and pressure. Then almost to the minute of their goal in the first half Swindon once again took the lead in the second, this time aided by a large slice of luck and a wayward pass from as ex-Robin. (The way it should be). A mis-directed pass from Jonathan Douglas gave Alex Pritchard the chance to run at the Bees defence and take aim. However the original shot from Pritchard took a big deflection off of a Brentford defender and cannoned into the path of Nicky Ajose who controlled and tapped home from close range. If the funds are available and the necessary parties can agree, bringing in Ajose at least until the end of season would be huge for the club and team and would prove vital if Swindon have serious promotion ambitions this year. Personally, I think he’s the best goal-scorer we’ve had for a few years now and it would be a real shame if he left in January.

From one goal scorer to another, Clayton Donaldson woke from his slumber to nod Brentford level only 3 minutes after Ajose’s tap in. Credit to the Bee’s striker for getting into the position but the defending from Swindon was just amateurish. Defenders were too busy marking that fox in the box “thin air” whilst real dangers stood free in the penalty area waiting to nod home.

Brentford smelt blood with Swindon’s lacklustre defending and lack of will to reach the ball first. There was only one way this game was heading if the Town defence didn’t get a grip. Unfortunately for those travelling supporters, they didn’t. Massimo Luongo was having what can only be described as a nightmare and the back four weren’t fairing much better. Mistake after mistake from those in blue and black were handing Brentford the game on a silver platter and when Marcelo Trotta waltzed through the Swindon defence to leave all those that pathetically tried to prevent him from scoring on the deck, only the Italian’s poor finish spared Swindon’s blushes.

Nevertheless Brentford’s third was never far behind. Swindon were being well beaten and although the score was still level the possession and hunger for the ball was nowhere near even. Swindon were being beaten to everything and their defensive frailties ultimately proved costly when a tame ball back towards their own goal was not dealt with and Trotta nipped in to give Brentford a well-deserved lead. A combination of poor defending from Darren Ward and Foderingham being slow to come off of his line resulted in Town conceding for the third time.

From that moment on the temperature began to rise inside Griffin Park. Tackles began to fly in and the usually cautious Alan McCormack was booked for shoving Ryan Mason into the Brentford supporters. Yaser Kasim and Harley Dean came to blows after Dean childishly attempted to delay the restart and Kasim took offence. Consequently both were spoken to and booked by the referee.

As cries from the Swindon faithful rang out for Mark Cooper to change something the attacking players rallied and created a few half chances but nothing with a real end product. Eventually Cooper did make changes, but not the anticipated ones. Swindon’s two biggest attacking dangers, Ranger and Ajose, were sacrificed for Storey and Ben Gladwin. It was a risk certainly, and most were unhappy about it but Storey came on against Coventry and turned the game on its head so why couldn’t he do it again? Gladwin on the other hand was almost certainly thrown on to win headers however he failed miserably and as Swindon had no complete target man up top, Town’s grip on the game went from loose to non-existent.

A free kick 25 yards out was the only serious attempt Swindon could muster as the game slipped away. The free kick from Alex Pritchard was destined for the top corner but for an absolutely wonderful save from David Button. Nathan Byrne had a half chance saved by Button late on when surely a pass to a team mate would have been a better option but even then Brentford had the game sewn up.

A flurry of yellow cards followed as tempers frayed but even when the game was totally open in added time Swindon couldn’t keep hold of the ball for long enough to counter attack and Brentford ran the clock down to keep their automatic promotion hopes alive.

Once again Swindon attacked and scored goals for fun but their defensive misdemeanours cost them dear in a game that they probably could and should have won. Brentford looked nowhere near the team that reached the league one play-off final last season but in this particular game they knew their strengths and they played to them.

If Swindon have serious play-off aspirations they must sort out the defensive lapses that keep costing them silly goals or face more and more dropped points on the road. Swindon won’t go down this year for sure but this coming January will be the most important transfer window for some time. Losing one big player is something a club can recover from but lose four or five and you are staring down the barrel of trouble. Mark Cooper will have to reinforce whatever happens and a couple of centre backs are desperately needed but the most important thing for now is, keep hold of your most prized possessions or promotion hopes will just disappear, cold turkey.

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 1-1 Stevenage: Town Stumble into JPT Area Final

Johnstones Paint Trophy 1

Despite an unconvincing second half display from Swindon Town in front of a crowd of 3,804 where opponents Stevenage created sufficient chances to win in 90 minutes, Town went through on penalties to secure a place in the Area Final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy reports STFC007.

It began so well. In fact, the first 30 minutes or so were a pleasure to watch. Despite the odd ‘FORWARD’ shout from nearby football experts in the Don Rogers, most people near me in the stand were generally very positive about the football on display in the first half. Swindon playing towards the Town End were in full control from the start putting Stevenage under pressure from the first minute. An attacking Swindon line-up saw starts for both goalkeeper Tyrell Belford and right back Jack Barthram.

Town made their intention known from the start as Stevenage were pushed back. After some good combinations between Massimo Luongo and Alex Pritchard, the ball fell to Ryan Harley whose shot was narrowly kept out of the goal by a Stevenage defender. From the resulting corner Swindon hit the back of the net, unfortunately not with the ball. Initially Darren Ward headed against the bar with the ball ending up for seemingly an easy header for Nicky Ajose to make it 1-0. But instead of the ball ending up in the back of the net, it was Ajose who ended up in there as he was launched into the net with an enormous push in the back. The ball was cleared, but surely a penalty and red card as it a clear goal scoring opportunity.

Referee Steve Martin whose performance at times equaled his named sake in terms of comical value, decided differently though and awarded the dropped ball to the Stevenage goalkeeper Day, following a delay in play to allow for the net to be repaired. The attacking Swindon threat continued but without clear cut chances besides some long range efforts. Stevenage were allowed to break from time to time but were unable to find anyone at the end of their final pass to cause Belford any real cause for concern.

The deserved Swindon goal came on 20 minutes when a short corner reached Harley outside the box. His goal bound shot was deflected by Ajose and steered into the empty net with the Stevenage keeper already committed. The first goal should have relaxed the players and allowed them to maintain control of the game and go on and score a couple more before half time.  Instead, they allowed Stevenage to take the initiative. Dany N’Guessan was booked for diving in the penalty area, Ward made a few wayward clearances at the back and Stevenage could have been level five minutes before half time had the cross reached any one of the three onrushing players from midfield.

The second half was a much more open affair and at times it seemed that Stevenage were the home team, keeping possession for long periods. Swindon’s marking was lax at times, closing down too slow, too late allowing too many crosses into the box.  Belford, who started nervy but grew into the game, had to make a reaction save from close range to keep Town ahead.  It wasn’t all Stevenage as a Pritchard shot hit the bar and the Stevenage goalie just pushed wide an Ajose shot from outside the box.

With nearly 25 minutes left to play, Yaser Kasim came on for Ryan Mason and Ben Gladwin made his Swindon Town debut as Luongo made way. Swindon were made to sit deeper as Stevenage were chasing an equaliser and came very close several times. The final warning came with ten minutes to play when three unmarked players at the back post were waiting to head the ball into the net, but luckily Pritchard was able to clear the danger. The equaliser came from the resulting corner following some poor marking from Kasim allowing Zoko to head in at the near post.

El Gabas came on for N’Guessan and Swindon finished the stronger and could have made better use of some chances had the ball been passed to a fellow player instead of going for glory. There was a claim for a handball at the very end which wasn’t given and seemed to even out Stevenage’s claim for a penalty following an unnecessary Kasim tackle in the box previous. It was Ajose who had the last chance but the woodwork was in the way for the third time that evening, so onto penalties it was.

The penalties were taken towards the Town End and it was Stevenage that with Zoko who scored again to the delight of the 79 traveling supporters, rolling the ball casually into the net after Belford had committed himself. This turned out to be the one and only penalty Stevenage scored as Belford managed to stop 2 and one was blasted over. Swindon through Pritchard, El Gabas and Kasim all scored theirs.

So an unconvincing but on reflection deserved win to set up a two-legged tie with Peterborough in the Southern area Final in February with the return leg to be played at the County Ground.

Based on the second half performance, Wembley seems a long way away. If Swindon however are able to play like they did during the opening half hour in both legs against Peterborough, who knows…. But between now and then, there are some tasty encounters in the league to look forward to starting this Saturday away to Sheffield United.

STFC Player of the Month Result: November

Player of the Month 4

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

2013.11 Player of the Month

Massimo Luongo and Dany N’Guessan are tied for the monthly award. Both have secured 29 points in November.

Luongo played every minute of the seven league and cup games in November and scored three goals from midfield – two versus Port Vale and another against Carlisle United. I’m sure that Massimo picked up additional points for assists, but I can recall in which games..?

N’Guessan also scored three goals in November; picking up extra points for his goal at Colchester coming from his wide midfield position in Cooper’s 4-6-0, and positive impact when coming on as a substitute versus Carlisle.

Nicky Ajose is just behind with 26 points and was the top goal scorer in November with four.

Last month’s winner Alex Pritchard takes 3rd with 21 points.

Agree or disagree with the statistics..? Who receives your vote for the November 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

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…

COYR

Matthew Peach – @MattJPeach

Header image from skysports.com

Crawley Town 0-0 Swindon Town: Resilient Robins earn a point

Broadfield Stadium Crawley

A resilient and dogged Swindon Town side fought out a hard earned 0-0 draw against Crawley despite being reduced to ten men late on after Nathan Byrne’s dismissal, reports Andrew Steele-Davis.

Both teams headed into the Tuesday night encounter with a patchy formbook. The hosts were on a six game streak without a win with four of those games ending in defeat. Their last home win stretched back to October 19th where they defeated Bradford whilst Town on the other hand entered the game on the back of a 1-3 home defeat at the hands of Leyton Orient at the weekend and had won three but also lost three of their previous six games.

Swindon boss Mark Cooper reverted back to the 4-6-0 formation that worked wonders during the previous away outing at Colchester United with Nathan Byrne returning from illness which kept him out of the defeat to Leyton Orient to replace the suspended Jay McEveley. Louis Thompson also came into the starting eleven with Alex Pritchard dropping to the bench; whilst there was a surprise inclusion amongst the subs for Ryan Mason who had made a quicker than expected return from injury.

Crawley had the game’s first opening on goal with just four minutes played after a poor attempted clearance from Wes Foderingham fell to Nicky Adams who could only send the ball straight back into the relieved Keeper’s arms from 30 yards.

The opening fifteen minutes or so were short on any kind of quality or excitement. Swindon seemed quite content to put 11 men behind the ball and soak up any Crawley pressure whilst getting ready to catch their hosts on the break.

However, it was to be Crawley who were to have the game’s next slice of meaningful action, as Foderingham again put himself at risk of going red in the face with embarrassment with just under twenty minutes played. Kyle McFadzean pumped a long ball forward, which Foderingham completely missed as he surged out of his goal, but fortunately for Wes and Swindon no Crawley players were on hand to tap home Dannie Bulman’s cut back across the goal and the danger had passed.

Town created a rare chance on 26 minutes and thought they had nipped in front when the in-form Nicky Ajose prodded home from Massimo Luongo’s cross but Ajose was accused of handling the ball in the build-up and referee Andy D’Urso called play back.

With the game threatening to burst into life Josh Simpson tried his luck for the home side with a rasping long range effort, which Foderingham tipped wide. That was to be the last meaningful action of a very dull first 45 minutes of football as both sides went in at the break goalless.

The second half did improve marginally however as Simpson again attempted to test Foderingham from distance but this time he lashed his vicious effort just wide of the left-hand post with 50 minutes played.

Town became more adventurous in the second half with Alex Pritchard and Ryan Mason both brought on with Dany N’Guessan and Ryan Harley making way but before that Ajose came so close to edging the visitors in front. With 20 minutes remaining Yaser Kasim sent a ball over the top of the Crawley defence which Ajose latched onto and then attempted to lob Jones but watched on in agony and despair as his unlucky effort drifted just wide.

The visitors looked the better team going into the last ten minutes and it was that man Ajose again who nearly snatched victory for Swindon with 84 minutes. His initial header had come back to him but he could only prod against the post with the rebound.

With Swindon gathering steam and looking a good bet to go on and steal all three points Mark Cooper’s side were handed a blow which proved decisive. Nathan Byrne was dismissed for a second bookable offence with just four minutes left after clattering Gary Alexander. The sending-off was harsh but it was enough to curtail Town’s ever increasing dominance on the game and in the end both sides had to settle for a point.

Cooper will be frustrated with his side’s failure to capitalise on some very good chances but will be relieved after seeing his side claim their first clean sheet in seven games. Swindon fans haven’t had the pleasure of many 0-0 draws recently with last night’s being the first in a staggering 34 games.

Swindon can now look forward to the visit of Carlisle United to The County Ground on Saturday with the manic Festive Period just around the corner, albeit after a two week break following our exit from the FA Cup…

Enjoy what few highlights there are…