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.