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…




Sheffield United 2 Swindon 0: Town on verge of losing play-off place

Sheffield United 3

Rejuvenated by the departure of former Swindon manager Danny Wilson, Sheffield United deservedly took all three points to all but book their play-off place and leave Town anxiously looking over their shoulder at the chasing pack from 6th position in League One. The Blades are a bullying, bruising team and they quite simply battered Swindon in a breathless first-half display that fully justified their decision to hand over the reins to Chris Morgan in midweek following defeat to Crawley. Writes Dan Hunt.

Miraculously, Town made it to half-time with only a one goal deficit to make up and a much improved second-half performance gave the 1,248 travelling reds something to cling on to – until Dave Kitson put the game beyond Swindon in the 82nd minute. Credit to Kevin MacDonald where it’s due, his team selection and tactics showed attacking intent from the start but the eleven chosen players need to take responsibility for an error strewn first period. Over and over again, Town’s defence were carved apart with ease by their steel city counterparts.

In converting to the much debated 4-4-2 formation, central midfielders Alan Navarro and Dean Parrett made way for Raffa De Vita and James Collins. If he wants to make it as a lower league footballer, Mr Parrett would do well to look at the committed efforts of Nathan Byrne and Massimo Luongo since arriving from White Hart Lane. For now, Swindon are better off without a young Premier League diva, even if it means that the substitute’s bench was populated by two Youth Team forwards in Connor Waldon and Mark Francis at Bramall Lane.

Central midfielder Kevin McDonald had already shot over from a Jamie Murphy cross before Sheffield United landed their first meaningful blow on the Swindon goal in the 3rd minute. A Tony McMahon free kick from wide on the left, curled towards the back post, got a slight touch from (I think) Dave Kitson before striking the left hand post – much to Wes Foderingham’s relief. In between the chaos, Massimo Luongo tested George Long from 20 yards but the young ‘keeper was up to the task in the Blades’ goal.

Almost immediately after Luongo’s effort, excellent goal-line blocks from Aden Flint and then Nathan Byrne kept the scores level. A simple long ball over the top was allowed to bounce by Darren Ward and Chris Porter outmuscled the former Millwall man to strike on goal from the right edge of the box. While Porter’s effort was cleared by Flint, the follow up opportunity was by far the better chance and Nathan Byrne did fantastically to bravely dive in and block Dave Kitson.

With barely ten minutes on the clock, Swindon were on the rack and lucky not to be two goals down. Twice more Wes Foderingham had to be on his mettle to deny a low Jamie Murphy shot and then a weak Chris Porter effort after being played through on goal. His strike partner Dave Kitson was waiting for a tap in at the back post if Porter had only looked up. Repeatedly, Sheffield United targeted Nathan Byrne’s lack of height on Swindon’s right hand side and it was a clever ball over the Spurs loanee that led to the Murphy effort.

The Blades had gone four home games without a goal before the visit of the Robins and my only forlorn hope from a terrible opening period was that the home fans were getting that familiar, “the ball just won’t go in”, feeling! Undeterred, the United players continued to press and the impressive Murphy tested Foderingham’s handling skills with a stinging right foot drive in the 13th minute. Perhaps the best chance of the half was still to come though.

The referee, Eddie Ilderton, was not endearing himself to the Town faithful with a series of trivial free kicks awarded to the home team. While Swindon were complaining about a Darren Ward ‘foul’ in the 20th minute, the Blades should have taken the lead through Doyle following a clever Dave Kitson quick free kick. Doyle inexplicably rolled wide of the far post though and Town’s incensed players surrounded Ilderton once more to protest until their faces turned the colour of the away strip!

Ill discipline seems to be a recurring theme since the departure of Paolo Di Canio as manager. Not only did Swindon pick up seven yellow cards but previously reliable players like Foderingham are now regularly partaking in ill disciplined activities – such as trying to dribble around centre-forwards when receiving back passes. Luckily for the former Crystal Palace ‘keeper, Chris Porter failed to punish his mistake in the 33rd minute.

Strangely, Sheffield United took the lead following Town’s best spell of the first half, culminating in a James Collins rising shot tipped over the bar by Long and a couple of over hit corners delivered by the left boot of Gary Roberts. Another contentious free kick award by Ilderton on the right wing led to the straw that broke the camel’s back. Despite claims that McCormack and then De Vita had been fouled, the free kick went United’s way and McMahon’s precise delivery found Porter who bundled home to send the home fans wild.

The half time lead could have been extended but Ryan Flynn’s burst through on goal was cleared off the line by McCormack, who proceeded to give away a free kick on the edge of the box in the melee. McMahon curled the resulting free kick against the woodwork and somehow a shell shocked Swindon went in to the break one goal behind.

The interval definitely benefited Kevin MacDonald’s men and the second half performance was a vast improvement on the first. The Blades didn’t have a clear cut chance until thirty minutes in but Town’s major failing was not turning territory and possession into shots on target.

Nathan Byrne shot wide from distance following good Swindon pressure in the 48th minute but the next significant chance didn’t arrive until Adam Rooney entered the fray just before the hour. After collecting a Gary Roberts cross from the right, the Birmingham loanee could only scoop over the crossbar from 12 yards.

The introduction of Luke Rooney, replacing Roberts on the wing, was a popular move with supporters and it was from a Luke Rooney corner that Ward nodded wide at the back post with twenty minutes left. The header was clearly deflected wide off a Sheffield head but alas, the officials saw otherwise in their infinite wisdom.

A misplaced Ferry pass almost put a goal on a plate for Dave Kitson but great tracking back from Ferry himself denied a shooting opportunity for the experienced forward. With 77 minutes on the clock, good work from Ferry at the right end of the pitch offered Luke Rooney the chance to drift inside and shoot but his right foot shot was dragged wide of the near post.

A minute later, a smart Andy Williams turn in the box was stopped unfairly according to Williams but the referee disagreed and promptly booked him for diving. My personal view was that it was neither a penalty nor a dive, simply a coming together. The immense frustration caused by failing to breakthrough was compounded by the head of Dave Kitson as he expertly diverted another sublime McMahon cross from the right into the ground and into the roof of the net.

The goal killed the game and all that was left to cling onto was the promising performance of debutant, Mark Francis, who adapted well to being asked to play on the left of a four man midfield following his entrance in the 72nd minute. Francis even became the Swindon man to get a shot on target in the second half after being fed by Ferry on the left hand edge of the box with minutes remaining. His low effort was well struck and forced a smart save out of Long.

Let’s be clear, this was a fully deserved victory for Chris Morgan’s men but a more potent Swindon side could have left this game with at least a point on the second half showing alone. Shot-shyness has become a worrying trend under Kevin MacDonald and one goal in the last five games tells its own story. What also tells a story, are the results over the entire nine game period during his tenure. See table below:

2013.04.13 League One Table Since Kevin MacDonald Joined

Above – League One table based on results since Kevin MacDonald took over as manager of Swindon Town on 28th February.

Under MacDonald, Swindon are the 18th best performing side in England’s third tier. My own personal view is that he’s not up to the job but we may have to wait until fifteen games into next season before Jed McCrory and Co. admit their mistake. I don’t care if this makes me a doom-monger; I want what is best for Swindon Town.

As much as you can after nine games, you get a gut-feeling about a man, and my gut-feeling is that MacDonald is too much of an apologist, too inherently negative, to be a successful football manager. Years of coaching youth and reserve teams where results are not important seem to have condemned Kevin to accepting mediocrity and once again, this isn’t good enough.

Two home games against mid-table sides with nothing to play for await, Swindon’s fate is luckily still in their own hands. Prove me wrong Kevin…       

Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88

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Colchester United 0 Swindon 1: The top two firmly within sights

welcome-to-essex 8

We welcome new TheWashbag contributor Lee Clark, who traveled to Essex to watch Swindon Town move within two points of the League One leaders with a deserved victory over struggling Colchester United. 

Swindon came into the game with a threadbare side after illness and injuries swept through the squad, but were comfortable in a game which was settled when James Collins finished powerfully from a tight angle early in the second half.

On a tricky pitch with heavy snow, sleet and rain all falling before the game, Swindon fans could be forgiven for fearing the worst on a pitch that was covered in sand in places. While it wasn’t Crawley-esque, it was unlikely to suit Town’s slick passing style. Both teams struggled to adapt to the conditions early on, with neither team dominating possession and the greatest opportunity for both teams were a couple of corners.

Swindon started to get on top after ten minutes, and the first chance came not long after. A corner was only half-cleared by Colchester when the ball was whipped in towards Darren Ward’s head. The centre-half could only head wide while unmarked. It was an all too familiar sight for Swindon fans, who felt as though chances like that weren’t taken at Leyton Orient; and if they were spurned again two points would be dropped at the end of the night.

While Swindon were on top, the next chance came to Colchester. A free kick half way through the Town half was met by a a U’s player who headed it on to Freddie Sears who forced a fantastic save from Swindon keeper Wes Foderingham. That save drew a standing ovation from many of the Town faithful, as the shot had a fair bit of power behind it and many goalkeepers would have struggled to have held at the first attempt.

Chances were coming thick and fast for both teams. Raffaele De Vita had a volley cleared off the line from a Gary Roberts corner; Tommy Miller’s flicked header was inches from Andy Williams’ boot; and Wes Foderingham made an even better save than before, diving to save a curling effort that was on the verge of nestling in the top corner. Both teams went into the half time interval feeling they maybe could have been in front, although Swindon had shaded the first 45.

Swindon made a substitution at half time as James Collins replaced Raffaele De Vita who had a largely ineffective first half. Adam Rooney moved to the left wing to the frustration of many Town fans who felt William’s pace would be more harmful to the Colchester defence. However, the substitution seemed to have made a positive improvement to Town’s performance as they started to really dominate the second half.

The breakthrough for Swindon came around ten minutes after half time. Gary Roberts found some space on the right hand side before cutting inside, and just as it looked as if he was about to shoot he turned the ball inside to James Collins who rifled under the keeper in front of the ecstatic Swindon fans. Collins then ran over to manager Paolo Di Canio and made a gesture in humour towards him who had been given the striker stick for a misplaced pass moments before.

The goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Colchester. Swindon continued to dominate and create plenty of clear cut chances. Simon Ferry had replaced Alan Navarro who looked a little tired after his first football in four months. Ferry began spraying passes around, and almost doubled the Town lead with a driven cross that was just yards from ending up in the back of the net. Ferry continued the dominance of the midfield from recent weeks which may just result in Gordon Strachan taking a look at him potentially for a Scotland call-up.

As Adam Rooney picked up a knock in the last ten minutes, Alan McCormack came on in left midfield to appear in his twelfth different position this season. There were rumours going around that ten minutes in McCormack had to leave the substitute bench to return to the coach as the stomach bug sweeping through the team had got the better of him. It was evident McCormack wasn’t quite right- he was struggling to keep up with the pace of the game. However, his passing and crossing was still fantastic and gave Gary Roberts the chance to kill off Colchester but his header was brilliantly saved by Colchester keeper Walker (not Ian!).

As the Swindon fans became colder and colder in the stand behind the goal Swindon were attacking, the performance was getting better and better. Only one team was likely to score. Swindon finally looked creative and dominant from corners, and Aden Flint saw a header saved smartly from the Colchester goalkeeper. Swindon fans unusually faced no late nerves whatsoever, as the four minutes of added time were spent largely in the Colchester quadrant for corners. The U’s threatened little throughout the second half and the referee’s final whistle ensured Town fans went home happy after a good performance in tricky conditions for both players and fans.

The win means Swindon have the opportunity to go top on Saturday for the first time this season with a win over bottom side Hartlepool, if both Doncaster and Tranmere fail to win. It was a very pleasing result for the 337 travelling Robins who had suffered bad news after bad news in recent days. The major questions over the future of the club are still to be answered, but on the pitch, everything seems to be quite alright.

Crawley 1 Swindon 1: Town draw but most important penalty decision to follow

Crawley Town Crest

On a ‘pitch’ more suitable for the Calcutta Cup match up the road at Twickenham, how fitting that two penalty conversions should settle this scrappy, horrible footballing encounter in front of the Sky Sports cameras, writes Daniel Hunt.

Something must have been a leveller because Swindon didn’t beat Crawley by the now customary scoreline of 3-0 (all the fun of thrashing Crawley has evaporated now that Steve Evans has gone). Instead, the scoreline mirrored the last time these two sides met on live television back in November 2010. Against a competent side in difficult conditions, this will go down, alongside Orient in midweek, as another hard-earned point in Swindon’s promotion challenge.

It’s a good job there wasn’t a lot of football played because this allowed ex-Blue Peter presenter, Simon Thomas, to follow the Paolo Di Canio soap opera from the gantry. If Thomas had pulled out a few post-match clips that Di Canio had made earlier then he’d have realised that there was nothing special about the eccentric Italian hugging everyone of his players and clapping the 699 fans passionately – a concept obviously alien to Thomas’ partner in the box, former Swindon manager, Danny Wilson.

The starting eleven bore three changes from the Leyton Orient game last Tuesday. In came Jay McEveley (his first start since November 24th), Flint and Roberts and out went Nathan Thompson, Devera and Bournemouth’s Matt Ritchie. Town could only name six substitutes including second year scholar, Aaron Oakley, a sign that the squad is looking thin. Forgotten man, Luke Rooney, seems to have found himself in the same state of limbo which Marlon Pack described this week at Cheltenham.

Swindon started the game very well and could have found themselves in front after only four minutes. A De Vita corner was headed upwards by the dominant Flint and when it dropped, James Collins was agile enough to connect well and get a shot away at goal. Unfortunately, Collins connected too well and the effort went straight at Paul Jones who pulled off a smart save in the Crawley goal. Deputising for the injured Joe Devera, Flint continued his aerial dominance in the 13th minute but his tame effort was easily cleared off the line, this time from a Miller corner.

The game was struggling for flow and the central-midfield pair of Miller and Ferry had to work hard for everything they got. Town’s best chances looked like they were going to come from set-pieces aimed at the back post for either Ward or Flint and this trend continued just before the twenty minute mark. A free-kick from the halfway line found Ward at the back post and his knock-back found the forehead of the onrushing Andy Williams. Despite the good connection, Jones was alert to the danger and saved well. Like Collins before him, Williams almost connected too well, straight at the keeper.

When Billy Clarke struck Crawley into the lead from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute, it was a barely deserved lead that came against the run of play. Nicky Adams was Crawley’s best player on the night and he was felled by the lunging Alan McCormack to win the penalty. Replays showed that Swindon’s captain scarcely made contact with Adams but by going to ground in the box, the former Charlton man made it easy for the referee to give the decision. Worryingly, that is the second time this calendar year that McCormack has dived in and given away a penalty.

The goal turned the match in Crawley’s favour as they sat deep and hit Town on the counter attack. McCormack had a woeful time at right-back against Adams and twice more Crawley sprung attacks down his side of the pitch. On the thirty minute mark, Darren Ward’s saving tackle meant that Josh Simpson’s effort deflected just wide of Foderingham’s goal.

The Red Devils’ best chance of extending their lead came in first half stoppage time through Jamie Proctor. A simple long-ball over the top caught out the Swindon defence but the ungainly Proctor, who hasn’t scored in 22 matches, never looked like scoring as he went one-on-one with Wes Foderingham – a fearsome task. Foderingham saved well with his left hand and the danger passed. The only other Town effort of note in the first half was an ambitious Gary Roberts shot from distance which deflected just over the point of post and bar after 34 minutes.

Half time and a double substitution in the 52nd minute had the desired effect for Di Canio as Swindon came roaring back into the game through an unlikely source – Adam Rooney, the striker whose sideburns almost matched the colour of the Adidas stripes on Town’s away kit! Town had already threatened before that though; Andy Williams having a deflected volley tipped round the post by Jones in the 51st minute.

Although Rooney for Collins was the headline grabbing substitution, the introduction of Nathan Thompson for McEveley, moving McCormack from right to left back in the process, was possibly the most crucial change Swindon made in the game. Thompson almost immediately snuffed out the threat of Adams and McCormack was able to have a much quieter time up against Mike Jones, Crawley’s un-influential right midfielder.

There is no other way to describe the penalty decision on Adam Rooney as soft in the 58th minute. Receiving a long throw in from McCormack, Rooney felt a nudge in his lower back and went down without really appealing for a penalty. It came as shock to most watching in the ground and on TV that it was given but the ginger assassin stepped up confidently to fire home to the keeper’s right for 1-1. Rooney hadn’t made an appearance since the 20th November last year so it felt like a new signing had come off the bench and re-invigorated the match.

Not just content with making and scoring the equaliser, the Irishman went on a one-man crusade to win the game and came close to putting Swindon in the lead twice in three minutes. Firstly after 63 minutes, following his own good work on the right hand side, Rooney got in round the back of the Crawley defence but failed to pick out either Roberts or Williams who were both well placed. Three minutes later, Rooney was this time the recipient of great build up work from De Vita and McCormack on the left hand side. McCormack’s wicked cross was met perfectly by the on loan Birmingham man but Paul Jones pulled off one of the saves of the season in the Crawley goal to keep the scores level.

A significant spell of Swindon pressure seemed to end with fifteen minutes left as Williams could only head wide when well placed from a sumptuous Gary Roberts cross – Williams really should have done better. As the game drew to a close, things got really scrappy and the home side put together a tiny head of steam as the game drifted into stoppage time. Aden Flint was on hand to head away superbly a tricky Dumbuya cross from the right but none of Crawley’s pressure turned into guilt edged chances.

The final moment could have been a glorious one for Thompson but he could only toe-poke at the keeper after weaving his way through the Crawley defence from wide on the right. One of these days, Nathan’s going to score a cracking goal, I can feel it. Great feet and composure for a defender.

Could the post-match interviews shed any more light on who shot Phil Mitchell whether Di Canio was staying? No, is the simple answer, as Paolo stuck strictly to discussing the match at hand and very proud of his virus hit squad he was too. Town supporters will have to suffice with an Eastenders style cliff-hanger ending on Monday morning perhaps? My gut-feeling is that he will stay, just. I think Di Canio is fiercely loyal to the Swindon fans and players and it is this glue, this bond, which will keep him at the County Ground until at least the end of the season.

A lot may depend on Swindon’s fate in the emergency loan market when it re-opens on Thursday. The successful conclusion of deals for the Charlton two of Danny Green and Bradley Wright-Phillips alongside Marlon Pack from Cheltenham may be enough to appease our wonderful manager. Looking at the squad, the signings would definitely be welcome.

Green would add much needed competition to Roberts and De Vita on the wings, now that Ritchie has departed, and Pack would fill the large hole left by the return of Danny Hollands to Charlton through injury. Wright-Phillips would go down as more of a luxury signing but acquiring a natural goal scorer in a promotion run-in should not be scoffed at. With Benson now at Cheltenham and Chris Martin set to return to Norwich when his loan expires next week, another forward would be very handy indeed.

One final thought from me… I had pondered to myself before the match that if Town win, Di Canio will stay, and if Town lose, he will go…. So where the hell does a draw leave us? LIMBO, that’s where.

See you at Colchester, COYR!

Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88

AFC Bournemouth 1 Swindon 1: Wet, Wet, Wet…

Dean Court Bournemouth 1

Swindon salvaged a valuable and deserved point at a rain soaked Dean Court, writes Richard Baynard.

Town’s goal from Andy Williams followed a weak clearance from Bournemouth keeper David James, levelling the game with just five minutes remaining. The result was really no more than Swindon warranted overall, but after going in at half time one down having been on top for most of the first period, in the wet conditions it felt like the game might be getting away from us in the second.

We could have taken the lead as early as the fourth minute. After playing the ball out to the left side, Roberts played a low ball into the area – initially, Collins wasn’t able to get onto it, Ritchie also tried to but was blocked – the ball eventually falling to Miller, who struck a powerful shot at goal, which was well saved with a strong arm by David James.

The game was pretty open. Bournemouth got into positions to play in some dangerous crosses in the opening fifteen minutes, but Swindon were creating the better openings. On eighteen minutes, after Ritchie’s first cross had been cleared, Nathan Thompson picked it up in the middle, playing it out to Miller on the right side. With his back to goal, he played a neat reverse pass down the line to Ritchie in space – his right foot cross found Williams in a central position, but his headed effort was straight at James when anywhere else would have been in. But the Town striker had possibly been unsighted by a Cherries defender who had tried to cut the cross out.

By this point though, the weather was beginning to play its part in the game. The pitch was fine before the game, but it had begun to rain heavily just before kick off, and in some areas – most notably in the half that Swindon was attacking – water was beginning to sit on the surface. On 21 minutes, the conditions almost helped us to open the scoring.

It came about as Collins chased down what had been a rather ambitious through ball – David James advanced to cut it out, but as he slid out to claim it, his momentum on the wet surface took him out of the area, and he was forced to let go of the ball to avoid giving away a free kick. The ball fell to the feet of Roberts – and from where we were stood, it looked like he should have shot into what looked like an unguarded net – can only assume that his path was blocked though, as he tried to slip the ball into Collins, but the pass was cut out and cleared.

On 26 minutes though, Bournemouth took the lead, slightly against the run of play. Lewis Grabban moved down the Town’s right side, crossing a low ball into the box – Ward should have cleared it, but he failed to make a good connection, and the ball was picked up by Pittman in the area with his back to goal. He swivelled to shoot, but Devera did well to get in the way – again the ball fell to a Bournemouth shirt though, and it was played out to Harry Arter on the edge of the area. Arter had time to pick his spot, and he did so with a well taken strike into the corner of the net.

Ten minutes later, we created a golden opportunity that should have seen Collins level the scores. After a patient build up in which the ball was swept from left to right and back again, Hollands played the ball between two defenders and into Gary Roberts. The winger played a dangerous ball in, as both James and a defender tried to collect it, but ended up getting in each other’s way. With both players on the floor, the ball dropped at the feet of Collins, he manoeuvred it around them, but though he had the goal at his mercy he seemed to go for power when it wasn’t required, resulting in his shot sliced off the outside of his left foot, bending wide of the post. Before half-time, at the other end Lewis Grabban also shanked a shot wide for the hosts, from a position where he never really looked like scoring.

When the half time whistle went, the condition of the pitch was looking dubious. The referee though took the bizarre decision of extending the interval by five minutes allowing the ground staff to work on the pitch… But of course also allowing more rain to fall. The groundsmen also seemed to be concentrating on areas that were not the worst affected, and even though it was announced that the second half would go ahead, it was still a little bit of a surprise when it did… Personally, I thought the pitch was just about playable and at this stage I was still pretty confident that we’d get something our of the game.

That confidence almost drained out of me during the first twenty minutes if the second period though. Obviously struggling in the conditions, both sides were making numerous mistakes on the ball, and the referee didn’t make any concessions for the poor surface, giving free kick after free kick when players couldn’t keep their feet after the slightest of contact.

Bournemouth were doing most of the attacking, getting some joy in running with the ball through the wettest part of the pitch, with Town players reluctant to make a challenge and giving a free kick away. On 48 minutes, one such run almost ended in a goal. Swindon failed to make a tackle or a clearance as Arter danced through – only a superb save via the feet of Foderingham denying him his second of the game.

Finally though, on 65 minutes, Swindon sprang into life again, after the introduction of Martin, Ferry and de Vita for Collins, Miller and Roberts respectively. De Vita’s first contribution to the game saw him get down the left flank, making a yard to enable him to play a low ball square into the area. It bypassed everyone in the middle, finally finding Ritchie about ten yards from goal – I was expecting the net to bulge, but again it was blocked by James.

Four minutes later, a Ritchie cross found the head of Martin, but stretching for the ball, he could only direct straight at James. The Cherries went straight up the other end to force Foderingham to make a diving save from a long range effort. A couple of minutes later, Grabban came close to sealing the game with a headed effort after Swindon had again failed to clear in the conditions – only a superb stop from Foderingham keeping him out.

Swindon were still pushing forward for the equaliser, but with the clock ticking down, we needed to be quick. Both De Vita and then Ferry were frustratingly flagged for tight offside calls when in good positions from the second one though, Swindon profited from a little good fortune.

After not converting either of the two other opportunities that David James had gifted us, it was third time lucky. James’ weak clearance failed to get further than forty yards from goal, only finding Matt Ritchie, who headed back towards goal, in the space between the defence and keeper. As Martin chased it down, James rushed out and slid the ball away – two Bournemouth defenders seeming to get in each other’s way – allowing Williams to pick it up. As the remaining Cherries defenders backtracked to protect their goal, Williams took his time to ensure he hit the target, his placed shot zipping off the surface to elude the last defender on the line and into the net. Moments later, James was named as man-of-the-match – a decision presumably made prior to the goal!

After the goal, Swindon continued to press and had the game gone on any longer, I’m sure we would have claimed a winner. Williams played one ball across the face of goal that was cleared by a defender from under his own crossbar, then, with the final move of the game, a weaving run by Danny Hollands was ended when he was tripped from behind. Ritchie and Chris Martin lined up to take it, and it was the latter who struck at goal; taking a deflection on the way through, the ball whistled just past the far post and the ref blew for full time before the corner could be taken.

It was certainly a shame that the weather had such a huge part to play in the game. Two decent footballing sides would obviously have preferred to have got it down and played the ball, it just wasn’t possible on the saturated surface. In the end, a draw was probably reflective of the game.

I suspect Bournemouth will no doubt feel aggrieved at the late equaliser, and having had two good second half chances. On the other hand, Swindon were the better side for most of the first half and the last twenty minutes, with at least three decent opportunities of our own that we didn’t convert. With a number of tough away games coming up, it’s important that we take points off as many of our promotion rivals as possible – I’m sure the Cherries will be right up there at the end of the season.

Swindon 4 Carlisle United 0: Rampant Robins Hit Carlisle For Four

Paolo Di Canio Scarf 1

After thrashing both Tranmere and Portsmouth 5-0 in their previous two home games, Swindon Town came into this clash with Carlisle looking to carry on their recent fine form and extend their unbeaten run to five straight games. Goals from the in-form pairing of James Collins and Andy Williams and one from Raffaele De Vita ensured Town continued their fine start to 2013. Writes Andrew Steele-Davis.

Manager Paolo Di Canio opted to make three changes to the team that had so easily dispatched of Portsmouth in the first game of 2013, starting with the eleven that had finished the game against crisis club Pompey. Four goal hero and super-sub James Collins took his place up front alongside Andy Williams; with midfield talisman and fan-favourite Simon Ferry and Gary Roberts also back in the starting eleven. Tommy Miller, Chris Martin and Raffaele De Vita had to make do with a place on the bench.

With many inside the County Ground viewing Carlisle as a potential trip hazard after the previous two excellent home performances, the Town faithful would have been delighted to see Di Canio’s men come out all guns blazing. Andy Williams charged down the left flank, a sight so familiar to Town fans now, and his pullback found partner in crime James Collins whose deflected effort found its way to Simon Ferry’s boot, however the Scotsman found Carlisle keeper Mark Gillespie in good form to pull off a half decent save.

After a rather laboured first half against Portsmouth, Swindon wasted no time finding their natural rhythm against Carlisle, stroking the ball around beautifully and causing the visitors to chase shadows, resembling a Sunday league team at times. Gary Roberts was next to try his luck at goal, his effort, following good work from the dangerous duo of Williams and Collins drifting just wide of the Carlisle goal. Williams then had a chance to have a go at goal himself, setting the chance up with a neat touch but his shot curled wide.

However, just minutes later Williams did open his account for the afternoon, and it was a goal worthy of being included in any goal of the season list. Captain Alan McCormack’s throw in found Williams, who exquisitely lifted the ball over his marker before volleying home with aplomb. A fine finish and just rewards for the Robin’s blistering start to the game.

Town continued to assert their authority over Carlisle, keeping the visitors hemmed into their own area with little room to breathe. The midfield pairing of Ferry and Danny Hollands continued to impress, combining hard graft with flair, while the performance of Collins and Williams will give the Carlisle defence nightmares for weeks to come, Collins expertly bullied and harassed the backline throughout the ninety minutes while Williams stretched the play with his intelligent runs and link up play.

Swindon had plenty of chances to extend their lead before the much deserved second goal. Collins saw his shot cleared off the line by Carlisle captain Danny Livesey following Roberts’ cut back whilst Williams also had efforts blocked, including one which looked to have struck a hand in the penalty area, however the Swindon appeals were waved away by referee Trevor Kettle much to the disgust of Williams and the Town faithful.

All of Town’s probing did pay off though with just under quarter of an hour to go until half time. Matt Ritchie created space on the right hand side before curling a delicious ball into the six-yard box which Collins thumped home with his head to make it 2-0 to the hosts going into the break. A typical striker’s goal and a goal which extended Town’s number nine’s fine start to 2013, that being his fifth goal, yes fifth, since the new year rolled in last week.

Swindon started the second half like they did the first, creating wave after wave of attack, Williams’ pace and Collins’ power causing the by now ravaged Carlisle defence no end of problems. The visitors had struggled to get into the game from the first whistle, and their only real meaningful foray into Town’s half resulted in Matty Robson’s effort sailing well wide.

Just ten minutes after the restart and Town had further increased their advantage. Collins combined well with Richie whose low ball across the area was brilliantly slammed home by Williams for his second off the afternoon and his eighth of the campaign. Williams enjoyed a productive second half of the season in front of goal with Yeovil last year and, after a good start to 2013, Swindon fans will be hoping for more of the same.

Swindon soon made a couple of changes, with Chris Martin, possibly playing his last game in a Town shirt replacing Williams and Raffaele De Vita replacing Matt Ritchie. This saw Gary Roberts switch to the right, with the in-form Italian taking his place on the left flank.

Danny Hollands, whose future at Swindon is also in doubt, nearly signed off his current loan spell in perfect fashion but his goal-bound header was somehow kept out by Mark Gillespie in the Carlisle goal. With a harsh wind beginning to swirl in and around the County Ground, Nathan Thompson attempted to warm up the Town faithful with a charging run before letting loose but his shot was deflected into Gillespie’s arms.

In the final change of the game for Town, Tommy Miller replaced Ferry who was giving a standing ovation by Robins’ supporters for yet another faultless performance; further strengthening the argument put forward by many Town fans why Swindon’s number eight should be the first name on the teamsheet week in, week out.

With eighty minutes gone, Swindon finally notched a deserved fourth goal to send the County Ground into raptures and cap off a miserable afternoon for Carlisle staff and fans alike. Gary Roberts, who turned in a vastly improved performance weaved and cut his way inside, with his effort rebounding out to De Vita who had the simplest task of prodding home and wheeling away in front of a jubilant Town End. That being the Italian’s eighth goal of the campaign, a remarkable achievement considering many had thought De Vita to be on the fringe of the first team at the start of the campaign.

A vocal County Ground was now urging its heroes on to go and grab another goal in order to record the unusual feat of three straight 5-0 victories, and Town nearly achieved that, Tommy Miller rattling the crossbar from an indirect free-kick after Gillespie had handled outside of his area.

However, despite Roberts and De Vita having further chances to grab that fifth goal it wasn’t to be as the game ended 4-0 in Swindon’s favour. However, fourteen goals in three home games with none conceded is a record most teams the land over would be envious of and sets things up nicely going into next week’s crucial away game against Eddie Howe’s unbeaten Bournemouth.

Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon team are now really starting to click into top gear, showing the kind of form that was reminiscent of the form that saw Town wrap up the League 2 title last season. After the last three results, Swindon fans are currently in seventh heaven and will be hoping the rampant Robins can continue their fine form and secure a second consecutive promotion.

Swindon 5 Tranmere Rovers 0: Merry Christmas Town fans

Swindon fans can go into Christmas Day with smiles after a thumping 5-0 win v table topping  Tranmere at The County Ground. The win cements The Robins place in and around the playoff zone and Adam Johnson was there…

‘‘All I want for Christmas is you’’ was the choice of song before kick-off and we all know the obvious cheesy Christmas pun that I’m going for so let’s move onto the game quickly…

It was a much easier affair than anticipated v top of the league Tranmere and was majorly helped by the worst defence to visit The County Ground this season. Swindon have to be given credit for dominating the game but this time added goals to make sure the hard work paid off.

The midfield controlled the tempo and pulled the strings to cause most of the damage as the continued striking partnership of Williams and Martin worked hard with the former claiming two goals, his fourth and fifth in the league this season.

Town’s defence, marshalled by the ever improving and calming influence of Darren Ward, were rarely threatened and youngster Nathan Thompson continued to be a more than solid option at right back.

Tranmere 1

It was an unchanged line up from the 2-0 victory at Oldham on Saturday and it was to prove fruitful once again as Town, with no one in particular standing out amongst the rest of, worked hard and played as a whole unit.

Tranmere lined up; guess work here, in a 4-4-1-1 with Andy Robinson playing in the hole behind their danger man Jake Cassidy. However, the frontmen would struggle to be involved in this game.

Di Canio’s side started in their traditional on the front foot style, even against a top of the league side, but this time they weren’t going to be left ruing missed chances.

The game was high in tempo but not in quality as a scrappy start led to the opening goal. Only four minutes in and a poor clearance from Tranmere captain Ian Goodison gave Town their first corner. This was the sign to reveal the beginning of the table toppers defensive nightmares.

The cross found the head of an unmarked Joe Devera but his effort was cleared, so Tranmere thought. A cross came back in from the opposite side and this time Danny Hollands was there to pick up the ball in loads of space and drill a deflected shot looping over the Tranmere No 1.

As quickly as you could say ‘well, that’s a good start isn’t it? Only four minutes have gone and we’re 1-0 up’’ Swindon were on the attack and only having to wait another 2 minutes and 57 seconds to score their second.

Seven minutes were on the clock and Raffaele De Vita, the second best winger in the country behind Gareth Bale on current form, was to continue his left wing dominance.

Firstly, an Andy Williams run was cut short but it was only half cleared to Thompson who won the ball back to strike fear into the Tranmere defence by feeding the raging horse of De Vita. The Italian ran at the defence, cut inside, and with the help of a deflection got the ball past Owain Fon Williams. 2-0 up in seven minutes, this is what happens when we take our chances.

Tranmere showed glimpses of what they are capable of with some possession and a few long range efforts but this as good as it got for them in the first 45 minutes as Town would put the game beyond doubt.


21 minutes in and Williams got his first goal in just over a month to make it 3-0. A cross found the front man who had space to turn and shoot low into the corner. Awful defending to get the former Yeovil man a goal, which is richly deserved.

Then, just after the half hour, Matt Ritchie continued his good season in front of goal by getting Town’s fourth and his tenth of the season, equalling his total for last season. It was a deserved goal just for the skill in the build up by De Vita. A long ball cross field picked out De Vita’s whose sublime first touch on the volley took him past the full back to give the ball to Williams whose shot was saved but the rebound found Ritchie, who was cool under pressure, to slot home for 4-0.

The half time whistle blew and a standing ovation ensued, which is a rare sight at The County Ground this season.

Swindon had ripped Tranmere apart with De Vita and Ritchie being given the freedom to run at the backline as Danny Hollands and Simon Ferry pressured and won the second balls to keep up every piece of momentum. The pace of Andy Williams had the Tranmere centre defenders constantly worrying and Chris Martin added to the attack with his movement and work rate but went about his business in a more subtle way.

The second half begun with Owain Fon Williams doing a goalie warm-up in front of The Town End and you could say it worked (spoiler alert!) with him only conceding 1 goal in the second half and saving a penalty. Ian Goodison would not emerge though after a shocker of a first half and was partly given the blame for the first half with his half time substitution.

It would only take Town five minutes of the second half to make it 5-0 and turn the score psychologically from a good win into a thumping.

Matt Ritchie won the ball again in midfield and was allowed space and time to run at the defence, his pass then sent Andy Williams, whose pace left the defenders behind, into the area to shoot across the keeper into the side of the net for his second and Town’s fifth.

The only negative of the night was a missed penalty in the 62nd minute as Chris Martin was brought down in the box and awarded a penalty by referee Tony Bates. From my angle, which was in line with the incident, it looked a clear penalty with the Tranmere defender coming in late by a mere millisecond.

Confusion set in over who would take the kick as Williams took the ball in search of his hat trick. However, the message coming from the bench asked for Chris Martin to take the kick and score his first goal for the club.

Williams offered the kick to Martin who refused but Williams was to make the situation a little awkward by missing. His run up didn’t look convincing and he failed to find the corner as Fon Williams guessed correctly to palm the ball away. It’s not a big deal in a good night’s football under floodlights but Town are yet to score a penalty this season in three attempts.

I could write more about the second half but would like to give note to Tranmere’s best chance as Wes Foderingham has to be mentioned at some point. A long range effort was deflected and looped over the Swindon keeper but bounced back off the bar. The End.

It finished 5-0 and The Robins were worth their win and even the score line. Swindon dominated the game and it was quite like several other home performances but instead of wasteful shooting making the build-up seem pointless, Town were more accurate with 13 shots on target out of 17.

For Tranmere, a top of the table side, this was shocking. They looked rattled by Swindon’s tempo, something you assumed would have been scouted beforehand as it seems to be an often occurrence. They lost the ball in the midfield to many times which put the defence under unexpected pressure too often.

The man of the match award was given to Alan McCormack, but as I said before this performance showed more about the team rather than individuals. They worked as a unit, closing down in pairs and working the ball in their little units. Everyone was involved with 4 different scorers scoring in their own individual style. Again though, to keep feet on the ground and not to put a downer on Swindon’s performance, this was 50, if not more like 70%, because of Tranmere’s defence.

This result cements what we already knew about Di Canio’s side but had little proof of, until now. I’ll say it; we should now be looking at a top 6 finish. Expectations need to be kept in check and other things not said too loud as there’s a long way to go but if the team can find consistency, this league is there for someone to grab as not many, if any, will go on a long decent run of results.

Here’s to a good Christmas period in the league and I hope all you Washbag folk have a good one too.