Swindon 1 Torquay 0: Capital One Cup First Round

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After Saturday’s defeat to Peterborough on the opening day of the League 1 season, all eyes turned back to the County Ground for what was the first competitive home game of the new season. New TheWashbag writer Dan Brown picks through the game, where Andy Williams’ goal was the difference in a hard fought encounter…

There is something different about cup football. The atmosphere in any given stadium during a cup tie is just that little bit more on edge, everyone knowing that just one mistake could blow the chances of cup glory for another whole agonising year. Not least when it is the first round, against lower league opposition – and with a squad with a lot to prove.

After cup runs in the last 2 seasons, the hunger for more cup success is evident amongst supporters (not least in the Don Rogers stand), which meant that Torquay were ideal opponents for the opening round tie in this seasons league cup, on paper at least.

There were yet more encouraging signs for Mark Cooper’s fledgling squad, and the overall performance, although not yet looking like the finished article looked like the better team throughout.

The starting XI for town comprised of most new recruits, with only Foderingham, Ward, Thompson and Williams having any experience of playing in a cup competition for Swindon before. That being said, Swindon’s young side never looked out of their depth, with Ryan Mason and Alex Pritchard looking especially at home in town colours.  Tijane Reis occupied the right flank, with Pritchard starting on the left. As he did at the weekend, Andy Williams was the lone man up front. The only other out and out striker town could call upon was Miles Storey, who was on the bench.

Town came out of the blocks quickest, with a smooth passing game being established from the outset. The ball was being kept down, with aesthetically pleasing football being played by the reds in the opening 25 minutes. Some early-season sloppiness was evident in some of the touches, but reassuringly the Tottenham contingent especially looked very settled in possession.

Pritchard looked lively and went the closest for the reds in the first half with a number of close efforts, but it was Jordan Chapell who went even closer for the visitors stinging the palms of Foderingham with a low shot and, former Robin, Billy Bodin whipping a cross into the Swindon box which Foderingham claimed excellently.

Notable in the first half in particular though was the contrasting playing styles of the two sides. Torquay, in a style commonly attributed to that of League 2, were quite happy to pump forward the long ball, whereas Swindon were much happier to pass the ball up the pitch. This is far more encouraging and inventive than last season, and it has to be said that the squad looked to be more than up to the task, despite a period where the game became flat. Swindon looked a lot calmer than they did at times last season. Yaser Kasim was a shining example of this. He got better as the game went on, keeping a cool head and playing some visionary through balls.

At half time, Mark Cooper opted for a double change, with Massimo Luongo coming on for Ryan Mason and Miles Storey coming on for the largely ineffective Reis on the right. Mason had been clutching his left quad as the first 45 drew to a close, prompting the change. Storey, as he is getting a reputation for doing, made a nearly immediate impact, a snap-shot fizzing goal-ward was turned away by an alert Martin Rice in the Yellows’ goal. By this point the pressure was really building, and it felt like anything but a first Town goal of the campaign would be unjust.

Minutes later, Pritchard had his best scoring chance of the night. Picking up the ball from the left, a dinking run led him into the box where he was felled, and referee Andy D’Urso immediately pointed to the spot. Pritchard dusted himself down and took the spot kick himself, but his rather tame effort was easily saved.

Desperate to make amends, soon after he found himself within shooting range, and unleashed a fierce effort that Rice could only parry into the path of Williams, who with the entire goal to aim at saw his effort bundled off the line (much to the dismay of the fans at the far end of the Don Rogers).

The game then experienced a lengthy pause as Torquay replacement (and former Robin) Elliot Benyon was involved in a totally innocuous challenge with Thompson, meaning that sadly Benyon’s night was abruptly ended and he was stretchered off after lengthy treatment. This galvanised the Yellows, allowing them back in the game.

Just as it looked like the game would go on another half an hour, Town struck the killer blow. Storey raced through on the left, and after drawing the keeper out he had the presence of mind to square the ball into the path of the oncoming Williams, who duly tapped the ball home. From that moment on, the tie looked to be in the hands of the reds, who even threw on Alex Smith at the end to see out the game. That they did, and it’s the second round of the league cup again for the Robins.

All In all it was a pleasing performance, and one that when looked at alongside the Peterborough game last weekend looks very positive. Its seems like Cooper, however long he is in charge, will look to instil this calm and collected way of playing, and I for one am a fan. It may work better due the fact that the majority of the team have been coached in a premier league environment, but while that is the case, I along with many other Swindon fans am happy.

The one area which definitely needs sorting is up front. We lack depth and it is clear to see. Playing with a lone striker can work, but against Torquay Williams was getting dragged out to the left far too often leaving no one far enough forward in the middle. There are goals in the team, with Pritchard especially looking like he can chip in with a few, however we can’t rely on just goals from the midfield in this league. Maybe it’s a Tottenham thing.

My man of the match would either be Pritchard or Kasim. Pritchard played well up until the penalty, but then lost his way in trying to make amends. Kasim looked like a calming influence as the game went on, an heir of Dimitar Berbatov about him. Albeit a less lazy one.

In all the side looked good for the most part. Like I said at the start, a cup tie has a certain edge to it, and I’m sure that we have the potential for many more nights like it this season. It will galvanise and give confidence for the league too. Let’s just hope for no penalties given our record of late…

Vic Morgan Blog: Here We Go Again…

Vic Morgan

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

Can it be so?  Can the new season already be here ? For once we’ve had a summer and what a summer!

Heat and a British winner of the men’s title at Wimbledon. Crazy.  So it was early last Saturday morning that the journey began to London Road. A new campaign and a new team. For many, including me, the first chance to see the new members of the Town line-up.

Early signs were strange. An odd pre match warm up including elastic bands and a bizarre way of walking. Still I suppose anything to get the blood flowing.  That was almost a necessity for the Swindon fans who were sitting in a stand with very little leg room. Okay if you’ve stumpy legs like mine but I would imagine for the taller members of the crowd, a little uncomfortable. Not only were there new squad members it was also a new style of play. The phrase “tippy tappy” was heard more than once. Still, the short passing game that the Town employed was quite pleasing to the eye.

Sadly though, a lack of a cutting edge left us reflecting on a pointless journey east before a nap somewhere between Northampton and a place along the A420 the name of which escapes me. After reaching Devon late at night,  I reflected with a nice glass of Merlot and thought it was a decent enough start but the need for a natural goal scorer was evident.

Tuesday brought us the same opposition in the League Cup first round that we faced in 1968/69. You might recall we did rather well that season in the competition. So, would the visit of Torquay be an omen ? Well don’t know about you but I really enjoyed the game. The Gulls came and had a go and we played some nice knock it about stuff. The introduction of Miles Storey and Massimo Luongo made the difference second half and we progressed to the second round.

So all in all a pretty good first three days of the new campaign.

Lots to do of course and no doubt the introduction of a striker will help. So too will the appointment of a permanent manager. So many theories are being bandied about. It does appear though that Mark Cooper is in pole position, although by the time you read this that may have changed. Don’t think so though. I would expect him to be in charge against Stevenage and then who knows after that.

For those of us longer in the tooth, the name Steve Aizlewood will strike a chord. A great centre half who played for us in the latter years of the 1970’s. Sadly we learned this week, that Steve had passed away at the very young age of 60.

Built like a tank, Steve was a player who you would want  along with you in the trenches. Steve made over a hundred appearances for our great club and had a neck that looked like it was made of oak. I was once sat in front of Steve at a cup tie at Luton. It’s always strange when you see your heroes close up. Steve though was a gentleman and very polite. He’ll be sadly missed and fondly remembered. RIP Steve Aizlewood. The same can be said of course for  Jimmy Davis. Its amazingly ten years since he was killed in a car crash. A young man with tremendous talent which sadly will never be fully realized. Our thoughts go to both families this weekend.

Keep it loud keep it proud keep it SWINDON.

Vic

A Season in Stats: The race for the League Two title

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Time for a quick look at how the League Two title race developed for the final top seven of Swindon, Shrewsbury, Crawley, Southend, Torquay, Cheltenham and Crewe…

We’ve plotted the final points projection for each of the seven teams for all 46 rounds. The projection is a simple calculation of the points won per game at each round multiplied by to give an indicative final points tally.

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Swindon’s poor start to the campaign saw the projected total as low as 28 points after five games – a 2-1 defeat at Shrewsbury. From that season low the trend was always upwards, however throughout the early half of the campaign we remained well off the pace, some 20 to 30 points behind Crawley and Southend’s projected finish over the course of several weeks.

Early pacesetters Southend and Crawley ultimately couldn’t make the distance, with their form declining following matchdays 18 and 20 respectively, at broadly similar rates, leaving the pair failing to live up to early hype.

Shortly after those two’s form first started to dip, Swindon commenced their best run of the campaign at matchday 23 – a 2-1 victory at Northampton. Also Torquay got into the act a matchday later with a 2-1 win at rivals Plymouth. These runs resulted in both sides making their impact on the top three. Town eventually had the stronger of the two runs, having started a game earlier with a 5 point advantage at the time, and then going a further 2 games unbeaten until the visit to the Kassam.

In those 24 final games, including matchday 23 – Swindon dropped just 14 points from 72 available. The few defeats and draws wasn’t enough ground to enable any rival to challenge our position.

None of our competitors were capable of putting together a meaningful run of victories after Swindon secured top spot. Their efforts were curtailed by Swindon playing and beating all except Crewe in the final half of the season.

Other than the Swindon / Torquay surge in form which happened at the same time, Southend, Crawley and Cheltenham all broke free too early and could sustain the distance.

Take Cheltenham, their late mid-season run projected a first placed finish after only one matchday. However their form post round 25 sharply declined, although they had already done enough to be well within the final reckoning.

The only sides that could sustain consistent form all season were Shrewsbury and Crewe. Salop were projected to finish below 80 points in 6 of the 46 rounds. Meanwhile Crewe’s season was more slow and steady rather than a surge to the play-offs – which they eventually won – after Dario Gradi was replaced by Steve Davis who oversaw just 4 defeats in his 32 games.

Swindon’s predicted points tally finally overtook all our nearest rivals at matchday 29 – following a 2-1 victory over Hereford United at Edgar Street; importantly Town didn’t secure top spot until a few days later and a win against Shrewsbury Town. So you could suggest the 2-1 win over Hereford United was the key result of the season in this respect

After Swindon took and kept first place Crawley, Southend, Torquay and Cheltenham all declined in their points projection, Shrewsbury made a marginal gain of 2 points and Crewe gained 5 points; highlighting the little threat Swindon had in the closing stages of the campaign.

So what have we learned from League Two in 2011/12?

Early season form is not a barometer for final position judging by Southend, Crawley, but also Morecambe, Rotherham and AFC Wimbledon all fell away. But also, neither Swindon, Cheltenham or Torquay were on for a promotion target of 80 plus points until matchdays 12 to 24 respectively. Football League chairmen please take note…

Even up until early December Crawley were on-course for 100 or more points at 10 of the first 20 matchdays, but they eventually fell 31 points behind their early projected high, showing they were just too good too soon.

The critical period is midway in the season. There is always a common view that Christmas and New Year fixtures are the crucial period, and this is borne out in this analysis. Three sides – Swindon, Torquay and Crewe – all commenced their strong form at that point which ensured they all finished well.

In the end it’s where you are in May that counts and nothing will ever change that.

Projected to finish 1st – Outright

  • Swindon – 18 matchdays
  • Crawley – 11 matchdays
  • Shrewsbury – 4 matchdays
  • Southend – 3 matchdays
  • Cheltenham – 1 matchday

Projected to finish 1st – Tied

  • 9 matchdays

TheWashbag Podcast Episode 1: JPT Final Preview

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We’ve launched our own Podcast in time to preview the JPT final!

The first TheWashbag.com Podcast features host Christopher Panks (Sky Sports Fanzone STFC blogger) and guests Ron Smith (editor of TheWashbag), Gary Rose (Chief Sports Writer at the Swindon Advertiser) and Tom Otrebski (journalist for STFC and writer for TheWashbag).

The four discuss the win over Torquay United; what a difference a year makes at STFC after the downs of Danny Wilson and Paul Hart followed by a fantastic season so far under Paolo Di Canio; and a preview of the forthcoming Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final against Chesterfield at Wembley on Sunday.

Episode 2 will be recorded in late April / May and we hope the Podcast will become a regular feature from the start of the 2012/13 season.

Thanks to Tom at FinalHour Records for recording the podcast and to The County Ground Hotel for allowing us to record there.

Listen Now

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Vic Morgan Blog: A weekend to remember…

Vic Morgan

The ramblings of BBC Devon’s Vic Morgan..

Don’t know about you, but I thought Tuesday’s game with Torquay was terrific.

Before the game we had OO Shaun Taylor and Glenn Hoddle inducted into the Town’s Hall of Fame. There was also a return for Martin Ling with his, and Shaun’s Gulls team.

I made a brief return to the County Ground commentary box to cover the game for BBC Radio Devon, and I really enjoyed it.

Both teams play the game in the right way, and it was played in the right spirit. Credit to Torquay for their terrific season and I really hope they join us in League One next year.

Alan Connell made a scoring return, with Oliver Risser scoring Shaun Taylor like in the second half. I thought it was Oliver’s best game in a Town shirt, and was deservedly made Man of the Match.

It was also a pleasure to speak to Lingy again after many years. Twice a Swindon player, he remains pleasant, polite, and affable. A lot of people in the game could learn a thing or two from him on how to deal with the media.

And so a comfortable lead at the top of the table despite the loss at Crewe. That defeat at Gresty Road brought an astonishing reaction from some.

In football you lose sometimes, that’s just the way it is. For goodness sake get a grip, we’re top of the league and at Wembley. Just think about twelve months ago, then if you still want to moan go ahead. Don’t think you’ll have many people joining you.

The football was superb Tuesday. Last year we played with a lone striker at home. Yes it was 4-5-1. Now we attack with two wingers and we WIN. Football is a game of opinions I know that. Surely though we have little to complain about right now, perhaps you’d rather be in a relegation scrap..I know I wouldn’t.

Sunday then…..Don’t forget to put your clocks forward, you wouldn’t want to miss the coach…

Yes… back at Wembley for a fifth time. I hated the last time. It rained, we played badly, it was a let down. I don’t think that’ll happen this time.

Thirty thousand people with a love of Swindon Town will be there. I’ve been to our previous four appearances at the national stadium and can’t wait for this one.

I will not be behaving like a 56 year old. I apologise in advance for my teenage enthusiasm on the day. If you see me and I gabble a little, I’m sorry. But you see, I LOVE my football club. It’s been such a part of my life I want nothing but good for it.

Let’s scream, shout and do as much as we can to help Swindon to victory over Chesterfield. We’re clear at the top of League Two and so can just think about Wembley now. Can there be any finer way to spend a Sunday afternoon ?

Vic

Swindon 2 Torquay Utd 0: Home comforts soothe Town before trip to Wembley Way

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Swindon Town sealed a very necessary win with a highly polished performance against second-placed Torquay at the County Ground last night, writes Daniel Hunt.

It should be no surprise because this was Town’s eleventh straight home league win and fifteenth straight home win in all competitions (if you class the penalty shootout victory against AFC Wimbledon as a win!). Paolo Di Canio’s much changed side played well and banished memories of Saturday’s stuttering defeat to Crewe Alexandra.

On a night where his assistant manager, Shaun Taylor, was inducted into the Swindon Town ‘Hall of Fame’, Martin Ling’s Torquay side did their best to make it look like an old pals act with a disappointing performance that belied their lofty position in League Two. By recent comparison, fellow promotion chasers Cheltenham and Crawley have caused Swindon far more problems – the one thing they all have in common? They’ve all left the County Ground goalless and pointless and that’s why Swindon Town will be gracing League One again next year! Excuse me for being bullish but this really is a team to be proud of.

Looking for a response from Saturday, Di Canio had the luxury of making four changes to the side. Cibocchi and Holmes replaced Kennedy and Rooney on the left, Connell started ahead of Leyton Orient loanee Tehoue up front and Jonathan Smith replaced Flint with Risser dropping back to centre-half alongside McCormack instead of Devera, who slotted in at right back. Keeping up?

Before the match, I commented that this was my preferred midfield and forward selection but that I would have played Flint ahead of Risser, mindful of the potential threat posed by the muscular frame of target-man Rene Howe. I needn’t have worried because Howe was largely ineffectual and Risser capped a sponsor’s man-of-the-match winning performance with a powerfully headed goal that ‘Oooh’ Shaun Taylor would have been proud of!

I think Torquay got it wrong by not starting with Taiwo Atieno, the striker who scored the winner when the two sides clashed at Plainmoor on Boxing Day. Atieno came off the bench in the second half but the game was already out of reach of Torquay against a mean Swindon defence.

The opening twenty minutes of the first half were probably Torquay’s brightest of the entire match but they failed to overly trouble Wes Foderingham in the Town goal. The redeeming feature of Town’s early play was the quality of the link up between attacking players. Simon Ferry was played in behind in the 10th minute, following quick passes from Benson and Ritchie, but Ferry’s near post cross was cleared for a corner.

Benson had dropped deep to receive the ball and Ferry cleverly exploited the space in behind the full back who had followed the former Charlton man. Alessandro Cibocchi was next to try his luck but he’ll have to wait for his first Swindon goal after his stinging 15th minute free kick was well held down low by Bobby Olejnik.

Two minutes later, more sumptuous build up play, this time between Connell and Holmes, set the on loan Southampton winger free on the left and Holmes’ cut-back for the onrushing Smith brought a smart block from a Torquay defender. Matt Ritchie had an excellent game, delivering the corners which led to both Town goals, and in the 25th minute he almost grabbed one for himself.

Sadly for Matt, his cross drifted agonisingly wide whilst being just out of reach of the Swindon attackers. The game swung from end to end in the moments following this; firstly Eunan O’Kane shot straight at Foderingham from twenty yards before Paul Benson flicked over the bar from a Cibocchi centre from the left hand touchline.

Alan Connell took the credit for the opening goal in the 33rd minute but I’m still unsure about how it came about. The facts are that Ritchie swung in the corner from the right, there was a bit of a melee and the ball ended up in the back of the net! I haven’t seen the goals again but I’ve heard suggestions that it was in fact an own goal. Following recent events, I don’t think any one begrudged Connell his eleventh goal of the season.

Simon Ferry can take a lot of credit for preserving Swindon’s lead two minutes before the break, sliding in to intercept a pass which would have put a Torquay striker through on goal. The resulting corner was headed over by Torquay centre-back Mark Ellis. Ellis is someone that has always impressed me when I’ve seen him play, very powerful in the air as he displayed on more than one occasion in this game.

Half time came and went with no changes for either team. Town started the better of the two sides and Connell could have done better than to poke wide from Ritchie’s teasing cross from the right after 50 minutes. Foderingham’s most difficult save of the night followed shortly after, with the diminutive Danny Stevens supplying O’Kane and his snap shot from a tight angle was palmed out for a corner by the ex-Crystal Palace keeper.

Connell would go close again in the 57th minute, this time going with his head from a Lee Holmes cross from the left. Connell’s header was deflected wide though and after Ritchie swung in the corner, the pressure finally told with Risser notching his third goal of the season with a bullet header. Properly rousing stuff from the Namibian, the County Ground was rocking!

The second goal effectively settled the contest and the next 15-20 minutes were a subdued affair. The introduction of Atieno gave the Seagulls more presence up front but Town defended stoutly and as the game wore on, Swindon could have added a third goal. Ritchie seized on a Torquay mistake to surge forward in the 72nd minute, Holmes was better placed to receive the ball in the left hand channel but Ritchie went alone (to Holmes’ visual frustration!) and Olejnik parried Ritchie’s shot over the cross-bar.

Town saw out the game very professionally and three substitutions in the last fifteen minutes took the sting out of Torquay efforts to get back into the game; Flint, Tehoue and then Rooney all highlighting the strength in depth at Paolo Di Canio’s disposal. Callum Kennedy, Billy Bodin and Rafa De Vita couldn’t even get into the match day sixteen…

Post match celebrations

Make no mistake, this game could have gone very differently given the shaky performance at Gresty Road and Torquay’s great recent run of form. That Torquay looked an average side on the night, is testament to how well Swindon did. There are now seven points separating Town and Martin Ling’s men in second place, a considerable gap half way through a season, let alone with nine league games to go.

It also sends players, management and fans to Wembley on a high. Chesterfield await and the two sides are one place apart in the football league pyramid. Town should be boosted by the signing of another loanee in the form of Barnsley left-back Jay McEveley as Paolo continues to put his stamp on a squad capable of challenging in the league above.

In what has become a post-match ritual, Di Canio waited by the tunnel to hug every single Swindon player as they came off the pitch and nearly three-quarters of the Town fans hung around to witness Di Canio’s scarf waving thank you to the supporters! Enter Shaun Hodgetts who grabbed goal scorer Alan Connell for a post-match chat, meaning five thousand reds had to wait a minute longer to roar their appreciation! Waiting doesn’t phase Swindon fans though; we’ve only been waiting 43 years to win another cup trophy after all! Onwards to Wembley…

Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88

Vote for your Swindon man of the match vs Torquay

A fantastic 2-0 victory for Swindon Town over Torquay United returned Town to winning ways and restored a comfortable 7 point cushion at the top of League Two.

Oliver Risser was awarded the match sponsor’s man of the match award…do you agree?

Vote for your choice below with the result to be announced in our match report to be published Wednesday evening.