Hereford United 1 Swindon 2: The true sign of champions..?

2012.02.18 Hereford 4 2

They say championship winning teams must have luck on their side but they can also grind out wins they perhaps don’t always fully deserve. Town’s 2-1 victory over Hereford United at Edgar Street was exactly one of those ugly wins by a side now surely on course for the top of League Two, writes Ron Smith.

The visit to the in-laws in Worcester was timed to perfection. Ample babysitters and a short journey meant I arrived in plenty of time at Edgar Street. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit this relic…then that’s a shame, seeing that in all likelihood only a cup draw would pair these sides together in the not too distant future. Unchanged since 1989, Edgar Street makes up for its distinct lack of modernity and signage – the later particularly important to a lost Gary Rose – by the friendliness of its welcome, years of history oozing from the partly derelict Meadow End and great vantage points right close up to the action.

Swindon arrived in exceptional form following six League Two victories in succession, including Tuesday’s thumping of Crawley Town. Meanwhile the Bulls – managed by former Town youngster Jamie Pitman – hadn’t tasted victory as hosts since October and now looking agonisingly over their shoulders at a resurgent Plymouth Argyle.

Two forced changes for Town – Daniel Boateng in place of Joe Devera and Lee Cox replacing Simon Ferry – ensured Di Canio sent out yet another changed side, however rotation hasn’t impacted on recent results.

The sides ran out onto a sparsely grassed and uneven pitch that would play against Swindon’s preferred passing style. However, the poor quality of the surface hardly played into Hereford’s hands, as a surprising lack of understanding of their every lump and bump ensured by the host’s pitch favoured neither team.

In truth the first half provided little entertainment for the large travelling support and Di Canio, who was seeing out the last match of his (current) touchline ban – yes there will probably be more to come before this season is over…

Watching Hereford’s lack of defensive discipline, composure and woeful goalkeeping distribution was admittedly amusing, yet our reliance on the inevitable mistakes demonstrated early on that this match would be closer than the gulf in league positions suggested.

It was Hereford who made the first real attempts with Joe Colbeck shooting wide from yards out; then former Town u18s captain Will Evans’ shot was saved by Wes Foderingham, before Byron Anthony reacted quickest to the rebound only for his shot cleared off the line by Jonathan Smith.

Opportunities were limited for both sides. Hereford played to stifle Town with five in midfield and an impressive workhorse Nathan Elder leading the attack. Elder is hardly the most mobile of units, yet he ensured Daniel Boateng had to work hard in his Town debut; this was despite the Hereford frontman playing through a dislocated finger through much of the first half. Whereas Town were unable to find space, particularly on the wings, and whatever running by the disappointing Bodin and his partner Paul Benson the supply was largely cut off at the source.

With Hereford ‘keeper Adam Bartlett’s clearances becoming ever more unpredictable, Town seized the advantage in an inevitable fashion capitalising on a mistake, leaving Bulls fans bemused at the state of their defence.

Under no pressure Simon Clist’s poorly played back-pass was hurriedly cleared by Bartlett. The ‘keeper was being hounded by the advancing Billy Bodin, yet there was no excuse for his umpteenth poor clearance of the match, which softly fell at the feet of Paul Benson yards outside of the box. The former Charlton man cut inside onto his right only for both Ryan Green and Bartlett to equally contrive an ill-timed challenge on Benson, who was sent tumbling for a penalty. Up stepped Paul Caddis to fire Town ahead, which would be enough to ensure a noticeable chorus of boos were directed at the Hereford XI from the Merton Stand as they trundled off for half time, with special criticism reserved for Bartlett.

Much like at the encounter back in October, Hereford emerged a changed team second half and improved as evey minute of the 45 passed. However, before the Bulls could think about making a real impact on the game Town seized on yet more defensive errors to secure a two goal advantage.

A quick Paul Caddis throw found Billy Bodin, who found space to cross despite three Hereford men wastefully failing to close him down. Adam Bartlett should have dealt better with this cross as the ball sailed past his flailing gloves at the near post and found the waiting Paul Benson, who pounced to turn the ball unchallenged into an empty net.

One Hereford player desperate to make an impact and avenge being cast adrift by Paolo Di Canio was Will Evans. Within the opening 15 minutes of the half the tough tackling midfielder had a decent effort at goal blocked by Boateng and then proceeded to make four fouls in quick succession. With a caution against his name and Evans running into a certain red card, his substitution and replacement with Harry Pell, who combined excellently with another substitute Lyle Taylor, would prove to be the turning point for the Bulls.

Minutes later Hereford were back in the game. Bartlet’s long clearance was well shielded from Boateng by the ever effective Nathan Elder, who created space for the on-rushing Rob Purdie, whose fine long range shot sailed past Wes Foderingham into the top corner. From that moment onwards Town had 25 minutes to hold on for the win as the Bulls looked as if they were to mount their second unexpected comeback of the season against Swindon.

It was to be Hereford’s right flank and Lyle Taylor that proved to be their strength. Taylor tormented Cibocchi with his pace and trickery, having a great headed chance slip wide and winning several corners for his side. This performance was aided by the home fan’s angry reactions to the Italian’s quick recovery from knocks and injuries, leading to those around me to accuse the nearby Di Canio of presiding over a ‘bunch of cheats’. It was almost as if we were Crawley for the day…

It was from one of those corners that Byron Anthony rose above Alan McCormack, only for his header to beat Foderingham but strike the crossbar. There were other missed opportunities for the hosts, but the stubborn and organised Swindon defence – as has been our strength since October – stood firm until the end.

With a 2-1 victory in the bag, a determined and resilient Town once again proved their worth in the most competitive of the English divisions. The performance typified signs of a championship winning team and importantly Di Canio now realises he has to be willing to accept a battling and unpretty win over style.

The real question now is can Town press on to secure some cushion at the top of the league before our trip to the Kassam in just less than a fortnight…

Greer Walks

Why why why, would Gordon Greer want to leave Swindon to join Brighton, let alone Wilson want to sell the club captain?

Greer signed last summer on a free transfer with a 2 year contract, and is only 12 months into a very successful stint at the County Ground. Gordon is set to sign a 3 year deal at Brighton following a £250,000 fee being agreed between the clubs.

This explains the reasoning behind Danny Wilson’s comments in the Adver this morning, urging Sean Morrison to “come to the fore” as it is going to be ” a big season for him (Sean)”. All because Greer was certain to leave Swindon and to ‘big up’ the abilities and opportunity of an existing squad player.

With Greer leaving we are definitely very short of experience in the centre of defence. Scott Cuthbert is only just 23 and as for the others; Sean Morrison is 19 and Will Evans is 18 and in his first year as a professional.

Given Wilson’s comments, perhaps we shouldn’t be expecting any signing to replace Gordon, which I believe would be a mistake. Instead Wilson looks to spend at Glasgow Celtic, bringing in Paul Caddis, a right back to compete with Anankwaah and Thompson, and the return of midfielder Simon Ferry.

Of course we never had one of the strongest defences last season anyway, but losing Greer without any notable replacement is a recipe for disaster. Although I hope I’m proven wrong!

Greer will be saved from the inevitable crowd reaction at opening home game against Brighton on the 7th August, as he will be serving a 2 match ban.

It’s sad to see Greer go. He leaves the club with one memory that stood out, his last gasp header to get the equaliser against Norwich City, fantastic moment I will never forget.

Anyway… good luck Gordon, but why?

Home Grown?

Yesterday the Football League AGM ratified rules for the 2010/2011 season. From next season clubs are required to name 10 “home-grown” players in a squad, with a maximum squad size of 25 players aged over 21. There are no to be restrictions on players under 21.

To be “home-grown” players must be registered in domestic (English) football for three seasons before their 21st birthday.

So which players in the current Town squad over 21 at the start of next season will qualify as “home grown”?

  • David Lucas – Youth at Preston North End
  • Phil Smith – Youth at Millwall
  • Kevin Amankhaah – Youth at Bristol City
  • Jonathan Douglas – Youth at Blackburn Rovers
  • Michael Timlin – Youth at Fulham
  • Alan O’Brien – Youth at Newcastle United

There are seven first team players over 21 that are not “home grown”; Scott Cuthbert, Gordon Greer, JP McGovern, Craig Easton, Lescinel Jean-Francois, Jakub Jesionkowski and Vincent Pericard. Gordon Greer spent time at Blackburn before he was 21 but was not registered for three seasons.

On the basis Easton and Timlin sign their new contracts for 2010/2011, Town already have 6 first team players over 21 who fulfil the League criteria. Younger players are needed to fill the remaining 4 slots. There are five Town players who have been registered for at least three seasons; Charlie Austin, Sean Morrison, Callum Kennedy, Mark Scott and Nathan Thompson. New professionals Billy Bodin and Will Evans have been registered for 2 seasons.

So at the moment, Town can just about meet the minimum 10 “home grown” player squad requirement.

The League’s intention to improve domestic football and youth player development is certainly a good idea. In recent years Town have been successful in developing youth players and given them first team opportunities. So with David Byrne and Paul Bodin in charge of youth affairs, we can be confident that the club itself can produce “home grown” players meeting the League rule, as well as taking this a step further by developing local Swindon and Wiltshire talent.

Will Evans and Billy Bodin Offered New Contracts

Town have announced this morning that second year scholars Will Evans (central defender) and Billy Bodin (midfielder / forward) have been offered new one year professional contracts.  Unfortunately Calum Antell, Matt Barnes, Elliot Knight, Mark Hartmann and Jordan Record will be released at the end of the season.

Will Evans, a strong central defender, has the opportunity to follow Sean Morrison’s example and find a regular place in the first team after several impressive games this season for the reserves.  Evans also recently captained the reserves  in the win against Bristol City.

Billy Bodin, the son of Paul Bodin, has recently featured on the first team bench and has become a Wales U21 International earlier this season.  A versatile forward who can play of the left wing or up-front, Bodin has been a key player in the reserves during this season.  With Richie returning to Portsmouth, I certainly see Bodin featuring at some point in our run-in this season.  Bodin is certainly a more technically gifted player than Marshall and has outshone Marshall in the reserves.

As for the five that go, it comes as no surprise to see Antell leave.  Despite being young, Antell lacks any real physical presence between the posts and hasn’t developed enough over the past two seasons.  In goal we already have four proffesionals (Lucas, Smith, Jesionkowski and Scott) so this is always a competitive position in any squad.

I’m surprised with the decision to release Barnes and Hartmann. Both midfielders have good ability, particularly Barnes’ crossing, and I’d expect both will play in the Football League at some point in their careers and they will be snapped up by a Conference or League Two team.

As for Elliot Knight and Jordan Record, neither have done enough in their many opportunities in the reserves to impress.  A phone call from Swindon Supermarine would come as no surprise.

Perhaps the most important youth player question has yet to be answered…. whether the 16 year old Alex Henshall’s future is at Town?