‘Cooper’s Kids’ demolished ‘Wilson’s Workmanlike’ Barnsley with a clinical second half display at Oakwell. Record seeker Jonathan Obika, the oldest Swindon starter at 24 years old, was forced off with a shoulder injury after 19 minutes but we needn’t have worried as the excellent Nathan Byrne bagged himself a goal and an assist to set up the comfortable 3-0 Town win, writes Daniel Hunt.
A goalless, almost chanceless first half gave way to frantic second half as both teams went in search of victory for different reasons at each end of the League One table. Mark ‘Cooper’s Kids’ currently occupy third place on 18 points; with a game in hand on Bristol City and Peterborough United above them. Our former manager Danny Wilson certainly has a job on his hands to turn Barnsley’s fortunes round – they huffed and puffed but were as poor as any side seen this season.
The experienced Barnsley centre-back pairing of Jean-Yves M’Voto and Welsh international Lewin Nyatanga were capable in the air but very susceptible to balls down the side of them – something the Swindon midfield manipulated as the game wore on. The less said about left back Joe Dudgeon the better; he had a torrid afternoon against Byrne, a dreadful performance.
It seems laughable that Byrne was a pre-match injury doubt. The more cynical amongst you will argue that Byrne’s ‘dead leg’ at Newport was a mechanism for working round the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy competition rules. However yesterday came too soon for fellow injury victims Raphael Rossi-Branco and Brad Smith. This meant that new Birmingham City loanee Amari’i Bell and Jack Stephens returned to the side, while Andy Williams and Jake Reeves had to settle for places on the bench despite their respective midweek exploits at Rodney Parade.
When I referenced ‘Cooper’s Kids’ earlier in this article, I wasn’t throwing around terms willy-nilly. Yesterday’s starting eleven was the 19th youngest Swindon Town starting eleven ever by average age. That’s from 5,409 competitive matches played in Town’s entire 135 year history – to put that into further context, that’s in the top half a percentile. You’ll see from the above table that ‘Cooper’s Kids’ are in good company, wedged in alongside some of the finest Swindon elevens in history, dubbed as ‘Bert’s Babes’. A side containing Ernie Hunt (my second cousin), Don Rogers, John Trollope and Bobby Woodruff to name but four starlets.
19 year old Louis Thompson has already secured a lucrative move to Premier League bound Norwich City and it begs the question of how many more of this current Swindon Town crop will go on to grace the upper echelons of English football? Wes Foderingham, Nathan Thompson, Nathan Byrne, Yaser Kasim and Massimo Luongo can all harbour realistic dreams of football stardom in future. And what of Swindon’s next batch of young footballers – they won 1-0 at Bristol Rovers yesterday morning to stay top of their Youth Alliance league. Stratton born Ryan Wood with the winning goal from a Lee Marshall assist. The future’s bright, the future’s red and white…
Like their Under-18 counterparts, Swindon Town’s first team also kept a clean sheet, only their second of the season, but this wasn’t a difficult task in a first half best described as a non-event. Michael Smith had Town’s best chance when slipped in to the right hand channel but his low effort was tipped round the post by former Chelsea ‘keeper Ross Turnbull. The best effort Barnsley could muster was an M’Voto volley from a left sided set piece but after striking the ball into the ground, the ball looped comfortably over Wes Foderingham’s goal frame.
Jack Stephens looked like a bloke feeling his way back into the fold, enduring a rusty first half in which he was booked for a tug on Manchester City loanee Devante Cole, son of ex-Newcastle and Manchester United striker Andrew Cole. Young Cole was the Barnsley player to watch according to a Barnsley fan we spoke to before the match but aside from having pace in abundance, Cole was unimpressive and wasteful in front of goal. Epitomised by the chance he spurned early in the second half when put through by a simple long ball. Foderingham closed the angle well at his near post and Cole tamely stroked the ball with his weaker foot at Foderingham’s legs.
Much to the neutral’s delight, the second half was a much more open affair and despite having to clear a Conor Hourihane shot off the line at 0-0, this suited a Swindon side brimming with pace down the right hand side in Byrne and Williams, Obika’s first half replacement following his unfortunate injury. Before the opening goal in the 58th minute, hard-working Michael Smith had a golden opportunity to put Swindon ahead but couldn’t get the ball out from under his feet quickly enough. Another Nathan, this time Thompson, also had a surging run and shot pushed wide by Turnbull as Town cranked up the pressure.
Mark Cooper revealed after the game that Nathan Byrne had been taking flak from all angles (Manager, Mum, Dad, etc!) about his lack of goals recently, so it was fitting that the Barnsley defence should part like the red sea to allow Byrne to tip-toe his way into the box before finishing to the right hand corner with aplomb. The 453 Swindon fans had already been in good voice but now they really had something to shout about…
The goal meant that the game became even more stretched and this played into the hands of the slippery Andy Williams who had three bites at the cherry at 1-0 to increase Town’s lead. Williams’ close range effort forced a reaction save out of Turnbull, an audacious chip was tipped over by Turnbull and finally Williams should have done much better with a near post flicked header that went wide of the far post.
In a Mark Cooper tactical masterstroke, Jake ‘REEEEEEEEEVES’ was sent to warm-up in front of the travelling fans and new chant was born. Moments later, the alice-banded Reeves replaced a tiring Louis Thompson and he didn’t have to wait long for Nathan Byrne to set him up a chance on a plate. Reeves duly tapped in from 3-4 yards and the victory was sealed in the 82nd minute.
To compound the Oakwell misery, Barnsley gifted the ball away straight from the restart and this allowed Michael Smith to gallop clear down the right hand side. Showing that it’s not only Nathan Byrne who can whip in a right wing centre, Smith fired the ball across goal where a Barnsley interception went straight to Andy Williams for 3-0. That makes it six goals this season for the former Yeovil Town man – a great return from a serious knee injury.
Full time, Town win by three, perhaps it was a slightly flattering scoreline but Barnsley simply didn’t do enough at the right end of the pitch. Danny Wilson didn’t face the post match press, assistant manager Chris Hutchings took up the mantle instead. Like Nigel Clough the Saturday before this, Hutchings admitted that Barnsley had set up to try and combat Swindon playing the ball out of the back. Like Sheffield United the Saturday before this, Barnsley’s game plan was a waste of time as Swindon eased past their unimaginative hosts with a brilliant second half display.
By their own high standards, the midfield three of Luongo, Kasim and Louis Thompson were quiet and efficient. Jordan Turnbull and Nathan Thompson were supremely comfortable on the ball, which helped Jack Stephens grow in stature as the game went on. Amari’i Bell looks like an astute acquisition from Birmingham and he will provide stiff competition for Brad Smith at left-wing back. Bell is strong, quick and more physical than Brad Smith; I would suggest that Bell could do a useful job as the left sided centre-half in the back three if required.
That fellow pre-season promotion favourites, such as Sheffield United and Barnsley, are trying to nullify Swindon before a ball is even kicked is a massive compliment to the job that Mark Cooper and Lee Power are doing at the County Ground. That Swindon are still able to blast eight goals past these two teams is even more telling.
Curb your optimism Dan!
While I had thought “We haven’t got the squad to sustain this start as the winter months take their toll” to myself back in August, the ranks have swelled and the signings of Stephens, Reeves, Obika and Bell have significantly improved the squad. They can’t can they..?
‘Cooper’s Kids’ can!
Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88