Washbag Podcast: Episode 38 – Getting one over Bristol City

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Episode #38 of TheWashbag.com Swindon Town FC Podcast is now available to download and stream…

Host Ron Smith is joined by three guests to discuss latest events at the County Ground – Swindon Link’s Sports Editor Sam Morshead and podcast regulars Daniel Hunt and Brendan Hobbs.

Let’s not dwell on the 5-0 defeat at Cheltenham and instead revel in the fantastic 1-0 victory over local rivals Bristol City. An early sending off, a great derby atmosphere and a superb individual effort by Michael Smith ensures Town inflicted City’s first league defeat this campaign.

Also for discussion is the reemergence of the battle in the STFC boardroom, a quick mention of the potential of Sheffield United employing a convicted rapist, and a look forward to next weekend’s trip to Peterborough.

The next podcast will probably return after the Fleetwood game in two weeks.

Get involved with the podcast, please submit your questions by emailing thewashbag[at]gmail[dot]com or tweet @thewashbag

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MK Dons 2-1 Swindon: Promotion rival provides Town with Halloween scare

2014.11.01 MK Dons 1

Two Milton Keynes goals in eight second half minutes from Dele Ali and Anthony Kay were enough for the ‘Dons’ to snuff out a resolute Swindon Town side at Stadium MK. The resurgent Jon Obika gave Town a 6th minute lead but our hosts were the better side over 90 minutes – only some late heroics from Wes Foderingham and the Swindon defence keeping the goals conceded down to two, writes Daniel Hunt.

I’m going to mix things up today! I’m sure you’ve already read the match reports by the Swindon Advertiser, FLIC Sport, Swindon Link, etc if you’re looking for a blow-by-blow account of how the defeat unfolded. On the way home from Milton Keynes yesterday, I took to Twitter to give my thoughts on what I’d just witnessed in Milton Keynes. Over the next five minutes reading, I will expand on each tweet to give you my version of events.

1. “Don’t be too downbeat STFC fans, beaten by a very good MK side today. Massive physical side with quality added by Ali, Afobe + Powell…”

Thoughts echoed by Swindon manager Mark Cooper in the post match press, Swindon didn’t play badly at all but were on the receiving end of the best MK side I’ve seen since we’ve been playing them (2004 onwards). On loan Arsenal forward Benik Afobe was a serious handful – as Manchester United found out to their peril – and several times Afobe glided past his marker to get round the back of the Town defence. With the exception of the diminutive Ben Reeves in midfield, it was striking looking around the pitch at how big this MK side really was. Factor in that a couple of these ‘big units’ can really play in Ali and Powell and they look perfectly set up for promotion this season.

I’ll touch on winger Daniel Powell more later in this report but 18 year old Dele Ali lived up to his pre-match hype and deserves special praise. You can see why many Premier League clubs are looking at him; he’s big, skilful and has the ability to skip past players a la Massimo Luongo. Ali took his goal beautifully to equalise in the 51st minute, passing the ball past an unsighted Wes Foderingham.

2. “MK did their homework, shackled Byrne very well – 3 crunching tackles on him in first 15-20 mins. Wasn’t the same Byrne after that #STFC

Nathan Byrne is having the season of his life and is certainly a tough little cookie. He was flattened three times by different MK players in the first half of the first half – indicating that they had singled out our right wing back for special treatment. Credit to the former Spurs man, each time he got up again and carried on but it was a below par performance from Byrne after that and I think the chunky Dean Lewington did a really good job on him at left back.

What was very frustrating from a Swindon point of view was that Anthony Kay escaped a yellow card for the awful late tackle on Byrne in the build up to the Obika goal, so that when Kay eventually picked up a booking in the 69th minute, he should have been having an early bath. Frustrating!

3. “Goals conceded were sloppy from a #STFC point of view – 1st especially. Poor Bell headed clearance and then Luongo guilty of over playing!!”

The opening periods of second halves are becoming a real issue for the current Swindon side – three times in the last four games, 1-0 half time leads have been surrendered in the 49th minute against Rochdale, 47th minute against Colchester and yesterday in the 51st minute against Milton Keynes.

If you’re looking for more themes, self inflicted pain in the build up to goals is becoming an annoying habit as well. Amari’i Bell had an opportunity to head the ball clear of danger but his header ballooned to back into the centre of the pitch and into MK possession. Never fear, Massimo Luongo stepped in and won the ball back, only to commit the cardinal sin of overplaying on the edge of his own box, allowing an MK toe to intercept. Dele Ali did the rest and the match was level at 1-1.

4. “Looking for positives? #STFC were very resolute in 1st half + counter attacked well again. Smith rounded keeper, almost 2 up! Obika bright.”

Much like at Chesterfield on Tuesday night, Cooper’s men had to soak up plenty of first half pressure from their hosts. And much like at Chesterfield, Swindon did this very well in the first half – restricting MK to two Benik Afobe headers, wide of each post. The counter attacking threat was Town’s main outlet and as well as producing Obika’s opening goal, Michael Smith was presented with a golden opportunity to put Swindon two-nil up. Smith latched onto a through ball and tried to round David Martin in the MK goal to no avail. On reflection Smith might have shot past Martin rather than trying to navigate around him.

Special word for ‘Super’ Jon Obika who worked his socks off and put his two horror misses at Chesterfield behind him as he notched his 6th goal in Swindon colours. His link up playing coming short for the ball was good again but the most notable improvement in his game at MK was his tracking back, winning the ball on several occasions in his own half.

5. “Turnbull + N.Thompson magnificent for #STFC otherwise it could/should have been 3/4 for MK. Stephens lack of pace on right of 3 a big issue!”

When you’re playing with a back three, you can’t afford to carry passengers and luckily for Jack Stephens, he had the magnificent Nathan Thompson and Jordan Turnbull playing to his left. Wes Foderingham too, deserves plaudits for stopping MK from increasing their lead in a helter-skelter final period of the game. Foderingham made a good block with his chest in the 89th minute but his save from Ali in the third minute of stoppage time was super human! Prior to this, Swindon had flung bodies in the way of other efforts from Grigg and Potter. There was certainly no indication that Town, led by Nathan Thompson, had thrown in the towel.

6. “Rough with the smooth re: Stephens. Brilliant at bringing ball out from the back – looks a central-midfielder to me. Branco fit soon please?”

7. “Stephens not helped by playing on the right of 3 because Byrne is so attacking + Stephens dragged into right back. MK played on it! #STFC

I’d like to tackle tweets six and seven in one go. If i was giving marks out of ten for yesterday, Stephens would have got 4/10 for defending and 8/10 for going forward from the back. There was one passage of play in the second half where Stephens nut-megged a ‘Dons’ defender on the edge of their own box to put himself through on goal. It was brilliant play and unfortunately the move came to nothing when Stephens and Obika went to strike the same ball – the end result being a tame shot straight at David Martin, a real let off for MK.

The excellent Daniel Powell on the left wing gave Stephens a torrid time. Jack’s lack of pace isn’t his fault but so long as Swindon play with the uber-attacking Byrne at right wing back and Stephens on the right of the back three, this problem of space to be exposed down Swindon’s right is going to be exploited over and over again. Poor old Stephens didn’t know when to engage Powell when he was running at him, the end result being that Stephens would back off and back off – leading to many MK Dons chances particularly in the second half when the game got stretched.

While Stephens had a mare, we mustn’t over look the fact that he received so little support from his colleagues, the flip side of giving Byrne so much license to attack down the right. A reasonable tactical change yesterday might have been to push Nathan Thompson to the right of the back three and move Stephens to sweeper, a place where I think he’d thrive. As i touched on in my tweets, Stephens looks like a central midfielder to me and his manager Ronald Koeman at Southampton certainly used him in that position in pre-season. Food for thought…

8. “Has it been announced how many #STFC fans were at MK today? Those at home listening on radio, could you hear us?”

I won’t dwell on it too much but the following of 1,292 to Milton Keynes yesterday was fantastic to see, it’s our second biggest ever following to MK (see table below). With an FA Cup trip to Cheltenham to come next Saturday, that’ll make it four 1,000 plus followings in a month – Leyton Orient, Yeovil Town, MK Dons and Cheltenham. Well done Reds, keep it up!

Year Number of STFC fans
2005 1,550
2014 1,292
2008 1,203
2010 1,133
2007 961

9. “Hate to comment on referees (not why we lost) but he had a shocker. Can someone explain how a free kick given against Kasim at end?! #STFC

I’ve already touched on referee Eddie Ilderton’s inability to book Anthony Kay in the first half but the rest of his general refereeing performance was baffling. I’m not going to pin any blame for the result on the referee; it’s not an excuse, more of a comment. Mark Cooper bit his tongue when asked about Mr. Ilderton’s display after the match and it was very interesting to hear that Cooper received an apology from the referee’s association in the week. That’s something I suppose, perhaps it was a psychic apology in advance!

But the referee’s display was best summed up by the puzzling decision to award a free-kick against Yaser Kasim in the 90th minute. After a loose touch on the edge of the MK box, Kasim stabbed the ball through to Andy Williams on the left wing before Kasim was clattered into by an MK Dons defender. Williams was about to bear down on goal in what would have a great chance for Town to equalise, the end result – an MK Dons free kick, relieving all the pressure.

10. “Chin up Reds – big BIG game vs Preston to come at County Ground on Tues night. They also lost today, win that + back in top 2 mix! #STFC

I think it’s important to end on a positive note, for this was a decent Swindon Town performance and there’s no shame in admitting that we were beaten by the better team. On a couple of pivotal moments did this match hinge, Michael Smith could have put Town two goals to the good and both MK goals will be deemed avoidable when the Swindon players watch the game back on Monday morning. I’ll be able to comment better after I’ve seen the Preston game on Tuesday night, but I think that MK Dons have got all the tools in their locker to achieve automatic promotion alongside Bristol City this season.

Town remain a young side that are brilliant on their day with some polishing required around the edges. The recruitment of a right sided centre-half or the speedy return of Raphael Rossi-Branco may be required to keep the goals out against the very best teams in League One – with Preston and Bristol City up next, we’ve got a good chance to test that theory.

Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88

Washbag Podcast: Episode 36 – Things are going well, for once..

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Episode #36 of TheWashbag.com Swindon Town FC Podcast is now available to download…

Host Ron Smith is joined by a panel of four guests to discuss latest events at the County Ground – Link Sport’s Sam Morshead, Alex Cooke, Daniel Hunt and Iain Watkins.

With no game this weekend and a welcome break, the five review the opening two months to Town’s 2014/15 season. Expectations have shifted from relegation or mediocrity to promotion, or at least giving a solid account of ourselves in the division. The main topics include the moments of the season; player of the season to date; the factors against Town maintaining their current form; and a welcome news of contracts being extended to at least one player, potentially more.

Also with Sam on the podcast it’s a welcome time to ask why he left the Swindon Advertiser, plus we look at the new ticket initiative and the forthcoming matches.

The next podcast will probably return in a fortnight after the Rochdale and Colchester United games.

Get involved with the podcast, please submit your questions by emailing thewashbag[at]gmail[dot]com or tweet @thewashbag

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Barnsley 0-3 Swindon Town: Cooper’s Kids Can Achieve…

2014.09.27 Barnsley

‘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.

The youngest Swindon Town starting elevens by average age – supplied by www.swindon-town-fc.co.uk

The youngest Swindon Town starting elevens by average age – supplied by http://www.swindon-town-fc.co.uk

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…

2014.09.27 STFC fans at Barnsley

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

STFC Podcast: Episode 25 – Does a Wembley final await..?

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Episode #25 of TheWashbag.com Swindon Town FC Podcast is now available to download…

Host Ron Smith is joined by Town fans Daniel Hunt and Iain Watkins.

What is it about Swindon Town? Previously dominant as hosts and we could expect at least two goals per game, but now games against Oldham and Colchester have seen Town goalless and only one point to the good. On the plus side, the away form has improved and, of course, we are potentially 90 minutes from a trip to Wembley for the JPT final…

The three review the goalless draw with Colchester, the impact of Nile Ranger’s injury and a lack of striking options, they ask can Town build on that fantastic comeback versus the Posh to ensure a third trip to Wembley in four years? Also they look at the implications of a raise in season ticket prices.

The next podcast returns in a few weeks…

Get involved with the podcast, please submit your questions by emailing thewashbag[at]gmail[dot]com or tweet @thewashbag

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Daniel Hunt’s take on the Adver’s County Ground ban

Swindon Advertiser Banned 8

Our very own Daniel Hunt has made the news for his part in a bizarre move by Swindon Town Chairman Lee Power, who banned the Swindon Advertiser over Sam Morshead’s Nile Ranger Tweet. Here is Dan’s view on the situation that he’s embroiled in…

On Saturday 11th January, I took my Dad (a Town supporter since the mid 1960s and the very reason I’m a Swindon supporter myself) into the Sponsor’s Suite hospitality at the County Ground for the League One match against Peterborough United. We both had a great day and the football club couldn’t have been more hospitable – I want to make that clear from the start.

Former STFC left back Phil King was an excellent matchday host. He led a group made up of half of the hospitality guests on a stadium tour before we all sat down for our pre-match meal. We took in the boardroom, the home changing room and then the dugouts in that order.

We were told that the normal protocol was for the tour to take in the away changing room but that Peterborough United had objected – meaning that the home changing room became our destination for the second part of the tour. It was immediately visible that Nile Ranger’s kit was laid out ready for him to use that day – something that King touched on in his entertaining pre-match patter.

At no point were hospitality guests asked not to take photos on the stadium tour, in fact it was encouraged. I took several pictures including the token ‘pretending to be a manager in the dugout’ shot and the now infamous Ranger shirt shot. All part of the fun.

At 12:35 I tweeted that Ranger’s kit was laid out in the changing room and later at 13:57, I tweeted the picture of Ranger’s kit which I had taken earlier on the stadium tour. In the meantime, Nile Ranger had himself posted an image on Instagram at approximately 13:15 proclaiming that he was back!

With Ranger’s involvement in the match day squad becoming public knowledge through Twitter/Instagram, I believe Swindon Advertiser journalist Sam Morshead was correct to take to the ‘Twittersphere’ and confirm what he already knew for the benefit of the Swindon Town fans he serves daily.

If Darren Ferguson is to be believed (his Dad was one of the master exponents of mind games after all), Peterborough United caught wind of the Ranger developments on the internet and adjusted their team accordingly – something that worked a treat as Ranger glanced Swindon into the lead in the 28th minute…

If you ask me, Peterborough changing their team at the last moment was a massive compliment to STFC and would have been disruptive to their preparation – perfect start to the day for Cooper’s men.

What transpired on Monday afternoon – Swindon Town F.C. banning the Swindon Advertiser from covering press conferences/home games/etc – was a highly unfortunate culmination of events. As far as I’m concerned, Sam Morshead did everything by the book on Saturday and should receive the fans full backing. Once again it calls into question the much debated subject of who needs who more…

Local football club or local newspaper?

A subject complicated by the backdrop of ever increasing social media usage by clubs, media and supporters alike. The matchday experience has changed – Twitter/Instagram/Facebook are vital tools for information hungry football fans to gather and share information ahead of 3pm on a Saturday.

Hopefully this whole mess can be resolved very quickly for everyone’s benefit. For my part, I feel genuinely sorry for Sam Morshead and the Swindon Advertiser.

Honestly yours,

Daniel Hunt

(Don Rogers Stand Season Ticket holder)

Bradford City 1-1 Swindon Town: Was this Pritchard’s final goal for Town?

Alex Pritchard 2

The Alex Pritchard show may be entering its final series at Swindon Town but with such stellar performances over the Christmas period, which Town fan in their right mind could begrudge him a switch to the Championship in January? Writes Daniel Hunt.

Where the on loan Tottenham youngster was denied several times by his former youth team-mate David Button at Griffin Park, Bradford City were powerless to stop Alex Pritchard tip-toeing his way from the right hand touchline into the box before placing neatly into the bottom corner to equalise in the 63rd minute. It was a magnificent goal worthy of winning any game but an open second half would result in neither side going on to seal the three points.

With the charitable Nile Ranger spending his hard-earned wages helping to keep a Bristol nightclub in business on Boxing Day evening, Dany N’Guessan struck down with a virus and Mohamed El Gabbas seemingly out of favour pending his inevitable release in January; Mark Cooper put out as attacking a side as he could with Nathan Byrne and Pritchard playing either side of the lone front man – Nicky Ajose. Miles Storey and Ryan Mason had to be content with places on the bench with Louis Thompson and Yaser Kasim supporting Massimo Luongo in central midfield.

I just want to congratulate Cooper on the set-up of the midfield as it caught Bradford out slightly. Luongo played as the deepest central midfielder and I think this improved Swindon’s link up play between defence and attack. This allowed Kasim to play as the most advanced of the three and he’s actually a very good footballer as he showed in the first half. Perhaps it was a result of his recent virus, but Kasim faded in the second half and was replaced by the towering Ben Gladwin – who definitely looked more assured than he did at Brentford on Boxing Day.

Bradford City were combative opponents, backed by the most vocal support I’ve encountered in League One so far this season. They carried twin threats, little and large, in 15 goal Nakhi Wells and the returning target-man James Hanson. For the 28 minutes that Wells was on the pitch before going off injured, Town’s defence were given a difficult time dealing with his intelligent movement in either channel. Former Swindon loanee, Mark Yeates, replaced Wells but barely made an impact on the game as Town’s task became much simpler.

The Bantams started with quite a rigid 4-4-2 formation that allowed Alex Pritchard the freedom of Yorkshire to get on the ball ‘between-the-lines’ (feel dirty saying that phrase but hey, this is ‘modern’ football) and repeatedly terrorise the home defence. The first chance of the match was a Pritchard shot that went narrowly over the bar and the midfielder would twice more go close to scoring before half time – forcing McLaughlan to parry a low shot in the 37th minute and curling a 20 yard free kick just the wrong side of the upright two minutes later, following a strong run from Jay McEveley.

Left winger Kyel Reid was the most impressive player for the hosts but he was well shackled all afternoon by Nathan Thompson – who looked noticeably fitter and stronger than in recent displays, suggesting that ‘Nasty Nath’ has fully recovered from his injury troubles. Swindon would shade the first half but went into the break a goal behind courtesy of one of Bradford’s main strengths, set pieces.

I remember Rory McArdle well for a towering headed goal against Aston Villa in last season’s marvellous League Cup run and sure enough, he was at it again in the 16th minute. A left wing corner was flicked goalwards at the near post by McArdle and with the assistance of the underside of the crossbar, Bradford were ahead. The Swindon response to falling behind was measured and if Nicky Ajose had brought his shooting boots, Town could have found themselves at least level before half time.

In the 26th minute, a heavy second touch meant that Ajose fluffed his lines when one-on-one with McLaughlan following a neat through ball. As if that wasn’t frustrating enough, a similar move in the 34th minute saw the on loan Peterborough striker pull out of challenging the keeper when through on goal again. Although the incident was at the opposite end of the pitch from where I was sat, it looked like Ajose bottled the challenge I hate to say.

I’m as yet unsure whether Ajose is eligible to play against Crawley Town on New Year’s Day – the terms of his loan deal expire on the 1st January – but I hope he gets the chance to sign off in better fashion. He’s done very well during his time at the County Ground and deserves a good send off. An injury to Jay McEveley would mean that Miles Storey, Swindon’s only other striking option in the match day squad, made it on to the pitch in first half stoppage time. I worry for McEveley from what I saw from the away end, as he slumped to floor to receive treatment from Town physio Paul Godfrey, the left back looked very resigned to his fate. Hope it’s not a reoccurrence of his long standing knee injury for his sake.

Storey provided a good outlet for Swindon in the second half, particularly as the game became stretched and Bradford defenders tired in the Yorkshire cold. Unfortunately for Miles, he didn’t capitalise on the breaks that came his way and several promising moves broke down before an effort on the Bantams goal could materialise. By comparison, fellow youth team graduate Louis Thompson got stronger and more influential as the game went on – a significant feat given how few sets of 90 minutes the youngster has completed in the first team.

Two lovely Louis Thompson moments I’d like to call out for different reasons;

1. Early in the second half, Louis was felled by Mark Yeates, a foul which drew a yellow card from referee Oliver Langford. Brother Nathan was on the scene quick as a flash to defend his brother’s honour, squaring up to Yeates – reminiscent of a tag-team wrestling pair! Genuinely touching in a funny way.

2. As the second half was drawing to a close, Louis still had bucket loads of energy to chase back and harry one of his Bradford opponents into a mistake on the half line. Once he’d stolen the ball, he knocked the ball past another player and ran on to his own ball forward in a lung-busting, breathless piece of play. The move fizzled out moments later but with every passage of play that passes, Thompson junior is looking more and more like the brilliant midfielder we all hope he’ll become.

With Byrne already switched to left back covering for the injured McEveley, the defence would be further de-stabilised by an injury to Grant Hall in the 53rd minute. Hall had twisted an ankle and manfully tried to play on before being replaced by Raphael Rossi-Branco – an unused substitute sixteen times this season. The final straw came when Hall tried to challenge Hanson in the air but luckily for Foderingham, Hanson’s header was straight at the Swindon keeper.

Rossi-Branco had some early shaky moments but brushed these off to deputise well alongside captain Darren Ward. Promising signs from a defender who Cooper had himself described recently as ‘not being ready’ for League One football. With two tall members of the back four now in the treatment room, Wes Foderingham drew praise post-match from Cooper for his efforts in coming out to punch the numerous crosses which rained down upon the Swindon six yard box. This trait was noticeable during the second half and it certainly helped ease the pressure on an inexperienced backline.

The play switched from end to end in an exciting second period and Foderingham had to be on his mettle to keep out a swerving Doyle shot in the 81st minute – it may have been going wide but Foderingham made sure. At the other end, Alex Pritchard continued his excellent game by inducing a trip on the very (and I mean very) edge of the eighteen yard box with six minutes to go. Pritchard struck the free kick into the wall and from the resulting short corner, Nathan Byrne dribbled across the box before curling agonisingly wide of McLaughlan’s left hand post – it was close.

Roared on by approximately 350 Swindon fans in the top tier of the away end, Swindon smelt blood but the two final chances fell to Miles Storey who could only force the ‘keeper into one save when it fell on his right foot on the right side of the box. A draw felt about right at full time but you get the sense that Town will come away disappointed they didn’t go on to win the game.

I was personally very critical of how Mark Cooper set the team up (the much discussed 4-6-0 formation) for two winnable away ties at Crawley Town in November and Sheffield United earlier this month. My biggest issue with that approach is the message it sends to the opposition – we’re here not to concede and nick a one goal victory at best. Full credit to Swindon Town though for the way they’ve approached two daunting away games over Christmas, despite only gathering one point in six.

Brentford are a very good side at this level and we’ve given them one of the toughest home games they’ll have all season, while Town created many chances to win the game at Valley Parade. The approach has been much more positive and it’s resulted in two entertaining games that have been well worth the trip for our loyal away followers. I feel that Swindon are so close to turning the corner away from home, I just hope that Cooper retains a positive approach because with so many pure footballers in the side, it’s a shame to play any other way but positively.

There’s going to be a few changes at the club in January, some that we may not like at first but all I ask of my fellow fans is that we also keep a positive approach to how Swindon cut their cloth accordingly…

Cheers Pritch! Thanks Nicky! Don’t go Wes! Oh, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out will you Nile?

Happy New Year from all at ‘The Washbag’!!

Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88