Play-Off Semi-Finals v Charlton Preview

The League One Play-Offs tonight and Monday evening against 4th place Charlton Athletic promises to be two intriguing and finely balanced crucial games judging by the matches earlier this season.

The game at The Valley finished 2-2 after Charlton went down to 9 men in the first half but after Town pulled ahead with a goal each from Austin and Paynter. Charlton then secured an unlikely point with a dramatic stoppage time Llera equaliser to steal a draw. The return game at The County Ground also finished in a draw with another last minute equaliser this time from Nicky Bailey scuppering a likely Swindon victory.

Both these games (Boxing Day and 6th February) came when Town were within their best run of results and performances this season. A run which saw a sequence of 13 games unbeaten, including 7 wins between the Bristol Rovers matches which lifted the team into the promotion reckoning to many’s surprise. Whilst there have been convincing wins over the likes of Southampton and Leeds United since this good run, Town have often tired and found it difficult to regain their consistency, particularly against lesser opposition.

Going into the game Town have a less than average record only 1 win in their past 6 matches, which was a narrow 3-2 home win against Brentford a fortnight ago. You definitely can’t class Charlton as lesser opposition as they retain a strong squad full of quality players who have performed at a higher level including Sodje, Dailly and Burton. The Addicks posses a much better recent record going into the play-offs with 3 wins, 1 draw and 2 loses in their past 6 matches, winning the last 2 league games without conceding. So can Charlton continue their good form?

Looking back at previous Swindon play-off campaigns, Town haven’t really performed strongly in the final six games of the season.

1986/1987 – Won 2, Drawn 4, Lost 0 – 10/18 points & 3rd Position – Play-Off Winner

1989/1990 – Won 2, Drawn 3, Lost 1 – 9/18 points & 4th Position – Play-Off Winner

1992/1993 – Won 2, Drawn 2, Lost 2 – 8/18 points & 5th Position – Play-Off Winner

2003/2004 – Won 2, Drawn 2, Lost 2 – 8/18 points & 5th Position – Lost Semi-Final v Brighton

2009/2010 – Won 1, Drawn 3, Lost 2 – 6/18 points & 5th Position – ?

So if history is anything to go by we need not be concerned and Town can pull it out of the bag when needed even after an average final six leagues.

After we played so well mid season, I can’t help but be frustrated with Town’s unspectacular finish, as a confident team riding high following a good run should be one to be feared in the play-offs. We are clearly the underdogs, this is a point reiterated on several occasions this week by Wilson and the Board, but at least we can be assured by our excellent form over the top seven teams this season. In those 12 games we have won 5, drawn 5 and lost only 2, with those being away at Norwich City and Millwall. So whilst our recent form is far from ideal, the squad have obviously been ready for the important matches and are I think more than a match for our strong opponents.

Much has been stated in the press about the potential advantage of playing at home in the second leg. I’ve no qualms about the situation we face as I think the pressure will be on Charlton who are at home in the 2nd leg, certainly after a strong Swindon performance tonight. In our previous play-off semi-finals we played the 2nd leg away from home twice and we have won at Tranmere and performed excellently at Brighton to win 2-1 on the night, albeit we then lost on penalties. Here’s something to remember readers…  as I learnt in the dying minutes of the Brighton tie…  there is no away goals advantaged in the play-offs and an aggregate draw will always lead to a penalty shoot-out, like at Cardiff on Wednesday night.

Team news is promising for Swindon with all but the injured Vincent Pericard available for the match and all loan signings eligible for the play-offs. So expect just the single change from Millwall with Scott Cuthbert replacing Jean-Francois Lescinel in the centre of defence.

As for Charlton Youga and Basey are long term injuries, whilst McKenzie, Forster, Sodje and Reid are strong contenders for a starting place. Nicky Forster is also likely to feature. Forster always seems to be one of those players who scores against Town, so let’s hope we can frustrate him and the rest of the Charlton team.

It’s an understatement to say I’m looking forward to the game. Like the Leeds home game in January which was played in front of a capacity County Ground, I’m glad the game will be played in the evening as there will be an excellent atmosphere in and outside the ground. So Come On You Reds! and get the all important advantage to take to The Valley on Monday and get to Wembley to repeat the magic of 1993!

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