Half Time: Swindon 2 Charlton 1
Wow, what an atmosphere, what a game and the result we needed, fought for and deserved. The first leg of the League One Play-Offs at the County Ground last night gave Town the advantage going into the second leg at The Valley on Monday night.
After the week long build up after the Millwall game, the queues for the tickets and the nerves, Friday night came along fast and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s sometimes important to put the contest into some sort of context and it’s important to remember that 3 seasons ago Town were in League Two and our opponents Charlton in the Premier League. How times change. Charlton were under pressure and widely expected to win, whereas Swindon have been built up as the “overachievers” and “underdogs” in the play-offs, with nothing to lose, as was put perfectly by an obviously excited Danny Wilson before kick-off.
So rarely at Town do we, largely suffering fans in recent years, ever get the chance to be part of such a crucial game, with a packed County Ground and an end of season carnival atmosphere. The streets surrounding the ground were a sea of red and white. Clap-banners provided to all Arkells and Don Rogers Stand seats certainly added a voice to sometimes less vocal parts of the ground, but we really need to practice our choreography to spell out Swindon as the teams were taking to the field! They certainly worked as we drowned out the Charlton fans throughout the game and deserved chants from the Town End “We Forgot That You Were Here!”.
Swindon started the brighter and had the best of the first half. Town put Charlton under early pressure from two excellent crosses into the box. The first came with Charlie Austin coming close after 2 minutes. Austin found himself in plenty of space in the box and latched onto a JP McGovern cross with a header which if any less close to Randolph would have given Town a quick lead. Austin again tested Randoplh again after 11 minutes with another header from close range from an Alan Sheeham free kick, but this time well turned over the bar. Town’s only other real chance came on 30 minutes when after put through on goal, Danny Ward’s low shot went agonisingly just wide of the far post. The remainder of the first half was a tight affair with little else between the teams with Greer and Cuthbert keeping the Charlton attack at bay.
Soon after half time the subdued and quiet Charlton fans only really came into voice when Nicky Bailey’s excellent long range curling effort hit the post. Then the game turned, fortunately, in our favour.
Alan O’Brien worked hard, but he had another largely ineffective game. It was no coincidence that the cross leading to Austin’s header to take Town 1 nil up after 51 minutes came from the left wing, but not from O’Brien, but from the overlapping Sheehan. This was just the sort of quality move we used to great effect. Jubilation and pandemonium all around the ground.
From then onwards I lost count of how many corners Charlton won. But despite constant pressure Town held firm. Charlton just couldn’t find the finish.
Just when I thought they would get the equaliser, a quality counter attack deep into the Charlton half lead by Simon Ferry laid it off to Danny Ward who showed great composure to take a touch and slot the ball past Randolph. 2 nil to Swindon, I couldn’t believe it! 2 nil up and the game was turned on its head!
The Charlton goal soon afterwards came from a long clearance from Randolph over the top of the defence, only for a hesitant Lucas to be beaten by Deon Burton who scored against his former club. It’s such a poor goal to concede, particularly as I found Lucas at fault for the Greer own goal at Millwall. To be honest if Charlton hadn’t scored then they would have got a goal from the significant pressure they put on us for much of the remaining game as Town rode their luck with a few nervy panicky defensive moments we really can’t afford to see a repeat.
After previously being frustrated I’m beginning to feel for Vincent Pericard. Originally promising 15 goals when he joined back in January, he worked so hard to hold up the ball after replacing Austin and should have been rewarded with a last minute goal, only to be denied by the inside of the post. Vincent you will score, hopefully at Wembley, keep up the good work!
On the final whistle there was jubilation in the Town faithful who stayed to applaud their heroes, but two thirds of the Charlton fans headed for the exits, evidently disappointed with the result and not staying to support their team who came to salute. I’m surprised by this as it is only half time in the tie and Charlton didn’t perform too badly and certainly had the better possession and chances of the second half. Clearly they wanted to expected to come away from Swindon with at least a draw, but they failed.
Readers will recall Phil Parkinson’s comments earlier this week, his ideal result was to take a draw away from their away leg. So 2-1 Town gives us the big advantage as we can now afford to go there and draw.
Ward played very well upfront with Austin and was my man of the match, but I’d rather see him back out on the left wing and I’d welcome the return of Paynter or even Pericard upfront for the second leg.
Town fans rocked the County Ground, Charlton expected to come away with a result and go back to London disappointed but relived to have got the goal back. So lets take the game to them on Monday night, keep it loud, Come on You Reds!