Cheltenham Town 1 Swindon Town 0: Same old Swindon

Alex Cooke reports on the action at Town’s visit to Cheltenham.

New manager, new division, same old story: Swindon’s ability to implode at Whaddon Road remains a depressing constant. And while this time it didn’t end with the same poison as the 2001 defeat, some Town fans still vented their anger, apparently in one case at Oliver Risser, however, throughout the game Billy Bodin seemed to the main target of their rage.

Their emotion was born of frustration. Swindon lacked strength and guile in a robust match, which while short of invention and craft was not lacking in more traditional lower league traits of industry and endurance.

Much like the Crewe game, Town looked short of a cutting edge but unlike last Saturday, they at least began with intent. Playing in an orthodox 4-4-2 the early threat came from the central midfield pairing of Risser and the impressive Alan McCormack. Both supported the fledgling forwards of Bodin and De Vita well, finding the time and space for a number of shots with the former Charlton man hitting an upright. The strike partnership even fashioned a few chances for themselves too by chasing lofted balls into the channels, and De Vita really should have opened the scoring from a neat Bodin cutback just ten minutes in.

But after 20 minutes Cheltenham closed up the gaps and began to restrict Town’s chances, gradually imposing themselves through their physical midfield. A booking for the otherwise tidy McCormack showed that Town’s early dominance, and his own influence was waning. Nathan Thompson, stationed out on the right, seemingly to counter former Town striker Kaid Mohammed, looked a little lost and the heavily marked Ritchie proved wasteful as Town still managed to swing in crosses but without the ability to turn them into chances at the back post.

As Cheltenham began to apply pressure it became clear that Swindon weren’t wholly comfortable at the back: Devera still looked tentative, getting turned twice by the hulking 19-year-old Spencer, Flint and Phil Smith failed to communicate leading to a lob that left Smith stranded and Kennedy dwelt on a clearing leading to Mohammed having a clear chance. But instead of punishing Town he produced the kind of wafted miss-kick that shows why he was appearing for his 13th club in eight years.

As Cheltenham pushed forward, Marlon Pack in their midfield started to stand out, even amid the Neanderthal Lowe and Low, whose sloping foreheads showed that this was not a team that could be bullied. He tested Smith with a freekick bent round the outside of the wall before Bennett connected with a Lowe cross leaving Smith to claw the ball away brilliantly.

The second half had hardly begun when Steve Elliot showed the value of experience. Seemingly unchallenged this hod carrier of a centre back nodded a corner back where it came from and past the largely faultless Smith to make it 1-0 to the home side.

Di Canio responded with the first of his changes bringing on the debutant Etienne Esajas for Thompson and switching flanks with Ritchie. With the game degenerating rapidly into a series of hoofs and scuffles, the Dutchman took a while to impress but once given the ball he showed why the manager signed him showing a couple of elegant crosses and the ability to beat a man.

Swindon were still making chances though with De Vita being particularly wasteful, twice showing the skill to get beyond his marker but not enough composure to either find a finish or pick out a black shirt in the box. But then, doing so wasn’t easy as Town weren’t getting numbers into the area with the midfield duo preferring to hover on the edge of the area.

Worse was to come as Bodin also latched onto a pass in the area and seemed to be brought down but the referee remained certain, despite lengthy protests from STFC players and fans.

The game remained open and Cheltenham had chances of their own with Spencer hitting a free shot straight into the arms of Smith and so Di Canio was forced to made further changes as McComack departed to be replaced by Alan Connell. Finally Swindon had a more robust forward but lost much of their width in the process. The change to a 4-3-3 formation pushed the two wingers back in midfield, either side of the bypassed Risser, before Di Canio changed the formation again putting Ferry on for the marginalised Ritchie and shuffling Bodin out as a left winger with De Vita and Connell attempting to link in the middle, it didn’t work. Even when Spencer smashed an elbow into Flint’s face and earned himself a red card, Town weren’t creating real chances. The passing was still direct and the ball was switched from flank to flank too slowly, giving the ten men a chance to adapt and regroup – a task that would have suited to dropped Timlin. And that was how the game ended, with Risser having another hopeful shot when the chance to play Bodin in for a cross would have offered a more realistic chance of scoring.

It was a performance that had its moments, and had its obvious star (again) in Flint, but it didn’t yield even a point because chances though created weren’t taken and poor decisions were made when calmer heads were called for. Cheltenham were an able team happy to play a more limited game and happier in their defined roles.

And, if this story isn’t one that could be repeated at many away games throughout the season, lessons will need to be learnt about formations, personnel, and yes, some signings made. But then, as Paolo Di Canio is learning, somethings never change.

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If you are interested in writing a match report on our trip to Dagenham & Redbridge this Tuesday then please contact me via Twitter or email thewashbag(at)gmail(dot)com

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