Swindon at Shrewsbury: Town self destruct to a 2-1 defeat

At the other ‘STFC’, Town approached the game knowing the midweek League Cup victory at Bristol City must be used as the impetus to re-start a misfiring League Two campaign.

Against confident predictions, including my own wild partisan cries of absolute confidence, Town had so far failed to set the league alight with three successive hard fought games post Crewe. Games yielding nothing – no points and a solitary goal – but importantly giving those vocal critics of Paolo Di Canio the earlier than expected ammunition to slam the credibility of the unproven Italian manager. Instead of dispelling these fears, this 2-1 defeat deceived the travelling supporters who were left questioning what they’d witnessed after the break.

     

After opening in 2007 Greenhous Meadow is the first of six new stadiums for Town to lose in…I mean travel to, this season. With blue and yellow seats bolted onto four lumps of terraced concrete, bare concourses and uninspiring floodlights hanging along the roof of each side tribune roof, the only redeeming feature appeared the disabled areas high up on three stands accessible by lifts and a ‘Terminator’ style steward flanking the perimeter of the pitch. This neat, albeit dreary stadium was rain sodden following a few torrential downpours throughout the day, yet the automatic sprinklers gave the surface even more of a soaking before the match to give players on either side problems with their footing throughout.

When the team was announced, Di Canio put his faith in Raffaele De Vita. The midweek goalscorer earned a starting spot alongside Leon Clarke in an otherwise unchanged Town XI with the biggest surprise seeing Alan Connell dropped from the squad completely. Surely the team that had dispatched Championship side City would trounce Shrewsbury, until you remember who Salop had beaten.

The opening exchanges provided opportunities for both teams, but it was Town who played with a welcome intent and directness, initially working the space well on the narrow Shrewsbury pitch. Both Ritchie and Gabilondo stretched play and in doing so caused plenty of problems, particularly down the Shrews’ right side where Grandison was tormented and rushed.

But our problems of failing to create chances and the crucial shots on goal remained. The pairing of Clarke and De Vita just couldn’t get in a position to shoot, well marshalled by the Shrews’ central pairing of Sharps and Cansdell-Sherriff.

It took a prolonged period of pressure and a determined Matt Ritchie nipping in at the far post to give Town the lead. Callum Kennedy’s dangerous hard cross-come-shot caught the Shrews keeper Ben Smith off-guard and Ritchie timed his run to perfection, catching the defender napping to head home from close range, diving into the net to be bundled by all ten outfield players. If only the Town XI displayed the same commitment to the remainder of the proceedings as they do to their celebrations.

With their foot off the gas after taking the lead, Town completely failed to seize the advantage to push for a second. As we know Di Canio desires attacking pressing football more than anything – then don’t we all – so this sit back safety first approach would always fail to impress.

“It was not just the second half. I don’t look at the result and feel happy, because in the first half even though we were winning 1-0 I was still not happy with the performance. I told my players this but then in the second half we were even worse and we deserved to lose. I didn’t see the group of professionals that I want to see on the field.” – Di Canio speaking to Gary Rose – Swindon Advertiser

Di Canio’s masterstroke – in the loosest possible terms – came at half time, as instead of supporting his fledgling side, he destroyed the moral and shape of a functional, perhaps ugly – in his eyes – yet effective team, into a bunch of rabbits caught in headlamps on the A5.

From the re-start Shrewsbury could see this. Even though they were a goal behind there was nothing necessarily broken in their play so the experienced Graham Turner didn’t try to tinker or fix it.

The early signal of Shrewsbury’s intent to chase the game was clear. After 47 minutes Marvin Morgan broke free from the half way line with the ball, chased by four Town players including Simon Ferry without success. After he was allowed to make it to the by line Morgan crossed for an unmarked Mark Wright only to waste a golden opportunity to equalise by blasting over the bar.

It was a surprise it took another ten minutes for the leveller and thereafter until the 71st minute for the Shrewsbury winner. Town’s increasingly shambolic defence, wandering ineffective midfield and absent attack couldn’t cope, walked over with ease, providing no resistance or counter throughout the second half.

Both Shrewsbury goals from close range, the first following Lionel Ainsworth’s shot being parried by Phil Smith’s to be met by the quicker Terry Gornell and the second from Morgan unchallenged at the far post from an Ainsworth cross to send a downward header into the net, were deserved clinical finishes for the home side, but highlighted the crumbling Town defence.

Di Canio’s response to throw on Magera (after 50), McCormack (after 62) and Esajas (after 68) showed desperation to get things working to his style but all failed.

While De Vita didn’t put a foot right he equally didn’t put a foot wrong, compared to Magera his movement to the channels provided the Shrews defence with something to think about, other than a ineffective target outlet, unexpectedly easily challenged and disposed of the ball given his height and reputation before him. Ferry was replaced rather than Jon Smith, who had long lost the midfield battles. Upfront both Clarke and Magera needed time together, so the decision to replace the former with Esajas didn’t make sense, almost as if Di Canio was treating the proceedings as a testing ground. As for Esajas, I’d be astonished if he’s ever played a worse game in his career.

With Comazzi again warming the bench, his experienced shoulders over the once more tentative Devera would have given a solid structure to the backline, who were pulled apart and lucky to escape with just the two conceded. ‘Man Mountain’ Aden Flint was always there to be the saviour, but without improving his distribution we’re always going to be on the backfoot as soon as he’s cleared the ball.

As Town slumped to this 2-1 defeat Di Canio bemoaned the lack of “heart” on the pitch and more worryingly confirmed he can’t change their mentality, which is the biggest admission yet he’s put faith in the wrong players. As much as the players are to blame, Di Canio must learn himself to desire the ugly yet effective win and must choose his words more carefully at half time. Yes we sat back but we had the crucial lead, there was no need to obliterate confidence gained from a hard fought – in the players’ eyes – performance, with more rhetoric from the Italian.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have a Shrewsbury view on the game.

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