Macclesfield 2 Swindon 0: Silkmen Sink Substandard Swindon
Swindon slumped to yet another away-day defeat at lowly Macclesfield, extending their wretched and unpredictable run of form away from the County Ground in the process reports Tom Otbrebski.
The performance at Moss Rose bore a striking resemblance to the showings at Cheltenham and Burton earlier on in the campaign: a tale of missed chances, a penalty that perhaps should have been awarded and, above all, frustration that they could not build on a convincing win in the previous fixture as they were outfoxed by a thoroughly average home side.
Paolo Di Canio made four changes to the match-day squad with Czech striker Lukas Magera making his first start since his return from injury while Alan McCormack took his place alongside Simon Ferry at the heart of Town’s midfield. Jonathan Smith and Alan Connell had to be content with a place on the bench alongside new loan signings Jake Jervis and Liam Ridehalgh.
The Town boss has been known to spring a few surprises in his team selections but the inclusion of Magera seemed to raise a few eyebrows among the travelling supporters. The general murmur of consensus from the terraces seemed to be “why change a winning team?” How right these concerns proved to be.
On a balmy night in Cheshire, the visitors began brightly as they stroked the football across the turf with the visible confidence of a side that had just thumped their opponents the previous weekend. Chances came and went. Raffaele De Vita had the most clear-cut opportunity to open the scoring as he saw his goal-bound header touched onto the post by the Macclesfield goalkeeper.
The second 45 began with the introduction of Mattia Lanzano as a replacement for Phil Smith. A virtual spectator in the first half, Smith’s departure did little to disrupt the Town’s rhythm. Mehdi Kerrouche was guilty of missing a glorious opportunity when he met a beautiful Ritchie cross but proceeded to head the ball into the ground and into the grateful arms of the goalkeeper.
Having terrorised Barnet last Saturday, you could have forgiven Town’s players for focusing the majority of their attacking play through Matt Ritchie however, as the game approached the hour mark, Town’s lop-sided, right-flank bias was punished by the hosts. George Donnelly was given an open invitation to run down the Swindon left before cutting inside and drilling a low shot across the helpless Lanzano to give the home side the lead. The left-side pairing of Callum Kennedy and De Vita failing spectacularly to deal with the pace and finishing of the on-loan Macclesfield man.
The most crucial and perhaps controversial moment of the match came unsurprisingly courtesy of Matt Ritchie. The winger found himself ten yards from goal, one-on-one with the goalkeeper and seemed certain to level the scores. As Jose Veiga rushed out to meet him, Ritchie’s quick feet allowed him to dance away from the ‘keeper and saw him facing an open goal. As Town’s number ten went to place his standing foot in order to stabilise himself to apply the finish, one of Veiga’s trailing limbs caught the winger on his way past.
Clearly feeling the contact, Ritchie elected to stay on his feet when he could easily have gone down. In the half-second afterwards and the touch affecting his balance, Town’s top scorer tumbled to the ground and the loose ball was hacked clear by the home defence.
To the sounds of vociferous protests from nearly every Town player and the travelling support on the terrace behind the goal, the referee waved away claims for what appeared to be a clear penalty. Noticeably flustered by the non-decision, Town took far too long to compose themselves once more and their failure to deal with another attack down their left was capitalised on once more by the home side, Ross Draper profiting with another driven strike across Lanzano.
Loan signings Jervis and Ridehalgh both made their first appearance in a Swindon shirt coming on as second-half substitutes, the latter making arguably the better impression. He too joined the list of players guilty of missing chances when, firstly, he could not quite reach a ball over the top to flick it beyond the advancing Veiga before somehow managing to head a cross directly at the Macclesfield ‘keeper with the goal at his mercy.
These chances seemed to sum up Town’s frustration and toothlessness in front of goal. Lukas Magera seemed to spend the entire 90 minutes wondering why Macclesfield’s back four dared to challenge an international striker of his renown. At the other end, Alberto Comazzi’s shortcomings were exposed by a very poor Macclesfield side who did little else but take the two opportunities that were presented to them.
Swindon’s failure to take all three points back to Wiltshire is an issue that the manager will have to study long and hard to put right. At times in the second half, there seemed to be a lack of a ‘plan B’ with Town persisting with working the ball down the right channel and expecting Ritchie to perform miracles. While Tuesday’s tie at Exeter will do nothing to alter Swindon’s league statistics, a win could go someway to providing the perfect tonic to remedy their thoroughly unhealthy away record.