Swindon 2 Aldershot 0: An Unhappy Return for the Shots
I had started to forget what it was like watching a football match live writes Ron Smith. Four weeks, five games and a stunner from Matt Ritchie have all been missed following the birth of my beautiful daughter. It was great to return to the County Ground for Saturday football and to watch an opponent I’ve never had the opportunity of seeing Swindon face.
Both teams have experienced differing fortunes since 20th March 1992, the date of Aldershot FC’s final Football League match – a 2-0 Division Four defeat against Cardiff City at Ninian Park. Five days later the Shots, members of the Football League since 1932, were pennyless, formally wound up and their results expunged. On the same weekend Swindon had beaten Southend United 3-1 to move up to 8th in Division Two. While Glenn Hoddle’s side would narrowly miss out on the 1992 Play-Offs, the upward trend had started, which would push Town to the dizzying heights of the Premier League a year later.
The newly formed Aldershot Town (1992) started life in the Isthmian League Division Three – then at Level 9 in the English National League System – for their inagugal 1992/93 season back in business. Two successive promotions soon restored hope, but it would take another 9 seasons to reach the Conference and then 5 years slugging it out at the pinacle of non-league football to restore the town’s Football league status for 2008/09.
Just as their rise has seen Aldershot rise like a pheonix from the flames, Swindon have slipped from disaster to disaster, themselves dicing with insolvancy and suffered a few too many relegations to slip behind a ‘natural’ status as a Championship side.
Now Aldershot return to the County Ground for a first League meeting since a 4-2 Division Four victory for Swindon in March 1986.
Swindon, now steered by the firm Paolo Di Canio, have made some distinct progress in reversing a lack of professionalism and determination, both on and off the pitch, which have blighted our steady drop from the summit. Di Canio has dropped to a level unthinkable for his blatant talent on the pitch, below his true standing, perhaps much like the team he now leads out. Meanwhile, the Shots are managed by former Brentford, Bolton and Wimbledon striker Dean Holdsworth, another Premier League hero who, unlike Di Canio, was eager to cut his teeth as a manager at non-league Redbridge and Newport County before turning up at the Recreation Ground in January this year, replicating his side’s rapid rise through the leagues.
On the pitch, the pre-match billing of ‘playing football’ by both managers failed to live up to expectations early on, a problem that continued throughout for the Shots.
Had it not been for Jake Jervis forgetting where the barn door was, Swindon should’ve been clear and gone by half time in an otherwise uninspiring opening 45 minutes.
The Birmingham City loanee had four great opportunities. First his free kick was a simple catch for Shots ‘keeper Jamie Young, then Jervis’ leg couldn’t stretch far enough to meet a Lander Gabilondo cross. Then after 30 minutes Jervis was put through on goal, beating the offside trap with the Aldershot defence like statues, to only tamely shoot…more like a pass, into the hands of Young.
It was his final missed opportunity of the half that was the worst. After Raffa De Vita won possession on the right and whose accurate cross deserved to be capitalised upon, Jervis’ shot was fired over the bar, much to the relief of the relieved Aldershot ‘keeper, when it looked easier to score.
For a while the game had 0-0 written all over it with Aldershot unable to break down the ever resolute Town defence, including Alan McCormack’s superb last ditch tackle to deny the onrushing Danny Hylton.
Straight after the break Aldershot had a great chance to steal the lead as Danny Hylton’s header tested Wes Foderingham in what turned out to be their only shot on target. Far from the pheonix using this momentum to rise from the flames, Aldershot triped up while running over hot coals.
One player who had looked surprisingly lacklustre in the first half was Lander Gabilondo. The tired Spaniard lacked the punch, pace and anticipation on the left wing, rarely providing the essential creative inside left force needed under Di Canio’s approach. Lander was rightfully replaced shortly after the break and thereafter Town reverted to the old favourite with De Vita shunted out to the left and his central space filled by the new loanee Ronan Murray. The attacking balance was now restored, yet the right side outlet of Caddis and Ritchie became the focus for near all Swindon attacks, as has been the case for much of the season.
Following the change Swindon took advantage straight away. The impressive Caddis, with the stamina of a Duracell Bunny, took charge of a pass from Ferry to continue his run down the right without a Shots defender in sight. The Scot then launched one of his now ‘more dangerous than JP McGovern’s crosses’ into that central zone of uncertainty around the penalty box for the unmarked Murray to nod on for the onrushing Jervis, also unmarked, at the far post. Credit for Jervis to put behind his earlier misses in front of goal as his nonchalantly divert the ball with his left foot past the helpless Young. Fortunately for us Jervis really couldn’t miss this time around as Town took advantage from the Shot’s woeful marking and lack of pressure on all three key moments leading up to the goal.
As the match seemed to drift by without major incident, midway through the half Aldershot were denied a goal after referee Adcock disallowed Michael Rankin’s header for a push on Aden Flint. Adam Smith created himself space and time out on the left to float in an inswinging cross for Jamie Collins light shove on Flint’s back to allow the ball to soar past to be sent goalwards by the impressive leap and head of Rankin. Holdsworth later lamented the referee’s decision, however the push was clear and had it been at the other end of the pitch there’s no doubt he would’ve called for the decision in his favour.
Like Swindon’s first, the second came as a direct result of Aldershot’s lapses in concentration and non-existent marking.
Perhaps with their minds elsewhere after the recent decision to disallow the goal, Liam Ridehalgh and Jonathon Smith were allowed time and space following a throw in, where the former reciceved the ball and Adam Smith didn’t anticipcate the ball back to Ridelaigh, who provided the cross for Darren Jones to put the ball into his own net under some, but not excessive pressure from Jake Jervis.
A two goal lead was what Swindon needed, taking their foot off the gas knowing Aldershot had little to come back at them with.
After looking suspect for Town’s second, Young redeemed himself late on to deny a fierce Lukas Magera free kick from range, expertly tipping over the rasping drive over the bar.
Post match; Shots boss Dean Holdsworth complained of concededing two goals from crosses, the disallowed goal and not witnessing his side sustaining the intensity for the full 90 minutes.
The latter is telling. Ever since Di Canio had taken charge the virtues of fitness, diet and the highly demanding pre-season schedule have been brought to the fore. There was every likelihood the fitness regime may had partly led to our poor start to the season, but as the campaign progresses I can see this working wonders for us as our opponents fail to keep up with our pace and intensity as each match progresses.
After a poor start Swindon have now secured 11 games unbeaten in all competitions, more on that later in the week…