Swindon 1 Barnet 0 (2-1 agg): Chesterfield awaits in the JPT Final
After eight years of trying during his illustrious playing career in England, Paolo Di Canio will finally get the chance to grace Wembley Stadium, albeit from the technical area. Don’t worry – he’s not replacing the recently resigned Fabio Capello – he’ll be managing Swindon Town when they take on Northern Final winners Chesterfield at our national stadium on the 25th March, writes Daniel Hunt.
Town kept Barnet at arm’s length over two tight legs of cup football as Lawrie Sanchez’s Bees showed how far they’ve come since Matt Ritchie and co stuck four goals past them at the County Ground back in September. Swindon played some sublime football in the first half and should have added to Alan Connell’s 8th goal of the season by taking one of a flurry of chances shooting towards an empty Stratton Bank.
Barnet offered more threat in a nervy second half but Wes Foderingham dealt with everything the men in orange could throw at him. Over ten thousand supporters braved the cold to witness young Charlie Taylor see red for clattering Oliver Risser in the 85th minute and with it went Barnet’s chances of forcing a penalty shootout despite five minutes of stoppage time being added. This wasn’t Swindon at their best but it was a thoroughly professional performance that got the job done.
Di Canio named the exact side I would have picked before the match; in came De Vita, Ferry and Connell and out went Risser, Murray and the cup-tied Luke Rooney. There were spots on the bench for reserve goalkeeper Phil Smith and forgotten striker Lukas Magera. Both sides were well rested having been beaten by the freezing weather on Saturday, but Barnet didn’t look like a team that believed they could win – unlike their corner of noisy fans who gave a great showing of themselves.
The opening quarter of an hour was fairly uneventful with the lively Holmes hitting the side netting in the 6th minute followed by a penalty claim for a push on Connell being turned down in the 11th minute. Barnet captain Mark Hughes looked guilty of a shove on the former Grimsby man and crashed into Connell with such force that he obtained a facial injury.
Some six minutes later, while Hughes was off the field receiving treatment for a suspected broken nose, Swindon took advantage in the best way possible by taking the lead. Simon Ferry would leave the pitch in the second half because of illness but not before he sprayed countless passes left and right, stretching Barnet into submission. It was one of these beautiful ranging passes that fed Caddis on the right and the ex-Scotland Under 21 captain swung a cross onto the head of Connell who did the rest to the delight of his team mates.
The goal settled Di Canio’s men down and they went on to create four more excellent chances before half time. Ritchie slipped in Caddis in the 26th minute but his cross just eluded the onrushing Paul Benson. Just before the half hour mark, a one-two between Ferry and Ritchie led to a free kick on the edge of the box but the unlucky Callum Kennedy curled just wide of the left-hand post with Dean Brill stranded. The best chance to make it 2-0 fell to Rafa De Vita after he was played into the left hand channel by Ritchie. The Italian winger lacked composure though and, by virtue of taking three or four touches before shooting, closed the angle allowing Brill to push the ball out for a corner.
The common denominator in most of these chances was Matt Ritchie and the ex-Portsmouth man was at it again in the final minute before the break; swinging in a free kick from the right which Benson toe poked towards goal only to be denied down low by the busy Dean Brill.
A second Swindon goal in the opening period would have killed the tie dead but as it was, Barnet came out for the second half with renewed vigour and stung the hands of Wes Foderingham twice in four minutes. The first effort by Sam Deering would have been a controversial equaliser because Town fans were calling for a foul on Alan McCormack in the build-up but Foderingham acrobatically caught the ball away to his right. A McCormack miss-control let Ricky Holmes in on the right but a lack of bodies in the box forced the young playmaker to strike for the far corner and suddenly our Wesley was looking the busier keeper.
My nerves in the Don Rogers stand were shared by thousands of fellow reds in the County Ground as the second half wore on but the onslaught from Barnet never came. The departure of Ferry in the 58th minute seemed to upset Town’s rhythm on the ball but Swindon went on to have several good opportunities to settle all the nerves.
Clearly angry at scoring from two-yards at Roots Hall a week ago, Jonny Smith went back on the sensational goal trail on the hour mark but his rasping drive was parried by a diving Brill. Pass of the night went to McCormack when he volleyed a pass near 50 yards to Ritchie on the right wing in the 62nd minute. Ritchie’s cross was only part cleared however and Risser and De Vita both had shots bravely blocked in the aftermath. Ritchie’s performance deserved a goal and he came desperately close with twenty minutes to go; Kennedy’s whipped cross was headed up by a defender and despite striking his volley sweetly, Swindon’s number 10 could only find the side-netting.
Charlie Taylor’s ‘challenge’ on Risser was clumsier than it was vicious but it was always going to be the final nail in the coffin for a spirited Barnet side. The Bees definitely missed Mark Marshall’s pace and trickery on the left wing. The lack of threat on Barnet’s left allowed the pairing of Caddis and Ritchie free reign to set up most of Swindon’s meaningful attacks during the game. On Monday night, Lawrie Sanchez revealed that Swindon ‘couldn’t afford’ Izale McLeod in January, and much has been made of his goal scoring feats this season, but McLeod put in a very disappointing performance. Well shackled by Devera and McCormack, McLeod’s evening consisted of a wild shot wide in each half and losing lots of headers to the aforementioned centre-halves.
The player that really impressed me was Barnet’s number 11, ex-Chelmsford man Ricky Holmes. Sky Sports had him playing as a second striker and he did very well dropping deep to collect the ball in the hole between defence and midfield. The biggest credit I could give Holmes is that he looked the only player that could have created a goal out of nothing for the Bees. I fully expect him to add to his six goals for the season.
The final whistle saw jubilant scenes as hundreds of Robins poured onto the pitch to celebrate with their new found heroes. My arrival onto the pitch was late but I still managed to give Paul Benson a pat on the head to say well done! I think the club missed a trick by not sending the players back out for a lap of honour because well over half the crowd had waited behind for the opportunity to show their appreciation. Still, every Town supporter could go home to defrost, happy in the knowledge that they have a trip to Wembley to plan.
I won’t pass comment on Chesterfield because one of my fellow Washbag writers will do that task justice in the build-up to the final. The game is six weeks away and a lot can change in six weeks (fingers crossed eh Aden Flint?). All I will say is let us play in red and let us collectively avenge the memories of that Millwall defeat please Mr Wray? Jeremy has been spotless in almost every other respect as interim chairman so far so here’s hoping…