Hereford United 1 Swindon 2: The true sign of champions..?
They say championship winning teams must have luck on their side but they can also grind out wins they perhaps don’t always fully deserve. Town’s 2-1 victory over Hereford United at Edgar Street was exactly one of those ugly wins by a side now surely on course for the top of League Two, writes Ron Smith.
The visit to the in-laws in Worcester was timed to perfection. Ample babysitters and a short journey meant I arrived in plenty of time at Edgar Street. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit this relic…then that’s a shame, seeing that in all likelihood only a cup draw would pair these sides together in the not too distant future. Unchanged since 1989, Edgar Street makes up for its distinct lack of modernity and signage – the later particularly important to a lost Gary Rose – by the friendliness of its welcome, years of history oozing from the partly derelict Meadow End and great vantage points right close up to the action.
Swindon arrived in exceptional form following six League Two victories in succession, including Tuesday’s thumping of Crawley Town. Meanwhile the Bulls – managed by former Town youngster Jamie Pitman – hadn’t tasted victory as hosts since October and now looking agonisingly over their shoulders at a resurgent Plymouth Argyle.
Two forced changes for Town – Daniel Boateng in place of Joe Devera and Lee Cox replacing Simon Ferry – ensured Di Canio sent out yet another changed side, however rotation hasn’t impacted on recent results.
The sides ran out onto a sparsely grassed and uneven pitch that would play against Swindon’s preferred passing style. However, the poor quality of the surface hardly played into Hereford’s hands, as a surprising lack of understanding of their every lump and bump ensured by the host’s pitch favoured neither team.
In truth the first half provided little entertainment for the large travelling support and Di Canio, who was seeing out the last match of his (current) touchline ban – yes there will probably be more to come before this season is over…
Watching Hereford’s lack of defensive discipline, composure and woeful goalkeeping distribution was admittedly amusing, yet our reliance on the inevitable mistakes demonstrated early on that this match would be closer than the gulf in league positions suggested.
It was Hereford who made the first real attempts with Joe Colbeck shooting wide from yards out; then former Town u18s captain Will Evans’ shot was saved by Wes Foderingham, before Byron Anthony reacted quickest to the rebound only for his shot cleared off the line by Jonathan Smith.
Opportunities were limited for both sides. Hereford played to stifle Town with five in midfield and an impressive workhorse Nathan Elder leading the attack. Elder is hardly the most mobile of units, yet he ensured Daniel Boateng had to work hard in his Town debut; this was despite the Hereford frontman playing through a dislocated finger through much of the first half. Whereas Town were unable to find space, particularly on the wings, and whatever running by the disappointing Bodin and his partner Paul Benson the supply was largely cut off at the source.
With Hereford ‘keeper Adam Bartlett’s clearances becoming ever more unpredictable, Town seized the advantage in an inevitable fashion capitalising on a mistake, leaving Bulls fans bemused at the state of their defence.
Under no pressure Simon Clist’s poorly played back-pass was hurriedly cleared by Bartlett. The ‘keeper was being hounded by the advancing Billy Bodin, yet there was no excuse for his umpteenth poor clearance of the match, which softly fell at the feet of Paul Benson yards outside of the box. The former Charlton man cut inside onto his right only for both Ryan Green and Bartlett to equally contrive an ill-timed challenge on Benson, who was sent tumbling for a penalty. Up stepped Paul Caddis to fire Town ahead, which would be enough to ensure a noticeable chorus of boos were directed at the Hereford XI from the Merton Stand as they trundled off for half time, with special criticism reserved for Bartlett.
Much like at the encounter back in October, Hereford emerged a changed team second half and improved as evey minute of the 45 passed. However, before the Bulls could think about making a real impact on the game Town seized on yet more defensive errors to secure a two goal advantage.
A quick Paul Caddis throw found Billy Bodin, who found space to cross despite three Hereford men wastefully failing to close him down. Adam Bartlett should have dealt better with this cross as the ball sailed past his flailing gloves at the near post and found the waiting Paul Benson, who pounced to turn the ball unchallenged into an empty net.
One Hereford player desperate to make an impact and avenge being cast adrift by Paolo Di Canio was Will Evans. Within the opening 15 minutes of the half the tough tackling midfielder had a decent effort at goal blocked by Boateng and then proceeded to make four fouls in quick succession. With a caution against his name and Evans running into a certain red card, his substitution and replacement with Harry Pell, who combined excellently with another substitute Lyle Taylor, would prove to be the turning point for the Bulls.
Minutes later Hereford were back in the game. Bartlet’s long clearance was well shielded from Boateng by the ever effective Nathan Elder, who created space for the on-rushing Rob Purdie, whose fine long range shot sailed past Wes Foderingham into the top corner. From that moment onwards Town had 25 minutes to hold on for the win as the Bulls looked as if they were to mount their second unexpected comeback of the season against Swindon.
It was to be Hereford’s right flank and Lyle Taylor that proved to be their strength. Taylor tormented Cibocchi with his pace and trickery, having a great headed chance slip wide and winning several corners for his side. This performance was aided by the home fan’s angry reactions to the Italian’s quick recovery from knocks and injuries, leading to those around me to accuse the nearby Di Canio of presiding over a ‘bunch of cheats’. It was almost as if we were Crawley for the day…
It was from one of those corners that Byron Anthony rose above Alan McCormack, only for his header to beat Foderingham but strike the crossbar. There were other missed opportunities for the hosts, but the stubborn and organised Swindon defence – as has been our strength since October – stood firm until the end.
With a 2-1 victory in the bag, a determined and resilient Town once again proved their worth in the most competitive of the English divisions. The performance typified signs of a championship winning team and importantly Di Canio now realises he has to be willing to accept a battling and unpretty win over style.
The real question now is can Town press on to secure some cushion at the top of the league before our trip to the Kassam in just less than a fortnight…