Swindon 5 Port Vale 0: Stand Up For The Champions
Town thrashed Port Vale 5-0 at the County Ground to secure the League Two title with a match to spare. Paolo Di Canio’s red & white army secured a nineteenth clean sheet at home this season and scored 5 without reply courtesy of Matt Ritchie late in the first half and strikes from Paul Benson, Aden Flint and Alan Connell after half time, writes Ron Smith.
With past misdemeanors behind the team, Di Canio put out his strongest XI for the visit of the Valiants. Wes Foderingham returned in goal and Paul Benson replaced Alan Connell. Ronan Murray was dropped out of the matchday squad in favour of retaining John Bostock in his role linking the midfield and Benson and Miles Storey joined Connell on the bench.
For the past fortnight and more, Swindon had been limping over the line, seemed to have pressed the internal self destruct button and seemingly were set to finish the season in the poor form that we started back in August. The early signs were ominous as Town retained shape, defended with some confidence – until Aden Flint’s moment which we’ll get to soon – but couldn’t muster that creative spark to fashion the opening goal.
Perhaps it was nerves of knowing a goal and a clean sheet were what we needed to secure the title which caused Town’s impotent attack from Martin’s goal. Or was it just because Swindon were facing a tidy Port Vale side, who otherwise would be fighting for the play-offs had it not been for a ten point deduction. Either way, we only witnessed glimpses of what was to come as; Benson narrowly couldn’t connect with a McEveley cross; Ritchie’s aim was towards the Stratton Bank; and Bostock and Ferry pulled shots wide of the goal.
Town made their usual direct attacks – primarily down the wing although Holmes was largely absent – however they failed to seize the advantage and build upon each attack. With the impetus and dominance, Vale themselves counter attacked and won corners, yet their finishing didn’t live up to a best in the league ranked 59% of all shots on target on their travels; as Wes Foderingham strained his neck over the bar to follow the flight of each ball.
It was one of those games that needed a bit of magic or a mistake to bring some life into an otherwise dull encounter. We had both.
After 35 minutes, Aden Flint’s soft back pass to Wes Foderingham was intercepted by Marc Richards who found himself one-on-one with the Town ‘keeper. Foderingham stood firm, limbs outstretched, Richards had no chance beating ‘Super Wes’, who ensured Town’s goal was unbeaten at the County Ground for an unbelievable 19th time in 23 League Two games. Incidentally, this 19th clean sheet for a host in a League season is a Division Four record, but it also equals an English and Football League record, which was set by Port Vale in Division Three North in 1953/54 from 23 games. Also Wes’ 9th clean sheet in succession at the County Ground is a new club record.
Minutes later it was the magic, something which we’ve been sorely missing in recent weeks, which provided the catalyst to a convincing victory. John Bostock took control of a long pass and kept the ball in play under pressure to lay it off to the unmarked Matt Ritchie. The Town winger cut inside from the right to set himself up to unleash a strong left footed drive from inside the penalty area into the top corner. The pressure was released; Di Canio ran onto the pitch, Ritchie led the celebrations towards the DRS and we all knew this was finally going to be the day to put the events of the 25th April 2011 firmly behind us.
With the score standing 1-0 at half time, Town were equalling the scoreline from Shrewsbury, who were also ahead in their match with Dagenham, meaning Town were champions and Shrews promoted as runners up.
What the game needed was a second goal to put the result beyond doubt. Fortunately it came just six minutes into the second half, when Paul Benson delivered a finish to probably the best worked and most satisfying goals of the season. The onrushing Paul Caddis passed a quick ball forward to Simon Ferry, who with the deftest of touches, saw his back heel flick split wide the Vale defence for Benson to calmly chip Martin. This was the one, the goal we’ve been waiting for, cue pandemonium in the stands, the dugout and a minor pitch invasion, the title was ours.
Thereafter Town turned up the gas, playing some ‘liquid football’ combining movement, pressure and clinical finishing to perfection. At long last proving to their manager they can perform with the intensity and desire he so craves. And it worked how the manager intended.
Benson’s second and Swindon’s third on 65 minutes was a masterclass of Lee Holmes’ skill on the left wing to leave Bates for dust and pinpoint his cross to be met at the near post by Benson’s outstretched foot. Two minutes later Port Vale’s defence crumbled as Town raced ahead to make it four. Initially another cross by Holmes found Benson, whose header was turned over. From the resulting corner, a well delivered inswinging corner from Matt Ritchie found John McCombe looking on and unchallenging Aden Flint, who smashed home a low shot to make it four without reply.
Before Town made it five, the free flowing football and pressure continued at a pace that made the Port Vale onlookers tempt the referee to declare this one a knock out and blow up early. Vale’s confidence was shot, they had clearly given up and largely content to hold possession and waste time to avoid conceding more; giving the 250 or so travelling supporters a long trip home. Vale offered little resistance to moves which ended with shots from Bostock and Holmes however Chris Martin and his defence kept Town at bay for a short while at least.
With five minutes remaining on the clock, substitute Alan Connell was unmarked and reacted very quickly to a shot from Jonathan Smith, to flick the ball past Martin to secure a five goal lead and Town’s biggest victory of the 2011/12 campaign.
The final whistle sounded the end to a true champions performance, a pitch invasion, joyous scenes and Swindon winning a third Football League championship silverware in 92 years.
Town had finally found the direct cutting edge that Di Canio always had faith his team could deliver but which we’ve been lacking in recent weeks. All of the goals were magnificent and with a bumper crowd at last celebrating goals and a Town victory on our big day, the finale at the County Ground capped off the end of a memorable season.
After a long season and 45 league games this was the most deserved of manners to be crowned with the League Two title. I always knew it would end this way with Town storming the division to prove the doubters wrong. Obviously at times that prospect did look unlikely, however my faith in the manager has been rewarded, now the real work starts in League One to try to emulate Macari’s back-to-back promotions in the 1980s to restore Swindon to the second tier.
A trip to Bradford next weekend provides supporters another opportunity to celebrate with Di Canio’s men as we look to secure at least one point to make 2011/12 our second highest points tally in League football.
At the Final Whistle and Pitch Invasion
Lap of Honour