Shrewsbury Town 0 Swindon Town 1: Progress a year on…

Swindon secured a fourth win in a row with a 1-0 victory in Shrewsbury and Ron Smith finally made it to a first away match of this season, so here’s some thoughts…

I travelled to Shrewsbury a year ago and witnessed a painful 2-1 defeat. Although it remains memorable as the one and only time Paolo Di Canio’s side has been beaten after taking the lead.

That match was a turning point and demonstrated Paolo had underestimated, as well as under researched, his own signings. It took a vociferous half time dressing down resulting in a lacklustre second 45, which provided a physical and coherent Shrews the perfect opportunity to comeback with a deserved victory. A grumpy me was fully left cursing over hyping our chances of victory to the in-laws attending their first Town game. A year on and a league title in the bag I travelled to Salop again primarily to see how much we have progressed in those 12 months.

One thing that hasn’t changed over his reign is squad rotation. Six changes signalled Di Canio’s intent to ensure the XI don’t take liberties after triumphant progress in the League Cup. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the replacement of Nathan Thompson with Frederico Bessone at right back, although you would’ve been blind not to see Tuesday night’s tackling master class really took it out of the youngster still short of full fitness.

The lack of a natural right footed overlapping right back was one of many issues during the first half. Matt Ritchie was left competing for high balls with a lack of play on the ground out wide as Bessone cut inside. The midfield pairing of Simon Ferry and Giles Coke were struggling to a find space in a highly contested and congested centre. Despite these issues Swindon did create chances, although the problems continued in the finishing department.

James Collins made a return to where he scored his 16 goals last season and received a typical villain welcome. With Swindon having been told to cough up a potential £220,000 at the recent tribunal, the talk in Salop was now reflecting on a seemingly good deal for a striker who is having a lack of confidence in League One. Frustrating for us considering he banged in a hat trick against Premier League opponents a few weeks ago.

A first chance for him fell in the 45th minute. Andy Williams was one-on-one after Michael Hector’s mistake, he rounded ‘keeper Weale, but his shot was blocked on the line by Jermaine Grandison and James Collins’ hard shot from 6 yards out – in which a considered pass into the net would’ve sufficed – was blazed high over the bar, hitting the advertising hoarding on the stand roof.

Post match Di Canio commented this was “a typical game that in the past we used to dominate and maybe lose”, however, such was the contrast from a year ago, it was Di Canio who made the right change and at the right time. The double half time introduction of Tommy Miller and Gary Roberts replacing Giles Coke and Raffa De Vita provided the catalyst to a dominant display bearing fruit.

Throughout the second 45 Swindon pressed and retained possession – with 60% of the game – and surprisingly Shrewsbury wilfully accepted their secondary role with ineffective counter attacks. This was a marked change from a year ago, when it was Town who stood back and watched as Shrews came back with two goals.

A second solid opportunity for Collins came in the 52nd minute. Andy Williams was again the provider, his cross from the right found Collins who chested but hit his shot straight at Weale from close range. This was enough for Di Canio who brought on his third change in Adam Rooney for Collins after the hour mark. All is not lost for Collins. As Williams has shown a goal works wonders and I’m sure he’ll brake his duck soon enough, it could have been at Shrewsbury but it just wasn’t to be.

It took time and plenty of effort for Swindon to make chances pay. Both Matt Ritchie and Gary Roberts provided plenty of options down the wings, however their crosses only showed the lack of Town numbers in the box and in the right places. With Town’s corner count slowly totting up  to a tally of 10, not one of the crosses found a Swindon head as Marvin Morgan easily cleared unchallenged.

There was no real let-up in the Swindon pressure, which finally broke Shrewsbury in the 78th minute. With ample space down the right Miller crossed over towards Williams who jumped unchallenged between two Shrewsbury defenders and headed back towards the unmarked Simon Ferry burst into the box to fire across goal past Weale. Town made full use of some woeful Shrewsbury defending, leaving all three players in the move unchallenged and Graham Turner to condemn his side “We didn’t deserve a point. We came up against better players and we made silly errors.”

As Swindon walked away 1-0 victors the performance showed how in the space of a year the team had matured. To win when you’re not at your best and when “some ghosts from the past come out”, particularly away from the County Ground, is significant progress, giving me further reason to believe our reward this season may be more than a welcome top ten finish as I had expected…

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