Swindon 0 Macclesfield 2: The giant-killers became the giant-killed

Ah, the highs and lows of being a lower league football supporter. Just days after Swindon came so close to beating Premier League opposition in one cup, they were dumped out of another by a non-League side – Conference side Macclesfield progressing to the Second Round of the FA Cup after a shock 2-0 victory at the County Ground. Writes Richard Banyard of swindon-town-fc.co.uk

It was always going to be a contrast from Tuesday night. For as long as I’ve been watching Swindon we have hardly ever been convincing against opponents from a lower division than us. After the packed, electric atmosphere of the Villa game, getting motivated for a smaller than usual crowd for such a game was always going to be a test of character, however I don’t think any of us were really expecting to get beaten though. In all honesty, despite our abject performance, Macclesfield hardly troubled us – a wonder strike and a fluke proved to be our undoing… Swindon mostly failing to get the ball into the right areas, and when we did, wasteful finishing in front of goal cost us dear.

The game also saw the return to the County Ground of Anthony McNamee – his fall from grace since being promoted to the Premier League with Norwich has been nothing short of startling. It took him just 52 seconds to register his first step-over of the game, shortly afterwards he registered the game’s first attempt on goal – stinging Wes Foderingham’s hands with a strike from outside the area.

By the twenty minute mark, the home crowd were already beginning to get a little frustrated with the Town’s sloppy play, as far too many passes were going astray and we kept running into brick walls. Twice Andy Williams attempted to burst through the Macclesfield defence only to get stopped in his tracks, Adam Rooney was also crowded out when trying to chase down a through ball, winning a corner. The resulting kick was swung into the area, finding the head of Troy Archibald-Henville – but he could only manage to divert it wide. Starting in the centre of midfield, TAH was having a shocking game – I appreciate he was being played out of position (though he played there a number of times for Exeter), but his distribution was nothing short of awful.

After a rare Macc move into Swindon territory on 25 minutes ended with Archibald-Henville heading clear McNamee’s free-kick, the Town produced their first flowing move of the game – starting with a neat one-two between Raffa de Vita and Simon Ferry on the left side. De Vita attempted to make space for the shot, cutting inside, but he ran into trouble – the ball instead was worked out to McEveley and then Roberts, who fired a low cross in from the left flank. Adam Rooney met it, but his first time shot went high over the bar from close range.

On the half-hour, Swindon really should have taken the lead. After Adam Rooney was clipped from behind on the edge of the box, just as he was pulling his foot back to shoot, the Town attempted the free kick routine that fooled teams earlier in the season – first Rooney dummied to take it, before Jay McEveley played it into the feet of Gary Roberts. Roberts played it first time, straight into the feet of de Vita, who found himself behind the defence with just the keeper in front of him – he tried to toe poke it past him, but the shot was well blocked.

For the next ten minutes or so, there were signs that Swindon were beginning to turn the screw. A cross from Andy Williams from the left flank was just behind Roberts, he turned to shoot but could get no power – moments later, another Williams cross from a similar position flashed across the face of goal with no-one there to find the finishing touch. On 41 minutes we had another decent opportunity; a ball played into the feet of Rooney by Jay McEveley was missed by both Rooney and his marker, it fortunately ran through to Williams and as the keeper came out to close him down, he tried to dink the ball over him, but Cronin managed to save.

On the stroke of half-time, after another attack had come to nothing, Nathan Thompson tested the Macc keeper with a long range strike that was comfortably saved – the teams trudged off for half time to very muted applause. It had been lacklustre at best.

Di Canio made one half-time change, replacing Adam Rooney with James Collins – Raffa de Vita’s second half contribution was limited to one terribly shanked shot, before he too was replaced by Matt Ritchie.

Macclesfield almost got lucky on 50 minutes – during a counter attack, the ball ricocheted off the referee into the path of John Paul Kissock – and though his ball through was cut out by Flint, his interception nearly went straight to an attacker, a last ditch block from both Flint and Ward avoiding the danger.

Swindon had a second golden opportunity to go ahead on 55 minutes. A Matt Ritchie nutmeg started a good move – Nathan Thompson moved the ball into Simon Ferry, who in turn played it out to Gary Roberts – his dangerous cross was meant for James Collins, but as the striker dived to connect, a Macc defender stretched to divert it for a corner. Matt Ritchie’s cross was met by Aden Flint, whose low header was saved at the near post by the keeper’s feet – when the ball was lobbed back in to the danger zone, Cronin flapped at it, and only managed to knock it on to Roberts at the back post – though he was at an angle, he had sight of an empty net from close range. The winger didn’t seem able to adjust himself to the deflection, and he awkwardly attempted to bundle it over the line with his chest, only managing to find the side netting.

It was a costly miss – eight minutes later, having hardly had sight of the Swindon goal, Macclesfield went ahead – it was a truly remarkable strike. The Silkmen had already fired a warning shot just one minute prior to scoring – when Amari Morgan-Smith moved into the area, his feet were clipped in a similar fashion for which Adam Rooney was awarded a free kick earlier – it could have been viewed as a penalty, but instead the ball almost rolled in to Kissock. Darren Ward got to it, but only managed to clear as far as Kieran Murtagh – his thunderous drive looked to be in all the way, Foderingham was at full stretch to tip around the post. Swindon tried to break quickly having won possession from the corner, but when many Town fans were expecting a free kick in our favour, James Collins was adjudged to have fouled his marker when chasing the ball, in a central position, around 35 yards from goal. The free kick was nudged into the path of Tony Diagne, who smashed a rocket of a shot at goal, beating Foderingham before going high into the net. Think Marlon Broomes versus Birmingham – one of those goals that drew applause from the home support as well as the delirium in the away end.

Within a minute, Swindon’s task became even more difficult. I have to admit to not seeing the challenge myself (I was still writing the notes for the goal), but those around me were certain that Flint’s sliding tackle was a fair one…. that said, that isn’t saying much as I seem to sit with the most biased of any fans anywhere! Another report I have read states that Flint “can have no complaints”, and Di Canio certainly didn’t defend his player – what is certain though is that the referee made his mind up very quickly to produce the red card. There also seemed to be a bit of fisticuffs afterwards, which resulted in a couple more bookings…. six minutes later, a very late and forceful challenge from John Paul Kissock on Archibald-Henville only warranted a yellow card though – it would be interesting to hear the reasoning as to why.

Despite being down to ten, Swindon had to pour forward in search of the equaliser, and on 74 minutes, Simon Ferry spurned the best chance of the game. Matt Ritchie played James Collins in down the right, he played a low ball across the face of goal, just out of the reach of Andy Williams to be able to make a clean connection. The ball instead fell to Ferry, no more than eight yards out, right in the centre of the goal – with all the goal to aim at, he really should have hit the net, but instead he hit his shot into the floor, straight at the keeper – giving Cronin an opportunity to save the ball that he should never have had.

We kept pushing forward – a minute later, a deep cross from the left side found Williams, who stretched to volley the ball back across goal, but Collins’ shot was blocked – shortly after that, Williams headed another good chance wide, after Jay McEveley had won the ball with a sliding tackle in midfield before delivering the ball in.

Frustratingly, we just didn’t seem to show the urgency required to break down what was now a stubborn Macclesfield defence. Over the final ten minutes you’d have expected us to be peppering the goal, but it just didn’t happen.

As the game entered its closing stages, Matt Ritchie was brought down on the edge of the box and inexplicably, we attempted the same free kick routine as earlier – not even Conference defenders are going to fall for the same thing twice in the same game. After a Roberts cross was diverted wide, the corner was cleared, and suddenly, with everyone forward, Macclesfield found themselves with a quick break on goal – Jack Mackreth sprinting towards the only Town defender, before sliding the ball through to Matthew Barnes-Homer, who was clean through, but a long way from goal. Louis Thompson (on as a substitute for Archibald-Henville for the last twenty minutes) bust a gut to chase him down – but when he finally caught him about twenty yards from goal, he got too much on his sliding tackle – and rather unfortunately, the ball was directed right at his own goal. Foderingham tried to dive and save, but got nowhere near it – and the ball nestled into the net to seal the defeat. It was tough on Thompson, who I thought had looked pretty confident and assured on the ball after his introduction.

And so, the giant-killers became the giant-killed. It should never have happened, but though the away side may have benefited from a little slice of luck in scoring twice despite not having created a single clear cut chance, however the first goal was a strike worthy of winning any game. And if the fragility of our squad is the problem that PdC seems to think it is, then maybe it’s for the best that our cup exploits have come to an end. Importantly, Town have not won at the County Ground in five games, if we are serious about challenging for promotion the home form needs to turn itself around, and fast.

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