Notts County 1 Swindon Town 0: An increasingly familiar scoreline…

A fine individual goal by Alan Judge was enough to hand Notts County a rare home victory and send Swindon’s beleaguered players and fans into an enforced two week break on a low, writes Daniel Hunt.

For the second time in an utterly frustrating week, Swindon found themselves cursing poor finishing, good opposition goalkeeping and an increasingly familiar 0-1 scoreline. This was the eighth blank Town have fired in 26 fixtures this season and the fourth failure to score in November alone. Perhaps more worrying is the inability of Di Canio’s men to respond positively to going a goal down this season, see below:

Venue Opposition Competition Final Score
Away Preston North End League One 1-4 L
Away Oxford United Johnstone’s Paint Trophy 0-1 L
Home Leyton Orient League One 0-1 L
Away Carlisle United League One 2-2 D
Home Colchester United League One 0-1 L
Home Coventry City League One 2-2 D
Home Aston Villa Capital One Cup 2-3 L
Home Macclesfield Town FA Cup 0-2 L
Home Brentford League One 0-1 L
Away Notts County League One 0-1 L

Above – Games where STFC have conceded first and result in 2012/13

As it was at the County Ground on Tuesday, the issue at Meadow Lane was not creating chances, it was taking them. If Swindon Town can acquire a genuine poacher in January, then I’ve got every faith that we could be celebrating consecutive promotions. I’m also adamant that Sam Parkin (2003/2004 vintage) would have scored 15 goals already amongst this same Town side.

Club captain Alan McCormack returned to the starting line up at right-back in place of Nathan Thompson, who paid a heavy price for his goal costing mistake against the Bees. New loan arrivals, Danny Hollands and Chris Martin, had to settle for places on the bench alongside the now suspension free Aden Flint. It was no surprise that Bostock took his place alongside Simon Ferry in the centre of midfield but Di Canio sprung a surprise by including Andy Williams, previously thought to be injured, from the start. The fourth change saw De Vita replace Gary Roberts at left midfield.

Three of the changes backfired however, as those promoted to the side (excluding De Vita) endured miserable afternoons in different ways. McCormack put in a frenetic performance highlighted by the fact that the majority of the Magpies’ early chances came down Macca’s side of the pitch. His afternoon was summarised by a petulant booking for a reckless foul late in the second half. Bostock found himself in trouble with the referee too and his substitution at the break was no surprise to those present because he was clearly on very thin ice with the officials. In the Tottenham loanee’s defence, he made a good impact on the game and the offence he got booked for in the 11th minute was very harsh.

This brings me finally on to Andy Williams. The likeable forward had a stinker quite frankly and it raised the question of whether he was fully fit? Aside from a low effort that was tipped wide by Bialkowski after 20 minutes, the former Yeovil man’s display was riddled with indecision. Almost immediately after Judge had given County a 1-0 lead, a long pass from McCormack put Williams in behind the opposition defence. What followed was neither a shot on goal nor an effective cross for his partner James Collins and the chance to equalise immediately was gone.

The first half was a good watch for the neutral as play swung from end to end on a truly wet and miserable day in Nottingham. Notts County definitely shaded the early stages though as Wes Foderingham had to earn his money in the Swindon goal. As early as the 2nd minute, Alan Judge fired a warning shot, cutting in from the left and shooting straight at Foderingham. Five minutes later, Neal Bishop nearly took advantage of good work down the left by Francois Zoko but his fierce effort was blocked by the rear of a fellow Notts County player. Following Bostock’s booking in the 11th minute, former Town man Alan Sheehan had his curling free kick palmed over by the Robins’ keeper.

The closest Swindon came to scoring in the opening exchanges was a James Collins toe-poke at a De Vita centre that drifted harmlessly wide with five minutes on the clock. Ex Bristol Rovers winger Jeff Hughes has impressed against Swindon before and he can consider himself very unlucky not to have put County in the lead with efforts in the 15th and 19th minutes. The first was a well struck shot from a left wing cut back which, luckily for Town, deflected into Foderingham’s hands. The second was a glancing near post header which went narrowly wide of the back post from a corner on the right. A combination of Foderingham and Devera had defended resolutely to block Bishop’s close range strike which led to the corner Hughes missed from. Di Canio’s men were on the rack and lucky to be level.

Backed by 815 reds, the Swindon response was a strong one. So much so that when Notts County eventually took the lead in the 28th minute, it was actually against the run of play. I’ve already mentioned Williams bringing a good save out of Bialkowski after 20 minutes and this was followed by the Polish keeper brilliantly diverting James Collins’ right foot effort onto the post two minutes later. The resulting corner was taken short and when it was crossed in, Joe Devera could only head onto the roof of the net.

The winning goal was remarkably simple in its creation and despite Judge striking the ball beautifully into the corner, Darren Ward will feel that he should have closed the ball down better. A long ball forward by Sheehan had been flicked on to Judge by debutant Chris Iwelumo, a man I best remember for having a terrible two games against Town for Brighton in the 2003/2004 Play-offs. The Scottish International was an awkward customer and will prove to be a shrewd piece of loan deadline day business by County manager Keith Curle I’m sure. How frustrating then that Swindon were scuppered in a last minute deal to bring giant centre forward Gary Madine to SN1.

I appreciate that I’ve had a moan about our strikers in this report but the current number 9 James Collins can hold his head high after a good showing at Meadow Lane. He thought he’d equalised just after the half hour mark with a clever back header from 6 yards out, only to be ruled out by the Linesman’s flag. I’ve since seen the incident again and unfortunately it’s impossible to tell if he was offside or not from the footage. What angered the majority of Town fans was how late the flag went up – the first thing I check when a goal goes in is the linesman and upon seeing he wasn’t flagging, the celebrations began. Two seconds later and we’re being ridiculed by the home support, gutting.

The second half brought fresh hope and after Wes Foderingham had brilliantly denied the aforementioned Iwelumo with a fantastic reflex save in the 51st minute, Town carved out two golden chances to level. Chris Martin, on for Collins, slipped the ball to Matt Ritchie on the edge of the box and after swivelling his marker, Ritchie could only strike tamely at Bialkowski who parried the ball to safety. If that was a regulation save, then the save to deny Darren Ward his second Swindon goal in the 63rd minute was anything but. Ritchie was involved once again, swinging in the corner aimed at Chris Martin. In the scramble, Ward bravely headed towards goal only to be denied by the flying Bialkowski – great save.

Disappointingly, the Swindon charge somewhat ended with that chance until the final five minutes of normal time. It was staggering how an entire 20-25 minute period could pass with so little incident. It was indicative of how well Notts County were managing their lead but also of Swindon’s problem when chasing a game. The play became long and desperate, suddenly the normally reliable McCormack was hoofing long balls straight out for goal kicks. What had been forgotten were the virtues of creating chances by playing patient football, like in the first half and at the start of the second.

The flurry of chances did come but Ritchie had two long range efforts, one a free kick, saved down low by Bialkowski and McEveley’s cross come shot was tipped over by the excellent goalkeeper. I guess I’d best summarise the second half showing as naive. This was best depicted by a ridiculous foul throw (by his own corner flag) from Matt Ritchie with two minutes of normal time left. It gave away possession in an awful part of the pitch and the Magpies went on to waste at least two minutes down in that corner.

Notts County, and Brentford before them, are functional, well organised teams who’ll finish in the top ten at least from what I’ve seen. Town have to start doing themselves some favours though, to arrest this ‘blip’ and turn a good season into a very good one. Di Canio’s assembled an expensive squad and looking towards this two week break, it’s high time for the manager to pass on his own goalscoring pearls of wisdom to the strikers already at the club.

With chances for rest and recuperation rare in an otherwise hectic League One schedule, the onus is now on Paolo to galvanise his troops and comeback stronger when they step out against Doncaster Rovers on December 8th. Two weeks is a long time without football…

Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88

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