MK Dons 2 Swindon Town 0: Automatic promotion hopes all but gone…
Swindon travelled to Milton Keynes for a rearranged League One game hoping a first victory in three games would put Town back into the automatic promotion race. In the end it wasn’t to be and Richard Banyard was there to witness a 2-0 defeat…
Before the game yesterday, in some ways this game reminded me of the Southampton match when we were going for promotion a few years’ back. Town were in the play-off zone, visiting a team who are probably good enough to be in it themselves, really in the last chance saloon if they wanted to make it. As we did at St. Mary’s, we had the opportunity yesterday to kill off any hopes that our opponents might have had of promotion, but as our slump continued at stadium:mk the Franchise are now right back in it.
The game was very open at the start, with both sides breaking quickly. As early as the third minute a neat diagonal cross-field pass found Chadwick in space for the home side with Nathan Byrne getting back to block well. Immediately he pinged the ball out wide for Dean Parrett and set off a Town counter, but his cross was cut out by MK keeper McLoughlin. Two minutes later, a Town break down the right flank saw Roberts play in Luongo – his low cross found Williams, whose shot was blocked – then at the other end a weak long range effort by Chadwick was straight at Wes Foderingham. Another diagonal ball found Adam Chicksen in behind Nathan Byrne and though his cross was headed away by Aden Flint, a follow-up volley from the edge of the area went just wide.
The first real flashpoint came shortly afterwards with the Town perhaps lucky to remain with eleven players on the pitch. A hopeful ball forward was chased down by Franchise striker Bamford, Wes Foderingham waiting on the edge of the area to claim it, as it got to him with Bamford almost ready to snatch it away, the Town keeper took it in his hands. I’ve got no idea whether he was inside or out, but once the linesman had flagged, there was always the possibility that he would get sent off. Make no mistake, had it been at the County Ground, with an opposing keeper doing the same thing, we’d have been howling for a red card. So there was a genuine sense of relief when the referee produced a yellow card, and again when the dangerous-looking free-kick was blocked by Aden Flint.
The next ten minutes or so was arguably the Town’s best spell of the game. After Andy Williams picked up a goal kick from Foderingham, he flicked it over the defence towards Gary Roberts, who volleyed a decent looking effort wide of goal. Swindon were pressing the hosts in their own half. Williams almost cutting out a back pass before Dean Parrett almost got lucky with a strike at goal. Working his way inside from the left flank, I sighed as Parrett attempted a shot when he seemed to have other options – and though the effort looked comfortable for McLoughlin as he seemed to fumble the ball away, and for a moment, it looked like the back spin on the ball was going to propel it into the net, until McLoughlin recovered to pounce on it. From our vantage point at the far end of the stadium, it was impossible to tell just how close it was.
Just before the half hour, Franchise had a couple of breaks. Bamford cutting inside Alan McCormack on the Town’s left side, before firing a wild shot off target, before poor positioning from Byrne allowed Chicksen to break down our right flank, where his cross was cut out by McCormack. The second major flashpoint of the game came just a few minutes later, when Swindon got the ball in the net, only to see it ruled out.
The move started on the right flank as Gary Roberts played a ball ahead of Massimo Luongo down the wing, that I didn’t think he was going to get to, but he did though and managed to play a cross into the area. The cross deflected high into the air off a defender’s boot, and travelled to the back post where Andy Williams was waiting. With the keeper stretching back to claim, Williams nodded the ball down, where it bounced high into the top corner of the net. The referee initially appeared to give the goal, but the linesman’s flag was raised early – obviously flagging for a foul as opposed to offside. It’s rare to see an assistant flag for a foul like this any more – and also strange that the ref appeared to be closer to the action – but again, it was very difficult to call from the other end of the pitch, but very frustrating.
Before the half was out, MK came the closest they had with a huge clearance from the defence which caught the Town defence upfield, Bamford raced through with only Alan Navarro in pursuit – but when Bamford poked the ball past Foderingham, the Town midfielder did superbly well to get back and block the ball out for a corner. Our marking from the set piece was terrible leaving two players free at the back post, the ball was played back into the danger zone, where McCormack seemed to make a hash of a clearance. The ball fell to Jon Otsemobor who thankfully screwed a shot well wide with the outside of his boot – the ball flashing across the face of the goal. Swindon had one more attempt on 41 minutes after Nathan Byrne won a free-kick just inside the Franchise half, the team set up for a cross into the area – Byrne taking advantage of the space to receive the ball from Navarro, before whipping a cross into the centre that Williams headed wide.
It had been a decent first half display with the Town unfortunate not to be in front, and generally playing OK. We seemed to be in a good position for the second period. There was a bit of banter between Franchise keeper McLoughlin and the away fans when the teams came out – the obvious ‘dodgy keeper’ chants after the incidents in the first half – what was to follow later was a little bizarre.
We started the half well enough. Roberts attempting a scissor-kick, the ball nicked away before it got to him, and the Town winger also shanking an awful shot wide after Dean Parrett had profited from a mistake by an MK defender. Parrett also embarrassingly went down in the area looking for a penalty in a similar way as he had done at Doncaster – lucky not to have received a booking. Just as embarrassing were the chants of “Four-Four-Two” from the away support – at this point, either side could have won the game – the Franchise fans obviously thought the Town support were singing “Wimbledon”, as we have done in the past, and started joining in with a different song to the same tune. Strange.
Just before the hour mark though, we went behind. After Darren Ward had done well to initially usher away a quick break, Alan Navarro needlessly gave away a free kick on our far right touchline. The ball was swung in and cleared away – I think a shot was charged down as well – but when a second cross came into the box, Mathias Doumbe rose to head the ball past Foderingham for the lead. MK keeper McLoughlin took great pleasure in goading the Town fans with his celebrations.
Shortly after we had gone behind, MacDonald made two changes – James Collins and Raffa de Vita coming on for Roberts and Navarro, as we switched to the 4-4-2 formation that the Town support had been calling for – a third substitution soon followed, as Dean Parrett was replaced by Adam Rooney. I’ve really not been impressed with Parrett in the two games I’ve seen him play. Last night he gave the impression of a type of player who feels he is above League One. McCormack gave him a bollocking for not getting back after losing the ball in the first half, and more than once I saw him shrug his shoulders in response to either not making space to receive the ball, or not finding a Town player with a pass.
We had a little spell of pressure, but weren’t able to muster any notable efforts on goal – a weak Luongo header at goal after de Vita had won a corner, a Williams shot was goal bound but blocked, de Vita had another effort blocked after bursting into the area. Bizarrely, Franchise keeper took to gesturing at the Town fans as each attack was repelled, almost setting himself up for a fall as he came close to taking the ball over his own goal line when claiming a cross.
As Swindon pushed more players forward though, they were leaving gaps at the back. A decent effort by Dean Bowditch had flown just over, before substitute Alan Smith forced a save from Foderingham with his first touch – had he connected with it properly, it would surely have been a goal. As things got desperate, James Collins was booked for taking a dive just outside the area and Aden Flint moved into a centre forward position – but despite all the attacking players, we never looked like getting the game back.
With all the men committed forward, any Franchise break was going to stretch us and with a minute to go, they made the game safe. There was a huge shout for a penalty from the home support as Alan McCormack challenged Alan Smith – the ball coming out to Bowditch. His cross should really have been cut out by Byrne, but he was either mistimed his jump or was not tall enough to reach it – either way the ball fell to Lowe in acres of room, Byrne unable to recover in time to tackle as he picked his spot in the far corner. McLoughlin celebrated again, ridiculously a number of Town fans started reacting to his taunts, it was all a bit pathetic.
There’s been a lot of grumbling about formations again after the game, but for me, that isn’t necessarily the issue . I don’t have a problem with 4-5-1 per se, but we’ve got to have the understanding and the right players selected to play it. We need dynamic players in the wide positions, and a midfield that supports the front man. There was more evidence of this yesterday than we saw at Doncaster, but still too often players are getting marooned in various positions with no support.
Personally, I think the bigger problem has been in midfield. Alan Navarro has been doing a decent job in protecting his back four and Ferry looked better yesterday reinstated to the centre, but fitting both of the Tottenham loanees in has not been working. They’re both similar players, both look decent on the ball, but leave a lot to be desired defensively. That said, with the injuries, we don’t have a lot of options. If we are going to persist with five in midfield, then I think one of them has to make way, and we need to go more attacking on the flanks. Unfortunately, many seem to have made their minds up already on KMac – and in the short term, only going 4-4-2 will do something to appease them.