2012/13 Reflections Part 3 – November to December

John of Wessex continues his recollections of the 2012-13 season that saw Swindon Town roller-coaster their way through embargoes, off-field shenanigans, superb cup victories, shock defeats to lower-league opposition, potential administration and new owners. 

Four days after the epic Aston Villa match, Town were back in cup action at the County Ground hosting non-league Macclesfield Town in what I’m sure most thought would be a fairly straight-forward progression into the FA Cup 2nd Round.

Paolo saw fit to make six changes to his starting XI which included playing Troy Archibald-Henville in central midfield. Clearly Di Canio was under the illusion he’d signed one of the Touré brothers during the summer hence this rather baffling inclusion. Suffice to say, Troy had a mare and a combination of cows arses and banjos, Aden Flint getting sent off again, a worldy strike (I’m never using the term worldy again in my life) and a late own goal saw Swindon crash out at the first hurdle. I was struck dumb. The only positive consolation I could take was that now with all the cup distractions out of the way, we could all concentrate and push on in the league. As for Macclesfield, they made it to the 4th Round bless ’em, before bowing out to eventual winners Wigan Athletic.

On the Tuesday, unbeaten Sheffield Utd came to Town and ground out a point in a fairly dour encounter. We were still hovering around 6th or 7th place at this stage which was a perfectly acceptable position to be in. The only worry now was that we’d gone 4 league games at the County Ground without a win.

Next up were our old friends Walsall. As long as the M5 and traffic behaved itself, I always remember Walsall as a relatively easy and enjoyable run to get to. Actually, scrap that, look at what I’ve just found from an October 2008 encounter. I see I was a big fan of the WTF acronym back then.

Anyway, present day and Walsall were enduring a shocking run of results. 7 league games without a win, 9 including cups. It was the perfect opportunity for us. Alas, I wasn’t there – one of six away grounds I didn’t make it to this season. Thankfully we did take over 950 fans and what better reward for them than a Simon Ferry goal inside the first minute. Matt Ritchie added to the score in the second half and Town were worthy winners. Back to winning ways and with a busy week anticipated in the loan transfer market, a vital shot of optimism was flowing back through my veins.

There were two incomings and one outgoing deals of note. Danny Hollands joined us from Charlton Athletic and Chris Martin arrived from Norwich City. Even I can remember Martin scoring against us back in 2009 and both signings were received positively. The one surprise, at least to me, was Paul Benson joining Portsmouth. Rumours about bust-ups behind the scenes led many to suspect that Paolo had lost faith & favour in Benno but it was still disappointing to see him moved on. He wouldn’t feature again this season.

The visit of Gary Johnson’s Yeovil Town saw both Hollands and Martin make their debuts from the bench as Town brushed aside their West Country rivals 4-1. Yeovil, at this stage of the season, were seemingly winning one week and losing the next and very much presented themselves as a mid-table outfit. A lot of attention was given to visiting centre-back Dan Burn who looked very like Yeovil’s version of Aden Flint – and what with the real one currently serving a ban, I’m sure many were left momentarily scratching their heads! We led 3-1 at the break with Andy Williams of course opening the scoring against his former club. It happens to us enough times – ’bout time the roles were reversed! James Hayter grabbed the only Yeovil goal of the game which shouldn’t really come as a surprise bearing in mind the amount of hurt and pain he’s caused us over the years. Go on, click on his name…. I dares you! The victory elevated us up to the giddy heights of 3rd place and boy was it good to win at home again.

Three days later we welcomed Brentford to the County Ground and I’d even found the time to drive cross-country for the spectacle. This meant watching Town in a fairly sober state and when things don’t go well I start to get agitated and irritable. The problem we had with Brentford was that they were so bloody well organised. Creatively we were impotent, I’d not seen anything like this in a while. The visitors had come for a point, that much was obvious and with only 3 defeats in their first 18 games, they were clearly no mugs. Try as we might we couldn’t open them up and ultimately on the hour mark a ball over the top saw Clayton Donaldson get the wrong side of Nathan Thompson and he lashed home the only goal of the game.

It was our third defeat at home of the season and all three reverses had been 1-0. My first impressions of Chris Martin were of slight disappointment, he looked unfit and slightly portly. However, kudos to Brentford for getting the job done.

I was back on the train for Saturday’s expedition to Nottingham. It was a wet one. After a 30-minute stop over in Grantham (just enough time to hunt down an off-licence for a top-up) I was back on track towards Meadow Lane. I’ve not yet had chance to try out Richard’s Match-Tracker yet, but I’m fairly confident Notts County is my most visited away venue. I could throw in Cambridge and Luton but these would include games not necessarily against Swindon. On arrival, I headed in the wrong direction which is pretty standard before correcting myself in a moment of sobriety. It was raining and windy, my hair was ruined – all in all it was shaping up to be a pretty sh*t day. I even walked past Hooters without casting a glance, besides their exploitation of young women sickens me. I then espied a food van where some silly cow proceeded to put onions in my burger, despite me clearly stating “No onions”. It was a relief to get to my seat in the ground. It cost £24. Good heavens, that’s nearly as much as we charge.

We were only one point and two places better off in the league than County at the time and what gave me hope was the fact their home form of 3-2-4 was nothing to shout about. Evidently, like ourselves, they fared a lot better on their travels. We lost 1-0. I can recall an enormous sense of frustration. Granted, It was better than Brentford in the sense we did fashion some chances and the home keeper Bialkowski made some good saves but something just didn’t feel right. Although the conditions were poor we probably deserved a point from the game but I left Nottingham sad and bitter. I think at the time I vowed never to visit Meadow Lane again. I stand by my proclamation. Di Canio, post-match, was quick to pin the blame on some of his more experienced players, namely Hollands and Martin – the loanees.

Anyway, because of the FA Cup 2nd Round, Town had a week off to mentality and physically recover from recent exertions. for me, however, I needed my STFC fix and the decision was made by a majority of one that I’d go and watch the Town U-18s try their luck against Liverpool in the FA Youth Cup. Yes, I was well aware the game was being televised on Liverpool TV but my little dongle was on its last legs and the streaming would’ve been criminal. On a cold December afternoon I ventured westward once more. Arriving in good time, I managed to have a sneaky one in my beloved Rolleston before ambling towards the County Ground. Of course, I wasn’t expecting our lads to win but I was at least hoping for a competitive game with blood, guts and a never say die attitude.

Yeah. First off, along with 75+ other people, I missed the first 15 minutes of the game as our wonderfully organised club decided we all had to queue up to buy a ticket (one window open, obviously) to gain admittance. Splendid. When I did get in we were already 1-down and basically getting our arses torn to bits by a rampant opposition. Ho-hum. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as one-sided a game as this in a long time.

Our lads looked lost, confused and totally outclassed. Liverpool pressed, controlled and systematically took the piss throughout. I think one or two of their players have featured already in the first team so I’m not doubting their talent. What disappointed me was our complete capitulation. Who remembers when we gave Newcastle Utd (and Andy Carroll) one hell of a scare back in 2007? I won’t comment on individual performances based on only one game, but three or four of our lads have since been given the opportunity to step up to first team duties next season. I wish them well. I lasted 20 minutes into the second half before bailing out. The number of young Swindonians gleefully waving Liverpool scarfs in the Arkells Stand was driving me crazy. I retired to the Merlin for a quick one before heading home a broken man.

Town, after their brief hiatus, were back at the County Ground on Saturday hosting Doncaster Rovers who were the current form team with the best away record in the league. A rather phenomenal 7-2-1 record was a cause for concern and under the tutelage of Dean Saunders the Yorkshire were well set up for the season. It took Matt Ritchie just 8 minutes to open the scoring. Unfortunately Donny were level inside two minutes when Hollands put through his own goal to gift an equaliser. Town looked fresh, resurgent and full of endeavour and should’ve won the game. Doncaster were fortunate to leave with a point and I think this sort of result just emphasised how little there was between the top teams in this division. Tranmere Rovers still led the pack for now, but I don’t think anyone seriously expected them to last the distance. The chairman of Doncaster, John Ryan, when asked who he thought gave the best individual performance against his team over the season commented: “Matt Ritchie, playing for Swindon at the time, scored in our 1-1 draw at their place in December. He put them ahead in the eighth minute and his all-round play that day was very impressive.” Sigh.

The next day I ventured into the wonderful world of women’s football with some red-hot FA Cup action down in Chichester. I’m not sure if I was there just to tick off another ground or whether I had any genuine interest in the STFC Ladies. My first port of call on arrival was the Bell Inn, where I had to break the rather tragic news to the locals of the passing of Sir Patrick Moore. Farewell Sir, you’ll be remembered fondly. We all drank in his honour before I made my way across the A286 and a car park to the football ground. Admission was a paltry £2 and I quickly made my way to the bar for more refreshment.

From what I could gather both Swindon and Chichester Ladies played at the ‘same level’ but in different leagues. At the very least I was expecting a close game. Aside from friends and family, I think I was the only Town fan present on the day so it was my solemn duty to cheer them on. Two goals shortly before half-time gave us a deserved lead. I got into a little brouhaha back in the bar with a local whom I thought was making some disparaging comments about our girls but back on the pitch we hit two more to comfortably win 4-1 on the day. The lad Picton up front was a handful and there were one or two other individual performances worthy of praise. The Town Ladies would see off Exeter in the next round before bowing out at home to Gillingham in Round three.

Next Time: Hostile environments, Oldham away, Debauchery in Old Town, Postponements, Snow on the pitch and I get accused of being an Ipswich fan.

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