Breaking the Stevenage shackles

How Swindon’s progressive football was spoiled by Stevenage and what Mark Cooper needs to do to prevent it happening every week, by Alex Cooke.

Swindon dominated Stevenage: For 45 minutes, Town’s football spoke a new freedom for the men in red, of collective effort, of complexity hidden in the simplicity of angles. And yet, in the second half the plodding, stakhanovite strength of Stevenage shackled them again.

The reason for this turn around was partly tiredness but also partly tactical – Stevenage found a way to put their size nine’s on Swindon’s collective windpipe and stamped. That choke point was substitute striker Dani Lopez’s man marking of Yaser Kasim. By replacing a target-man forward with the deeper, chunkier Lopez, Stevenage sacrificed their own attacking power to stop Swindon being able to keep the ball and control the space. It was a simple enough strategy but Mark Cooper’s players seemed slow to respond.

Yaser Kasim has gone from seemingly substantial makeweight in the squad to the decisive cog – he moves the ball simply, changing the point of attack, opening options for the others around him. He is an upgraded Alan Navarro – probably on about half the wages and with knees 150 years younger.

However, the close attention of the similarly almost spherical Lopez negated much of Kasim’s play. Pushed and pressed, he was no longer the safe outlet for Wes Foderingham, Darren Ward or Grant Hall. So Town began to lose the ball with riskier passes from the centre backs, more obvious movement in midfield and little rotation around them.

It was only after about 10 minutes of this impasse – and a few Stevenage chances created – that something clicked and Town began to do what the coaching manual suggests: rotation. Finally Ryan Harley began to drop into the space between the centre backs and Kasim shifted into his slot. It isn’t hugely sophisticated stuff but it tests the markers ability to follow and ‘hand over’ their men, especially if performed quickly and in a rotating triangle with the other two midfielders. Of course, Cooper did later shift to a 442 with a midfield diamond, perhaps partly as Town’s squad remains thin on the flanks.

It is also going to become more significant as once a greater number of scouting reports have been filed on Town and their pattern of play. Once Swindon’s unknowns are known, sides will be set up from the start to stop Swindon at source and Mark Cooper will need to get quicker at instructing his player how to break the shackles.

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