Swindon 2 Gillingham 2: Stylish Town held by Gills
Swindon and Gillingham shared the spoils after an entertaining game where Nathan Thompson was involved in both of Swindon Town’s goals, but where the Town’s defensive frailties were exposed reports STFC007.
The game saw a number of firsts, the first game in charge for Mark Cooper since his permanent appointment, Nile Ranger’s home debut, a first start from Jay McEveley this season after an injury and my first Swindon game since Tottenham were in town in July.
The type of football Swindon played throughout the 94 minutes was very nice to watch; great combinations with plenty of movement both on and off the ball with hardly a ball played long. An attack minded midfield with Harley – a player who impressed me whilst at Exeter City – orchestrating things in midfield linking up well with Luongo with Kasim providing defensive cover and both flanks with Pritchard on the left and Byrne on the right getting the support from the full backs during most attacks.
The first few chances however fell to Gillingham in the 8th minute. Ward, who recently signed a new 2-year deal, took up his trademark stationary archery position in readiness to take a standing jump to head the ball only for a Gillingham player to get in front of him and Akinfenwa’s resulting shot just bobbling past the far post.
Swindon were ahead not long after. Pritchard led a counter attack but did not see Ranger in an excellent position for a through ball. His hesitation seemingly had stopped the attack only for Thompson to make a run on the right which Pritchard did see. Thompson’s cross into the box found Byrne who bundled the ball into the back of the net. 1-0.
Town had most of the ball and were technically superior to Gillingham, but a defensive error allowed Gillingham to score the equaliser. A Delap style throw in reached the half/unmarked Kedwell whose header went into the far corner out of Wes Foderingham’s reach. 1-1.
At the other end Swindon nearly went ahead again as Ward’s header from a Byrne corer was tipped onto the bar by Gillingham’s goalkeeper Nelson. There were some half chances from Ranger and Luongo but both their shots were off target. At this stage of the game, most threat came from Swindon’s left hand side where Pritchard and McEveley combined very well throughout the half.
Swindon continued to play their passing game but at times a ball that should have been played wasn’t or if it was, should have arrived sooner. Ranger, who worked well for the team but was rusty, jumped up for a high ball, but the wind affected the trajectory which allowed Byrne to get there before the defender. Instead of having a shot, Byrne decided to attempt to pass both player and keeper and walk the ball into the net, a skill frequently successfully executed in Spain’s Primera Division, but less so in England’s League One.
Just after the half hour mark, Akinfenwa was deemed to have been fouled. The referee didn’t know how to deal with Akinfenwa during the first 50 minutes, giving him carte-blanche to bulldoze players without redress. The resulting pile-driver from Lee bounced off Foderingham’s chest into the path of Kedwell whose rebound was saved as Wes made up for his mishap.
Five minutes before the break, Swindon should have had a penalty when Gillingham’s Legge put his arm around Ranger’s neck and bundled him to the ground just before the cross was about to reach him. Both linesman and referee were watching the ball rather than play and therefore neither saw the incident.
Just before half-time, Gillingham were nearly ahead. From an almost identical position from their first goal, a long throw-in was initially dealt with by Ward, who this time ran towards the ball and cleared it with a towering powerful header. The resulting throw-in was allowed to reach the Akinfenwa whose header went straight into the hands of Foderingham.
The second half, with Swindon playing towards the Town End into the wind, saw a continuation of the first half with Swindon dictating play. Two corners in quick succession nearly brought a goal but somehow Jay McEveley was unable to get his head onto the ball at the back post.
One of the breaks saw an identical situation as in the first half, this time Byrne not seeing Ranger in a great position, but instead going at it alone. Next it was Pritchard with a half chance. Thompson did well on the right outmanoeuvring several defenders and delaying the cross allowing for Pritchard to lose his marker but his back heal was saved by Nelson.
With 25 minutes left to play, Byrne made way for Mason. Town continued to play their passing game and from one of those combination on the left, Harley was played free near the corner and his cross with his left foot was just out of reach for Ranger, but the onrushing Thompson managed to get ahead of the defender and scored with a powerful header into the far left corner. 2-1.
There was a chance to extend the lead with a 3v2 break, but this time it was Harley who hesitated too long with the final pass. When it finally did reach Mason, a hurried shot went well over.
Swindon at times lived dangerously with some passes that were too short, sometimes too many men in front of the ball and loss of concentration, especially during set-pieces when opponents were picked up too late or not marked at all. Even Wes got in on the act by flicking the ball over an oncoming Gillingham player instead of clearing the ball.
It all looks great when it works…
It was clear that Ranger wasn’t fully fit yet, missing match sharpness, but showing some nice touches and at times hardworking for the team. Perhaps he could have made way for Storey for the last 10-15 minutes trying to stretch the Gillingham back-line with his speed. But I understand why he was kept on, particularly with the physical threat when defending set-pieces.
With 5 minutes of normal time to play, McDonald who replaced Akinfenwa, scored the equaliser. A long clearance from Legge found a Swindon defence completely out of position. Hall suddenly was confronted with 2 players. In his eagerness to win the ball rather than preventing McDonald to shoot, he was too easily turned by McDonald who also wrong-footed the Swindon keeper to pass the ball into the net. 2-2.
With a couple of minutes left, Thompson went on a great run on the right but instead of crossing the ball into the path of one of the on-running Town players, he went for glory but disappointingly his shot went well over. Four minutes of extra time allowed for one more Town chance which fell to Luongo, but his shot went wide leaving the 7,520 supporters – including 452 from Gillingham – to applaud the teams off the field.
On reflection, Swindon deserved all 3 points but some lapses in concentration and lack of organisation at the back at crucial times allowed for some sloppy goals against. That’s now 4 goals in 2 games which doesn’t quite match the defensive records that were broken not that long ago.
The style of football played by Swindon was very nice to watch and despite the late equaliser, I left the County Ground feeling quite positive. We’re only 3 games into a very long season. We won’t win every game, but if continue play like this each game, we’ll do better than many people have predicted at the start of the season.
Next stop: Queens Park Rangers on Tuesday in the League Cup.