Wolves 3-2 Swindon Town: Sublime in possession, exploited in defence
In the Black Country Swindon Town left Molineux proud knowing that while they were defeated 3-2 by Wolves, the manner of their performance impressed both home and away supporters. Ron Smith reports.
There is simply too much to summarise about this beautiful game. My notes are extensive and slightly incomprehensible as I scrambled to type in amongst the frenetic action. Swindon had 23 shots, numerous other chances, as well as more creative and meaningful possession than you can ever expect to see in the third tier of English football. Yet Town lost.
The seeds of the defeat were quickly sown as Wolves’ opener fluked its way past Wes Foderingham after just four minutes. It was similar to Massimo Luongo’s cross-cum-shot effort against Crewe. Interestingly, this time it was Luongo who conceded possession to Bakary Sako in the middle, who played a perfect diagonal ball for an unchallenged Scott Golbourne to drift in a cross that would sneak just under the crossbar. This early move proved crucial for Wolves and confirmed their approach, and perhaps get-out-clause for the 90 minutes. It demonstrated that any quick and decisive diagonal balls behind Town’s advanced full-backs would yield results.
In previous times there are many of us who would’ve seen Swindon curl up in their own half and suffer a battering. However Mark Cooper’s young side seem intent on playing to their strengths, never giving up and using any match as the stepping stone to better understanding how this team can play their brand of composed and intricate football.
The many spells of Town possession continued to yield chances, with a tempo dictated by the ever astonishing deep lying playmaker Yaser Kasim; who let’s not forget was discarded by Brighton after playing limited Conference football last season.
The Iraqi was joined in Cooper’s impressive five man midfield with Massimo Luongo, Ryan Mason, Alex Pritchard and loanee Nicky Ajose who replaced the suspended Nathan Byrne. With familiarity between the group burgeoning game after game, this performance became a display of deft touches, control with turn and then conjuring a pass into space, many of which would find it’s way to a red shirt making a penetrating move leaving the Wolves players unsure how a Town player would emerge with the ball on the edge of the box.
With so much creativity it was a shame that Town’s finishing was lacking throughout the first-half. Although Wolves ‘keeper Carl Ikeme was equally to blame for Town failing to score with a series of fine saves. Nicky Ajose’s low shot from outside the box looked destined to equalise, but was easily saved. Soon afterwards Nile Ranger’s shot took a deflection and sailed over the bar. Around the half hour mark, Alex Pritchard played a perfect through ball that allowed Ryan Mason to shoot, yet again Ikeme saved. Then Ikeme proved his worth with a superb dive and save to tip wide a curling shot by Alex Pritchard from a position on the left side of the box.
Despite all Town’s attacking endeavours, Wolves knew their best and proven route to goal and their second of the game struck just before half time. Kevin Doyle picked up a loose ball in the Swindon half and without fear of a challenge from Grant Hall, the once Wolves record signing, crossed to Lee Griffiths on the left edge of the area, who simply chipped a cross back towards the goal to be met by Doyle. Watch the highlights again to see Hall look around and wonder where on earth was Town’s right back Nathan Thompson as the backline was being picked apart. With Wolves going in two goals ahead at the break, there didn’t seem much chance of clawing back a point in the custard bowl.
The second half continued much of the same as far as Town were concerned. Further neat and tidy passing became ever more effective, generating further chances for Mason, Pritchard and Ranger. Ryan Mason found himself in some truly fantastic positions and had five or six shots – including one header – at goal in the period leading up to his eventual breakthrough. Again, it was the poor quality of the finishing and Ikeme’s gloves that prevented the Spurs loanee firing another hat trick.
Town’s best chances came via Mason midway in the half when Nicky Ajose set up Mason inside the box after yet another penetrating run, who was within 12 yards but he prodded a first-time shot wide. A few minutes later Mason was played in by Pritchard yet he struck the outside of the post with a low shot to the right of Ikeme.
Surely Town deserved an equalising goal and eventually the Wolves defence were breached. Mason was again central to the movement as his chipped pass forward to Dany N’Guessan allowed the forward to show off his strength to hold off Danny Batth before rifling his strike past an advancing Ikeme.
Being one goal adrift the chance of equalising was now on with eight minutes remaining. Yet Wolves knew exactly how to make the result comfortable and finish off the game.
After previous successful diagonal balls towards Zeli Ismail, and later Doyle, resulted in shots, the approach yielded Wolves’ third goal on 89 minutes. This time Town were found out as another counter attacking move down their left spearheaded by Doyle and substitute Bjorn Sigurdarson who smartly crossed the ball to Kevin Foley to slot it pass Wes Foderingham from 12 yards. Putting it simply, Nathan Thompson was again in an advanced position, leaving an inevitable gap behind for Wolves to stretch the defence; it was that easy.
Still Town didn’t give up and Ryan Mason was finally rewarded. Alex Pritchard’s free kick was expected to be hit long, yet a shot pass to Mason in acres of space provided time to eye up a shot from 35 yards that found the top cornerSublime. But this spectacular finish was unfortunately too late for Town to rescue a point.
Few would doubt that Wolves are the favourites to gain automatic promotion. Their athletic quality and sharp finishing is matched by a financial muscle off-the-pitch, yet I’m sure there will be many Wanderers fans who wished their side could add Town’s dominating tempo of stylish performance to Kenny Jackett’s comfortable, effective and direct smash-and-grab. For those Wolves fans drooling over the Swindon performance asking why they didn’t lose, you were equally unlucky not to score more and to take further advantage of the obvious Town weaknesses.
Swindon’s attacking performances are becoming impressive and a joy to watch, however this defeat highlights inherent weaknesses at the back which are easily exploited. Nathan Thompson’s overlapping runs are crucial to success of the 4-5-1, however can Cooper continue to allow Thompson to push forward without better organising Darren Ward, Jay McEveley, Grant Hall and Yaser Kasim to cover the void left behind?
With Bristol City up next, Town are aware that continuing their impressive home form against a side without a League One victory this campaign will provide a perfect springboard towards the visit of Mourinho & Co.