Swindon Town 2-1 Plymouth Argyle: A step closer to Wembley…

Swindon Town came from behind against a lacklustre Plymouth Argyle to progress to the last sixteen of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Goals from Jack Barthram and Nicky Ajose cancelled out Andre Blackman’s early deflected strike, in a game in which three Swindon players made their professional debuts. Report by Lee Clark.

Swindon used their maximum allowed changes and one more, as Jack Barthram, Raphael Rossi-Branco, Mohamed El-Gabbas, Louis Thompson, Nicky Ajose were all among the starting line-up. Tyrell Belford also started, as Wes Foderingham was a late withdrawal due to him suffering from a “stomach bug”.

The 2012 finalists, Swindon, started the stronger, but it was the visitors who took an early lead. After five minutes, Andre Blackman had time to pick his spot when bearing down on goal. He opened up his body, and his shot was destined for the far corner. As Belford dived, the shot took a wicked deflection towards the near post off of a Swindon defender. Belford was wrong footed and the ball rolled into an open goal.

Despite falling behind against the run of play, Swindon continued where they left off. Nathan Byrne found space on the left-hand side, and his low cross evaded the first defender and from six-yards out, Mohamed El-Gabbas failed to react and the ball bounced off of him and comfortably into the arms of Plymouth goalkeeper Jake Cole.

Mohamed El-Gabbas continued to search for his first goal in Town colours. A bobbling ball on the edge of the Plymouth area fell to him, and his first time half-volley crashed against the left-hand post with Cole beaten. Swindon had created more chances in the first fifteen minutes than they did in the whole 90 minutes on Saturday against Tranmere, but still found themselves a goal behind.

The breakthrough came just a few minutes later. Grant Hall, who was playing on the left-hand side of a defensive three, picked the ball up on the half-way line. He launched the ball towards the right-hand side, where Jack Barthram had made a run beyond the Plymouth left back. The shortest player on the pitch expertly planted his header into the far corner to give Swindon a much deserved equaliser. The header was Barthram’s first professional goal.

Around five minutes later, Swindon were desperately unlucky not to take the lead. Swindon had been causing Plymouth problems with set-pieces throughout the early stages, and yet another corner kick caused havoc amongst the Argyle defence. Alex Pritchard’s corner from the right came to penalty spot where El-Gabbas was waiting. The Egyptian planted his header towards the top left-corner of the Plymouth goal, but El-Gabbas was denied by a superb save by Cole. El-Gabbas was having a very promising full debut, and had done everything but score.

Before the half time whistle, Swindon and Barthram had another chance. Hall played an almost identical long pass through to Barthram. The youngster had once again got around the Plymouth defence, but when bearing down on the ‘keeper, his volley from around nine yards out crashed against the bar and Plymouth cleared the danger. It was to be the last meaningful action of the first half.

Swindon’s momentum was not stopped by the half-time whistle. Five minutes into the second half, they took the lead. Alex Pritchard, who was present in everything Town did, stole the ball off of an Argyle midfielder. After sidestepping a defender, he played in Nicky Ajose, who cut inside a Plymouth defender and curled a lovely shaped shot into the right-hand corner for his third goal for Swindon.

As the second half started to fizzle out, Jack Barthram, who had been superb, went down holding his torso. After some treatment, it was decided that he was not fit to continue and sadly had to leave the pitch on a stretcher. The full back had been Swindon’s biggest goal-threat throughout the night, despite seemingly playing in a wing-back position. He was replaced by Dany N’Guessan, with Ajose dropping back into a right sided midfield position.

Plymouth started to go in search of an equaliser, and started to come more and more into the game with around fifteen minutes remaining. Lee Cox, a second-half substitute for Swindon, misplaced a pass in the middle of the pitch. Reuben Reid ran at the Swindon defence with Darren Ward and Hall backtracking, and released a powerful drive that stung the palms of Tyrell Belford.

While Plymouth were on top as the game entered the final minutes, they created very few chances of note. Belford did flap at one cross on what was a very nervy night for the debutant. Swindon ran down the clock professionally, and Ajose missed a chance in the fourth and final minute of injury time to remove any doubt once and for all. Ajose wasn’t made to rue that miss however, as Swindon progressed into the last eight of the Southern section and the last sixteen of the competition overall.

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