Swindon Town 1-3 Walsall: All winning runs must come to an end…
Sometimes teams need to be brought back down to earth following a winning run – a realisation that they aren’t world beaters – and Tuesday night was one of those matches for Swindon Town against Walsall, writes Calvin Hothi.
Manager Mark Cooper made just one change from the side which beat Notts County on Friday with Nicky Ajose coming in for scorer Dany N’Guessan. The game started quite slowly with Town forced on to the back foot, Yaser Kasim and Nathan Byrne conceding corners in the early stages. The County Ground pitch was showing wear from an earlier downpour and the players showed how slippery it was. Town’s only early chance was on 14 minutes Nile Ranger displaying great footwork to beat two Walsall defenders before earning a corner; from which Ranger’s overhead attempt was cleared on the line by Craig Westcarr.
Walsall took the lead in the 17th minute through Ashley Hemmings, after Wes Foderingham turned a ball wide for a corner. The resulting cross fell to Hemmings who unleashed a ferocious shot which sailed past a helpless Foderingham and into the net – a shot that could perhaps have been dealt with had the Town defence shut the Walsall man down more quickly.
The Black Country side nearly found themselves two to the good when Westcarr pounced on some poor play from Kasim to force a good save out of Wesley Foderingham. Grant Hall then gave away possession cheaply and left it to Foderingham to stop the Robins going two down.
Just after the half-hour mark the first booking of the game went to Sam Mantom who hacked down Nile Ranger, Alex Pritchard hit the wall from the resulting free kick. Town had started to get back to themselves at this point, playing the ball around well and getting forward. However, the killer ball was missing and despite attempts to break down the Walsall back line from Ranger and Pritchard, the Robins didn’t have much in their locker. Just before the half-time whistle, Jay McEveley gave away the ball to Westcarr whose shot was closed down by Kasim.
The first half was ultimately a poor one for Town, it was obvious the three at the back wasn’t going to work for this game and Walsall had come with a plan. Town were unable to find a way to respond to this and coupled with a slippy surface made the game very hard for Town. Ranger showed glimpses of quality and should perhaps have been awarded a spot kick in the 37th minute after being taken down in the box. Foderingham had kept the score down and kept Town in the game. Nicky Ajose had been ineffective and unable to make an impact on the game.
Swindon came out for the second half with one change, Ajose giving way for Ryan Mason. The visitors were unchanged as the second half began. Thereafter, a disastrous first few minutes followed for Swindon which saw them go two behind. Darren Ward was at fault for placing a pass straight to Mantom who, after exchanging with Westcarr, slotted past Foderingham.
Five minutes later Mark Cooper made his second change of the night with Dany N’Guessan replacing Byrne. Afterwards, Ranger headed over a Pritchard corner before Jack Barthram replaced Nathan Thompson before the hour mark. Chances were limited for Town, however, Massimo Luongo sent a shot over before McEveley picked up his fifth booking of the season (ruling him out of Saturdays encounter with Oldham.)
Foderingham had to be on hand once again, this time to palm Nicky Featherstone’s shot over before Pritchard showed good footwork to manoeuvre into the box only to drag his shot wide. The Sadlers were getting stronger and Hemmings should have put Walsall three in front only to see his shot sail wide with the ‘keeper beaten. Walsall then made their first change of the night with Julian Gray replacing James Baxendale. Foderingham then showed why he is one of the brightest goalkeeping talents outside of the Premier League by producing a quality save to deny Mantom.
Swindon finally forced their first save of the night when ‘keeper Richard O’Donnell was on hand to deny Mason with his legs. Adam Chambers was booked for hacking down Pritchard before the game fell into controversy. Hemmings found himself with space and slotted past Foderingham in the 79th minute – a goal that had a definite offside call in the build up. Pritchard was booked after appealing this to linesman and suddenly the game was out of the Swindon’s reach.
Ranger did net a late consolation when he headed in a Kasim cross, that really should have been claimed by the ‘keeper, in the 83rd minute. Five minutes were added onto the second half and the fans urged on the players with a half-hearted roar. Ranger should have had his and Town’s second of the night when his first header was kept out by O’Donnell and the bar; and when it came to him on the follow up he sliced wide when it should have really hit the back of the net. Not much else occurred other than Hall picking up a silly booking for a reckless challenge before the ref signalled full-time and a deserved victory for Walsall.
It was a game that Town cannot be too proud of, the majority of the players underperformed and several mistakes at the back cost Swindon dearly. However, the credit must go to our visitors. Saddlers’ Manager Dean Smith had Walsall prepared very, very well and with extensive research on Swindon. They came set up with a plan and stuck to it, we had to respond and they took full advantage of it. This game will be a learning curve for our young Robins side and something that will happen more than once this season with such a youthful team.
Next up for Swindon is a return to Saturday fixtures with a trip to Oldham. The players will be desperate to put this performance behind them and will no doubt be motivated to get the three points against a side including ex loanees Cristian Montano and Adam Rooney.