Swindon Town 1-1 Stevenage: Town Stumble into JPT Area Final

Despite an unconvincing second half display from Swindon Town in front of a crowd of 3,804 where opponents Stevenage created sufficient chances to win in 90 minutes, Town went through on penalties to secure a place in the Area Final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy reports STFC007.

It began so well. In fact, the first 30 minutes or so were a pleasure to watch. Despite the odd ‘FORWARD’ shout from nearby football experts in the Don Rogers, most people near me in the stand were generally very positive about the football on display in the first half. Swindon playing towards the Town End were in full control from the start putting Stevenage under pressure from the first minute. An attacking Swindon line-up saw starts for both goalkeeper Tyrell Belford and right back Jack Barthram.

Town made their intention known from the start as Stevenage were pushed back. After some good combinations between Massimo Luongo and Alex Pritchard, the ball fell to Ryan Harley whose shot was narrowly kept out of the goal by a Stevenage defender. From the resulting corner Swindon hit the back of the net, unfortunately not with the ball. Initially Darren Ward headed against the bar with the ball ending up for seemingly an easy header for Nicky Ajose to make it 1-0. But instead of the ball ending up in the back of the net, it was Ajose who ended up in there as he was launched into the net with an enormous push in the back. The ball was cleared, but surely a penalty and red card as it a clear goal scoring opportunity.

Referee Steve Martin whose performance at times equaled his named sake in terms of comical value, decided differently though and awarded the dropped ball to the Stevenage goalkeeper Day, following a delay in play to allow for the net to be repaired. The attacking Swindon threat continued but without clear cut chances besides some long range efforts. Stevenage were allowed to break from time to time but were unable to find anyone at the end of their final pass to cause Belford any real cause for concern.

The deserved Swindon goal came on 20 minutes when a short corner reached Harley outside the box. His goal bound shot was deflected by Ajose and steered into the empty net with the Stevenage keeper already committed. The first goal should have relaxed the players and allowed them to maintain control of the game and go on and score a couple more before half time.  Instead, they allowed Stevenage to take the initiative. Dany N’Guessan was booked for diving in the penalty area, Ward made a few wayward clearances at the back and Stevenage could have been level five minutes before half time had the cross reached any one of the three onrushing players from midfield.

The second half was a much more open affair and at times it seemed that Stevenage were the home team, keeping possession for long periods. Swindon’s marking was lax at times, closing down too slow, too late allowing too many crosses into the box.  Belford, who started nervy but grew into the game, had to make a reaction save from close range to keep Town ahead.  It wasn’t all Stevenage as a Pritchard shot hit the bar and the Stevenage goalie just pushed wide an Ajose shot from outside the box.

With nearly 25 minutes left to play, Yaser Kasim came on for Ryan Mason and Ben Gladwin made his Swindon Town debut as Luongo made way. Swindon were made to sit deeper as Stevenage were chasing an equaliser and came very close several times. The final warning came with ten minutes to play when three unmarked players at the back post were waiting to head the ball into the net, but luckily Pritchard was able to clear the danger. The equaliser came from the resulting corner following some poor marking from Kasim allowing Zoko to head in at the near post.

El Gabas came on for N’Guessan and Swindon finished the stronger and could have made better use of some chances had the ball been passed to a fellow player instead of going for glory. There was a claim for a handball at the very end which wasn’t given and seemed to even out Stevenage’s claim for a penalty following an unnecessary Kasim tackle in the box previous. It was Ajose who had the last chance but the woodwork was in the way for the third time that evening, so onto penalties it was.

The penalties were taken towards the Town End and it was Stevenage that with Zoko who scored again to the delight of the 79 traveling supporters, rolling the ball casually into the net after Belford had committed himself. This turned out to be the one and only penalty Stevenage scored as Belford managed to stop 2 and one was blasted over. Swindon through Pritchard, El Gabas and Kasim all scored theirs.

So an unconvincing but on reflection deserved win to set up a two-legged tie with Peterborough in the Southern area Final in February with the return leg to be played at the County Ground.

Based on the second half performance, Wembley seems a long way away. If Swindon however are able to play like they did during the opening half hour in both legs against Peterborough, who knows…. But between now and then, there are some tasty encounters in the league to look forward to starting this Saturday away to Sheffield United.

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