September & October 2013: League nitty-gritty and cup glamour
2013 was a truly eventful and unforgettable year at Swindon Town. Brendan Hobbs jumped at the chance of writing our review of 2013, which has turned into an epic feature of writing; you’ve now made it to part seven and its now 2014, so a Happy New Year!
The first bit of business for Swindon in the new month was to secure two more strikers to join the fight. Unknown Mohammed El Gabbas was drafted in on a short term deal and Dany N’Guessan joined after Millwall cancelled his contract. One Millwall fan on Twitter denounced N’Guessan as the worst footballer he had ever seen, which was music to Swindon fans ears as I remember a Charlton fan saying exactly the same thing about Alan McCormack. N’Guessan was no stranger to scoring at the County Ground after grabbing an 88th leveller for Boston United way back in 2006.
Town were provided with the opportunity to flex their muscles on live TV with a tricky away encounter at MK Dons. Alex Pritchard provided one of those ‘wow’ moments and probably the only time I’ve rewound ‘live’ TV on my Sky Box (I know, I’ve not lived) with a fantastic free kick, curled into the top corner. Swindon looked impressive at times, but the Dons always looked dangerous and grabbed an equaliser via another top flight loanee Patrick Bamford. This all happened after a previously comfortable Town were controversially reduced to ten men after Nathan Byrne received his second red card in a Town shirt.
A daunting trip to nailed-on promotion favourites Wolves provided the next test for Swindon, N’Guessan was to net his first goal for his new club in an impressive team performance, the team ultimately going down though 3-2, with Ryan Mason netting the other with an absolute beaut from 35 yards.
The run of punishing fixtures continued with a tricky home game against local rivals Bristol City, who despite being on a wretched run of form, possessed a lot of quality in their line-up, including one time target Marlon Pack and former favourite Aden Flint. It was Flint (obviously) who scored first, nodding home direct from an early corner, Town got back level via Nicky Ajose’s first goal for the club, turning Nicky Shorey brilliantly before firing low into the net. The status quo didn’t last for long though as the impressive Emmanuel-Thomas cut in from the touchline to fire viciously past Foderingham. It was down to that man Ajose again to grab his second to tie the match up just before half-time. The second half was a tight, nervy affair before Nile Ranger deservedly grabbed the winner with three minutes to go.
League Cup fever gripped the Town on Tuesday 24th September, as Swindon were pitted against a genuine Premier League Billy Big Balls outfit in the shape of Chelsea. Town cashed in on the opportunity with the whole corporate thing moving into overdrive as dining tables were crammed into the sponsors lounge as never seen before. And when the lounge wouldn’t take any more some sort of tented village was erected outside to take the overflow, giving the paying customers the effect and experience of a high-class refugee camp – as the majority of the in-mates all ended up their wallets fleeced at the end. The TV cameras were out as well, perhaps sniffing a possible upset, with TV execs imagining an inexperienced Chelsea D team being roughly turned over by a bunch of seasoned professionals from the lower leagues.
When the two team sheets were issued, I’m sure some Sky executives ummmed and arrred about packing up and going home as the Chelsea team was pretty much their ‘A’ affair. True, there were some of the back-up squad were on show, unfortunately for Town, they included players like Juan Mata and Michael Essien. I’m sure some gear was already packed away before someone said, “Well we’re here now and I’m sure the half-time buffet will be good.”
Chelsea never got out of third gear, securing a routine win with two excellent strikes courtesy of Fernando Torres and the mononymous Ramires. I enjoyed the game, and the ground did have a big-time feel about it, with the scrolling electronic advertisements and the instant replays on the big screen but on the whole I felt the atmosphere was a little lacking. It would’ve been interesting if Dany N’Guessan’s effort in the second half hadn’t been ruled out for offside, just to see if Town were capable of mounting some type of Villa style comeback, spurred on by a molten Town End.
As we all filtered out at the end, pushing our way through all the big-time litter and past the shanty village of TV vehicles and marquees I felt a certain joy, maybe because we didn’t embarrass ourselves, maybe it was because of whole spectacle of the game – I’m not sure , but the game felt enchanting and exciting to witness. I hope we have a few more of those sort of nights in the future.
The September programme and difficult run of fixtures came to a close away at Preston, a place that has special memories for Wes Foderingham, who can now add conceding a bizarre own goal to his list of Deepdale joys, with Jay McEveley giving him no chance by looping the ball over his head into the net.
In some way this game provided a turning point for McEveley who had been showing some wretched form. The own goal provided a zenith for his recent poor displays as he finally emerged from his appalling Kim Heiselberg shaped chrysalis and burst into the light as a beautiful Cafu butterfly.
On the whole, the Preston game was very odd, Town were totally outplayed for much of the match but at the death almost spewed up an unlikely point. N’Guessan grabbed what seemed only a consolation with the score at two nil, but Town then laid siege to the Preston goal and a scorcher from Yaser Kasim almost grabbed the leveller, their ‘keeper making a last ditch tip over to deny the Iraqi.
October brought a mixed bag of results, first off was a home encounter against a struggling Tranmere side. I did the whole ‘corporate thing’ for this game and was in the Royal Box, it was a good job I did as the game itself was pretty awful, the chocolate torte I enjoyed at halftime however, was not. N’Guessan grabbed the only goal via the spot after Pritchard was hauled down just as he was about to pull the trigger, I was livid; I had a tenner on the diminutive winger to grab the first goal. I booed and whistled but N’Guessan finished with aplomb.
Next up was a thumping four nil away win at Rotherham, a score line so unexpected considering all the home pressure endured by our wobbly defence in the first quarter. Pritchard, Luongo, Ajose and N’Guessan all on target.
Town then dispatched Notts County back at the County Ground, with the effective partnership of Ranger and N’Guessan grabbing the goals, this propelled Swindon to the lofty heights of fifth, not many saw that coming at the start of the season, this ‘cutting your own cloth’ business was seemingly not too bad after all.
Sadly, we were all brought back down to earth with a bump when slick Walsall oozed into Town. A commanding, disciplined performance saw the Saddlers run out 3-1 winners, with Ranger grabbing a consolation goal in the last ten. This left many Town fans panicking, suggesting our style ‘had been found out’ and that the inevitable slide down the table was now just around the corner, now you could never brand our fans ‘kneejerk’ could you?
After a disappointing away showing at that World War II film set that is Boundary Park, Oldham, in which we only had an own goal to show for our efforts in a two-one loss. We pulled up our trousers, rolled back our sleeves and got back to work with a topsy-turvey 5-2 drubbing against Port Vale.