Stevenage 2-0 Swindon Town: Away woes continue…

Every now and then this season, this team has the ability to throw in a real stinker of a performance, especially away from home. Swindon Town’s Tuesday night’s defeat by Stevenage put that into sharp relief. Writes Scott Keith.

Mark Cooper decided the team that had shown plenty of resilience in the win over Peterborough United could do a similar job against the league’s bottom side. It left Grant Hall in the relatively unfamiliar position of left back and Raphael Rossi-Branco continuing in central defence. Ryan Harley returned to the bench, with Ben Gladwin omitted from the 18. There was certainly some logic in the decision when you were reminded how the home side play under Graham Westley. Get it forward quickly, and have no guilt about pumping the ball into the corners.

The first half hour or so wasn’t too inspiring from either side. Stevenage forced some early corners, and Town had one shot from Nile Ranger blocked when the ball was pulled back to him. Things were improving a little, from a very modest base, when Alex Pritchard’s long range shot seemed to take a deflection as it dipped sharply late on to thump off the crossbar. Mason also had an effort tipped away by Stevenage keeper Chris Day, while Zoko headed in a long throw when offside.

Pritchard did play his part in the opening goal though. He lost possession trying to flick Wes Foderingham’s throw out forward, and the home team fed the ball to striker Lucas Akins. He wasn’t closed down around 22 yards out, and though his shot wasn’t venomous, it was hit cleanly enough to beat Foderingham low to his left and make it 1-0. While there was lots to like from Rossi-Branco again he may have to take some responsibility.

The hope was that Town would emerged more fired up and less slothful for the second period. But an early penalty killed that. Zoko used his strength to turn inside Rossi-Branco on the edge of the area, and Grant Hall galloped in like some form of vaguely unkempt wildebeest to try and rescue things. He went down in a heap with Zoko in what looked an obvious penalty. Morais spot-kick sneaked in and it was 2-0.

Thereafter Stevenage went into containment mode, happy to send the ball into the murkier areas of their not particularly well lit ground and slow play down.  Their limits remained obvious but their desire to contest things physically certainly didn’t.  Ashton in defence, for example, never really let Ranger settle.

George Barker made his debut as Yaser Kasim, one of the few to stand out, attempted to drive the team forward from midfield and inject some life into things. Barker went into the left of the three forwards and looked to cut in on his right foot, having a couple of shots blocked in the process by the Stevenage grunts in defence. He looks relatively small but neat and tidy enough.

The best chance came in one of the more flowing moves when Ranger poked the ball to an in space Pritchard on the edge of the box. He needed a touch to set up the shot, and by then Stevenage were back to cover. Ryan Mason’s free-kick was saved by Day in the very final action but hope of something positive was just a theoretical concept by then – and in truth some time before.

The game brought Hall’s left-back issues into focus. He simply doesn’t look comfortable to inject energy and width into the play by galloping down the left side and the contrast with the absent Jay McEveley is obvious. He’s not always effective when defending one on one either. It would be unfair to pick on Hall when so many players didn’t show what they can, but he just doesn’t look effective in that position.

A word on the atmosphere: terrible. With around 300-350 Town fans in a crowd of 2,100 or so, it felt like a Conference match, but whatever their limitations on and off the pitch, Stevenage got the job done far more efficiently than Town.

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