Port Vale 2-3 Swindon Town: Comeback kings
A thoroughly well-earned three points at Vale Park for Mark Cooper, as Swindon Town can now seriously look toward the League One Play-Offs, reports Neil Mitchell.
Coming on the back of a great team performance in the midweek tussle with Peterborough United, hopes were high among the Swindon Town faithful that took the trip up to Port Vale. An ambitious looking formation and team selection took to the pitch as the wind and rain swirled. Alex Pritchard returned to the starting line-up and in such uncompromising weather conditions it was pleasing to see two man mountains run out in the shape of Michael Smith and Troy Archibald-Henville.
My main concern ahead of the kick off was that these conditions did not suit Swindon. It didn’t suit a team that wants to play neat one touch, the pitch was cutting up badly even during the pre-game warm up, how wrong I could be… Swindon started the quicker of the two teams and it was soon clear that what we were about to witness was to be stoic and gritty, with Town regularly to be first to the ball.
Man of the Match, Alex Pritchard was clearly relishing the encounter and could be seen playing a fairly free role across the midfield and down the flanks. The Port Vale defence not sure what to make of the diminutive, nippy player and he continued at high pace and with quality touches throughout and was to make a significant impact on proceedings.
Although we started brightly, a moment of lost concentration in the Swindon defence led to conceding on 20 minutes as Port Vale’s Doug Loft flicked the ball into the back of the net at the near post beating the Town defenders to a low cross.
Heads did not drop and Swindon got back into their stride moving the ball around confidently. Clearly still having the best of the action with corner after corner, where, in these difficult conditions, Pritchard must be commended for consistently delivering these into dangerous areas within the six-yard area. The goal was peppered with chances throughout the first half and a feeling was growing within the Town support that a goal was going to come soon.
That, it did… but in the wrong end. It was soon two goals for Port Vale as confusion reigned in the Swindon box which led to a clearance bouncing off a Town player and Tom Pope prodded the ball over the line in the 41st minute; the final action of note before half time.
Taking stock of my feeling at this point; Firstly, great disappointment, watching the team come together in mid-week as a ten man unit to overcome a two goal reverse was great to see. I was hoping to see the team capitalise on that here and give the team and fans the confidence they need entering the home straight at the end of this season. It was that fire and determination that they needed to build on if they were to have a hope of entering a play-off spot come May. However, what I had just witnessed was good, it was very good indeed, I saw determination, creativity and teamwork, I had also seen us concede two relatively soft goals. For me, hope was not lost, I felt there was still something to play for and as I looked around the Swindon fans I sensed a similar feeling. I certainly did not hear derision or a challenge to the tactics that had been employed thus far.
Swindon were to take the advantage of the windy conditions in the second half. They had been playing in the face of strong wind for the first 45 minutes and it would be important to use the same conditions to their advantage in the second period.
I think it is testament to the style of play that was employed up to this point that when Nile Ranger headed in from the left side of the six-yard area on 51 minutes, that I saw a steady stream of home fans choose to beat the traffic and get home into the warm. I can’t remember seeing so many people leave while their team was still leading by a goal but to be honest, I don’t blame them. Swindon had controlled the first half and were inexplicably two down, they were controlling the second half and the first goal came, it was clear to all that there was a lot more to come from this talented side.
Pritchard and Massimo Luongo were enjoying the possession game in the middle of the park and were threading passes to the rest of the team for fun. Nathan Byrne, Darren Ward, Archibald-Henville and Nathan Thompson had a relatively easy ride tidying up at the back and the overall unit looked solid and unlikely to concede, now also aided by Jacob Murphy, the on loan player from Norwich who made his debut in Town colours as Dany N’Guessan made way.
Then on 64 minutes, Swindon earned a free kick on the left of the penalty area, Pritchard placed the ball and we know what he is capable of, the ball sailed over the wall and into the top right corner. Swindon Town were now deservedly level.
There wasn’t a flicker that Swindon would sit back for a well earned point and as the sea of Port Vale fans leaving the ground started to turn into a tsunami, the Town continued to maraud forward in numbers. Then just four minutes later, Swindon got in behind the home side as Pritchard and Smith combined and crossed the ball to an appreciative Nathan Byrne on the far post who wasn’t going to miss.
A great result for Swindon Town. Micky Adams in the week commented that he didn’t want to concede three goals for a third game on the trot. Had Swindon not hit the bar twice and the post once in the second half, he may well have doubled that number in one game.