Swindon 1-4 Wolves: Town drivel as Wolves’ fans drool
Michael Smith’s second-half goal provided scant consolation for Town fans in a stinging 4-1 home defeat by a Wolves side bustling with strength, collective effort and, Leon Clarke, writes Alex Cooke.
Swindon manager Mark Cooper labelled 45 minutes of this display “outstanding” but seemed to choose the wrong half and the wrong team, for despite Swindon’s improvement after the break, Kenny Jackett’s predatory side had torn Town’s defensive unit to pieces with an ease and economy of effort that showed why they deserve promotion this season.
Not that Swindon made it hard for the visitors, the defence shorn of the pace of Troy Archbald-Henville and Nathan Thompson through injury, sat high and looked shapeless as Raphael Rossi Branco was frequently became drawn out of position. Branco was trying to support Nathan Byrne at right back, whom Wolves seemed to have targeted by pushing the muscular Nouha Dicko up against him, but the protestations and gestations of Jay McEverley did little to pull the Brazilian back into line.
A lack of pressure in the centre of the pitch did little to help Town’s back four as Swindon’s trio in the middle seemed unable to impose themselves on their Wolverhampton peers. And with Dany N’Guessan on the right flank, in for Louis Thompson, moving only through continental drift, the task was made even harder.
The first goal came from a weak Byrne clearance, but that was only the final error in a long string of mistakes. James Henry then swung a cross towards Tyrell Belford’s back post for Bakary Sako to headed home. It was simple, as was much of Wolves play, but it showed the value of having millions in parachute payments to pay players of this quality and speed.
Wolves dominated the half, in terms of territory and physically, but Swindon still found pockets in which to play just in front of their defence. Alex Pritchard took a pair of shots sandwhiching a cross from the by-line to Smith, only for the striker to head over the bar under pressure.
Sadly Town again failed to apply such pressure to Wolves’ midfield as Dicko and Sako were released time and again by balls behind Darren Ward. Many will blame Swindon’s captain for his lack of pace but to create a situation in which he had to defend almost alone against balls dropped behind the backline wasn’t of his making. Against a team this enthused and talented defeat was always likely but tactically Town seemed to help them play to their numerous strengths.
Twice more in the half Belford was beaten, through no fault of his own, once by Sako, once by Dicko, both after Town were carved open through the middle. And it could have been more with Dicko hitting the post, as well as talented pair Henry and Michael Jacobs having chances.
In a game which seemed to be dribbling to a horrible close, the second half saw an improvement in Town’s team and tactics. The defence were allowed to drop deeper and given a shield as over the next 12 minutes Cooper made three substitutions. Immediately N’Guessan with George Barker as Pritchard was shuffled to a more central position and Jack Barthram added width to the right flank replacing the potentially injured Byrne. Yaser Kasim also came off for Thompson and it was the former trainee who first injected energy into Swindon with a couple of driving runs into the channels. A scoring chance disappeared when he drove across the face of goal rather than look up to see Smith pulling to the edge of the six-yard-box but Town were finally showing what they could do.
Jackett’s men were undoubtedly coasting but Swindon’s confidence swelled when good work from Barker and Pritchard gave Massimo Luongo a chance from the edge of the box only for the Australian international to side foot over. In the 73rd minute Smith’s effort was rewarded when he turned defender Danny Batth inside the box and finished neatly. It was the first goal Wolves had conceded in almost 680 minutes.
If the game was petering out, Branco, Sako and Dicko kept interest up with a spat, or spit, on the right flank, before Dicko was withdrawn and Leon Clarke was introduced. McEverley almost sealed a man-of-the-match display with a back-header against the bar from a delightful Smith cross, but it wasn’t to be.
Instead Clarke roused Wolves, waltzing through the Town defence and lifted a delightful finish into Belford’s net. If the goal was harsh on Swindon in the second half, it wasn’t for the game overall; Swindon were poor while Wolves attacked and defended as a pack. Their unity and hunger showed, and so it should with a team unchanged in nine games and funded by £16 million in parachute payments. There is a correlation between a club’s wage bill and its league performance, and last night it was clear where both side are financially.
But there were positives for Swindon, largely taken from the second half, particularly in Pritchard, McEverley, Thompson and Byrne. Barker also showed a neatness of touch and moments of incision, while Smith demonstrated again that he can score but will need to be given more than hopeful crosses and hoofed clearances.
After the game Jackett admitted that Wolves tried to “manage” the game, admitting that his side, “rode their luck and at times we were fortunate not to concede more goals”. But why did it take so long for Swindon to find their feet, their fight and to sort their shape?