Swindon Town 1-0 Preston North End: Simply Glad for the Win

Brendan Hobbs has now finally reported on a Swindon Town victory. Preston North End were the unfortunate ones on the end of a one goal defeat…

A fresh spring day welcomed football history heavyweights Preston North End to the County Ground; they breezed into Wiltshire stinking of a team with an enviable history littered with League titles, FA Cups and former football museums. The Lilywhites were oozing confidence that comes hand in hand with an impressive away record and were currently experiencing a twelve match unbeaten run. Sitting safely ensconced in the playoffs and looking a fair bet to buy a ticket for the end of season lottery, Preston must have been hopeful of returning north with all three points safely stashed in their backpack.

Town on the other hand were simply looking to overcome a prolonged period of indifference, perhaps the recent derby day point won at our nearest and dearest would provide the much needed spark to help us overcome our strong opponents – a team who Town have failed to beat at the County Ground since 1978.

With Nathan Byrne already ruled out and Alex Pritchard suspended, Swindon lined up (initially I thought) in a 3-5-2 formation, with Captain Nathan Thompson and the lesser spotted Alex Smith acting as dynamic wing backs. Darling of the Adver Comments section and reverse scapegoat Miles Storey breezed back into the fold following a short loan spell at Shrewsbury. He nestled in nicely alongside Michael Smith, fitting the classic tall man, quick man tactical profile, or as the official FA Coaching Manual calls it – the “Flick it on n’ run like f*ck” tactic. With the official team announced, a few more surprises lurked, out went injured midfielders Ryan Harley and the impressive Louis Thompson. In came the returning Yaser Kasim and curiously, young Ben Gladwin got a start.

The validity of his conclusion was being furiously debated as the game kicked off; it was rudely interrupted by the man himself as he started pinging the ball around like freaking Zidane. A series of rangy strokes were dispatched with ease around the pitch, reminding me of Hoddle in his pomp. The on-going debate was silenced permanently when Gladwin squirmed free out on the wing, displaying some dainty footwork before gliding past a bewildered defender. As the crowd drew breath in an anticipation of a mishit cross, he defied them all with a tantalising delivery that only just evaded the Town attack.

The game soon settled down, with Town soon resorting to a standard 4-4-2 and Preston keeping the lion’s share of early possession – getting the ball wide and launching cross after cross into the Town box.  Swindon on the other hand were left to use stabbing counter-attacks, usually via Gladwin as their main offensive threat.

Several key battles were taking shape across the pitch, with the former Oxford forward Craig Davies endlessly tussling with Jack Stephens, and an interesting confrontation was brewing between Paul Gallagher and Nathan Thompson as to who had the more putrid coloured boots. Nath had a strong case, with his breath-taking orange numbers on show but Gallagher matched this with his yellow efforts, which segued not-so-easily on the eye into his lemon socks. In my opinion though, the right back just shaded this competition.

Davies started carving out a few chances for the Lilywhites, using his muscular frame to good effect and whilst channelling the spirit of North End legend Tom Finney, he forced himself into several good positions but just failed with the killer finish. His running battle with the impressive Stephens however started taking its toll, as he got more and more frustrated with his team mates. Maybe he was just feeling sick for having to endure wearing yellow and blue again.

Gallagher meanwhile was evidently more frustrated at losing the disgusting boot comp, by planting an elbow straight into the mush of his nemesis, Thompson – much to the ire of the Don Rogers contingent. From my viewpoint it looked a total accident and no malice was intended, but like all good fans it didn’t stop me leaping from my seat in disgust, waving faux red cards around like Luis Suarez on heat.

Gladwin Pill Packet

Meanwhile up at the frontline, Smith and Storey were finding life hard, with the impressive physicality of PNE centre backs not giving them a millisecond on the ball, but once this was negated by delivering the ball on the deck, things got easier and the best chance of the half fell to Storey.

It came from one real moment of quality, courtesy of a cultured, curving through ball from Mass Luongo. He picked the ball up in midfield, made some quick yards (which give Storey vital time to warm up his afterburners) and steered a delicate and perfectly weighted ball into the path of the young forward, slicing open the PNE defence.

With his boosters flaring dramatically, Storey, obviously channelling the spirit of Swindon legend Steve Finney, kicked on leaving the defender to play catch up, which he did to his credit but failed to stop Miles getting his shot away. Just as a thousand keyboard warriors started salivating with thought of typing ‘I told you so’ into umpteen social media tools, the move was denied the finish the pass so richly deserved when the ever excellent Declan Rudd made the stop.

The County Ground crowd, strangely subdued up to this point, started to find a voice, but unfortunately the chants of support soon dissolved into a volley of anger directed towards the official in the middle.

Yes siree, referee Iain Williamson kept us on our toes all game with some strange decisions, which he carried out with a truly headmasterly air. He brilliantly b*llocked Alex Smith for not listening to him whilst taking a throw in, he accomplished this by making over-the-top dramatic ear waggling gestures towards the wing back. I then expected him to aggressively accuse Ben Gladwin of ‘chewing’ before sending letters home to parents for every bad tackle. A for effort Mr Williamson.

Preston started ramping up the pressure before the half time break with chances falling again to Davies and also to Joe Garner, who had the best Preston chance of the half when his header forced Foderingham into a smart save low down.

This time it was the PNE supporters, also strangely subdued up to this point, who started to find a voice. Bizarrely though, instead of chanting messages of support to their team, they started singing about their love for the flowering plant genus ‘Paeonia’  – by hypnotically chanting ‘Peony, peony, peony, peony’. Now that was just weird.

Anywho, there was still time left in the half for some more lung-busting runs from Ben Gladwin and further excellent break up play from Kasim before Iain Williamson blew his whistle for half time. As the players all turned towards the dressing room, Mr Williamson could be clearly heard shouting “Where are you lot going? That’s a signal for me, not for you.”

Town emerged for the second half looking refreshed and arranged in a different formation, it appeared the team had reverted back to the wing-backed 3-5-2 formation and boy, did it pay dividends.

From the off, Town attacked with vigour and purpose. Miles Storey was a man/boy reborn, getting more seconds on the ball in the first ten minutes that he managed in the entire first half. Whilst coming deeper to collect the ball he started running at the defenders with real purpose, scaring the living daylights out of them and forcing corners on a regular basis. Kasim skimmed a volley just wide before Michael Smith saw his goal-bound effort deflected past the post, forcing yet another corner.

Preston seemed unable to cope with Town’s new found energy and shape and they finally buckled on 55 minutes courtesy of another amazing Gladwin run. With a ball control style reminiscent of one David Bamber, Gladwin languidly turned his marker inside out before being felled in the box. It was claimed that the tremor caused when he finally hit the deck worried fixtures and fittings as far away as Stratton St Margaret.

Amongst all the congratulatory back slapping and arse tapping, Michael Smith calming scooped up the ball and strode purposefully towards the penalty spot. Smith pulled up his socks, the crowd hushed, a bird chirruped, sunlight gently glinted off his balls of steel and BAAANNNGG! It was in the net, a strike that was confidence personified. I like Michael Smith.

On the back of this, Preston manager Simon Grayson decided to make wholesale changes, bringing off Joe Garner, Neil Kilkenny and Craig Davies and replacing them with John Welsh and strikers Stuart Beavon and Kevin Davies. Ahhhh Kevin Davies, what’s not to like? A great player to bring on in such a situation and to think, he netted at the County Ground for Chesterfield back in 1995, that’s 1995 for chrissakes!!! Its testament to the man and his fitness that I almost shat a brick in fear when entered the field of play. The triple change almost brought dividends immediately with Davies getting involved in a loose scramble in the penalty box, forcing Foderingham into a tidy save.

The initial Preston onslaught was not forthcoming though, as it was Town who continued to press with Alex Smith forcing Rudd into a save with an effort from range. Substitute John Welsh also continued to press, his studs that is, into Luongo’s shin after a particularly bone crunching tackle. Carrying on the theme, Rudd continued to impress pulling off another great save from a point blank goal bound Michael Smith header – who also had another convincing penalty shout turned down as he was seemingly hauled down just before making contact with a Storey/Gladwin/Smith (I forget which, soz) cross.

The Don Rogers crowd were deeply impressed by the pair of Smiths on show, and gamely tried to get a chant going riffing on the Louis/Nathan Thompson classic with a Michael/Alex version. It didn’t take off unfortunately, the original complex rhythms laid down by 2-Unlimited are not easily transferrable it seems.

The inevitable Preston siege soon came with Foderingham pulling off saves denying Beavon and Davies. With pulses racing and anuses clenched there was still time for Tom Clarke to head over with a free header, a deserved MOTM award for Gladwin, a standing ovation for a subbed Gladwin and some Kasim orientated handbags and with that the day was complete, the whistle went.

I love the language of failure; I think it offers a writer an abundance of tools to really enjoy themselves. If I read reviews of anything, cinema, books, I’ll always read the most critical, the most savage ones first. And believe me I’ve had plenty of practise at writing about failure, every game I’ve ever written a match report for has ended in defeat so this was a new experience for me – and I liked it…. a lot.

Man of the Match for me was easily Ben Gladwin, with his rapier like runs, scalpel sharp incisions and breath-taking range of passing. It’s easy to forget that the guy is only 21 and only a matter of months ago was playing for Marlow. Kasim and Troy ran him close, with Kasim breaking up Preston’s midfield play quickly and intelligently – and Troy just well, breaking stuff up.

The match also showed that the resolute rear-guard action witnessed in the Bristol game wasn’t a fluke, Stephens, TAH and McEverley make a great back three, pacey and decisive – exactly what we haven’t been all season.

And Preston? Well they looked strong, organised and caused Swindon lots of problems. Out of all the play-off hopefuls that have come to the County Ground, the pretty play of Leyton Orient, the aimless lumbering of Peterborough, Preston so far look a good bet. They have the players and importantly an experienced ‘bought the t-shirt’ manager – I certainly might slip a few quid on them come the end of season lottery.

Header image from skysports.com

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