Swindon Town 1-2 Rotherham United: See you in August
With the farcical end to Notts County bringing the unlikely play-off hopes to a formal end, the visit of Rotherham United to the County Ground was a chance (within reason) to relax and enjoy the final Swindon Town game of the campaign without too much tension. Writes Scott Keith.
There were several changes to the side – three were enforced thanks to the red cards for Nathan Thompson and Troy Archibald-Henville, plus Alex Pritchard’s return to Spurs. Jack Barthram replaced Thompson (N) at right back, with Jay McEveley slotting in the defensive three and Nathan Byrne put on to the left in a 3-5-2. Louis Thompson and Ben Gladwin joined Massimo Luongo in midfield, and Connor Waldon was handed his first start alongside Michael Smith. The bench was heaving with youth, including new pros Matt Jones and Curtis Da Costa and teenage striker Will Randall.
With the roll of honour taking place before kick-off, the applause had barely died down before Rotherham took the lead, breaking the play up in midfield and slipping in Wes Thomas inside the penalty area. The one time Town transfer target slid the ball past Wes Foderingham with less than 60 seconds on the clock.
That would set the pattern for most of the first half. While some teams decided the best way to deal with Town at home was to cede possession up to the halfway line, they had a different plan, which was to swarm around live a hive of hyperactive slate grey bees. No-one was able to bring the ball out, and chaos was often the result. Jack Stephens had his least impressive game to end his loan spell, and we saw the more chaotic side of Raphael Rossi-Branco. Only Jay McEveley, in what proved to be his final game, looked with it.
Stephens was caught in possession in the move that lead to the second – the ball was sent quickly out to blonde haired left winger Ben Pringle, and a deep cross was watched by Branco as it reached the head of Thomas, who stuck it in via the crossbar. At this point it felt as if a reversal of the 4-0 at the New York Stadium was more than possible. Rotherham don’t really do art or sophistication (see their manager) but they did do ferocious hard work and then sling it in the box.
Stephens headed one cute free-kick from McEveley straight at the ‘keeper, but if this had been half-time in October a volley of boos would have greeted the performance. It was a tough half for Waldon against two physical centre halves and he was feeling the weight of their aggression.
Most of the talk at half-time centred on the possibility of Bristol Rovers exiting the Football League.
The second half though, was infinitely more acceptable fare. Michael Smith could have had a hat-trick, heading wide two chances and then having his shot tipped away after the hulking Claude Davis lost his footing. But Smith would get partial redemption after Luongo was tripped by Icelandic defender Kari Arnason inside the box. He took the penalty despite missing his last one at home to Brentford, and tucked it in to the keeper’s right.
George Barker had replaced Ben Gladwin by this time, but his career so far remains mostly ineffectual. Teenage forward Will Randall was also brought on for his senior debut with Waldon, as it turned out, doing enough to be offered terms for next season.
It might have all ended with the ideal finish for McEveley, who smacked the cross bar with a ferocious striker from a pre-planned corner routine when he received the ball at the edge of the box, but the final minutes all felt slightly chaotic.
The absurdities of the Steve Evans touch line routine came to the fore, and Matt Jones was added to the “two generations played for Swindon” list when the son of Tom was thrown on late to allow McEveley an ovation all of his own.
But no equaliser was forthcoming. The energy of the second half and the lack of relevance of the final result made defeat a fairly tolerable experience, and the moving on was brutal, with the retained list hitting the doormat barely an hour after the final whistle.
Alex Smith was perhaps the most surprising name to be ushered out, after some good wing-back performances in between injuries. The others, for a mix of finance, ability and/or enthusiasm, were largely anticipated.
It may take more shrewd work in the loan market to produce an equally competitive team in August but at least it’s not Goodnight Irene. Now she’s got a summer and a half to contend with.