Swindon 2-2 Oldham Athletic: Two wonder strikes and two tap-ins
Amari Morgan-Smith rescued a late point for Oldham Athletic on a disappointing night at the County Ground, writes Joe Young.
Having watched Oldham stifle Swindon at Boundary Park last season I was hoping that one year on, and with home advantage, we could dominate the Latics with our possession based football and enact some revenge.
Returning to the County Ground for my first league game in quite some time (since when did we play Glad All Over every time we scored?) I was finally able to get a decent side on view rather than being tucked away in a corner. Primarily used to going to northern away games I have become accustomed to being pushed in to corners with poor views (with Boundary Park being one of the worst culprits).
Town lined up in their 3-5-2 formation and I was interested to watch Oldham’s response. Lee Johnson’s stuck with a 4-4-2 and pressed our backline high up the pitch. This proved to be a surprisingly effective tactic as Swindon struggled to move the ball and keep possession. With my usual perspective altered, it seemed to me that nobody in the midfield would drop back to offer an extra option. I can’t decide whether this was because I’m used to having my view foreshortened from behind the goal, and the midfield moved as normal, or because Massimo Luongo and Yaser Kasim were being so tightly marked that they didn’t want to drop back and crowd the area even more.
But despite the slow progress, Swindon were still the dominant side in the first half. Nathan Byrne found himself free down the right hand side and after an enterprising run delivered the ball in to the middle where Michael Smith could only fire wide. He could, and should, have done better. Byrne impressed throughout, and if anything Town looked to him too much. Countless times Brad Smith had found significant space down the left, only to be ignored and not see the ball come. If the ball did come, it hadn’t come quick enough.
Oldham were enterprising and working hard to keep Swindon from playing. When in possession themselves they were keen to hit the channel down either side of the back three. This tactic was not resulting in any clear cut chances, but did stretch Town and lead to a number of corners – which were defended resolutely.
For all Oldham’s effort and work, I really didn’t feel that they were particularly threatening and it was some surprise, and against the run of play, when they took the lead in dramatic style. A free kick was moved to the side and James Dayton smashed it in beyond Foderingham – who had no chance. It was the kind of strike that you’re tempted to just applaud and reminded me of Marlon Broomes! (Or Macclesfield in the FA Cup two years ago… Thankfully I didn’t bump in to the whole Oldham squad at Greenbridge KFC this time.)
Oldham’s lead didn’t last long. Four minutes later Town were level as Jonathan Obika pounced for his third goal in two games. A corner was sent in to the box (to the joyous rapture of the masses) and Obika was on hand to scramble it home. It was the least Swindon deserved from a first half, which though devoid of free flowing football, had been dominated by the home side.
A half-time there was time to reflect on what I had learned. After a quick check of BBC football’s match page, it was mainly that 61% possession doesn’t translate in to dominating territory. 9% of the possession was probably held by Foderingham in Swindon’s penalty area.
In many respects, the second half was a carbon copy of the first, though in this case the traffic was still all going in the same direction. Oldham, in their hideous yellow shirts, began to dominate the game and had long spells in control of the ball. They started to play the ball out from the back, and I wondered whether this was a deliberate ploy to bring our wing backs forward and attempt to exploit the space in the channels behind them even more.
If it was it didn’t work. Oldham had a lot of the ball and took control of the game, but I strongly believe that despite their tireless work ethic that they just aren’t quite as good as us on the ball, although in my opinion, they are certainly a better side than I saw at Boundary Park last season.
Against the run of play substitute Andy Williams, on for Michael Smith, was sent through by the excellent Byrne and took his opportunity to smack a glorious strike in to the back of the net. Still confused by our “new” goal celebration music I was embarrassingly caught out trying to clap normally – when a double clap and Glad All Over seemed to be the order of the day.
Just to prove the second half was indeed a carbon copy, Town’s lead lasted four minutes again before Morgan-Smith swept in from a scrappy free-kick. I didn’t see why the free-kick was given, but according to a supporter I passed on the way out a player had been scythed down after setting somebody free down the right. Having played a slight advantage the referee brought play back and awarded Oldham the free kick. Assuming this second hand version of events is correct, then I think that the referee ought to be applauded for his actions. This type of decision making encourages attacking play rather than cynical defending – and can only help Town’s attacking play if implemented more widely.
It was interesting to note that the Oldham Evening Chronicle didn’t feel the need to mention this piece of decision making, despite the thinly veiled criticism of referee Graham Horwood’s performance included earlier in their match report.
Ultimately both team’s deserved to get something out of the game, which had moments of entertainment in an otherwise fairly dull match. Despite Swindon not playing the type of football I was hoping to see after finally making it to a home game I’m not prepared to give up on Cooper’s method just yet. We are still a very good footballing side and even watching us struggle our way to a draw is way beyond some of the stuff I’ve seen in the dark days of the past.
Finally, it should not be forgotten that Oldham are by no means a bad side. They work hard, are well organised and carry their own threat going forward. Only time will tell whether this was two points dropped or a good point gained.