Learning from defeat

STFC007 reflects on the midweek 2-3 defeat at home to Rochdale, a first loss in 10 games…

Traditionally, previous Swindon Town players score against their former team at the County Ground; with both Calvin Andrew and Michael Rose in the Rochdale team required Town therefore on paper to score at least twice to get something out of the game. But on Tuesday night in front of a crowd of 6,718, even the two goals Swindon scored weren’t even enough for a draw as shocking defensive errors put an end to a nine match unbeaten run.

This was the first home match since – well, since ages. It felt like the start of a new season all over. The last game at the County Ground was the win against Sheffield United which took place two days after the Scottish Independence referendum – and who remembers that still?

Overall the performance wasn’t bad – in particular the second half, but it was far from the sparkling overpowering dominant display we have seen thus far in the campaign. As I drove home, with the thought that Swindon should perhaps have settled for a point towards the end, there were 6 things that stood out for me:

Not even a donkey hits its head twice on the same stone

When Swindon were in possession at the back to bring the ball back into play, Rochdale marked – our back line in particular – very tight. They allowed Wes Foderingham time on the ball and even as far as the centre circle at times – as each Rochdale player continued to mark their man with Swindon pushing up into Rochdale’s half. This played into Rochdale’s hand as it forced the long ball from Foderingham mainly as there was a lack of movement in midfield and up front where Swindon players did not even try to lose their marker. I lost count the number of times Foderingham was forced to play it long because of the lack of movement.

Wes must employ a footballer’s version of Tic-Tac, as he seems to tap the right side of his chest twice with his left hand before kicking the ball.  But why continue to kick the ball up to the smallest guy on the pitch? Although Nathan Byrne won one header in the second half, heading isn’t the strongest part of his game. I lost count in the first half of the number of times the ball was kicked high in his direction. Surely, switching position at the very last moment with a taller person would not only create movement and with it hopefully create some gaps but would also improve the chances of winning the second ball.

The defensive individual errors which allowed three headed goals reminded me of a period last season when Darren Ward played. If an opposition player has the time and freedom to even turn his body to create some extra torque before heading in the first goal, that surely must act as a warning that marking is to improve the remainder of the game. Granted, this is League One, but when then another headed goal is allowed to be scored – this time from a set-piece – not once but twice, it’s not ‘poor marking’ but ‘no marking’  when losing all points in the last minute of the game.

A Gung-Ho cavalier attitude when chasing the game will almost always end up in tears

Rochdale played very direct when countering, at times even breaking with five players. Swindon were warned early on in the game when Foderingham had to save with his legs following such a break. Rochdale were quick to commit men forward and get the ball into the final third. After Michael Smith’s equaliser with 15 minutes to play, Swindon were chasing the winner and came very close several times.  The Swindon back line were able to get away with it a few times, but the corner that led to Rochdale’s winner was the result of too many players committing themselves forward with insufficient cover at the back to deal with the counter attack.

Take your chances when you get them so you don’t have to chase the game when you do get a goal against

Swindon continues to squander too many chances. Don’t get me wrong, driving runs from the opposition half into the box from Luongo, Bell or Byrne are great to watch, but can become infuriating when there’s no end product.

It seems at times that some players are trying to walk the ball into the net when a toe poke would do. The angle may not be always right to get a clean shot away, but perhaps there are a few who should practice a bit more with their weaker foot and take the shot next time. Of the 14 shots Swindon had, 40% were on target and a third of those on target resulted in a goal.

Rochdale were quite a bit more efficient where 75% of the 8 goal attempts were on target with half of those ending up in the back of the net. Converting 40% of their corners into goals also isn’t too bad. There were a couple of really good chances for Swindon in the second half as they pressed initially for the equaliser and then the winner but Logan, Rochdale’s goalie making some great saves when called upon.

Start your your strongest team, with players in their best positions where possible

The starting line up was a surprise. If you leave Louis Thompson out because he was carrying an injury, why was he on the bench? If playing him from the start was too high a risk of aggravating the injury – possibly leading to a longer absence – why is it then OK to play him when you’re chasing the game? Cooper’s explanation of his inclusion in his post-match interview because “Thompson was desperate to be involved” seemed an odd thing to say.

So, Louis was out and so was his brother Nathan due to his red card in the previous match. Yaser Kasim moved to the back to aid the build-up from the back according to Mark Cooper. As mentioned earlier, this only worked some of the time. But having now both Louis and Yaser  missing from midfield removed a lot of steel and creativity which was too big a void to fill for both Gladwin and Rodgers. I don’t see the players train, but based on the performances of Jake Reeves thus far on the pitch, I was surprised he wasn’t in the starting line-up. He’s always on the move, either on the ball or making himself available to be on the ball, something that had been missing at times until he came on.

Would the end result have been different had Reeves come in from the start? Who knows, but Foderingham would have had an additional outlet for sure.

Lack of concentration continues to be an issue

The buildup to Rochdale’s equaliser was a comedy of errors, mostly due to lack of concentration. How can a throw-in land on the back of your own player? How can you end up out of position with the person you are meant to be marking suddenly appearing  between yourself and your ‘keeper?

It’s not only when the ball is in play, but also during dead ball situations. A quick short free kick being intercepted and instead of starting an attack, a counter attack sees a goal scoring opportunity for the opposition. This may have to do with maturity or communication, but mostly with a drop in concentration at times.

Winning when playing badly can sometimes mask some issues

Of course I wanted Swindon to win rather than Rochdale to score in the last minute via a disputed corner. But how often has a below par display been talked up just because it’s smiles all round after picking up 3 points.

Hopefully marking at set pieces and positioning during counter attacks may be taken a bit more seriously by the players during training after the loss at home. It should provide them with something to think about so defending set pieces will be better in future.

Winning is great, but after a loss it’s what is learned and taken into the next game that can be so much more important over the course of a season.

Another home game on Saturday, this time against Colchester and a great opportunity to right some of the wrongs of Tuesday’s game.

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