Swindon Town 1-0 Bristol City: A moment of madness and a moment of pure ecstasy
Michael Smith was the derby-day hero after he cut through the Bristol City defence like a hot knife through butter to secure a 1-0 win for the hosts. Writes Jonny Leighfield.
With Massimo Luongo and Yaser Kasim both away on international duty, Mark Cooper made some clever alterations in order to field as strong side as possible against the league leaders. He opted to place Jack Stephens into midfield alongside Louis Thompson with Ben Gladwin in the number 10 role, and despite a nervy comeback as a substitute last weekend Cooper started Raphael Rossi Branco in defence. Lastly, Michael Smith and Jonathan Obika started up front together.
Derby games are often fiery from the first whistle and this one was no different. Town regained possession almost straight from kick off and after a coming together between City captain Wade Elliott and Stephens, the former appeared to jerk his head back into the on-loan Saints man causing the referee to brandish the red card and put City down to ten men after only 90 seconds.
Bristol City manager Steve Cotterill felt that Stephens made the most of the perceived backwards head-butt, however after Elliott was accused of winding up Alex Pritchard last season at Ashton Gate which led to a red for the former Town loanee, perhaps some would feel justice has been served. I believe they call it karma, Steve.
The game continued at a high intensity with City players happy to kick lumps out of Swindon players to try to upset the Town’s smooth passing game. Wagstaff was booked for a nasty challenge on Harry Toffolo early on before some particularly moronic City fans decided to throw a couple of smoke bombs onto the pitch forcing referee Darren Drysdale to temporarily halt play.
The first half continued with a general theme of “close but no cigar” for both sides. City had a few corners which, thanks to poor deliveries, were wasted as well as a couple of weak crosses which were unable to find a purple shirt. Swindon also failed to score due to Gladwin apparently wearing slippers instead of football boots. The former Marlow man fluffed his lines when a golden chance was presented to him by Obika. Gladwin did have a couple of chances charged down by a resolute City defence later in the half but it looked as if his luck was out.
Swindon had the better of the first half creating a few half chances, but nothing that would have seen either side’s management shuffling nervously in their seats. Jack Stephens, looking much more accomplished in central midfield, ran through the heart of the City side but could only muster a tame shot wide of goal. Minutes later Ben Gladwin put a dangerous cross in towards the far post which just about evaded all desperate dives to leave the City goal un-breached at half time.
Swindon began the second half on the front foot as Obika’s deflected shot reached Toffolo who could only hit the crossbar from close range. Luckily for the on-loan Norwich youngster, he was offside.
One of City’s only real efforts at goal all game was a powerful drive from left back Joe Bryan. Although his shot was only inches wide of Wes Foderingham’s right-hand post, the Swindon stopper seemed more than happy to leave it alone. The sign of an excellent ‘keeper – know your angles.
The key turning point in Swindon’s grip on the match came when Byrne and Gladwin switched roles. This gave the quicker and more agile Byrne chances to find holes in a tiring City midfield and allowed Gladwin to outmuscle the full-backs and whip dangerous crosses into the box. From that point on, City rarely ventured out of their half for any meaningful periods of time.
Swindon continued to dominate and when Aden Flint nearly put through his own net, the pressure only mounted on the away team. The introduction of the seemingly forever-running Andy Williams for big man Jon Obika meant that the weary defence were not going to be given any sort of break for the remaining half an hour.
Nathan Byrne’s resurgent performance in the number 10 role was paying dividends but when the tricky winger crashed an effort off the bar from 25 yards and Gladwin fired just over from a similar distance, Swindon might have been forgiven for thinking it wasn’t going to be their day.
Although in the end, all of Swindon’s pressure paid off. With a lethargic City defence waiting, Michael Smith exchanged passes with Byrne before waltzing through a number of tired challenges and finishing with aplomb to send the 9,500 Town fans into ecstasy with a little over 10 minutes to go.
It was only in the last 10 minutes that the game was played as a derby match should be played; open, chances for both teams and end to end with both teams leaving everything out on the pitch. Although Swindon dropped deeper and deeper in order to preserve their one goal lead, Smith and Stephens still had efforts on goal which meant Fielding had to stay sharp to deal with both.
Nathan Byrne had a big chance to wrap the game up late on, driving at the City defence before selling Flint a casual dummy, however he could only poke the ball weakly at Fielding meaning that Town had to hold on to a one-goal lead for the remaining five minutes plus added time.
Shortly before four minutes were added though, Aaron Wilbraham had a great chance to equalise but could only skew the ball into the travelling fans behind the goal. A let off for Town and a sign that it would be their day after all.
Put all of the post-match sour grapes and unprofessional reactions from both sets of players aside, Swindon fully deserved to win this game. The Town played patient and clever football in order to break through a highly compact Bristol City defence and when all is said and done, Bristol City are undefeated no more.
Up to second in the league and with no cup competitions as a distraction, there can be little excuse for the Town to not end up in the top six come May. And who knows, maybe Swindon will cut through the rest of league one as easily as Michael Smith slipped through City’s defence…
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Header image – Guardian.com