It’s taken 56 years, but Swindon have finally won in Doncaster…
A brilliant late strike from Jon Obika sent the hardy away following into delirium as Swindon Town clinched their first ever win in Doncaster, reports Ross Barrett…
There is no feeling quite like a last minute winner. The moment of ecstasy that followed Jon Obika’s wonderfully struck left-foot drive hitting the net was one of absolute mania for the few hundred Town supporters. The ball looked like it had been sucked into the net by the sheer will of the fans to keep the team’s promotion hopes alive – a prospect that with a performance of this stature is within Swindon’s grasp.
Yet, preceding the game the omens were not good for Town – they had never beaten Doncaster in South Yorkshire. Also, they had been stifled in a 0-1 loss to the Rovers at home earlier in the season. Plus Town were cursed by the prospect of having to once again don the eye-watering magenta kit that had coincided with some of the worst performances of Town’s season.
Despite these there was a cautious optimism amongst the Town faithful as a measly crowd filtered into the Keepmoat – Town had been controlling if not their free-flowing best in recent games and had looked somewhat back to the side that had us all dreaming of promotion.
Much of this recent success has come in tandem with the use of a fluid 3-6-1 formation and it was this set up that was initially employed again by manager Mark Cooper. Changes in personnel were enforced though through the precautionary absence of Massimo Luongo and the illness of Jack Barthram. Yaser Kasim was reintroduced to the starting XI as a result while Town had to once again be content with a reduced bench. Cooper also opted to hand Michael Smith a start in the place of top goalscorer Andy Williams. Rovers made just a solitary adjustment with live-wire Kyle Bennett replacing Harry Forrester in an experienced Doncaster side that is still clinging on to play off hopes.
For a moment like Obika’s 91st minute strike to be so special you must have first undertaken both hardship and hope. Both these trends were evident as the match began, with Town controlling the game without creating any significant chances. The tempo of the game was somewhat laborious and Town’s half was epitomised by John Swift who offered glimpses of skilful promise, testing Rovers ‘keeper Bywater on a couple of occasions, but also being too indecisive and safe in possession.
Rovers also offered little cause for excitement with Town’s back three, who were also protected by the impressive Kasim and Stephens, meeting the rather one-dimensional Donny attacks with nonchalance and authority. While the occasional long ball to Curtis Main created moments of worry for the competing Nathan Thompson, Doncaster in truth offered almost as little attacking threat as they did in their backs-to-the-wall display at the County Ground in December.
This is to take nothing away from the excellent Jordan Turnbull, who was able, along with Thompson and Branco, to display one of the more commanding defensive displays from this young Town side. Town were never going to make it that easy for themselves though. A lapse in concentration at a throw in allowed Nathan Tyson to ghost to the byline and square the ball for Main, who having missed a similar chance earlier in the half, this time connected well enough to beat the sprawling legs of Foderingham.
The second half brought with it greater tempo and excitement as the game began to get stretched. Doncaster came on strong with Foderingham forced to deny both Bennett and Clarke-Harris but it was Swindon who would eventually reap the rewards of a more end-to-end game. The open spaces now available were seized upon by Town and notably by Gladwin, whose direct dribbling and long shots almost forced Bywater into spilling into his own net before a driving run was halted in the box.
Nerves filled the away end as Smith, who had missed two of his last three penalties, lined up the resulting kick. But Smith was able to dispel his demons by emphatically striking the ball into the bottom left corner of the net to put Town level.
With the hardship of Town’s lapse over and Swindon level, hope of a first ever win in South Yorkshire was palpable as Town went on the attack. Although Doncaster fired numerous shots at the Robins’ goal in a frenzied period after the hour mark, with Tyson’s rasping drive requiring a strong block from Foderingham, it was Town’s openings that were more clear-cut and the travelling fans could scarcely believe it as Swift’s tap in, put on a plate by a wonderful cross from the tireless Smith, was somehow scrambled away by a stretching Bywater.
This was the cue for Cooper to boldly replace Swift with match-winner Obika. He joined Williams, who had earlier replaced Gladwin, to form a potent strike force in an aggressive 3-4-3 – a tactical gamble unfamiliar to Town’s generally safe, percentage philosophy. But it was Cooper who would be revelling in the plaudits as in the dying moments Turnbull perfected a through ball that sent the fresh Obika into space on the left hand side of the area. With only the far corner of the goal to aim for Obika drilled a composed finish arrow-like into the bottom right hand corner and towards the Town fans that he had now sent wild.
More than just a moment of brilliance this was just reward for a well thought out and executed game plan. And while this was still not the vintage football we have come to witness at times this season it said a lot about the composure, focus and drive of these young players. Traits that can stand us in very good stead come the promotion deciding games of April.
Such insights though do not tell the true story. As for those few hundred fanatics crossing half the country on a Tuesday night it was the moment of pure adrenalin as the ball slammed into the net that will be remembered. It is moments like that that we are so addicted to. And feelings like that that have us dancing gleefully down the streets of Doncaster…