Swindon Town 2-2 Coventry City: Ajose Nicks a point
Adam Tanner travelled to the County Ground, hoping to watch Swindon Town send their visitors back to Coventry…
Tuesday’s feeble collapse against an Oldham Athletic side, which had won just one of its previous 23 competitive matches, represented a new low for Swindon – who had lost five consecutive home League games for only the third time ever.
Whereas Coventry City had started the season strongly, and approached the game in fourth place. Their record of having scored one goal in their previous four matches suggested that they were far from unbeatable, as did their failure to beat Swindon in a league fixture in nine attempts, stretching back to 1964. A distinct lack of neighbours in League One meant that, with a mere 74 miles between the clubs, this represented our local derby.
Two changes were made from the midweek line-up. Jordan Turnbull returned from suspension to replace Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill at left back, while Henrik Ojamma took the place of Drissa Traore in midfield. Encouragingly, a trio of previously injured attackers – Fabien Robert, Jon Obika and Jermaine Hylton – reappeared on the bench, to give the squad a first glimpse of the depth which it has been so desperately lacking.
Coventry started the game with some purpose and Turnbull was twice required to produce one of the perfectly timed sliding tackles which he so often gets right. Generally, however, the first half represented a major improvement on recent performances. Town competed well, and created a few half chances.
First, Turnbull showed his attacking qualities to break forward and drive a shot towards goal which was firm, but a bit too ambitious. Ben Gladwin also got some force behind his 35-yard free kick but, again, he was too far out to seriously trouble the ‘keeper. On another occasion, Gladwin gained a few extra yards in a promising move on the break, but frustratingly slipped on the edge of the Coventry area as he was about to pull the trigger.
However, on the stroke of half time, Coventry came close to taking a lead. Turnbull was beaten down the left by former Town target Ryan Kent, whose near post effort was pushed into the area by the diving Lawrence Vigouroux towards Joe Cole. The former International, who, with the ‘keeper grounded, had plenty of time to line up a shot. His rushed effort wasn’t clean, and Bradley Barry was well placed on the line to clear it. Cole had generally failed to trouble Swindon’s leaky defence and didn’t reappear after the break.
The opening stages of the second half represented a further improvement, as Swindon broke forward with pace and purpose. Ojamma enjoyed his most productive spell for the club. First, he had a firm goalbound shot blocked after being played in by Anton Rodgers, before, moments later, he played a positive low cross towards Nicky Ajose, whose backheel lacked any power. Unfortunately, despite the positive signs, we were left in a familiar position Town hadn’t seriously threatened to score.
This failure to capitalise on some relative dominance was punished when, in the 66th minute, Coventry scored out of the blue. Vigouroux got caught underneath a hanging cross from the left touchline, and the unclaimed ball fell to Romain Vincelot, who fired it into the net.
As has often been the case lately, a conceded goal killed Swindon’s momentum, and in the 81st minute, the deficit doubled. Coventry substitute Jacob Murphy ran menacingly at Adam El-Abd, who was adjudged to have pulled his shirt just inside the box. Vigouroux saved the penalty with his legs, but was unable to prevent the taker, Marcus Tudgay, from knocking in the rebound.
As Swindon had scored just twice in 530 minutes of October football, a further two goals in a mere 10 minutes looked about as likely as a naked lady riding through the streets on horseback. This was especially against a defence which had kept five straight clean sheets. A sixth consecutive home league defeat, equalling the club record set in 1956, seemed inevitable.
Fortunately, Town weren’t willing to let this game go quite as tamely as the previous few. For much of the match, Ben Gladwin had flattered to deceive. In the 84th minute, his quality finally shone. Gladwin effortlessly rode a couple of half-hearted challenges, sailed into the Coventry area, and lashed a left-footed shot into the roof of the net from 12-yards to give Town a slim chance of a draw.
In stoppage time, the County Ground finally had something worth celebrating. Raphael Rossi-Branco delivered a high cross from the right towards Nicky Ajose, with his back to goal inside the area. Whether the foul was given for a pull on the striker, or a subsequent handball, doesn’t matter; Swindon had their first penalty of the season. Ajose got up, and calmly rolled it in.
With Coventry now on the ropes, Town had a couple of minutes to push for a remarkable win, but the incredibly erratic Rodgers made a hash of a corner and the moment was gone. Still, a well-deserved point was in the bag, and I headed back up the A429 towards my resident Coventry in much better spirit than the away fans.
Here are some reflections:
Raphael Rossi Branco
The Bristol City fixture in April represented a crossroads in Branco’s Swindon career. Aden Flint is certainly a difficult opponent, but Branco’s attempts to defend him at set pieces, committing a series of cynical fouls without so much as looking at the ball, were embarrassing. Although the referee didn’t notice, the cameras did, and a suspension understandably followed.
Over the summer, some self-assessment has clearly gone on, and we now have a mature mainstay of the team who has deservedly played every minute of the season so far. Of course, like any lower league centre back, he will never have the ability of a matchwinner. But he has the mentality of one, and, if the season ended now, he would win my vote for Player of the Year. Keep it up, Rafa.
Blast from the Past
One Saturday in October 2002, Swindon scrambled back from 2-0 down at home to Colchester to earn a 2-2 draw and end run of 8 defeats in 9 games, which had kicked in after a decent start to the season. The result left Town 22nd, with 11 points from 13 games. The similarities to the current situation are striking.
Despite its dreadful Autumn form, the 2002/03 team went on to finish 10th. I’m sure someone much wiser than me once suggested that every long journey begins with a small step. Let’s hope that, just like 13 years ago, we’ve now “bottomed out”, and begun to turn the corner.
Having said that, some caution must prevail. A team which has drawn two and lost eight of its last ten matches clearly still has issues to resolve.
There’s no doubt that some rotten luck with injuries has impacted upon our form. However, despite this, our permanent signings have generally fallen short of the required standard. Frankly, when we look at the backgrounds of these players, most of whom have either very little or no experience of playing at a level anything like League One, it’s little wonder that the team has struggled.
Previous summers have generally been more fruitful. It’s frustrating that, despite the receipt of millions of pounds in fees, plus the expiry of the final few extortionate contracts of his predecessors, Lee Power has suddenly chosen to avoid the policy which has served us so well. Namely, spending sensible sums on really talented young players, who clearly have the quality to thrive at this level before being sold on for a healthy profit. As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on Power, who must ensure that, during the course of 2016, we aren’t a little too sustainable for our own good. Even modest attendances show that we are a decent sized club, which should comfortably hold its own in what is currently a very indifferent division, and we should never lose sight of this fact.
Next week, we’re up against a Wigan Athletic side unbeaten in eight matches. A tame surrender, in the manner of the previous three away games, would leave yesterday seeming like a false dawn. But some returning assets firing us to an unlikely win would launch the season into the type of experience which we all know it should be.
Hope to see you there.