Swindon Town 2-1 Scunthorpe: We’ve won a game!

Brendan Hobbs reports on Swindon versus Scunthorpe, a game that began with a hushed minute of reverence and ended with a long and loud sigh of relief.

A soggy and windy Saturday afternoon welcomed in the new era of the mighty Ling. However, the celebratory occasion started on a more sombre note as prior to kick-off we stood in silence to remember all those who had fallen in the Great War.

It was also used to ponder the awful events in Paris the previous night, when scores of people died in an act of sheer, mindless brutality. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families who have lost loved ones, and also with the many peace-loving Muslims who once again have to witness their religion being dragged through the blood-soaked mud by the minority. The cowardly assailants who carried out the atrocities are as much part of religion as Joey Beauchamp is to the STFC hall of fame.

Anyway let me dismount my soapbox for a moment and get on with talking about the game.

There was a sibilation of excitement surrounding my pilgrimage to the ground, mainly due to the fact that Martin Ling was about to lead his Swindon team out onto the pitch for the first time as a manager. A bit of me wanted to believe that beneath his immaculate suit he was still wearing his famous red cycling shorts.

Hopes were high, despite the Rochdale FA Cup tonking, as judging by his teamsheet Lingy had spent a bit of time during the week removing some square pegs from round holes – and it must have taken some time, as those square pegs had been rammed down pretty hard over the past few weeks.

Yes, to my total surprise, various players looked like they would be playing in their rightful positions, all very unusual, but it all looked more, well, natural.

Nicky Ajose was to start up front with Jon Obika alongside and Ben Gladwin just behind, a potent attacking proposition. Drissa Traore and Anton Rodgers providing solidity in the middle and a back three of Raffa Branco, Jordan Turnbull and Adam El Abd providing the final barrier in front of  Lawrence Vigouroux.

Finally, Barry and Boo, sounding like some sort of Danish Eurovision entry, were looking to add much needed width and maybe even some crosses, wow, football evolution at the Country Ground!

The game kicked off in some real blustery conditions – and during the opening exchanges Town’s new formation was causing me a fair bit of wind. Time and again Scunny were finding space out on the wings, firing in an array of crosses deep into Town’s soft centre. But with Turnbull back in the middle though, the initial assaults were repelled.

Although I did allow a bit of wee to sneak out when another cross evaded all the big guys and was missed by Barry, who was busy backpedalling quicker than a Yorkshire police commissioner at a Hillsborough enquiry. The ball fell to wily veteran Gary McSheffrey whose low strike was blocked by the legs of Vigouroux.

Town failed to build any notable attacks early on and it looked like the only way we were going to test the opposition was via a swashbuckling run from Gladwin or maybe one of those stumbling, loping runs from Branks or Turnbull.

One particular run did draw a free kick in a dangerous position, the much maligned Rodgers looking to capitalise in the one area he has true quality in – the dead ball. He curled a great effort just wide of the post, I was out of my seat thinking it was in, cheering away. Only to slump back, muttering the word ‘bugger’.

Town really struggled to get anything going forward, with ironic ole’s echoing around as the Swindon players pinged the ball forward…. then back again. We desperately needed a catalyst to change things and eventually it arrived, although it wasn’t from a magnificent through ball, or a twisting, mazy dribble, it came from something normally found in the Women’s Accessories section in a department store. That’s right, I’m talking about handbags.

Branco was obviously involved, whilst awaiting a corner he tried to give his marker a closer look at the names tattooed on his lower arms. El Abd waded in as ‘peace-maker’ before the ref started peeping, pointing and talking.

From this encounter Town became galvanised, like a bucket, and promptly unloaded its content of whip-ass on the Scunthorpe defence. We suddenly found width with BOO running at his marker and he even found a couple of devilish crosses that were lurking in his locker. A head of steam was definitely being built.

Unfortunately the half-time whistle came and spoilt everything. My only hope was that Lee Power wouldn’t find his way into the dressing room – to tell the players to slow it all down and ask why we were crossing the ball instead of cutting inside.

The second half started and I was left wondering if Mr Power had indeed gone to the dressing room as we started sluggishly, with Paddy Madden quickly testing Vigouroux with a sharp half-volley that the Chilean pushed over the bar.

But there were signs that Town were beginning to find their feet, with a few nods being given to our only other home win this season. Just as against Bradford we seemed to suddenly find traction in the middle of the park, personified via some pacy charges by Gladwin. And it was via his wickedly curling free-kick that finally brought the County Ground to their feet.

A glorious, whipped in cross from just in front of the Arkells caused mayhem in the Scunthorpe box. Obika, who suddenly discarded the wooden clogs that he appeared to have been wearing for the majority of the game, found some extra spring to stop the ball being headed clear.  The ball fell to El Abd who forced it back into the mixer where Obika drew a smart save from the keeper and then…. then, cometh the hour, cometh the man, Branco strode amongst the bodies of the fallen to fire the ball into the net.  Joy. Disbelief. Nervousness.

Heads were up and each Town player seemed to inflate and swell, like a bunch of dead cows in the hot sun. Confidence was soaring, oozing even – and we didn’t have long to wait ‘til we doubled our tally. Gladwin marauded through the centre once more and this time he picked the right pass – feeding Ajose whose clever little jink pulled him away from his marker, giving him the vital seconds needed to place a shot expertly into the net. Explosion. Rapture. Relief.

I couldn’t quite believe it; I had to reach deep into my bank of Ron Burgundy exclamations to sum up my surprise, I emerged with a loud ‘By the hymen of Olivia Newton John!!!!!

Scunthorpe boss Mark Robins responded by sending on one-time Town loanee and Football Manager regen soundy-likey Darius Henderson plus Luke Williams, immediately Vigouroux was forced into a couple of saves.

The inevitability of Scunthorpe pulling one back was just well, inevitable. If this had been a Hollywood script the director would’ve thrown it out as being too obvious, too hackneyed. But there you go, it came, with Jordan Clarke heading home totally unmarked from a corner.

In fact the only unforeseen plot twist was that the Iron didn’t equalise, such is our recent luck. However, McSheffrey wanted to make sure that if he didn’t go home with a point that the Town faithful would go home with soiled underwear as he rattled the post with an expertly taken free kick.

Somewhere in-between all this Ling threw on Wes Thomas, who showed in a brief cameo what an important element he is to the Town set up and what a miss he’s been. Strong, quick, powerful and a natural finisher. The thought of him playing in a front two is wonderful.

The final whistle came, followed by cheering and relief. A game which seemed trivial considering recent World events, but it gave us a massive three points. An encounter which last year would’ve probably brought a routine win, this time it was celebrated like a giant-killing cup win.

I’ll close with a couple of thoughts. I liked Town’s newly formed defensive threesome – tall, muscular and surprisingly solid, they posed a serious proposition for opposition attackers. I do like Adam El Abd, he is a whole-hearted player and when he commits, he commits. I also think Branco is benefiting from his experience. Plus he’s the first Town player in a long time I’d feel comfortable being alongside in a bar brawl. Also with Turnbull being returned to the centre it’s like getting another quality player back from injury – he was so wasted as a left-back.

Onwards and hopefully upwards to Fleetwood and hopefully we will be closer to knowing whether this is a new dawn in Swindon’s troubled season or a completely false one. Time will ultimately tell.

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