Is Louis Thompson Swindon’s saviour?
Alex Cooke lost a bet and ended up writing about Town’s hard fought and hard-to-watch win over a very good Walsall side. He doesn’t mind loosing that bet too much now
We won. I’m going to write that again as it looks a little strange, even after spellchecking it: we won. It still seems hard to believe because Walsall could, and probably should have taken all three points, but didn’t thanks to a dour, direct, defensive display, and a header from Jon Obika and a late Louis Thomson snaffle and strike.
Town lined up in their now customary 3-5-2 with Jon Obika taking the place of loaned striker Wes Thomas, and Louis Thompson taking his slot as one of the five loanees in the first team. Walsall opted for something more akin to a 4-1-4-1 with the solid Adam Chambers in a holding midfield role and Tom Bradshaw as the lone striker.
Walsall began in the confident fashion you would expect from a team in third, Town looked as timid and you would expect from a side with four wins in 18 games. After the Saddler’s won an early corner, Ben Gladwin had the most surprising shot of the game, driving to ball some 70 yards, aiming for the goal but drifting closer to the corner flag. We didn’t know at the time but it was a taste of things to come from the disappointing Gladwin, and Town’s attacking style.
As the Saddlers flowed forward, Town were content to compress themselves behind the ball, Obika dropping to in to stiffen the midfield, the defence going man to man. The defensive line never become too deep but Town certainly made themselves hard to play through.
Instead of playing from the back, Lawrence Vigouroux was pumping the ball straight towards Obika – who won a considerable amount of flick-ons in a very good performace. On the rare occasions, Vigouroux did try to pass, Raffa Branco proved a horribly uncomfortable sweeper, and on one occasion gave the ball straight to a Walsall midfielder about 25 yards from goal. Mostly Town looked long for Obikafrom the back, and whenever they had the ball elsewhere, possession was surrendered cheaply.
Brad Barry, made his usual puppyish contribution to the game created Town’s first chance, whipping a ball into the box and earning a corner. Town took it short but as the boos rang out, Thompson crossed and Jordan Turnbull forced a good stop from ‘keeper Neil Etheridge. One opponent seemingly mistimed his push out of the box so when Gladwin lofted the ball back into the box, Obika could direct a controlled header across the ‘keeper and in. Walsall had to content themselves complaining about a marginal offside.
The goal seemed to spur Walsall on, but it did little for a crowd with most preferring to watch in either noticeable silence or just incessant moaning, if the bloke behind me was anything to go by. But Town rode their luck. Bradshaw, whose simple movement troubled the isolated Branco all night, seemed deserving of a penalty when Turnbull bundled into him as the striker controlled a bouncing ball. Again Walsall complained fruitlessly to the officials.
Walsall were able to bemoan their luck on numerous other occasions as their mobile forwards troubled Town’s goal and again, forcing good stops from Vigouroux. With their two wide strikers pushed up high and wide against Turnbull and Adam El-Abd, Town’s defenders were playing 1-v-1 at times and it certainly wasn’t easy. El-Abd in particular was suffering due to being dragged to the touchline where is his lack of pace could be exposed. But using his sizeable frame and experience, he just about kept control of his man. Shame the same couldn’t always be said of his passing…
Both of Town’s wing-backs were frequently sent forward to press Walsall in the wide areas. And while it exposed Swindon’s flanks at times, it meant that Yaser Kasim, Thompson and Gladwin were able to sit deeper and protect the defence. And it largely worked, because even with the talented Romaine Sawyers dropping off the front to look for chances, Town kept a solid central barrier. Instead the greater danger came from the flanks where left-back Rico Henry showed real flashes of quality.
Eventually Walsall’s superiority paid off when Branco plopped a weak header back into midfield and Bradshaw was able to drive across Turnbull and strike inside Vigouroux’s far post. And they looked the more likely winners, especially when O’Connor had a free-header blocked and Jordan Cook turned home a rebound after a free-kick only to see the flag pop up.
The visitors clearly felt that a winner would come without pushing too many men forward and Town kept trying to lift the pressure with long lofts towards the corner flag. But desperation set in and El-Abd, Turnbull, Barry and Branco all took bookings – Branco for a particularly desperate grapple with Bradshaw when the ball looked likely to run through to Vigouroux anyway.
As Town clung on, and the scoreboard clock stopped working for the second game running, Thompson found one burst of energy in his failing legs, robbed Reece Flanagan deep in the opponents’ half and drove a low shot home. It was a hugely undeserved winner but emphasised Thompson’s value – as did his pass to put Barry in to win the corner, his cross from it and his (and sub Fabien Robert’s) harrying…
The three points to Town might have been undeserved and were the same game to play out nine more times, Walsall would probably win eight of them, but this was a big victory. Hard work and hard tackling were rewarded, even if Town used up a significant amount of luck with the various deflections and referee’s decisions. The challenge now is to integrate such a work ethic into a more controlled gameplan, particularly when Town aren’t given the option to sit back by weaker opposition or a more demanding crowd.