Burton Albion 1-0 Swindon Town: Ling’s final match
Adam Tanner headed to the Pirelli Stadium, hoping to watch Swindon avoid further skid marks and get the wheels back on their winter form…
Despite a disappointing Boxing Day performance against Gillingham, Swindon could approach a tricky trip to the joint league leaders with some optimism. Consecutive away wins, each of them accompanied by a clean sheet, had represented a major improvement on previous results.
There was just one enforced change for Swindon. Left back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill replaced the suspended Raphael Rossi Branco, meaning that Jordan Turnbull moved inside to play in central defence. On the bench, there was no sign of Yaser Kasim, whose availability is becoming increasingly unreliable. His last away appearance was on November 8th.
Burton started strongly, and Swindon were twice reliant on ‘keeper Lawrence Vigouroux to prevent an early blow. First, he stood his ground very well to make a save after being left one-on-one with an opponent, before flinging himself to his left to push a firm strike around the post. Like many of his teammates, Vigouroux had been off-colour on Saturday, but he reminded us yesterday what an asset he is. If there’s any prospect of signing him permanently, I wouldn’t hesitate.
As the half progressed, Swindon grew into the game. First, Ben Gladwin played in Fabien Robert, who hit a fine 20-yard shot which Burton keeper Jon McLaughlin did well to tip over. Shortly afterwards, Gladwin swept in an excellent cross, on his left foot, which was met at the back post, three yards out, by Jon Obika. A goal looked inevitable, but McLaughlin spread himself and somehow managed to turn Obika’s shot over the bar.
That wasn’t all… from a subsequent corner, Turnbull found space at the far post, only for his strong header back across goal to be cleared off the line, whilst further chances came and went at various points for Robert, Louis Thompson and Nicky Ajose. Overall, despite the frustrating lack of a goal, the first half had been very encouraging.
The opening stages of the second half were low key. Although Swindon’s attacking threat had faded, a point would have been welcome, and it looked very feasible as, whilst Burton generally had the edge, they did not seriously threaten to score. Unfortunately, with just 15 minutes remaining, Turnbull was turned by his man on the outskirts of the area, and was panicked into committing an unnecessary foul. This was untypical of an excellent defender, who is generally as reliable as they come. The penalty was converted.
Although Vigouroux did very well to prevent a second goal shortly afterwards, Swindon did press for an equaliser; Gladwin saw a low goalbound drive blocked, and a series of corners put the hosts under pressure. However, there was no way past the division’s joint meanest defence, and Town failed to score in a match for the first time since October.
In the dying moments Burton’s ‘keeper was announced as man of the match and, whilst it cannot be said that he was overworked in the second half, his first half performance had a major bearing on the result. This, like any defeat, was disappointing… but not too disheartening.
Here are some thoughts:
Nathan Thompson has been injured since August, and Yaser Kasim appears to be on a rota of sorts, but (aside from surplus loanees who we would not be allowed to select in any case), we otherwise have a fully fit squad. Now therefore seems like a fair time to judge its strength.
Yesterday, Martin Ling felt able to make only two token substitutions in the 86th minute. On Saturday, the best we could offer, at 3-1 down, was to replace a centre back with a (very junior) left back. Our team is reasonably strong, but the squad is weak, and we saw in Autumn what can happen when it is deprived of a few players at once.
Furthermore, as we all know, five of our weekly mainstays are loanees, some of whom may well be leaving inside the next fortnight. I have no issue at all with any of yesterday’s starters, but I think it’s fair to say that each of our borrowed players can currently offer substantially more than the likes of Bradley Barry and Ormonde-Ottewill, young lads who didn’t have a first team appearance between them prior to joining in the summer. I suspect that, if asked to list all Swindon-owned players who are ready for regular League One action, even an optimistic fan would struggle to hit double figures.
Surely this is where eyes must turn towards Lee Power. Under his ownership, we have now had one spell of spending sensible sums on talented young players, who could be developed and sold for a considerable profit. This worked really well, and the likes of Massimo Luongo and Nathan Byrne took us very close to promotion from League One, before being sold for substantial profit. However, this strategy now appears to have been sidelined, and the primary focus throughout 2015 has instead been upon making very low-budget free transfer signings, few of which have been successful.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that Power should plough millions of pounds into the club; I’m all in favour of it being self-sufficient. However, it’s essential that things don’t become just a little bit too economical, and the squad certainly needs some reinforcement ahead of the second half of the season. Let’s see what happens in January.
I often hear or read criticism of Gladwin, with which I struggle to sympathise. Sure, he has faults, like anyone playing in the third tier, but his overall play is excellent and he has been directly involved with most of our goals over the last couple of months. He never hides from the ball, and is capable of doing things with it which nobody else in the squad can offer. I really enjoy watching him play.
He might cover less ground over 90 minutes than some of his teammates, but that’s part of the package. It’s horses for courses. If he were to run around in circles he might well make a few more tackles, but I don’t doubt that a lot of the vision that makes him such an asset would be gone, and that a lot of our goals would go with it. I’m a great fan of fellow midfielder Louis Thompson but, if we were only allowed to keep one of them until May, I would go with Gladwin. I suspect that his attributes would be more difficult to replace.
The sad news has just filtered through that Martin Ling has resigned. He did really well and will be missed. In simple terms, he took over a losing team, applied a rational, calm approach, and immediately got it winning. I’m sure I can speak on behalf of all fans in wishing him well.
So that’s it for 2015. It’s been a typically turbulent year; by my count, 45 players have played for the first team, and, as usual, we’ve had enough extremes to keep us all interested (in fact, we probably had enough of them during May alone). I’m sure 2016 will bring us plenty more of the same.
Happy New Year!