Why Town struggled on derby day
New contributor Conor Garratt goes through what went wrong for Luke Williams’ men on their latest defeat at Oxford’s Kassam stadium
And so the awful run against that yellow-and-blue rabble goes on. As the home fans at the Kassam were keen to let us know on Saturday, Swindon have now suffered six losses on the spin against their A420 rivals, and this was perhaps one of the most painful defeats to endure.
There were a number of things to bemoan from a Swindon perspective. Nothing quite seemed to go right for the boys in red and white, with chances created in the first half few and far between, Oxford generally being the more effective of the two sides in getting the ball forward to their attackers Wes Thomas and Chris Maguire. Despite the fact that Swindon had the lion’s share of possession, Oxford’s more direct approach seemed to be a lot more effective.
This season Swindon have teamed the usual possession game that we’ve been used to since the early days under Mark Cooper with more aggressive pressing, and this seems to have paid dividends at the County Ground, where those calamity moments in defence seem to have dramatically reduced in number compared to in recent seasons. Of course, this is a conclusion drawn from 240 minutes of football, but those minutes have at least shown signs of progress.
Away from home, however, the same approach does not seem to work quite so well, and it can be no coincidence that Swindon last won away in February; that’s ten away games without a win in the league, four of which have come this season. Manager Luke Williams will surely be aware of this and looking at ways to counteract those away-day woes.
A good place to start would be selecting the right team, and it has to be said that Williams’ starting XI against Oxford was weaker than it could have been. The return of Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill to the team was perhaps the most glaring error, especially after James Brophy has started the season so impressively, with the former Arsenal wing-back enduring a torrid afternoon, riddled with high-profile mistakes.
Luke Norris continued his uninspiring start to life in a Town shirt: it appears that the former Gillingham man is unaware of where the goal is, spending most of his time with his back to it. Despite the fact Swindon were down to ten men by the time both Jon Obika and Nathan Delfouneso joined Norris on the pitch, the team looked better and more dangerous. It’s understandable that Obika didn’t start after a long injury layoff, but either him or Delfouneso would have been a better option from the start, and it was a shame that John Goddard made way for Obika early in the second half instead of Norris; Goddard, with his driving runs, added a lot more to Town’s offensive throughout the afternoon than Norris.
While the routine bashing of Anton Rodgers is at times unfair, Brendan’s son has started the season very poorly and so it was also surprising to see him start ahead of Yaser Kasim, who was ruled only fit enough to play most of the second half after his return from international duty with Iraq. While in normal circumstances resting a player after a gruelling week should be commended, Kasim is by far the most talented player in this Swindon squad and, when available, should be playing in what is one of the biggest games of the season. The cheer when he replaced Rodgers was perhaps one of the largest of the afternoon.
Swindon weren’t quite good enough, then, but there were other factors; namely, Stuart Attwell and his team’s dodgy refereeing performance. Oxford’s first half penalty was given for a foul that appeared – in the stadium and in subsequent replays – to be outside of the box. Attwell originally gave the foul, which was itself clear, as a free kick before the linesman overturned his decision. To add insult to injury, a clear foul on Goddard in the other box wasn’t given moments later as the Town hared forward in an attempt to get themselves back into the game.
After the game was wrapped up for the hosts in comical fashion, with Ormonde-Ottewill underselling Lawrence Vigouroux who blasted the ball against Maguire’s boot and into the net, both Lloyd Jones and Vigouroux saw second yellows, Jones for a mistimed challenge and Vigouroux for lashing out at Oxford’s Alex MacDonald, who’d left his studs in on Vigouroux’s face. Both sending offs were justified, and actually go quite a way to disproving the moaners among Swindon’s fans, who have spent the time since the game complaining about a lack of effort or passion, of not caring about the club, and at worst even falsifying stories about the players being blasé about this derby day defeat.
That is clearly not the case. Jones and Vigouroux, in receiving their reds, actually showed that they do care, continuing to fight for the club even after the game was gone. Even the worst performers on Saturday were clearly working hard, and it is perhaps the pressure of the occasion and the fact that the team clearly wanted the win a lot that led to Oxford’s opener being such a hammer blow for the team. Beforehand, it was hard to pick out which team was the better of the two, but afterwards Swindon’s game plan seemed to go out of the window and Oxford were much the better side in the second half, but particularly in the period leading up to Maguire’s second.
It’s important not to turn on the players, and a lot of the noises in the stands at the Kassam and on social media in the aftermath have certainly been concerning from that standpoint. This isn’t to say that nothing should be questioned by fans, but there are clearly other reasons for this loss than our players not caring enough. Doing this just creates scapegoats rather than attempting to learn lessons and prevent days like Saturday from being repeated.
Hopefully, this experience, which has been very painful for all fans of the club and will have also been painful for the players and backroom staff too, will stand the team in good stead during big games this season; losing your temper and seeing red clearly isn’t an option, in the same way losing focus of the game plan when a goal down isn’t.
Swindon still have to play Oxford twice this season, albeit once in a competition which doesn’t particularly matter, and also have two clashes with some other local rivals in Bristol Rovers ahead, and so there are still a number of games to put the derby day woes to bed. If Luke Williams and his squad take the opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned, which they surely will, we hopefully won’t have to endure chants of seven or even eight in a row.