SWINDON TOWN 1 WALSALL 3: Saddle sore Town lose unbeaten home record (From The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald)
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SWINDON TOWN 1 WALSALL 3: Saddle sore Town lose unbeaten home record
SWINDON Town’s unbeaten home record in League One was destroyed by Walsall on a night to forget for Mark Cooper and his Robins side.
Two goals from Ashley Hemmings and one from Sam Mantom sent the Saddlers back to the Midlands with all three points, as Town continuously picked the wrong options on a miserable evening at the County Ground.
Nile Ranger scored Swindon’s late consolation, and could well have had a hat-trick on the night, but even that wouldn’t have been enough to give the home side a share of the spoils had it not been for Wes Foderingham in the Town goal.
Foderingham pulled off at least six excellent saves to prevent Walsall from inflicting total embarrassment on their beleaguered hosts, who lacked creativity and direction.
Cooper made one change to the Swindon side which beat Notts County 2-0 on Friday night, as Nicky Ajose returned to the front three in place of Dany N’Guessan, who dropped to the bench.
It took 14 minutes for either side to manufacture a notable effort on goal and, when Ranger met Alex Pritchard’s right wing cross with an overhead kick, it seemed as though the striker had given Town the lead.
However, Craig Westcarr was on hand to block Ranger’s shot en route to goal in front of the waiting Nicky Ajose, and Walsall survived. Within seconds the visitors went ahead.
Foderingham produced an exceptional reaction save, low down to his right, to keep out Mantom’s cheeky flick with the inside of his right boot, but the Town keeper could do nothing to prevent Hemmings’ Exocet from the edge of the area after the Walsall winger was granted the freedom of Swindon to wind up following a half-cleared corner.
A goal to the good, the Saddlers suddenly found themselves in total control of the tie. Foderingham had to be alert to leap to his right and push Westcarr’s daisy-cutter wide in the 18th minute before palming Hemmings’ deflected drive out for a corner, as Town let their guests run at them at will.
With the midfield creative hub spluttering and choking in the wet, Swindon found themselves relying on the physical presence of Ranger for the necessary spark to get them back in the game.
The forward’s neat footwork on the edge of the Walsall penalty area won Town a free-kick in the 32nd minute, but Pritchard’s effort from the set piece was deflected out for a corner and Ranger couldn’t inspire his side to an equaliser for before the half-time whistle.
In fact, Foderingham was again to thank for Swindon not going into the break further behind after the Robins stopper kept out James Baxendale’s rasping drive from an acute angle with three minutes remaining before the interval.
Cooper, well beaten in the tactical battle but Smith in the first half, threw on Ryan Mason at the start of the second period in an effort to change the flow of the game, but within two minutes Town’s task went from bumpy to positively Alpine.
Darren Ward gift-wrapped possession for Walsall on the edge of his own box, Mantom accepted the kind gesture and exchanged passes with Westcarr before slotting in the rebound after his initial shot was saved by Foderingham.
It was nasty defending.
A minute later it could well have become embarrassing for Swindon when Hemmings picked out an unmarked Westcarr in the box. The former Chesterfield striker had time to control the ball neatly on his chest and his overhead kick had Foderingham scrambling to his left, but the ball skidded wide.
The hosts were desperately in need of something to cling on to and they should have got just that in the 56th minute when Pritchard’s corner picked out Ranger at the near post but, with no one there to challenge him, the striker nodded over.
N’Guessan and Jack Barthram were thrown into the fray by Cooper as he searched frantically for a route back into the tie. But by now Walsall had the swagger Swindon’s fans were so used to seeing from their own side at the County Ground and the home side had no answer.
Swindon’s midfield lost their runners once again in the 66th minute, as Nicky Featherstone was granted all the time he could possibly have wanted to place a sidefooted shot from 20 yards, but Foderingham was equal to the task, leaping high to his left to push the ball out for a corner from which Andy Butler headed wide.
Town were by now trying their luck from just about anywhere in the fruitless pursuit of parity. Luongo lashed wide when Pritchard was free down the right before Pritchard dragged wide when a cross was a better option. It summed up Swindon’s night – poor decisions, over and over again.
A slip from Luongo in the 71st minute handed Walsall a golden sight of goal on the counter-attack, only for the impressive Hemmings to fire wide from the edge of the box, while Foderingham’s fingertips prevented Mantom from celebrating s second goal, as the Town keeper pushed the Walsall man’s shot onto the crossbar.
At the other end, Swindon finally tested Richard O’Donnell with 15 minutes left on the clock, as Pritchard’s scything throughball left Mason bearing down on the visitors’ keeper. But there was no way through.
And the game was over as a contest in the 78th minute, as Town contrived to give away possession in their own box and Hemmings slipped the ball home.
Swindon got themselves on the scoresheet late in the day as Ranger headed home unmarked at the back post from a right-wing cross, and the frontman should have set up a grandstand finale in added time but he dragged his shot at an open goal wide after O’Donnell had saved his initial header.
And that was the game in a nutshell.
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