IT’S starting to become a familiar away-day feeling for the hardy souls that brave long treks on midweek evenings to support Swindon Town.
For whatever reason, playing at stadia other than the County Ground appears to be providing some sort of psychological hurdle that Town’s young squad couldn’t clear even if they were Colin Jackson after a dabble with some performance enhancing steroids.
Stevenage hadn’t won in seven league games going into this match but Town, lethargic and erratic in and out of possession, presented themselves as the perfect foil with which to end that streak.
Boro were nothing special, as so often has been the case with teams Swindon have faced on their travels this season, they weren’t even particularly well organised – the space afforded Yaser Kasim, Massimo Luongo and Ryan Mason in the centre of the park paid testament to that. But they had the one thing you need to beat Town this term – home advantage.
The Robins lacked creativity, aside from Mason and a first-half cameo by Alex Pritchard, and only when George Barker came off the bench was there a real zip about their attacks despite the visitors seemingly starting to find a rhythm and flow in the first third of the match.
Lucas Akins opened the scoring in slow-motion after Swindon fluffed their defensive lines seven minutes before half-time and, early in the second period, Grant Hall pulled down Francoix Zoko in the box to give Filipe Morais a chance from the penalty spot that he gleefully lapped up.
The second half was a non-event, with a meek Town finding it increasingly hard to try anything new and inventive. Meek, that’s the word for it. Not worth travelling all that way on a midweek evening.
Swindon manager Mark Cooper named an unchanged line-up for the clash following the hard-fought victory over Peterborough United at the weekend, with the only alteration to his matchday squad seeing Ryan Harley come onto the bench in place of Ben Gladwin, who has recently undergone an MRI scan after suffering knee swelling.
The Robins were favourites going into the clash with rock-bottom Boro but the home side came out of the traps strongly, with their physical front two of Akins and Zoko looking to bulldoze a foray down the middle of the Lamex Stadium pitch, and Town had to withstand the best part of 10 minutes of early pressure.
However, Swindon soon settled and, as the Stevenage defence backed off on the edge of the area, Kasim had time to lash a shot at goal in the ninth minute.
Five minutes later Town tore their hosts’ backline in half once again. Massimo Luongo’s tidy throughball was collected by Pritchard, whose neat centre found the unmarked Nile Ranger eight yards out.
Ranger looked odds-on to score but a late sliding blocked from Luke Jones stopped his effort reaching Chris Day and the Stevenage goalkeeper comfortably claimed the striker’s header on the follow-up.
Stevenage enjoyed their first shot in anger in the 17th minute but Akins, off-balance, could only slice his attempts wide from 20 yards.
Swindon, though strong in possession, looked lethargic in the way they put together attacks. They looked like they might have been punished in the 29th minute when Francois Zoko leapt above Wes Foderingham at the near post to flick the ball home, but the Boro frontman’s celebrations were cut short by an offside flag.
Town were next to come close to nudging ahead, in the 32nd minute, when Pritchard’s strike took a wicked deflection and looped over Day, but Stevenage were spared by the crossbar and the ball rebounded t safety.
The lively Pritchard was at it again moments later, turning Peter Hartley as if he wasn’t there and firing low at Day, whose save ricocheted off Jimmy Smith for a corner.
It seemed as though Town were starting to make an imprint on the game but out of nothing Stevenage took the lead with seven minutes to go before the break.
Swindon lost possession in their own final third, naively, and Morais teed up Akins who somehow managed to find an angle that saw the ball bypass a bundle of legs on the edge of the box and drift out of the reach of Foderingham.
Mason’s free-kick forced Day into pushing the ball over his crossbar with two minutes remaining of the period but Town could not find a leveller before the break and Stevenage had the final say of the half as Freeman carried the ball 70 yards before smashing into the away fans behind the visitors’ goal.
A slow start from both sides to the second period came to an end in the 56th minute, as Town went two goals down.
Zoko turned Raphael Rossi Branco will almost absurd ease on the edge of the area and lumbered through on goal. Grant Hall tried to track back but only succeeded in tripping the Stevenage forward. It should have been a red card, referee Lee Collins opted for yellow. What was absolutely certain was it was a penalty to the home side.
Foderingham got close to Morais’s effort from 12 yards but the goalkeeper’s finger tips could only paw the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of his goal.
Cooper threw on Barker for his Swindon debut as he sought some sort of route back into the contest but Town constantly chose to go down the blind side instead of freeing up their wide men with the kind of booming passes that Stevenage struggled to defend in the first 45 minutes.
Mason looked to be the most likely to threaten the Stevenage goal, as he saw one shot deflected out for a corner and another flash wide of Day’s right-hand post, while Pritchard couldn’t find the necessary to touch to set himself for a strike at goal after Ranger played him in midway through the period.
But goalmouth action in general was at a premium, despite encouraging signs from Barker on the left as he tricked his way inside onto his right foot on several occasions. Mason’s late free-kick was saved by Day – the highlight of the second half for Town coming in the final second after the game was lost.