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SWINDON TOWN: Cooper's fledgling side stun QPR
WAS THIS the performance in which the Swindon Town starlets of 2013/14 came of age?
On a humid night in west London, against opposition flying high in the Championship, no one really gave the Robins a chance. Their age, relative inexperience and perceived lack of strength were all mooted as weak points. They most certainly weren’t.
Town outplayed QPR for large chunks of the first half, gained a lead courtesy of Nile Ranger’s first goal for the club and then hung on as Rangers unleashed wave after wave of attack until Alex Pritchard seized on an error from Nedum Onuoha to shoot Swindon into round two.
Quite frankly, it was extraordinary.
Swindon began with the audacity and fearlessness of a side with nothing expected of them. Within three minutes a composed passage of play ended with Pritchard being hauled down on the edge of the area, but the on-loan Spurs youngster could only send the resulting free-kick drifting harmlessly over the bar.
Much of the rest of the opening quarter of the game was a cagey affair, however, as the similar footballing styles of the two teams cancelled each other out.
It took 21 minutes for the home side to manage a shot on target. Jermaine Jenas’ fizzing half-volley on the turn had Wes Foderingham worried momentarily, and the Swindon stopper would have been relieved to see it fly out of play.
Alejandro Faurlin then sent a 30-yard free-kick horribly over as QPR slowly settled, but Town refused to lay down and, with Yaser Kasim, Massimo Luongo and Ryan Harley working overtime in the middle of the park, they hassled and harried their opponents into mistake after mistake.
Rangers were reduced to speculative efforts from range. Shaun Wright-Phillips should have stuck to passing when he unleashed a wayward bullet in the 32nd minute, Bobby Zamora was closer to the back of row Z than the back of the net two minutes later but in the end it was Town who took the lead in the 37th minute.
Pritchard, dynamic and difficult to deal with on both flanks, sent in a wicked low cross from the right which the hosts’ defence could not turn behind and there was Ranger to bundle home at the back post.
It was a poacher’s strike, predatory, the sort of finish Austin became famous for during his spell in Wiltshire.
But for the ex-Swindon man, the night continued to be a frustration. While his teammates fired high, wide, left, right and into Foderingham’s arms, Austin didn’t get a sniff.
Wright-Phillips headed at Foderingham in the final minute of the first half and it took until the third minute of the second period for Austin to finally muster an attempt on goal. Even then Foderingham could dive half-hearted to his right, safe in the knowledge it was not troubling the Town net.
At the other end, Mason’s tame header looped into Brian Murphy’s hands but QPR were starting to turn up the heat. Redknapp threw on Andy Johnson and Mo Shariff, and immediately Rangers had more purpose.
The hosts should have levelled in the 57th minute, but somehow Austin contrived to send a free header wide from six yards out after Danny Simpson’s right-wing free-kick had picked him out, while Clint Hill headed a Faurlin corner wide as QPR cranked up the pressure.
But Town, running around like worker ants experimenting with MDMA, hadn’t had their final say just yet. Twice Louis Thompson, a substitute on in place of the exhausted Harley, found space in midfield for a shot at goal.
In the main, however, Swindon had to resort to last-ditch defending. Foderingham saved well from Shariff, Hall blocked a fierce Jenas effort and Foderingham again kept Town in front as he got down at the feet of Wright-Phillips.
The Robins were quickly losing their feathers and QPR thought they were level when Austin headed home from close range. There was a poetry about the linesman raising his flag to cancel out the strike.
By now Swindon’s energy reserves had drained so low the watching 1,700 who had travelled from Wiltshire must have been getting the kind of feeling you experience when you’ve been driving that little bit too long with the fuel warning light showing.
Yet somehow Town found the fumes to see it through and, having soaked up the pressure like a reinforced sponge, they ended the game even further in front.
Onuoha’s pass in midfield was the perfect throughball for Pritchard, who had the composure to waltz around two defenders and put the ball beyond Murphy.
Delirium and delight. What a night in west London.
“It’s a great result for the club and gives us a chance to earn some more money, and in the first-half I thought we were the better team,” manager Mark Cooper said.
“When you go 1-0 up you know what to expect from Premier League players and they come at you fierce and tough, but we stood up to it. We were a little sloppy in possession and invited too much pressure, but the players stood up to it and kept their shape and put their bodies in the way and got the breakaway to seal it at the end.
“We were tested and Darren (Ward) and young Grant (Hall) did very well, and from a team like QPR you know you are going to need to defend and to defend for long spells.
“It’s fantastic for Nile (Ranger) because I thought he was outstanding on Saturday, and to go from not playing for months to playing two games in four days and play like he did shows he’s going to be a real asset to the club.
“Any bit of confidence he can get is a good thing, and I think the fans have taken to him.”
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