SWINDON TOWN 3 BRISTOL CITY 2: Nile nets winner as Town show there's more to their game than flair (From The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald)
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SWINDON TOWN 3 BRISTOL CITY 2: Nile nets winner as Town show there's more to their game than flair
SO NOT only do these boys have class and guile by the bucketload, they’ve got bottle too.
Swindon Town protected their unbeaten home record at the County Ground in 2013/14 with a rugged display on Saturday, a little five o’clock shadow to mask the baby-faced swagger that has been such a prominent feature of their displays to date.
In an adrenaline-fuelled derby, against a Bristol City whose natural abilities have yet to bear fruit in League One, the Robins had to take their time in figuring out just how to claim all three points.
Against a physical and evidently talented opposition, who could pass at speed as and when they saw fit, this wasn’t going to be the exhibition of total football we’ve been spoilt by in recent weeks.
Nerve was needed, character too, as the hosts twice came from behind to claim the local bragging rights and a three-point haul so unjustly absent from their return trip to Molineux seven days earlier.
It wasn’t fine-wine vintage from Town, it was a two-for-a-tenner job - straight off the supermarket shelf. It was efficient, it was functional and my word did it do the job.
With Nile Ranger producing a tour de force up top, oozing Premier League quality in his hold-up and link-up play, Town had an outlet with which they could calm both themselves and the game during rough periods.
They recovered quickly from Aden Flint’s ninth-minute headed opener for City to strike back thanks to Nicky Ajose’s first goal for the club and, even after falling behind again to Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’s effort 10 minutes before half-time, had the wherewithal to ensure they didn’t reach the break trailing.
Ajose scored again with three minutes to go until the interval and in the second period, back on level terms and with a point to prove, it always felt as though the hosts knew they had a third goal in their locker.
In a game dogged by sloppy defending, from each side, it was Town who were proficient where City were profligate.
In the absence of Ryan Mason and Ryan Harley through injury, and Alex Pritchard and Nathan Byrne through suspension, there were worried murmurs around the ground ahead of kick-off.
That Swindon proved such concerns to be abject nonsense is a credit to the mindset instilled in the team by manager Mark Cooper and the general ethos employed by his players.
‘Get the job done,’ was the message. They did just that.
With four key first-teamers missing, Cooper drafted in Louis Thompson for only his third start in the senior ranks and handed Dany N’Guessan his full debut.
There were worries of how Town would stand up to the aerial threat of Flint before the game, and those anxieties were horribly realised inside nine minutes, as the former Swindon centre-back rose highest at the back post to nod Marlon Pack’s corner beyond Wes Foderingham via an upright.
It was a static start for the Robins, who pumped too many balls long onto the forehead of the six-foot, five-inch man mountain, seemingly abandoning their footballing mantra.
However, they quickly settled and 10 minutes after conceding they found the net themselves.
Nathan Thompson’s quick throw-in on the right caught the City defence taking a cat-nap and Ajose burst into the penalty area, neatly switched the ball onto his right foot and drove beyond Frank Fielding.
Tails up, Swindon went within centimetres of going in front 90 seconds after the restart.
Dany N’Guessan wrestled himself into a goalscoring position, pulled the trigger from 20 yards and watched despairingly as the ball cannoned back off the crossbar.
City weren’t about to lay down, however, and the visitors reasserted their own goal threat in the 29th minute when Brendan Moloney shot wide.
Six minutes later, they found the target.
Town shepherded Emmanuel-Thomas inside from the right wing onto his left foot. A daft move. The ex-Arsenal trainee pinged a bullet of a finish into the bottom left-hand corner of Foderingham’s goal.
Stunned, Town should have been two goals behind before they drew level.
Nicky Shorey’s low corner drifted to an unmarked Emmanuel-Thomas 10 yards out but instead of coolly slotting home the striker produced the kind of effort that would have NFL franchises reaching into their wallets to procure their latest goal-kicker.
The miss was crucial. Within two minutes Swindon restored parity.
Ranger kept Ajose’s pass alive and fed Massimo Luongo, who drifted around three City challenges to cross to the back post, where Ajose slid home.
Level going into the second period, Town found something closer to their A game with ball at feet.
N’Guessan dragged a shot marginally wide following Luongo’s excellent through ball before the ex-Millwall man had the ball in the net in the 56th minute, only to see his celebrations cut short by referee Anthony Taylor’s whistle. The official had spotted a shirt-tug in the build-up.
Ajose had two more pops at goal from range without success before being sent clean through by Yaser Kasim in the 73rd minute, only to hit a weak shot straight at Fielding.
Still, the stage was set for drama. Nowadays you need a pacemaker on standby at all times at the County Ground.
Kasim’s corner from the right in the 87th minute was only half-cleared, Louis Thompson nodded intelligently into the feet of Ranger and the frontman did the rest.
No, that makes it sound too easy. Ranger took the ball in his stride, with back to goal and under pressure from two City defenders.
He turned neatly and crashed an unstoppable right-footed finish beyond Fielding.
Town had a scare with time ticking away when Moloney burst into the area and crashed a shot off the underside of the Swindon crossbar, but by then the home side had earned their own luck.
Grit and determination to win a local derby. Bring on Chelsea.
Cooper said after the game: “It was too frantic for me. First of all it was a fantastic game for the supporters to watch I would think. If you pay more to watch that then I don’t think you’ve been short-changed.
“We had to win a different kind of game today. It was a local derby, a real battle and we had to win a different kind of way which, from my point of view, was very pleasing.
“When we did it we looked really good. For the goal, we didn’t keep smashing it onto Aden Flint’s head. We moved the ball and passed it into Nile Ranger in the penalty area and the big man did the rest.
“We suffered some injuries later on in the week, which disrupted our preparations and it wasn’t ideal. Louis Thompson was superb when he came in and Nicky Ajose has come in and scored two goals.
“My teamtalk was about not giving them any encouragement or anything to go on, and we did that. Most of my coaching yesterday was about not letting Jay Emmanuel-Thomas come onto his left foot and we did that and gave them another goal. We weren’t at our best today, we played with our hearts rather than our heads which sometimes happens in a local derby.”
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