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Town not at their best but still take three points
IT WASN’T pretty, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary but afterwards the same old satisfaction was still there.
Swindon Town rolled Tranmere Rovers over on Saturday with a casual ease which, if we’re being brutally honest, should have been properly relayed in the final score.
However, you can’t expect to rout them all and Town – after a difficult September – welcomed in the new month in second gear, motoring around the County Ground pitch at half-pace, toying with their opponents who, after going behind, struggled to let go of their stifling tactics.
Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t sumptuous football. This wasn’t blindingly brilliant, blow-your-socks-off, totally lifechanging football. But it brought three points and three crucial points after the previous week’s debacle at Preston.
This was like a blind date with your mum’s best friend’s daughter. It was a necessary chore which, when you got home, you realised wasn’t actually that bad. Not that you’d want to go through it all again.
Dany N’Guessan’s first-half penalty was enough to separate the two teams and, while Swindon’s dominance should have wielded more goals, it was a welcome break for the Robins to be able to switch into cruise control, pick up the required win and gently coast on to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy clash with Plymouth on Tuesday.
We’ve been spoilt at the County Ground so far this season, and perhaps our expectations for goals and glory on home soil needs to be tempered with a little reality.
Swindon have rapidly developed a reputation around League One for the way they play football. Teams will try to stop that, by hook or by crook. Ronnie Moore, the Tranmere manager, chose to use 10 men as a defensive wall in his side’s half whenever Town had possession, without fail. For large periods it worked.
Moore is a wily old fox. He knew that a young group of enthusiastic, enterprising professionals would get frustrated playing against his reinforced backline – and as the players got frustrated so did the home fans.
Had it not been for a moment of class featuring a sliderule throughball from Massimo Luongo, an excellent reverse pass from Nathan Byrne and the quick feet of Alex Pritchard, this may well have ended up as the stalest stalemate you could ever see.
But Swindon have the quality in their squad to turn a stalemate into a reason to celebrate, and that 10-second burst of class ultimately did for Tranmere.
We’re 10 games into the League One campaign and Town remain in midtable, having played four of the top seven on their travels and four of the bottom five at home. It’s still hard to tell what the season has in store but as long as Town keep grinding out results there’ll be more smiles than frowns come May.
The first half started at the pedestrian pace which defined the entire 90 minutes.
A lacklustre opening 10 minutes only briefly came to life when Byrne’s deflected shot from range dribbled through to Owain fon Williams in the Tranmere goal, while it took another six minutes for either side to fashion a shot at goal – this time Byrne curled wide from the edge of the box.
Chris Atkinson had the visitors’ first attempt in anger in the 16th minute but the midfielder dragged a tame shot well wide from 18 yards before Jay McEveley nodded straight at fon Williams from Luongo’s superb drifting crossfield pass from right to left.
Midway through the first period, Pritchard carved the Rovers defence wide open with a wriggly run down the left channel but when he offloaded to Yaser Kasim the Iraqi could only sidefoot wide.
With Tranmere setting up to stifle their guests, a moment of magic was the most likely way for the Robins to nudge in front and, fortunately for the hosts, that came with 28 minutes gone.
Luongo, otherwise below par and sloppy in possession, stroked a throughball into Byrne’s path in the Tranmere penalty area, Byrne cut a delicious pass into the feet of Pritchard and the winger was bundled over by Tom Hateley.
N’Guessan stepped up from 12 yards and sent fon Williams the wrong way. From that moment it felt like ‘game won’ for the home side.
Atkinson sliced a volley wide for the visitors in the minutes leading up to half-time and Wes Foderingham made an excellent save from Liam Ridehalgh after he had been left in acres of space at the near post, but Swindon retained total control of the match at the break.
Rovers almost clawed their way back into the game in fortunate style within 60 seconds of the restart, as Foderingham had to quickly backtrack to tap Jim McNulty’s left-wing cross over the crossbar, but the match’s steady tedium soon returned.
It took until the hour mark for Swindon to next test for Williams, again it was Byrne at the heart of the move but the wide man curled into the Tranmere keeper’s arms from 18 yards.
Neat interplay between Nile Ranger and Nathan Thompson teed up Pritchard in the 66th minute, only for the diminutive winger to balloon a shot into the Stratton Bank, before N’Guessan’s weak left-footed effort was easily collected by fon Williams.
Though Swindon appeared to be gliding to victory, Tranmere reminded their hosts that it wasn’t all going to be plain sailing with 16 minutes remaining when Lowe collected a corner to his feet at the near post, swivelled and crashed an effort into the sidenetting.
Two minutes later only a superb block from McEveley, sprinting down Lowe and preventing him getting a shot away when practically one on one with Foderingham, kept Town in front.
Having manoeuvred through that particular patch of turbulence, however, Swindon could find clear air in the last 10 minutes. An excellent run and cross from McEveley ended with Pritchard comically volleying out for a throw-in, while Luongo’s rasping 30-yard drive was brilliantly turned behind by fon Williams.
And that was that. Uninspiring? Maybe, but at least the job was done.
Town manager Mark Cooper said afterwards: “We have to get used to the fact that teams are going to put everyone behind the ball to start with. We have to get used to that. Everybody has to get used to that.
“I thought we totally dominated the football for the first 45 minutes, scored a goal and I think if we got a second one it makes it a lot more comfortable.
“At half-time they changed and tried to press us a little bit and we didn’t recognise that space was in behind them.
“I asked the players for a clean sheet before the game and I said to them if they get a clean sheet they win the game, so they’ve done that and they’ve won the game.
“It’s difficult when teams come and put everybody behind the ball.
“If you don’t get that second goal it becomes tense but we had chances to kill the game off.
“We had numerous chances and opportunities in and around the box, which we need to be better at and we need to be killing teams off.
“Three weeks ago I was interviewed at Wolves and everyone was buzzing that we played so well but we got beat, all I know tonight is it says we’ve got three points and that’s the main thing.
“That’s the positive thing, and we kept a clean sheet.”
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