#3 Swindon v Scunthorpe – Game One


‘mind the gap’ and hop off the First Great Western train at Swindon station. I have arrived: it’s Swindon Town v Scunthorpe, the football season is here. Soon I shall see the Mecca – the County Ground; I have not seen it for over a year. 

My one hour ten minute train journey from Paddington entailed sharing a carriage with some middle-aged Scunthorpe fans; their tummies and bosoms straining against their claret and blue sponsored ‘Rainham Steel’ football shirts. They were a good-natured bunch with great expectations buoyed by their 28-game unbeaten run. Their knowledge of Swindon’s team was sparse, but I garnered a few interesting tactical titbits about Scunthorpe FC. Apparently, Scunthorpe play passing football and Niall Canavan is a promising young centre back who has attracted interest from clubs in the upper echelons of the Football League. I’m glad to hear that ‘route one football’ probably won’t be on the agenda.

I forgot how quick the walk from the station was to the County Ground. I’m at the Ground and it’s ten past two; my Dad won’t arrive for another twenty minutes. I amble around to see if anything’s new. There isn’t. Everything’s on the tired side. It reminds me that, on the commercial front, Swindon has not progressed in twenty years. From a financial standpoint the Club is at the right level league table-wise. Sustaining football in the Championship – forget it. Still, the Club is intact and plays attractive football – I don’t think I want anything more.

I go into the Club Shop. The in-store merchandise is pretty much confined to Swindon Town FC clothing and mugs. No books or DVDs – a shame. My Dad arrives and we make our way to the highest row (row Z) of the Club’s largest stand, the Don Rogers Stand, named after the Club’s greatest player. I still think of it as the Intel stand (the stand was initially sponsored by Intel, the company who makes computer processing chips – yawn). My Dad and I like to sit as high up as possible so that we have the best vantage point to survey the proceedings and to reduce the volume and vehemence of the frequent outpouring of ‘ref – you f*****g w****r’ and other such outbursts. We are not prudes – we enjoy the boisterous atmosphere of match days – but our principle interest is the football being played, which is difficult to appreciate and analyse if there is constant stream of invective in your ear. The other spectators camped in row Z are of a similar bent. Typically they are older with an air of detachment and weariness.

Lee Power has stressed that Swindon’s finances are on the tight-ish side which is manifested by the lack of advertising boards, a defunct electronic score board and tannoy announcement system. It even looks like the Club’s mascot – Rocky Robin – who is the principle attraction for my friends (none of whom support Swindon) to go to Swindon games isn’t in attendance. Lee Power – hard-nosed. Still, the pitch is immaculate. It’s football stripped down to its essentials. My Dad is pleased to see that the clock above the Stratton Bank Stand is working. He likes his clocks.

With five minutes to go I still don’t know Swindon’s line-up. I am apprehensive. Defensively we shall probably be fielding two nineteen year old centre backs and Mark Cooper has said that ‘more work needs to be done’ which could be translated as Swindon have a pretty fragile back line. If Scunthorpe are sensible they will be direct. The game starts. Two minutes later: Gladwin gets the ball halfway into the Scunthorpe half and runs at the Scunthorpe defence. The crowd is clamouring for him to shoot, but he resists, spots the run on the right from Byrne, drops his shoulder, feigns to shoot, before passing it to the sprinting Byrne. Byrne crosses first time drilling the ball hard into the Scunthorpe penalty area finding the onrushing Luongo who guides the ball skilfully into the top left hand corner of the Scunthorpe goal after stretching out his left foot. A lovely flowing move. Why was I worried? What a start!

I’ve now managed to digest Swindon’s starting XI. It’s a 3-4-2-1: Foderingham; Lelan, N.Thompson, Turnbull; Byrne, Kasim, L.Thompson, B.Smith; Gladwin, Luongo; M.Smith.

Interesting. Nathan Thompson is playing in a sweeper role having spent last season as a right back/right-wing back and Gladwin is starting instead of Andy Williams giving Swindon an extra man in midfield.

Ten minutes later, after a period of poise and swagger, Swindon go 2-0 up. Kasim’s through ball splits the Scunthorpe back four finding Louis Thompson on the left. With the Scunthorpe back four out of position and retreating Louis Thompson’s left-footed low cross finds Michael Smith in the middle of Scunthorpe’s box, five yards out, for a tap in. Swindon are majestic, playing football of a higher calibre than many teams in the league above.  Kasim and Luongo are at the vanguard and Byrne is toying with his left back opponent Marcus Williams.

Unfortunately, Scunthorpe quickly pull a goal back on twenty minutes with a pathetically easy goal. A long ball from deep in midfield is flicked on by Deon Burton’s header and Swindon’s high line is exposed. Madden through on goal slots it past Foderingham - 2-1.

Swindon keep playing their passing, possession-based game. Foderingham rarely kicks it deep, passing it to his defence – usually Nathan Thompson – wherever possible.

Despite Swindon’s lovely passing game, their defensive organisation is a little shambolic and Scunthorpe have four excellent chances mostly falling to Madden, who, thankfully, contrives to miss or find Foderingham in his way. Scunthorpe are not carving Swindon open with attacking brilliance merely playing long balls through the middle or down the channels. Classic lower league stuff. Swindon’s defence must improve.

Swindon’s attacking game, however, is smooth, controlled and incisive. Just before the half-time whistle, Gladwin’s low thumping drive from the right smacks the Scunthorpe left hand post falling into the path of Michael Smith for another tap in. Scunthorpe look deflated. It should have been 5-5 at half-time.

The second-half is less frenetic than the first with Swindon increasing their control. The possession-based football is tiring Scunthorpe. Marcus Williams is sent off after 79 minutes for shoving Louis Thompson in the face; probably borne out of frustration at his own performance against Byrne. The sending off ends the game as a contest. The final 11 minutes are pleasurable with Swindon stroking the ball around and coming very close to adding to their goal tally. The game ends 3-1. An excellent start.

Swindon dominated the midfield in numbers – six to Scunthorpe’s four – and by technical proficiency. Certainly, there can’t be many more skilful central midfielders in League One than Kasim and Luongo. Kasim, in particular, was outstanding. A League One Andrea Pirlo.

Of course, the game could have been very different. Had Swindon missed their first few chances and Scunthorpe converted theirs then Swindon might have lost. The focus would then have been on their defensive frailties instead of their attacking prowess. The fans are buoyant and the players will hopefully grow in confidence. I say bye bye to my Dad and head off to the train station. My mind is racing. How can Swindon play such good football on their shoestring budget? I can’t wait for the next game.

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