#10 FA Cup First Round: Cheltenham Town 5 Swindon Town 0


nacceptable, pathetic, useless, inept, complacent, embarrassing, rubbish, disgraceful, shocking and shambolic: just some of the words used by fans on bulletin boards to describe Swindon’s 5-0 defeat against League Two side, Cheltenham Town, in the first round of the FA Cup. It was certainly an inept Swindon performance as can be seen from the highlights below. At least the Cheltenham commentator enjoyed himself.

Losing 5-0 to a side in the league below is certainly a kick in the goolies and very disappointing, but, as ever, in the immediate aftermath of such a defeat, overwhelmed by emotion, the result is blown out of proportion. Swindon Town are currently third place in League One, topping its possession charts and play some of the most adventurous, eye-catching football in the league. For the players to perform in such a manner on a regular basis they cannot be weak, lethargic and shirk responsibility. The Swindon players do not ‘lack spirit’ or ‘desire’. Naïve at times, yes – almost an inevitability given that the average age of the first team is not much more than 22 - but spineless capitulators, no. One chap on the Swindon Town Evening Advertiser said that Swindon need more ‘Shaun Taylor* types’ by which he means whole hearted, no-nonsense players. I generally disagree, although Shaun Taylor would improve Swindon’s cohesiveness defensively and add aerial robustness. I’d rather, as per the current position, have a team packed full of skilful, technically accomplished players.

Swindon had a very bad day as they did this time last year when they lost 4-0 away to Conference side Macclesfield Town in the first round of the FA Cup. A superficial analysis might suggest that Swindon underestimate (perhaps subconsciously) teams from the lower echelons and don’t play with their usual focus or determination. This might be true, in part, but to draw definitive conclusions from two games would be hasty and half-baked. 
Swindon did not lose to Cheltenham because Mark Cooper took the game lightly. No doubt instructed by Lee Power that a run in the FA Cup was rather important to earn a few quid, he picked his first choice XI minus striker Michael Smith. It was a line-up that ought to have beaten Cheltenham fairly comfortably and that probably would do so on most occasions. 

Swindon began the game in a bright manner, but went behind against the run of play when a long punt, once again, caught out Swindon’s high defensive line for Cheltenham’s opener. Ten minutes later, Swindon’s captain, Nathan Thompson, was sent off for a professional foul in a ‘last man’ situation, in exactly the same manner as his previous two red cards this season. Nathan Thompson is an excellent player and will be abundantly aware that receiving three red cards after just a third of the way through the season is a bit of a problem. The dismissals stem from Swindon’s expansive style and Nathan Thompson’s over eagerness. In all likelihood, he will now be suspended for three games. As one of the most important players in the side, the suspension is a big blow. It will hurt Swindon more than the 5-0 defeat. Swindon will now probably be without Kasim, Luongo and Nathan Thompson against League One table toppers, Bristol City, and will do very well to avoid defeat.

Anyway, back to the Cheltenham game. One-nil down and playing with ten men, Swindon were, perhaps, too gung-ho in their efforts to equalise, leaving themselves very exposed to the Cheltenham counter-attack. Still, most of the goals they went on to concede were inept, almost comically so. Defensively, Swindon have been improving, and hopefully the poor display stemmed principally from playing with ten men and playing with too much abandon. Still, it’s a reminder that Swindon, for all their positive qualities, are, at times, naïve and defensively disjointed. They are a good side, but there is plenty of work to do if they are to sustain their promotion challenge. Ultimately, promoted sides do not tend to lose 5-0 against technically inferior opponents. I hope the result does not temper Swindon’s possession based game and does not impact upon the players’ confidence unduly.

Some fans have called for the Club to refund the travelling Swindon supporters for the display. Such views are utterly infantile, giving credence to the notion that no football fan should ever be disappointed or suffer (of course relatively speaking). Using a performance pricing logic, perhaps fans who watched Swindon beat Sheffield United 5-2 should have to pay double the price for being so thoroughly entertained? Any takers? Thought not.

* Shaun Taylor was a left footed centre back and Swindon’s club captain for several seasons. He was not quick or technically assured, but fairly good positionally and excellent ‘in the air’. In Swindon’s promotion season he scored 13 goals. He had no regard for his safety and would readily dive through ‘a sea of boots’ in the penalty area. 

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