#19 Swindon Town 5 Sheffield United 5 - Making Sense of the Madness

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t was 'a freak tie'. Possibly the best play-off game ever. As Mark Cooper aptly commented it was like watching ‘two heavyweight boxers trying to knock each other out’. Over the course of the game I felt happiness, joy, pride, ecstasy, trepidation, worry, fear, bellicosity, animosity, anger, dejection, resignation and self-pity; a year’s worth of emotion condensed into 99 minutes. During the last ten minutes of the game I reverted to my five year old self, holding the fluffy fringe of my ’92/’93 Swindon Town scarf to my face as a makeshift comfort blanket. My heart was pounding for most of the match; any underlying congenital heart defect would surely have come to light.

Much of the post-match commentary has focused on the defensive shortcomings of Swindon and Sheffield United. Sheffield United’s centre-back pairing of Alcock and McEveley – both more comfortable at full-back – were outmanoeuvred by Hylton/Obika and Smith; their midfield trio could not shackle Kasim, Luongo and Gladwin (I haven’t come across a side who can); and Harris and Done could not get to grips with Byrne, Nathan Byrne (to the tune of The Trammps' Disco Inferno).*

For much of the game Sheffield United were playing a 2-1-4-3 formation; Swindon were bamboozled. Swindon’s 3-5-2 collapsed under Sheffield United’s sustained pressure in wide areas with full-backs Freeman and Harris pushed up, pulling apart Swindon’s back three, creating multiple overloads and crossing opportunities. Swindon’s defensive shortcomings were exacerbated by failing to do something which they have done very well all season: keeping the ball. For the first time this season their opponents had more possession: 56% to 44%. This was partly due to being 3-0 up after 18 minutes and naturally retreating to preserve their advantage, but it can also be attributed, in part, to adrenaline and instinct taking over, which resulted in too much hoof ball and ceding possession. The second half was largely ‘kick and rush’. The passion of the crowd might have been a hindrance in this regard. Foderingham was more risk-averse in his distribution, generally opting for the long punt rather than a cute short pass to the back three. This was partly due to Sheffield United’s high press, but it also owed to the considerable pressure of the occasion. Quite possibly, Foderingham and the Swindon back three will adopt a similar approach at Wembley.

Whilst both teams did not defend particularly well, the attacking play should be heralded.** Sheffield United’s crossing, midfield running and overlapping full-back play were excellent, and Kasim, Smith and Byrne were outstanding for Swindon, rediscovering their early season form. Cooper should be applauded for starting Smith in both games, presumably reckoning that he would dominate McEveley aerially. He certainly did. Kasim has been a joy to watch in recent weeks. Dander up, he appears alert and sharp, dominating the central midfield area. He seems to relish the big occasion and ought to thrive on the big Wembley pitch. Wembley: here we come!


*The paucity of tailored chants for Swindon players is an irritation. This is my, perhaps pitiful, attempt at starting one.
**Not once has the miserable Nigel Clough commented on Swindon’s excellent attacking play. He seems to have a similar bent to that other miserablist, Steve Cotterill. 

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