This game was first and foremost about getting three points against a team struggling around the foot of the league, one which has conceded more goals to date than any team other than Burton (which of course did not stop them trouncing us recently). Whether or not we are realistic in our expectations, the goal for this season is promotion, which for now means staying in touch with the top six places in the expectation that as players return and we sort out how to play together we improve, peaking when it matters. The secondary goals included keeping a clean sheet, progress on partnerships in key areas, and perhaps a look at our new striker. What we had was another disappointment in that we failed to win a game that we should have done, mitigated by the fact that we came precious close to losing it.
The team saw changes from Peterborough, most notably Pearce dropped to the bench while Bogle and Smyth were out of the team and not among the subs. It looked like a basic 4-4-2 with Gunter partnering Oshilaja in central defence, Matthews and Maatsen the full-backs. In midfield the central combination of Pratley and Forster-Caskey was retained, with Millar on the left flank and Williams coming in on the right, while Schwartz was given his first start up front, alongside Aneke. With Watson and Maddison not yet ready, the back-ups on the bench were Pearce for the defence (but no Purrington), Morgan, Shinnie and Gilbey in midfield, and Washington and new boy Stockley up front (not sure why Smyth didn’t merit a place to give us a different option; obviously choices have to be made but did we really need three replacement midfielders?).
Swindon started brightly, but then almost gifted us the lead. A back pass was intercepted by Schwartz, who shaped to turn it around their keeper, only for him to get a faint touch and divert the ball onto the post. Have to say it was a decent save, one which proved very important as within five minutes we were behind. A long ball over Matthews saw their guy take it in his stride, cut back inside Matthews far too easily, and send in a powerful shot to the near post. It was well struck, but Amos will be disappointed not to have kept it out. Another lead conceded as a result of mistakes, another game to chase.
It did look in the first 30 minutes or so that we would be able to do that, as we created a number of good positions, with both Millar and Williams getting joy down the flanks and Aneke as ever a threat. But the end-result was only half-chances (especially an Aneke header over the bar), the period rounded off by us hitting the woodwork for a second time. Millar drew a foul right on the edge of the box on the left side and curled in a shot which had the keeper beaten but flicked the top of the bar.
Not long after, with their second shot of the game, Swindon were 2-0 ahead. Started again down their left and this time the ball was played square, their guy got to it just before Millar and his shot took a deflection off Oshilaja which was enough to beat Amos.
At the break we had 57% possession and six shots against two for Swindon. We would have felt hard done-by had it not been a familiar story. Once more we were staring at having to score three times to win a game. But as against Rochdale there was the feeling that there were more goals to come and if we managed to get one back everything would be up for grabs. The game was far from lost.
Bowyer made a change at the break, one involving a formation shift. Williams was taken off and Shinnie sent on, with Millar moving more central at the head of a diamond, Forster-Caskey and Shinnie playing sort of either side of Pratley. The balance of play stayed the same and, after a couple of near misses for Pratley and a scare when Amos came out of his goal and was almost caught out, we did get back into it. Millar and Pratley combined and it ended with a curled cross to the far post, where Aneke had lost his marker and headed home.
Still more than 30 minutes on the clock. Schwartz did put the ball in the net but from an offside position, Morgan came on for Pratley (now he and Shinnie operated either side of Forster-Caskey), and on 64 minutes we should have been level. Millar and Morgan combined down the right side and eventually the cross came in. Aneke had time and space from close range, but instead of converting simply he thumped it and it hit the underside of the bar and out.
Not long after Maatsen went down and limped off, to be replaced by Pearce, with Gunter switching to left-back. And with around 15 minutes left Bowyer had his final throw of the dice, withdrawing the front two for Stockley and Washington. We continued to create chances, with Washington working space well but his shot was blocked, as was Forster-Caskey’s effort from the rebound, with the commentators claiming a handball (hard to say, would need a replay). But by now we were starting to look desperate and Swindon had the opportunity to seal the points. We were caught out down their left and their guy cut back inside Shinnie and squared it, only for their forward to hit the post. I think it was Swindon’s third shot in the game – and their first not to result in a goal.
Instead, in the final minute of normal time we got lucky. The ball was worked well down the left and out to Millar, who passed inside to Forster-Caskey. He made a pig’s ear of his shot but it was intercepted by Shinnie, who looked to be in an offside position but obviously wasn’t. He tucked it home.
In six minutes of stoppage time both sides had a glorious chance to win the game. First Swindon ended an attack with the ball laid back to a guy inside the area. He opted to try a sort of chip and got it wrong. From that Morgan played a glorious long ball forward that was well collected by Washington, who seemed to have played it too far but managed to get a touch to take it wide of their keeper, only to be unable to get the angle right to put the ball in the net. It hit the side netting and that was the game.
On any normal assessment of the game we should have been the winners. But the fact was they scored twice and can’t be blamed for adopting a conservative approach. I don’t know what Bowyer can do to stop us leaking poor goals, but until we do we simply can’t complain about not winning games.
Amos – 5/10. Has been excellent all season but has to take his share of the blame for their first goal, powerful shot but into an area that a keeper is going to be disappointed to be beaten.
Matthews – 5/10. Sluggish start to the game cost us as he was easily beaten for the goal. We were also undone down his side late in the game. Disappointing, especially as we know how good he can be.
Gunter – 7/10. Filled in well enough at centre-back then left-back, albeit against a team not busting a gut to get forward.
Oshilaja – 8/10. Good game. Can’t blame him for the deflection for their second, just one of those things. Otherwise efficient and effective with no rash challenges.
Maatsen – 7/10. Reasonable game before the injury, hopefully it won’t keep him out.
Millar – 8/10. My man of the match. Didn’t quite produce the end-product but ran them ragged throughout the game.
Pratley – 7/10. Did his job, got into the box a few times and came close to scoring, sacrificed after the change in the shape of the midfield.
Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Another decent game, controlled his area of the pitch.
Williams – 6/10. Didn’t play badly despite being subbed at the break, plenty of good work in the first half but no end-product.
Aneke – 7/10. Could have been the match-winner and should have been, scored well but really was a poor miss with the second chance.
Schwartz – 5/10. After his chance in the first minute was almost anonymous, aside from putting the ball in the net from an offside position. Disappointing, but far too soon to be drawing any conclusions.
Shinnie – 7/10. Played his part and scored, good to have him back.
Morgan – 7/10. Also instrumental, involved in one goal.
Pearce – 7/10. Fair enough, although Swindon did have chances in the last 10 minutes.
Washington – 6/10. So nearly the hero in the final seconds.
Stockley – 6/10. Not an explosive first outing, have to wait and see.