Post mortem

Monday 26th March 2012 22:45

Connell: Costly miss

Connell: Costly miss

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Swindon FanZoner Christopher Panks looks back on another Wembley final that saw the Robins out-muscled.

JPT despair for the Robins

With a slow drudge we filed down Wembley Way, a distant roar told us that Chesterfield had raised the Johnstone's Paint Trophy and, for at least a day, the spirits of the fans who have seen their side prop up the division for the majority of the season.

It was never meant to be this way. All the pre-match hype focussed on the largest personality in the two camps, Swindon manager Paolo Di Canio, a man with enough colour to dwarf the entirety of the two parties combined. Quickly, it became apparent that his opposite number, 1991 FA cup winner, John Sheridan had used his period out of the media's glare to do his homework.

Aside from a 25 minute period of enhanced pressure leading up to half time, the Spireites had the measure of the Robins who came into the game in impressive form. On Tuesday, Swindon had beaten second-placed Torquay 2-0, the second team in a row to visit the County Ground in second place. It was an impressive performance and seemed the ideal tonic to the loss at Crewe - only their second in the league this year.

I have spoken recently, about the typical arc of Swindon looking nervous and edgy in the early stages of encounters, picking their performance up when the first goal is scored, either in reaction to conceding or to increase their advantage when going ahead. On this occasion, Swindon failed to heed the warning when, from a set-piece, Chesterfield bundled the ball over the line, only to spot the linesman's raised flag.

Again, Swindon wobbled at the back - Captain Paul Caddis didn't win his fight against injury so Di Canio kept faith with the selection which held Torquay to a clean sheet with one exception. New recruit Jay McEveley, who joined from Barnsley on loan deadline day, was thrown straight in at the expense of Alessandro Cibocchi - joining a centre back pairing consisting of two converted central midfielders and Joe Devera, employed in his secondary role on the right. That Aden Flint, who has a stature written of heroes in Greek Mythology, found himself in suit over shin-pads, suggests that either his return to first team was rushed in terms of fitness, or that Di Canio is still fizzing over his role in the defeat at Gresty Road.

Most striking was the difference in physical attributes, the majority of headers and fifty-fifty's went the way of the League One side owing to their height advantage and steel in the tackle, Swindon's young, technical side seemed flimsy in comparison - a disadvantage augmented by poor officiating decisions.

Shortly after Chesterfield's goal was disallowed, Swindon began to find their feet and, orchestrated in large part by Simon Ferry, started to give a more accurate account of their capability. They dominated possession, Lee Holmes tested the full back, winning a host of corners but ultimately Chesterfield defended well, their height advantage and Lee, sound between the sticks meant that Swindon couldn't convert into a tangible lead.

When Swindon's top scorer, Alan Connell, fluffed their best chance from six yards out, it seemed destined not to be Swindon's day. Ferry had found Lee Holmes on the left wing and with his first touch dispatched the ball with military position onto Paul Benson's head, when he squared with a cushion header it found Connell on the volley six yards out. These are the chances that it is hoped would fall to the top scorer, but unaware of the time he had, he couldn't find a finish worthy of the build up, which Holland circa 1970 would have been proud of.


Two minutes after the restart and with Swindon's pressure and possession failing to translate into a tangible lead, Chesterfield were ahead as makeshift centre back Oliver Risser put past Wes Foderingham from Alex Mendy's driven cross. Becoming Swindon's first player to score a goal at 'new' Wembley, I'm sure it's not one he'll want to remember.

In response to going behind Di Canio brought on Ipswich loanee Ronan Murray and changed the formation to 3-4-3. This failed to increase the number of chances as Swindon continued to attack down the flanks. As the full backs got to know their opponents, they became more adept at blocking the dangerous crosses of the first half, with central defenders first to any ball which squeezed through.

Devera, more defensive than Caddis, did not overlap to stretch the back four, behaviour mirrored by McEveley, which meant that the double marking we've seen employed against Swindon's wingers this season was far more effective. Cibocchi replaced McEveley and Tottenham loanee John Bostock came on for an off-key Jonathan Smith, but the changes did not increase the frequency of chances, while Connell's first half effort remained the best in quality.

The change in formation allowed a lot more space at the back, while the midfield remained crowded and played into Chesterfield's more direct hands. Consider Swindon's high line and attacking distribution of resources, and with an air of inevitability Craig Westcarr broke free from a ball over the top, Alan McCormack couldn't catch him but when he dragged his shot wide. Swindon's fans at the opposite end cheered as though the Robins had scored.

As time ran short, more and more personnel were thrown forward in search of the equaliser. Cibocchi's header forced a smart save, put over the bar by Tommy Lee when it looked to be dipping under had the keeper not interrupted its path. Another break, deep in stoppage time, was almost identical to Westcarr's earlier chance, breaking free as a direct ball cleared the backline - the only difference was that instead of pulling his shot wide of the far post he slotted past Foderingham at the near, to double the advantage and put the game beyond doubt.

A rare ray of sunshine in an otherwise miserable campaign, few long suffering Robins begrudged the victory, which will put a positive slant on season that is likely to see Chesterfield return to the league they were crowned champions of 12 months ago. Many stayed and applauded both teams as they collected their medals, if only to remind the dejected players that they're still top of the league.

It was good show of respect to the team which, on the day, took their chances when they were presented and were deserved winners as a result. For Swindon, the scenes at the final whistle were all too far reminiscent of the last visit to Wembley, a 1-0 loss against Millwall in the 2010 League One playoff final. There too, a more physical side were better on the day and lead scorer Charlie Austin missed the only clear-cut chance as a pitch bobble caused him to send the ball over when one-on-one with David Forde.

Now, the players must put the disappointment behind them and focus on the main aim of the season, promotion from League Two at the first attempt. There are lessons to be learned by Di Canio too, who admitted he had got selection and tactical decisions wrong. Swindon were made to look one dimensional by a club who are bottom of the league he expects his team to kick off in come August. A perfect response would be to win against Bristol Rovers on Saturday and win the final local derby of the season, representing the first of four, another blight on an otherwise excellent season.

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