Kevin MacDonald’s first home game in charge of Swindon ended level at home to Walsall, much like Paul Hart’s first game in charge in 2011. It was also the third successive draw between these sides at the County Ground and Swindon’s sixth home draw this season. Benjamin Wills reports.
It seemed like MacDonald was going to secure a second successive 2-1 win as Swindon boss against surprise playoff hopefuls Walsall but a 90th minute leveller from Jamie Paterson ensured that Swindon’s own promotion hopes were dented.
Swindon started the brighter after a few early jitters with both sides misplacing multiple passes in the opening minutes but Collins was the owner of the first half chance of the game. Nathan Thompson chipped in and Collins flicked a header into the ‘keeper’s arms for a simple save. Town were unchanged from the Coventry win which meant that Si Ferry again started in the unfamiliar to him right wing position and he was reluctant to use it, staying in his preferred centre midfield position for the early stages.
Walsall had some early chances of their own, most notably a free header from former Manchester United youth team player Febian Brandy in the 7th minute after a Paterson cross from the left.
Swindon broke the deadlock after just 11 minutes when Andy Williams ran down the right hand side, turned onto his left foot and hit a shot that deflected out of the Walsall goalkeeper’s reach. Swindon fans calling for handball from said deflection quickly backtracked and started celebrating.
On the 15 minute mark Gary Roberts had a run down the left before flicking the ball onto his right and feeding Miller who fired a 25 yard shot goal wards but it was saved and landed at the feet of Collins who was flagged offside. Simon Ferry was growing in his right midfield role, often using the wing when tracking back and tackling but on the attack he would move back in the centre and ‘Thommo’ would use the space created to run in and whip in crosses and worry the Walsall defence. Thompson actually picked up the first of five bookings in this match when a mistimed trip was deemed worthy of a yellow card by the referee. The decision seemed harsh as this was Thompson’s first foul of the match and it was genuinely mistimed and not malicious.
Walsall were trying their best to level the scores in what was an entertaining first half at SN1 with Brandy firing a shot wide after Foderingham tipped an out swinging free kick away and then a left sided corner from boo boy Westcarr was headed over. Craig Westcarr angered Swindon supporters in the JPT final last year after a clash with Joe Devera and said this week he expected a hostile atmosphere from the home fans. He got it, but it was largely due to his own making; during this corner routine he placed the ball outside the permitted area to the frustration of the Town End, this was repeated in the next corner 5 minutes later. Westcarr had more tricks up his sleeve but more on that in a minute.
One change that MacDonald seems to have implemented onto his side is encouraging his midfield to try shots on goal, something we rarely saw under Paolo who preferred a large build up and simple finish. McCormack tried his luck from range for the first time during this match when his shot was fumbled but then smothered at the second attempt by the away Goalkeeper Aaron McCarey who’s on loan from Wolves.
On the half hour Walsall had the perfect opportunity to level the scoring when an Andy Taylor corner driven low was flicked by Brandy and Tommy Miller brought down Brandy with a rash sliding challenge inside the box. Walsall penalty. Brandy needed treatment after that challenge but despite the delay, Will Grigg wasn’t distracted and blasted his penalty out of Foderingham’s reach down his right hand side. 1-1. Westcarr carried on his wind up antics by celebrating in front of the Town fans and then feigning an injury two minutes later once play had resumed. Swindon and the ref correctly ignored the striker’s ‘injury’ and broke quickly on the counter attack with Ferry passing to Williams on the right who ran and crossed across pitch to Roberts in space on the edge of the six yard box but he volleyed over.
5 minutes before half time and Swindon were pushing for that goal that would give them the psychological and mathematical edge over Walsall going into the break. They thought they had it when a Thompson ball over the top was knocked on by Collins’ head and Roberts lashed it in but Collins was again deemed offside.
Walsall too had their eyes on a late first half goal but couldn’t get it after Westcarr blazed over from the edge of the box following a run and pass from the speedy Brandy. There was still time for Swindon to have their own penalty shout when Roberts nutmegged a defender on the right hand side of the box and then going down under a challenge but the ref waved play on. Gary Roberts of Swindon and Andy Taylor both picked up deserved bookings too for a rash slide challenge and a body checking respectively.
Half Time Swindon: 1-1 Walsall
The first chance of the second half also went to Swindon but it didn’t trouble the goalkeeper as a Roberts corner found Flint who could only head wide from close range. Walsall’s first shot on goal in this half was identical to their last in the first half, another run and pass by Brandy, another shot over from Westcarr.
Two more Town corners followed; first one taken short by Roberts to Ferry, back to Roberts who whipped it in to Ward but it was deflected out again. The second, whipped in again, cleared out to ‘Macca’ who chested it and volleyed on the turn narrowly over from just inside the middle of the box. McCormack seemed determined to get his name on the score sheet as he had a third shot from distance with 25 minutes left on the clock when a now left midfielder Ferry had a cross headed out only as far as McCormack who flicked the ball up and lashed a dipping half volley just over the bar.
Swindon looked vulnerable in defence though as just two minutes later a long ball to goal scorer Grigg was brought down and blasted it out for a throw in from a tight angle. He had more time than he thought and the centre back pairing of Flint and Ward gave him far too much space.
The final booking of the match went to Andy Butler for a blatant shove on Williams; Roberts took the resulting free kick that was punched out and then cleared out for a throw in by a defender. With 15 minutes remaining there was yet more calls for a penalty, Walsall’s turn again when Brandy was bundled over off the ball. The referee deciding this collision was accidental, no malice or diving involved.
Swindon first took the lead in this match with 11 minutes gone and took the lead the second time with 11 minutes left. Substitute Adam Rooney who replaced Collins on 63 minutes turned and shot with his left foot from the right side of the area, McCarey had a moment to forget and spilled the shot. The ball landed at Ferry’s feet who’s now back in the centre, he composed himself and slotted home from 3 yards. Cue Swindon joy and loud chants of ‘Dodgy ‘keeper’ and ‘Who are ya?’. Game won. Or so we thought.
This goal brought about the tactical change of the more defensive Joe Devera on for attacking full back Thompson however this sub seemed to backfire on MacDonald. With 4 minutes left a low cross into the box was sliced by Devera and the ball looped over Foderingham; only a fantastic save by the young promising goalie stopped it from being 2-2. Wes somehow managed to claw the ball out from behind him and get a strong hand behind it to stop the ball from crossing the line, the ball landed in front of Grigg who blazed over from 5 yards. The second leveller of the game itself came after the away side attacked down the left and crossed to Jamie Paterson – who looked lively all game – and he finished a free header with ease which Foderingham had no chance with. The 3 points snatched right under the noses of Swindon.
Swindon now travel to Brentford on Tuesday night in another top of the table promotion clash.