SWINDON Town slipped to their heaviest defeat of the season losing 4-1 to League leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers despite an improved second half showing, writes Adrian Smith.
Town struggled to cope with the visitors pacy attack in the first half and found themselves losing by three goals to nil at half time with Bakary Sako scoring either of side of Nouha Dicko’s goal. However Mark Cooper steadied the ship with three substitutions in the second half with the introduction of Louis Thompson making the biggest difference adding much needed bite in midfield.
Town’s better second half display was rewarded with Michael Smith’s 5th goal in 10 games for the Robins but former Town player Leon Clarke restored the visitors three goal lead deep in added time.
Swindon had made three changes with Nathan Thompson missing through injury along with Troy Archibald-Henville who was rested and Louis Thompson was on the substitutes bench and they were replaced by Raphael Rossi-Branco, Dany N’Guessan and Jay McEveley.
Wolves kicked off with the massed ranks of their supporters behind them on the Stratton Bank eager to witness their side going for a record ninth straight victory and James Henry went close to opening the scoring in the 7th minute after outpacing the Town defence but his shot flew wide of the right hand upright.
Wolves took the lead in the 9th minute when a weak clearance by Byrne was picked up near the left hand touchline and the ball was crossed from the left wing to Bakary Sako who headed home from close range. Town’s response was almost immediate as Alex Pritchard picked up the ball 20 yards from goal and sidestepped a couple of challenges before sending in a goalbound shot which the Wolves keeper Carl Ikeme did well to push round the post for a corner but Pritchard’s cross was weak and easily cleared by the visitors.
Swindon’s defence was carved open by a combination of Sako and Henry in the 18th minute with Darren Ward beaten by Sako’s pass to Henry who fired a shot against the post. One minute later Town were again embarrassed by Diko’s pace as he again left Ward standing and sidestepped a challenge before firing home past Belford to double the lead.
Once again Town’s response came through Alex Pritchard who tried his luck shortly afterwards with a powerful shot which Ikeme took diving low to catch the ball.
Town enjoyed a good period of possession midway through the first half with plenty of short incisive passes in midfield without delivering a shot on goal and eventually Wolves regained the ball and attacked strongly leading to two corners but the Town defence cleared the danger.
N’Guessan popped up in midfield taking on three defenders leading to a shot by Harley but his effort struck Luongo on the heels and the ball ran away from goal.
Town’s best move of the match so far saw Michael Smith link up with Pritchard who threaded a good ball to Byrne on the right wing and his cross caused minor panic in the Wolves defence and the ball was put out for a corner. However that led to a goal for the visitors when the ball was cleared long downfield where it was picked up by Sako for his 2nd goal of the night in the 34th minute.
Alex Pritchard tried his luck with a placed free kick from 25 yards in the 42nd minute but Ikeme took the ball easily.
Sam Ricketts went close to extending Wolves lead on the stroke of halftime as he brushed off Pritchard’s challenge on the edge of the penalty area before lifting the ball over Belford but the ball flew over the bar and that was the last main action of the first half.
George Barker replaced N’Guessan at half time as Mark Cooper looked to try and retrieve something from the match.
Swindon’s first attack of the night resulted in a weak shot by Harley with the ball tamely flying past the left hand upright in the 50th minute.
Louis Thompson replaced Yaser Kasim in the 54th minute in a tactical swap and he almost made a goalscoring impact after outpacing the Wolves defence down the right wing before firing a shot just wide of goal.
Jack Barthram replaced Byrne in the 56th minute and he was soon seeing plenty of the ball on Town’s right wing.
A flowing move by Town saw Pritchard play the ball forward and his cheeky backheel set up Luongo for a shot but his effort was always rising and the ball went over the bar.
There was a flurry of yellow cards as firstly James Henry saw yellow in the 64th minute for fouling Pritchard from behind as the Town midfielder was charging through midfield in the Wolves half. Bartram was then shown a yellow card in the 65th minute for a late challenge on Jack Price as the Wolves player was about to charge downfield and finally Nouha Dicko was slightly fortunate to be shown a yellow card for unnecessarily pushing Rossi Branco at a free kick even though Wolves had been awarded the kick in the 66th minute.
Michael Smith pulled a goal back for Town in the 76th minute after receiving the ball in front of goal from Pritchard and he gleefully fired home for his 5th goal of the season. The goal was fair reward for Town’s improved second half showing and Mark Cooper’s men stepped up the pressure on Wolves leading to a corner which was flapped at by the Wolves keeper but the ball struck a Town player and went out for a goalkick.
The County Ground responded with plenty of encouragement and the volume increased further when Town won a corner. Play was held up when former Town player Leon Clarke joined play replacing Dicko in the 81st minute after also having played at the County Ground earlier in the season in Town’s win over Coventry.
There was drama in the 89th minute when Smith’s cross into the penalty area where it was headed goalwards by McEveley but the ball struck the crossbar and fell straight into the keeper’s hands.
Rossi Branco saw yellow for a soft foul on Sako just before the 90th minute and the referee chose to give the Wolves player an extended telling off for his response to the foul.
Leon Clarke scored Wolves’s 4th goal deep in added time after tricking his way into the penalty area and shooting from an acute angle past Belford and he celebrated wildly in front of the 2140 away fans in the crowd of 9670. The goal proved to be the last main action of the match which saw Wolves achieve a new Club record of nine straight victories and cement their place at the top of League One.
Swindon Town: Belford, Byrne, Ward (C), Branco, McEveley, Kasim, Luongo, Harley, Pritchard, N'Guessan, Smith M
Subs: Bedwell, Barthram, Smith A, Gladwin, Thompson L, Barker, Randall