SWINDON TOWN 2 WALSALL 2: Fans grumble on as Saddlers steal share of spoils (From Swindon Advertiser)
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SWINDON TOWN 2 WALSALL 2: Fans grumble on as Saddlers steal share of spoils
TWO years ago today, Swindon Town were sitting bottom of League One after a 1-0 defeat at Plymouth.
The fans and the players had held their own, very public slanging match at Home Park, the dressing room was divided into cliques and relegation was almost inevitable.
Fast forward two years to March 11, 2013. But for Walsall midfielder Jamie Paterson’s 90th-minute equaliser, Town would be celebrating leapfrogging Sheffield United into the top two. Yet mumbles of discontent still emerged after 90 frustrating but hardly appalling minutes at the County Ground on Saturday.
The local radio phone-in was sprinkled with opinions even Eeyore would have branded melancholy. Perhaps after a game like that a little perspective is in order.
Walsall came to Wiltshire fresh off the back of a run of eight wins and just one defeat in 11 league outings. Dean Smith has rekindled the fires at the Banks’s Stadium and the Saddlers are now genuine play-off contenders.
Yet, for the most part, Swindon held the upper hand against the in-form team in the division. Though the new-fangled system, with Simon Ferry operating in a free role from the right, still needs work, there was plenty to suggest once again that a Kevin MacDonald team will play entertaining and free-flowing football.
Defensively, Swindon looked a little suspect on the counter attack. Having taken the lead through Andy Williams, and a large deflection off Andy Butler’s right elbow, they controlled possession for long periods but there was an air of fragility about the way they dealt with Febian Brandy and Paterson bombing forward down either flank.
Walsall dragged themselves back into the game with a penalty, conceded by Tommy Miller for a foul on Brandy. On first glance it seemed a stonewall spot-kick, as Miller came from behind to take ball and man, the replays suggested otherwise.
Will Grigg notched his sixth goal in three matches from 12 yards but Town took charge again in the second half and, with 11 minutes remaining, Simon Ferry bundled home after Aaron McCarey had spilled Adam Rooney’s shot.
But Swindon couldn’t hang on. A ring-rusty Joe Devera was caught out by Ashley Hemmings’ pace down the Town right with injury time approaching and the winger delivered an inch-perfect cross for Paterson to nod home.
Frustration all round, but hardly a sign of the impending apocalypse that some would have had you believe on your drive home.
Town’s first chance came in the fourth minute. Nathan Thompson’s cross from the right was headed gently at McCarey by James Collins.
Walsall came close to breaking the deadlock four minutes later when Brandy was found unmarked at the back post by Paterson’s cross. However, the diminutive midfielder couldn’t rise high enough to guide his header on target.
Swindon made the most of that slight let-off in the 11th minute. Williams twisted and turned his marker’s legs into a knot on the right wing, cut inside the penalty area onto his left foot and drove at goal.
The ball bounced off Butler’s flailing right arm and looped over McCarey. It was the piece of good fortune that Town were desperately seeking, but they couldn’t make the most of it.
Miller and Alan McCormack both tested the Walsall keeper from range but McCarey made two unconvincing saves, before the visitors get themselves back on level terms just after the half-hour mark.
When Miller went to ground to win the ball from underneath Brandy’s feet 15 yards from goal, referee Darren Drysdale had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Grigg, the hottest striking property in the division at present, made no mistake from the spot despite Wes Foderingham diving the right way.
Less than two minutes after being dragged level, Swindon should have gone back in front. Williams crossed neatly from the right and, at the back post, Roberts miscued his volley wide.
It was the last major chance for either side before the interval and after the break Town resumed control of proceedings.
Aden Flint headed wide from Roberts’ corner when he should have hit the target, having done well to outmuscle his marker and reach the ball in the first place, while McCormack sent a dipping volley inches over the crossbar.
But the Robins continued to look susceptible on the counter. Grigg twice found space inside the Town penalty area without producing the killer finish as Walsall continued to threaten.
However, just as the Saddlers were settling into the best period of the game, they fell behind for a second time.
Rooney cut in from the right and fired a shot at McCarey, who somehow managed to spill the ball back into the six-yard box and there was Ferry to scoop home with his left foot. With 11 minutes left, surely a defence which hadn’t conceded twice in the league since the trip to Crewe in October wouldn’t let one in now?
Unfortunately it didn’t play out that way. Hemmings was thrown on to add a little extra zest to the Walsall attack in the dying stages and, with Thompson having to be withdrawn with what appears to be a knee injury, the winger found space behind Devera to get to the byline and find Paterson’s forehead with tremendous accuracy.
Paterson obliged from eight yards, as neither Foderingham nor the backtracking Flint could clear off the line. Cue frustration at the County Ground.
Frustration, not Armageddon.