SWINDON TOWN: Blues go through but Cooper's men refuse to go down without a fight (From Swindon Advertiser)
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SWINDON TOWN: Blues go through but Cooper's men refuse to go down without a fight
ULTIMATELY it ended in defeat but Swindon Town can take plenty of pride out of the Capital One Cup tie with Chelsea last night.
The Robins refused to be scared by their top-flight opposition, despite the fact the visiting squad was brimming with international caps and top-class quality. They refused to change the way they play, and no doubt they will have gained many admirers because of it.
Two first-half goals in the space of six minutes killed any outside chance of an upset, with the excellent Fernando Torres and Ramires on the scoresheet, but Swindon were resilient and had plenty of chances of their own.
Dany N’Guessan found the back of the net after the break only to have the goal chalked off for offside, while the lively Alex Pritchard frequently tested Mark Schwarzer in the Chelsea goal.
It didn’t have the barmy ending we all might have hoped for, but the lads did the club and the fans and the town proud. We can be satisfied by that.
The absurdity of the task at hand was made evident upon the announcement of the two teams. Swindon’s starting XI cost a grand old total of £550,000 to assemble. The boys in blue had a cumulative worth of £185million.
A monstrous difference financially, but also in terms of experience. Amongst Chelsea’s starters were Champions League winners aplenty, Premier League champions, FA Cup winners. Blimey, Fernando Torres has been in the victorious Spanish squad in each of the last two European Championships and the World Cup of 2010.
Against them, in midfield, sat a 20-old Spurs loanee with 14 professional experiences, an Iraqi who couldn’t break into Macclesfield’s starting XI last term and a young Aussie just starting to make his name in the game. A totally unbalanced equation.
Swindon settled well, however, and it took the visitors 10 minutes to fashion a shot on target. David Luiz, out of favour under Jose Mourinho, pelted a swinging free-kick at Wes Foderingham from 30 yards but the Town keeper was alert to the danger and punched clear.
Another 11 minutes went by before Chelsea threatened again, this time Gary Cahill heading tamely at Foderingham. In between Town had started to strut their stuff. ‘Sod this wage gap,’ they must have thought, ‘we can play football too’.
And so they did. One-touch stuff, hot-potato stuff but with all the calm of a summer’s morning. For the 12,000 home fans, a joy to watch.
But there was no end product and Chelsea were always dangerous on the break. In the 26th minute Mata provided a delicious throughball for Torres and only a superb save from Foderingham, low to his right, prevented Town from falling behind.
Sadly, for all their wonderful midfield, passing football, it seemed inevitable that the guests – with all their firepower – would get the first goal. And so they did in the 29th minute.
Ramires, a 10th-minute substitute for the injured Marko van Ginkel, was the architect. The Brazilian slipped through Mata and, although Foderingham dived to his right to push the Spaniard’s shot away from goal, his countryman was there on the follow-up to tap home.
Swindon hands shot up desperately in search of an offside flag. It wasn’t forthcoming. Their £183.5million problem had just got that little bit harder. Chelsea weren’t about to hand them a lifeline.
Ten minutes before the break the Blues grabbed their second. Again a tidy throughball caught Town’s defence flat. This time Torres turned provider, sneaking in Ramires who dinked a finish over the outrushing Foderingham with a delicate ease.
If the first goal had dampened the atmosphere inside the County Ground, the second drowned it. Town’s players did their best to give the crowd the kiss of life and Yaser Kasim’s 20-yard drive had Schwarzer scrambling across his goal to push the ball out for a corner.
Pritchard was next to try his luck from range, but again Schwarzer was equal to the task. And so the Robins went into the break two goals behind.
Cooper was forced to remove Nile Ranger at half-time and with a change of system giving Town a narrower shape, the hosts thought they had bundled themselves back into the game with 51 minutes gone.
Jay McEvely swung in a free-kick from the right and Dany N’Guessan rose at the back post to head past Schwarzer, only for the former Millwall man to see his celebrations cut short by an offside flag. It was the right decision.
Town refused to be downhearted. Kasim was pulled back by Michael Essien and Pritchard tested Schwarzer’s positioning with a 25-yard free-kick and it took the visitors until the 65th minute to muster another effort on goal.
When a loose ball looped out to Kevin de Bruyne on the edge of the box the Belgian crashed a fierce volley, which Foderingham was unable to hold, and Grant Hall had to hack away at the feet of Gary Cahill on the follow-up.
Five minutes later Swindon managed to defend in single file straight down the pitch, allowing their guests the freedom of the County Ground to hit them on the counter, and the game should have been out of sight.
However, Foderingham produced yet another excellent save from Torres before Willian hoofed wildly over.
Foderingham was back in the thick of the action in the 79th minute, holding on tightly to Luiz’s savage free-kick, while at the other end the terrific Pritchard dragged a limp shot wide 60 seconds later.
Mata was the next Chelsea man to miss the target, shanking a wild effort over from the edge of the box after a good move involving Ryan Bertrand and Demba Ba, before Willian again made his £32million pricetag look stupidly inflated by scuffing a shot wide after being played through by Mata.
Torres, Chelsea’s best player, burst out of midfield to tee up Ba with four minutes left, but the Senegalese striker lashed wide and that was it. No more goals, not late drama, not even a Miles Storey two-goal cameo off the bench like last year.
Never mind. What an occasion. What an experience.
A good day to follow Swindon Town.
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