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SWINDON TOWN: Barthram and Ajose sink Pilgrims
SWINDON Town progressed into the area quarter-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy with a 2-1 home victory over Plymouth Argyle.
Goals from Jack Barthram and Nicky Ajose gave Town safe passage despite an early Andre Blackman strike for the visitors, as Swindon made the most of their superiority across the pitch.
The Robins should have won the game by a more convincing scoreline but allowed themselves to fall into patches of sloppy play at random intervals, and battling Plymouth did their best to force the game to penalties.
However, that wasn’t to be and Town march on into the next round.
Swindon manager Mark Cooper initially made five changes to his starting line-up for the clash, with Raphael Rossi Branco coming in for his debut in defence and Barthram, Louis Thompson, Mohamed El Gabas and Ajose recalled.
That soon increased to six alterations when Wes Foderingham was taken ill during the warm-up and Tyrell Belford replaced the goalkeeper for his bow in a Swindon shirt.
Belford had barely got used to the brightness of the electronic advertising hoardings on the touchline, however, by the time he was picking the ball out of the back of the net.
Town’s new-look side moved the ball around neatly in the opening moments but in the sixth minute they were horribly exposed down their right hand side and Andre Blackman darted into the Swindon box and fired a deflected effort past the teenage stopper.
The Robins quickly surged down the other end in search of an immediate reply and should have drawn level when Nathan Byrne wriggled round two markers on the left and crossed neatly for Mohamed El Gabas who, five yards out, should have done better than allow the ball to bounce harmlessly off his shins and into the arms of Jake Goal in the Argyle goal.
Massimo Luongo was the next Town player to try his luck, fizzing a 20-yard drive just wide of Cole’s right-hand post after Nicky Ajose’s effort was blocked into his path, before El Gabas crashed an effort against the foot of the same upright from the edge of the penalty area.
It didn’t take long for Swindon to haul themselves level, however.
In the 19th minute Grant Hall was given all the time he needed to pick out the run of Barthram with a terrific lofted crossfield pass and the full-back wasn’t afraid to go in with his head to nod beyond the outrushing Cole.
Now Town were totally in command. Plymouth kept possession as though playing with a bar of soap and the hosts could toy with them to their hearts’ content.
Luongo and Pritchard both had shots blocked before Cole produced a superb saved, reaching high to his right to keep out El Gabas’s rising header which was destined for the top corner.
Pritchard spurned another opportunity in the 27th minute, smashing a shot over the crossbar after he was found in acres of space by Ajose, but for the final quarter-hour of the opening period Swindon lost a lot of their fluency and pockets of home fans lost their patience with the keep-ball their side was playing.
Despite a turgid spell, however, the Robins went within inches of claiming the lead at the break. In the final minute of the first half another sensational pass from Hall picked out Barthram, who lifted his shot over Cole only to watch in anguish as it bounced back off the bar.
The woodwork couldn’t keep Swindon out for long, though, and within 60 seconds of the second half the home side pushed their noses in front.
Pritchard did tremendously well to retrieve possession in midfield after Louis Thompson’s errant pass and the on-loan Spurs man rode a tackle before picking out Ajose 30 yards from goal. The striker picked his spot beyond Cole and curled a delicious effort into the Pilgrims keeper’s top left-hand corner.
Plymouth had the chance to hit back almost immediately when Curtis Nelson headed across goal and Paul Hayes launched himself into an overhead kick, but the on-loan Charlton man sliced his effort well wide.
It was only momentary pressure from the visitors, however, and soon it was Swindon on the attack and looking dangerous once more. Darren Ward’s bullet header flew past Cole’s left-hand post before El Gabas miscued an effort from a narrow angle after tidy work from Pritchard and Ajose inside the Plymouth box.
Despite holding a monopoly on possession and a superior level of skill on the ball, Swindon struggled to see off their guests. The longer Plymouth stayed within a goal of their hosts the more confident they became and, after Cooper was required to replace Barthram due to injury, Town lost their most willing and dangerous runner.
Lee Cox was introduced as a substitute for his first Robins appearance since the League Two trip to Crewe in March 2012 but, against the club with whom he spent a successful spell on loan last season, the midfielder couldn’t make an imprint on proceedings.
In the last 10 minutes, although Cooper introduced Dany N’Guessan and Nile Ranger to toughen up the Swindon frontline Plymouth would not be intimidated. Belford had to make his first notable save as a Town player in the 85th minute, leaping to his right to push away Reuben Reid’s long-range drive, as the hosts seemed to be hanging on at the death.
Ajose could have added some gloss to the scoreline when Pritchard picked him out with a scintillating cross in added time but the on-loan Peterborough frontman steered his shot wide.
And that was it. An entertaining first half and a rather sloppy second. Not that it matters, Swindon Town remain in the JPT.
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