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Town underline promotion credentials
THEY may not be the finished article just yet, but Swindon Town showed glimpses of every attribute required for a promotion push in their dramatic 5-2 win over Port Vale.
Five good goals were supplemented with a return to the expansive passing game the County Ground crowd had become accustomed to before two straight defeats, bringing an end to a mini-slump which rightly or wrongly had fans questioning their side.
Striker Dany N’Guessan was the pick of the bunch as he scored one and made another for Nile Ranger with a powerful display which left the Vale backline battered and bruised, while in addition to his two goals Massimo Luongo put in a classy midfield performance in the absence of darling Yaser Kasim.
While it has been clear for weeks that Town are capable of passing any team in the division off the pitch on their day, manager Mark Cooper had been looking to instil a sense of urgency off the ball to match their undoubted talent on it. That’s exactly what he got as his side pressed Vale all over the pitch to win the ball back time and again on an afternoon where Town matched up physically to a team more than happy to put themselves about.
For all those positives there were nervy moments after Tom Pope and pantomime villain Lee Hughes reduced Town’s 3-0 lead to just a single goal with 10 anxious minutes to go, but when Nathan Byrne curled in a spectacular fourth minutes later the pressure was relieved and the game was won.
There are certainly things to work on, such as the defensive lapses which cost Town two goals which at one stage threatened to deny them what had seemed a comfortable victory, but until Pope’s 73rd minute strike the Robins’ back line had not looked like being breached on an afternoon where the visitors’ only two shots on target resulted in goals.
Last week’s thoroughly forgettable game at Oldham now seems like a bad dream following an entertaining fixture worth £25 of anyone’s money, with drama also served up off the pitch thanks to a touchline melee involving players and coaches alike which saw goalkeeping coach Fraser Digby sent to the stands for seemingly holding onto the ball while Hughes looked to retrieve it.
What was ultimately a compelling contest took a while to get going, though, and following a scrappy opening five minutes dominated by odd decisions from referee Andy Woolmer, Alex Pritchard had the first sight of goal as he lined up a free kick following a foul on Ryan Mason, but only fired his shot into the wall.
Vale’s first chance came and went as Pope drifted a shot into the side netting despite having time and space to hit the target before Jay McEveley skidded a shot along the floor which keeper Chris Neal was able to get behind and hold.
Another Town free-kick couldn’t beat the wall, this time from Mason, and Vale fired further warning shots as first Darren Ward had to make a vital headed clearance before McEveley was forced to put in a thundering tackle to thwart another attack, with Grant Hall then scrambling back well to rob Pope.
Pritchard’s low shot was palmed away by Neal, landing inches away from Ranger as he looked to pounce, but Town were not to be denied for long. A free-kick wide on the right was sent into the box by McEveley where N’Guessan was able to rise with ease to head home a deserved opener off the post.
Adam Yates drove wide as Vale looked to quickly respond but the flow of Town attacks soon resumed as goal scorer N’Guessan and McEveley saw shots saved by Neal, although Doug Loft did manage to get a volley off for the visitors but could only send his shot wide.
The biggest, and last, chance of the half for the visitors came and went following a booming long throw from Carl Dickinson, as the usually so reliable Pope fired wide after letting the ball drop.
After stuttering through the opening period Town’s intent was clear right at the start of the second as Luongo took the ball straight from kick-off and looked to drive through the entire Vale side, but although the Aussie’s run was eventually ended Town were soon rewarded for their early aggression.
N’Guessan put in all the hard work as he bundled his way into the box, beating a man in the process, and when he drove the ball across the face of goal Ranger was there to nod home with the simplest of finishes.
Five minutes later, it was three, as Luongo scored his first off the afternoon. Thompson pulled the ball back for the midfielder who shaped to cross but eventually cut inside and let off a rocket of a shot which keeper Neal got a firm hand to but could only palm into the opposite corner following a deflection.
Micky Adams’ triple substitution brought Hughes into the action, and after a hot reception the striker maintained his position as public enemy number one following the scramble on the bench which resulted in Digby being sent to the stand and the striker only booked.
With Town looking home and dry Pope grabbed one back for the visitors by rounding Foderingham and finishing well and after Pritchard was booked for diving the Swindon lead was narrowed to just a single goal as Hughes made sure he was in the right place at the right time to prod the ball home with the home defence hideously out of shape.
Out of nothing the Robins’ seemingly certain win was in doubt, but Byrne didn’t give the nerves any time to set in as he received the ball from Pritchard and curled a beautiful shot into the back of the net, and when the feet of Luongo weaved their magic to score Town’s fifth the three points were secured.
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