SWINDON TOWN: Blunt Robins are cut to size by Blades

Swindon Advertiser: Swindon Town's Ryan Mason in action against Sheffield United Swindon Town's Ryan Mason in action against Sheffield United

SWINDON Town’s Bramall Lane hoodoo will go on for at least another year.

The Robins had not tasted victory at Sheffield United for some 43 years going into Saturday’s encounter in League One and Jose Baxter’s second-half header ensured that, in 13 matches since February 1970 Town have taken just two league points back from their trips to South Yorkshire.

At half-time, with the visitors in the ascendancy and the hosts perhaps lucky not to be reduced to 10 men after Michael Doyle tripped Ryan Mason when clean through on goal, Swindon appeared relatively comfortable.

Though operating at far from their best in the opening 45 minutes, the Wiltshire side were still posing the Blades problems and looked like sneaking an opener only for George Long to deny Nicky Ajose and Mason.

But after the break, for the third consecutive game, an encouraging start was followed by a quite desperate second-half display. Swindon seemed lobotomised, their creativity sapped and United – who offered very little throughout – took advantage.

Baxter’s lobbed header was good enough to win the tie and leave Swindon manager Mark Cooper with plenty of thinking to do ahead of the visit of Coventry to the County Ground this weekend.

Wes Foderingham returned in goal after being rested for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory over Stevenage, while Alex Pritchard supported Ajose up front and Louis Thompson came back into midfield as Ryan Harley and Dany N’Guessan dropped to the bench.

Town went about their task well in the early exchanges, passing the ball around at pace on an uneven playing surface.

However, the hosts soon found their rhythm and composure and came up with the first shot of the game in the 10th minute. Tony McMahon found space on the edge of the area to drive at Wes Foderingham, and his effort was spilled unconvincingly by the Town goalkeeper before his defence hacked clear.

Soon Swindon found themselves penned in their own half and were the width of Grant Hall’s head from falling behind in the 13th minute when Baxter’s goalbound free-kick deflected off the centre-back’s forehead and out of play.

For much of the rest of the period the two goalkeepers could afford to put their feet up, as the two teams toyed with the ball in midfield before interrupting themselves with a stray pass or a poor touch.

The match’s lack of continuity was not helped by a series of bizarre decision from referee Scott Duncan, who managed to rile both sets of fans equally as he played advantages where there were none, penalised fair challenges and missed blatant fouls.

On the sidelines, Cooper and Nigel Clough could be seen to be squirming at every strange call.

Swindon took until the 37th minute to muster their first shot at goal, but Mason’s effort was blocked, before the away side surged into the ascendancy in the immediate moments before half-time.

Ajose, playing wide on the left of a 4-6-0 formation, cut inside his marker to fire powerfully at George Long, but the Sheffield United keeper made the save, before Mason wriggled free on the edge of the box only to shoot straight at Long.

With the final kick of the opening period, Hall’s overhead kick from a Pritchard corner landed on the roof of the net, and Swindon could have done with more than the two additional minutes buckled onto the first 45.

The interval aided United, who came out for the second half with renewed fervour. Baxter’s fizzing attempt was pushed to safety by Foderingham in the 51st minute before a combination of Jay McEveley and Chris Porter diverted the ball gently onto a post 60 seconds later.

Town were shaking and needed to find their feet again quickly. Cooper threw on Nathan Byrne in place of Nathan Thompson, whose torrid afternoon had been mostly spent chasing the heels of Murphy down the Sheffield United left, but stability didn’t return.

Swindon survived a scare in the 63rd minute when referee Duncan made the odd decision to seemingly penalise Foderingham for keeping hold of the ball for too long, but United fluffed the free-kick right on the edge of the box.

However, parity was looking increasingly fragile and so it proved with 23 minutes remaining.

Town couldn’t compete in a game of head tennis inside their own area and Baxter rose highest to loop his header over Foderingham. It was a deserved lead for a Blades outfit who outfought their guests throughout the second half.

Such was the pathetic nature of Swindon’s attempts to get back into the game, fans in the away end resorted to celebrating make believe shots at goal in the second period. It was a damning indictment of a lacklustre period of football.

Massimo Luongo dragged wide and Pritchard’s tame effort was easy for Long to save in the dying minutes, as Town went out with a whimper.

Forty-three years will become 44. Bramall Lane is not a happy place to be if you support Swindon Town.

“We spoke at half-time about making sure we tried to start the second half well, which we’ve not been doing of late, and we didn’t for some reason. Our better players kept giving the ball away and we gave a little bit of momentum to Sheffield United,” Cooper said after the game.

“I felt comfortable that we didn’t look as though we were going to concede a goal but we didn’t look like we were going to score a goal. We’re trying to find a balance, having been beaten 4-0 at Macclesfield and getting beaten at Oldham and other places away from home we’re a bit scarred about going out and attacking.

“We’re trying to strike a balance between attacking and making sure we stay in games. The first half I felt we could have been in front. The tackle on Ryan Mason should be a red card, he’s through on goal and the defender is the last man. It should be a goal, and if we came in 1-0 it’s a different game.

“I just felt today our better players didn’t have enough of a threat. It happens. Some days players don’t play at the top of the game.

“There were some strange decisions for both teams and both managers were very perplexed by the referee today.”

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