MARK Cooper thought his young Swindon Town team defied their tender years as they outfought a physical Preston North End outfit to secure their first home victory in almost two months.
A second-half penalty from Michael Smith was enough to separate the sides at the County Ground on Saturday, ending Preston’s 12-match unbeaten streak and lifting Swindon into eighth place in the League One table as a result.
Cooper’s starting XI had an average age of just over 22, while Preston’s side averaged closer to 26, and North End substitute Kevin Davies’s professional appearance total of 772 was just 102 fewer than the entire Town team put together.
Despite that, Swindon looked composed on and off the ball and deserved a victory which left their manager beaming with pride.
Cooper said: “I thought we played particularly well today. When you look at the age of the team and the fact we had some late injuries in Louis Thompson and Ryan Harley, the team we put out today was full of energy and desire and carried on from the performance last week.
“It was a pleasing win. I thought we deserved to win by a bigger scoreline and we probably would have done apart from some awful refereeing again.
“I did a lot of work during the week with the back three, about forcing the opposition away from goal and making sure that if they did score it had to be from a cross and not letting them on the inside of us. They looked very solid again today.
“I thought Preston would go with a back three, they usually do away from home, but they didn’t and stayed as a 4-4-2. With the three centre-backs we had I thought the system suited us, the wing-backs got forward well and it gave us a chance to play two up front.”
Miles Storey, back from a month on loan at Shrewsbury Town, was paired with Michael Smith up front and Cooper was pleased with the impact made by both men.
“I thought the two up front were good. I asked them before the game for the defenders to come off and knew they’d been in a game and they did that,” he said.
“I said to Miles when he went out on loan ‘go, get some games and when you come back you’ll get some minutes’ and that’s what we did.
“He’s got his sharpness back. The thing with Miles is he needs to play in a two and he’s done well today. Michael Smith I thought had his best game today, he was outstanding, and they looked a decent partnership.
“We’ve got eight games left, we’ve got a couple of things we need to look at and hopefully, once we’re mathematically safe, we’ll be able to do that.”