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Thompson bags first pro goal as Town blunt Blades
NATHAN Thompson’s 80-yard sprint around the touchline to celebrate with his brother told you everything you needed to know about the significance of this victory.
The Swindon Town captain, substituted 20 minutes earlier, darted from the dug-outs to the far corner flag in the 90th minute after Louis, three years his younger, had fired home his first professional goal and perhaps the most important goal of the Robins’ season so far in front of the Town End.
It was a touching moment of brotherly love and raw emotion. The County Ground was rocking once again, its soul seemingly restored.
Up until three weeks ago this term seemed to be a lost cause, left to meander aimlessly towards a midtable finish. This reporter was guilty for thinking as much. So were many of you. Do we feel the same this Monday morning?
With six games left mediocrity might still be the end-game, Town’s destiny is ultimately out of their own hands with Peterborough United – a point ahead in sixth with two games in hand – in the driving seat. But if they can play with the grit and desire, resolve and determination that they displayed at Ashton Gate, Prenton Park and in home wins against two of the top teams in the division, in Sheffield United and Preston North End, you just never know.
The Blades arrived in Wiltshire off the back of a run of just one defeat in 10 League One outings and that came against the Wolves juggernaut that tops the table and totally destroyed Town in 45 nightmarish minutes earlier this month.
They were comfortably second best in the first 45 minutes, though whether that was of their own design is up for debate, and, while they equalised in the second period and looked the likelier to net a winner, they came up against an inspired Wes Foderingham and a dogged Town rearguard that, unlike during the middle months of the campaign, refused to roll over and die.
That stubbornness is an impressive quality in such a young team built on scraps and potential. On this occasion Jack Stephens was the stand-out member of the back three – the Southampton loanee dominating Jose Baxter and Chris Porter with astonishing ease.
Troy Archibald-Henville was back and leading by example, Jay McEveley was his usual, vocal, busy, brutish self.
And behind the trio stood a man mountain in Foderingham, who made three spectacular saves – one of which, 30 seconds before Swindon scored their decisive second, might as well go down as an assist.
The Swindon keeper has come back from his injury lay-off even better, his inimitable shot-stopping talent now complemented by astute judgement of the high ball and tidy distribution from the back. He was the cornerstone and lynchpin of this victory – even if the glory would later go to Thompson and Miles Storey, who scored for the second game in a row to put Town ahead in the 18th minute.
Michael Doyle equalised for the Blades just before the hour and the visitors pushed harder and harder and harder for a winner of their own but Foderingham made their huff and puff look more like splutter and wheeze.
He saved brilliantly from Conor Coady and John Brayford in the first half and again from Coady, at point-blank range, in the moments before Thompson’s late strike.
Quite rapidly, he’s showing he deserves to play at a higher level.
Of course, Swindon Town can still dream that he will be playing at that higher level with them next season, but after their third win in succession – not a mean feat in League One – those dreams are now no longer as ridiculous as they once seemed.
Town manager Mark Cooper made two changes to the side which beat Tranmere Rovers 2-1 at Prenton Park on Tuesday night.
Archibald-Henville returned to the starting line-up in place of Raphael Branco and Lee Cox found himself on the pitch from the first whistle of a Swindon match for the first time since February 21, 2012, as Massimo Luongo missed out with a sore calf.
A dull first 15 minutes saw both teams sizing each other up before Storey pounced to put Town in front in the 18th minute.
An excellent pass from Michael Smith gave Storey the time and space he needed in the box to pick his spot and he guided an excellent finish beyond Mark Howard.
Coady must have thought he’d levelled for the Blades in the 36th minute, when he lost his marker at the back post to send a powerful header low to Foderingham’s right, but the Town goalkeeper got down to push the ball out for a corner.
Foderingham was back in action again from the resultant set-piece, this time leaping high to his left to palm Brayford’s header away from danger.
Neill Collins nodded Ben Davies’s free-kick well wide with three minutes left before half-time, as United finish the period the stronger.
The visitors, unexceptional in the first half, showed why they are the division’s form team in the early stages of the season.
Town dropped deeper and deeper, slowly sinking in quicksand, until they started to drown.
In the 59th minute, Kieron Freeman and Stefan Scougall combined down the left and the latter found far too much time and space in the area to cross for an unmarked Doyle at the back post.
Even Super Wes couldn’t keep out the midfielder’s two-yard tap-in.
Porter miscued a free header 15 minutes later and Doyle thrashed a 20-yard drive narrowly past Foderingham’s left-hand post and it seemed certain the visitors would find a second.
But credit has to be given to Cooper, who swapped Ben Gladwin for Louis Thompson and Nathan Thompson for Nathan Byrne, as his substitutes combined to set up the dramatic late winner.
Storey kept his composure to hold the ball up and find the dynamic run of Byrne down the right channel, the full-back burst into the box and unselfishly squared for Thompson and the midfielder did the rest, though Howard came agonisingly close to keeping his shot out.
It wasn’t the screamer Thompson had dreamt his first pro goal would be but it meant so much to the goalscorer, to his brother, to the fans and to the club in general.
One big, happy family once again.
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