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Ranger and N'Guessan fire Swindon Town into the play-off places
SWINDON Town jumped into the League One play-off places with a comfortable 2-0 home victory over Notts County.
The Robins extended their winning streak to four matches, and three in the league, with an effective display of energetic, attacking football at the County Ground as a Friday night crowd of more than 8,000 went into the night – for the most part – very happy indeed.
County didn’t help themselves with their misshapen defensive line and momentary lapses of concentration, but Town still had to do the business and they did just that thanks to Nile Ranger’s 11th-minute header and Dany N’Guessan’s penalty 17 minutes later.
Swindon manager Mark Cooper made one change to the side which thrashed Rotherham United 4-0 at the New York Stadium six days previously, with N’Guessan replacing Nicky Ajose up front, while fit-again Ryan Mason returned to the Robins’ bench.
Notts County were without young winger Jack Grealish due to an ankle knock, while Alan Sheehan faced his former club at left-back, but the visitors started well and Swindon were forced to deal with a series of set pieces in their final third in the opening 10 minutes.
However, Notts were unable to make their territorial advantage count and as soon as Town were given the chance to put together a meaningful passage of play they nudged in front.
Pritchard’s inswinging corner from the right picked out Ranger unmarked and six yards out. Bad idea. 1-0.
Swindon sensed blood and straight from the restart Pritchard danced his way past two challenges in midfield, drew the foul from Andre Boucaud and curled the resulting free-kick over the bar.
A minute later the Spurs winger was back in the thick of the action again, this time seeing his header saved by Bartosz Bialkowski in the Notts goal before hacking the rebound at Gary Liddle on the line.
Having been momentarily stunned, the visitors finally regrouped in the 15th minute to put together a period of possession which ended with Callum McGregor forcing Wes Foderingham into an athletic save high to his right.
Ranger should have had his second of the night six minutes later after slinking his way through the heart of the Notts defence, only to curl a weak shot straight at Bialkowski. The baying home fans didn’t have long to wait to celebrate, however.
In the 27th minute Byrne burst past Mustapha Dumbuya on the left, drove into the penalty area and drew the visiting full-back into a reckless tackle. Referee Darren Deadman pointed to the spot and N’Guessan, cool as you like, picked the same bottom right-hand corner which treated him so well against Tranmere. 2-0.
Danny Haynes had the ball in the back of the net for Notts 13 minutes before the break but saw his strike scrubbed out for offside, while McGregor – by far the visitors’ best player in the first half – thrashed wide from the edge of the box.
The final quarter-hour of the opening period lacked goalmouth action, and it took until the final kick before half-time for either side to manage a shot at goal, with Byrne curling wide.
County boss Chris Kiwomya tried to inspire a comeback from his side at the interval by introducing Marcus Haber and Emmanuele Smith, but it was Swindon who went within inches of grabbing the third goal of the game in the 48th minute.
Pritchard’s free-kick floated through a crowd of bodies, giving Bialkowski problems in the visitors’ goal. The Pole could only paw the ball into the six-yard box and N’Guessan reacted quickest, rattling the outside of County’s left-hand post in the process.
McEveley was next to try his luck, fizzing an effort just wide from 20 yards after an awful clearance by Adam Coombes, before Ranger headed the full-back’s free-kick over when Grant Hall was better placed to nod at goal.
Swindon were by now all over their guests, who for all their itching and scratching couldn’t get out of their own half. Bialkowski came to their rescue once again just before the hour, pushing a swerving cannoball effort from Yaser Kasim to safety, while Massimo Luongo sidefooted straight at the keeper after a brilliant move involving Pritchard, Ranger and Kasim.
In the 64th minute Kasim was once again denied a breathtaking first goal in a Swindon shirt by the impressive Bialkowski, leaping to his left to deny the Iraqi’s 30-yard blockbuster, while Kasim miscued the rebound after Pritchard’s blocked shot rebounded to him six yards out moments later.
Despite having dominated County for almost the entire game, Town gave the away side a slither of hope in the 73rd minute when Kasim tripped McGregor in the box and referee Deadman pointed to the spot.
Haynes, who’d barely had a touch all night, stepped up to take the penalty but choosing power over precision turned out to be the wrong option, and his woeful attempt had the residents of Shrivenham Road cowering for safety.
Swindon seemed to be handing out open invitations to their guests to get back into the contest, but Notts were returning them to sender without so much as a nod of thanks.
Hall allowed McGregor too much time on the edge of the box but the Scot dragged his shot wide in the 76th minute before Town finally remembered the game wasn’t won and substitute Ryan Mason’s tidy footwork earned him the space to fire wide from 12 yards.
Town should have given their fans a final moment of Friday cheer in the final minute of normal time after a sweeping move involving Mason and Mohamed El Gabas teed up Byrne inside the box, but the winger drove against the near post, while Mason volleyed over moments later.
And that was that. A rounded performance and a comfortable win. Friday night football isn’t bad at all now, is it?
Town boss Mark Cooper was delighted with the result but felt the margin of victory should have been greater.
“We played really well and passed the ball with focus and dealt with them well, although it’s frustrating we didn’t kill it off properly,” said Cooper.
“For the possession we had we should have been more in control because if they had scored the penalty it would have been game on and it’s game on.
“It’s natural when it’s 2-0 that it becomes tense, but we saw it out.
“They were all good and Nathan Byrne could have had two or three goals himself, but we don’t pick individuals out and we focus on the team.
“We have more security at the back now where as if we made a mistake at the back before they might be in one-on-one, but with that extra defender we’ve been able to sure it up and still maintain our attacking threat.”
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