IT was such a shame only 7,500 people were there to see it.
Swindon Town produced a ruthless display in dismantling a relatively weak Sheffield United side with all the composure and precision of a seasoned engineer, exquisitely pulling apart the visitors’ defence with at times embarrassing ease, wowing the home crowd, making fans smile.
This is the kind of performance supporters persevere with their club for through 15-game winless streaks, off-field trauma, ill-equipped players and talentless managers. It was energetic, dynamic and brilliantly effective – the perfect tonic to the mundane draw with Oldham Athletic on Tuesday night.
Written off as also-rans in pre-season, Mark Cooper’s young side is with each passing week making the rest of League One sit up and take notice. Fourth place after eight games might be a tough equation to read too deeply into but the men and women who part with their wages to watch aren’t complaining. They’re not getting carried away either. For those who still make the fortnightly pilgrimage to the County Ground, this season has already surpassed wild expectations.
The bare facts of yesterday’s game don’t do sufficient justice to Town’s almost total dominance. Barring a bizarre six-minute second-half period, where they looked like they might concede to every passing attack, the hosts held a monopoly on possession and taunted their Yorkshire guests with a meanness and arrogance usually reserved for TV talent show judges.
They passed the ball at pace – from front to back – flirting with terminal error without a care in the world. It was fantastic to watch. For Sheffield United fans, it was brutal.
The Robins don’t always get it right. As Cooper is so often at pains to emphasises, they’re still learning, but they appear to have the academic aptitude of an Oxbridge scholar when it comes to taking information onboard.
Again, though flustered, they didn’t crumble during a spell of intense pressure from their opponents.
Again, they remained resolute, re-established a steady footing and hit back in their own, unique style.
Again, they produced total football. At pace, with finesse.
For £27 a head it needed to be thus but, taking ticket prices and the economic climate out of the equation, this was scintillating theatre. If fans won’t come back to watch this, they won’t come back to watch anything. In reality, that’s probably an irrelevant point. It’s more probable that they can’t.
Regardless, Town were irresistible. They pinged the ball about the immaculate County Ground playing surface at a high tempo, dragging their opponents about the pitch like deranged puppeteers. Sheffield United’s players were the marionettes, helpless to stop the midfield triumvirate of Massimo Luongo, Yaser Kasim and Louis Thompson from teaching them a lesson in the art of ball retention.
Michael Smith ended his Lent-length aversion to goalscoring with a 13th-minute effort, a clinical finish from Louis Thompson’s tidy pass, and the same striker added a second from the penalty spot after Luongo’s foray into the penalty area was abruptly ended by Neill Collins.
Next, Jon Obika continued his ridiculous start to life in a Swindon shirt, collecting the ball calmly from Brad Smith’s pass and sidefooting beyond Mark Howard.
While Obika cued the celebrations, Liverpool loanee Smith deserved as much acclaim. Unconvincing in a number of performances during his brief time in Wiltshire, yesterday was the Australia international’s finest moment in Swindon red.
The wing-back used his blistering pace to good effect, finally, tormenting Craig Alcock down the left and collecting two assists. The second, a slide-rule pass to Andy Williams, was beautifully judged.
Williams, again a substitute, must be wondering how on earth he’s going to force his way into this starting line-up. His 30-minute cameo was again full of energy, determination and quality. The fact he remains on the bench proves how valuable Town’s riches are at present.
There was still time in the game for Kasim to conjure up another illusion, nutmegging two Blades defenders and wriggling out of a dead end before teeing up Louis Thompson, who crashed a shot in off the bar. Another captivating moment in a captivating game.
To those who can’t, couldn’t, won’t or wouldn’t come – please try. You’re missing out.