IT was a bit like waking up on Christmas morning, scuttling downstairs, ripping open the biggest present under the tree and finding a box filled with socks, pants and deodorant.
Swindon Town’s display in their Tuesday night draw with Oldham Athletic was hardly awful, as disjointed and frustrating as it might have been, and there were patches for the home crowd to cheer. But ultimately, though it had its uses in earning the club another League One point, it was wholly unsatisfying.
Architects of their own disappointment, Town have promised so much in the early weeks of the season that, inevitably, they’d raised the bar higher than they could realistically jump. Of course there was going to be an uninspiring performance at some point, it’s just a shame it had to happen.
Oldham Athletic, in raging florescent yellow so bright it could have confused many a pilot in Wiltshire airspace, were well drilled, well disciplined and well prepared for what Swindon threw at them.
Lee Johnson set his Latics side up to defend high, just as Bradford City had done at the weekend, and in forcing Wes Foderingham to go long they negated Town’s off-colour midfield. Yaser Kasim, workmanlike but ineffective, and the strangely quiet Massimo Luongo couldn’t get hold of possession. And Swindon paid the price for that.
The game was littered with the drab and the spectacular – the former outweighing the latter, as both teams scuffed clearances, fluffed simple passes and mistimed challenges which a whistle-happy referee was all too quick to blow up for.
Two moments of quality – James Dayton’s unbelievably opener for the visitors and Andy Williams’s fine 80th-minute goal for Swindon, which briefly put the hosts in front – spared supporters from being totally underwhelmed, but there was little else to savour.
Town struggled to find their rhythm, scrambling around midfield in hope more than expectation – a rare sight for a creative hub so often devastating on the ball this season. At the back they looked a tad disorganised. Jordan Turnbull endured his most difficult 90 minutes of the season, Nathan Thompson had to mop up on so many occasions he might as well have been wearing a janitor’s nametag.
The goal they conceded to Amari Morgan-Smith – an 84th-minute tap-in following a schoolboy goalmouth scramble – was borderline embarrassing.
The one shining light for the home side was Nathan Byrne, as has been the case so often this term. Scuttling down the right wing in his own, inimitable style, the wing-back taunted and teased his marker with such regularity that the Oldham defender could have legitimately filed a bullying complaint.
His delivery was, on the whole, exemplary – the less can be said of Brad Smith, who continually got in good positions only to skew crosses into touch or beyond the last attacker.
Williams came off the bench with something to prove and almost immediately proved it. The striker was quick to chase down possession, worked well with Jon Obika and produced a helluva finish for his third goal of the campaign.
But he and Byrne aside, it was all very much six-out-of-10 territory. Not it’s out of the system, Town fans will be hoping the quality returns against Sheffield United on Saturday.