Thursday, 18 July 2013

Swindon 0-3 Blues

Blues bagged a comfortable victory at the County Ground last night, Lee Novak and Chris Burke were particularly impressive, and we were decent value for our win.
Contrary to the 3-5-2 he had been operating in pre-season so far, Clark went for a 4-2-3-1. Novak as the workman up front, with Arthur and Burke making attacking runs on the flanks, and Shinnie breaking from midfield. My only worry with the system was potentially lack of protection, as both central midfielders, Lee and Elliott, like to get forward at times. Personally I would have picked Hayden Mullins over Olly Lee, just to provide some defensive discipline, giving the creative players more freedom.
We got off to a mixed start. The positive was that we defended as a team and didn't seem to have much difficulty winning the ball off Swindon, once they got into our half. The early negative was perhaps our passing being slightly off, I felt there were too many hopeful long balls, which Swindon were able to defend against.
An, in my eyes questionable tactic that developed, was Kyle Bartley's passing. Clark seemed to be instructing him to play high passes over to the left for Kobe Arthur. But Arthur, being only 17, was one of the smaller men on the field. Of the 10-15 times that Bartley did this, 2 or 3 times did he manage to pick out Arthur, he was often given too much to do to receive the ball. 
By far our most dangerous creative threat, was down the right flank through Chris Burke, and also Neal Eardley. The two combined very well, and look set to become one of the best right sides in the Championship. As well as tracking back consistently, Burke's pace caused constant fear in the Swindon defence, giving fullback Nathan Byrne a torrid time. 
The game had the feel of watching a training match. Only 1,433 fans in a stadium with a capacity of around 15,000, and very rarely did chants break out from either set of supporters, so you could easily hear thuds of the ball, and echoes of players shouting to one another. 
Hancox had a good game as well. He was always prepared to make forward runs of real intent, and he provided the extra width when Arthur cut inside. He played a well-timed looping cross to the far post, to which Burke couldn't quite connect, but also an accurate crossfield pass to the Scotsman, who couldn't activate Novak with his through ball.
Blues always looked in control of the game, with Wade Elliott pulling the strings in the centre. And on the rare moments that Swindon broke, Randolph looked unerringly solid in goal. It's worth remembering that he's yet to concede a goal for us, in 225 minutes of football so far. He held every shot Swindon had in the first half, although he wasn't severely tested.
On the half hour mark, came the best chance of the match. Shinnie latched onto Lee's through ball, and hit a low shot which was saved by Bedwell, he then tried to dink the ball over him on the rebound, but Bedwell pushed it away. 
After the best chance for Blues, came the best chance for Swindon. Luke Rooney was put through on goal, from a pass which looked offside, but it was Randolph's smart positioning which egged the shot wide of the post.
Just as the half threatened to finish goalless, Burke stepped up to the plate. Firstly, he turned Ward inside out and saw his narrow shot blocked by the feet of Bedwell, who had had a good game so far. But secondly, more of his magic down the right created an opening, and he squared the ball for Lee Novak to tap in, and give the Blues a lead 4 minutes before the interval.
Although he worked hard, Novak seemed to have had a fairly quiet game up until that point, yet the goal will have provided the confidence booster he needed to have the kind of game he did.
Having made 4 substitutions, Swindon came out of the blocks quickly in the second half, and called Randolph into action. The former Motherwell man made a couple of good saves early on, albeit from long range efforts, to preserve his 100% record in goal for us so far. 
Blues began to press for the second goal after Swindon had their few minutes of dominance. It was a neatly-timed through pass from Andrew Shinnie which set away Mitch Hancox on another explosive forward burst, and Hancox squared it to Novak who bagged his second tap-in of the game.
From then onwards, the game was only going in one direction. Some trademark hassling from Novak on the keeper gave Kobe Arthur a shot at goal with an empty net, but he just bent it wide. A cross from Higgins gave Novak the chance for his hat-trick with a close range header, but it was saved, and Bell missed the rebound, when it appeared easier to score.
It was Higgins again, who would play a part in our final goal. Having made a number of appearances this pre-season, the right-back looks set to become a key part of Clark's squad. He crossed the ball into the box, and Shinnie fired it into the corner first time, in clinical fashion, to round off an encouraging display. 
Blues now have 3 more friendly games before the start of the season. Next up is Oxford away on Saturday, but last night's success of the 4-2-3-1 system will certainly give Clark food for thought.
Randolph- 7. Had the answer every time he was tested, never looked like giving anything away. I'd tip him to become a solid keeper for us.
Eardley- 7. Was prepared to get forward and support Burke, yet was rarely caught out of position defensively.
Bartley- 6. His high balls to Arthur looked like more of a ploy from Clark which didn't pan out, than a fault of his. Didn't do much wrong all game.
Robinson- 6. Wasn't tested too much, but he was fairly useful in a sweeper role. Positional sense was strong.
Hancox- 7. Showed tremendous energy throughout the match, wanted to get forward. Could be worth a try in the wingback role if Clark goes 3-5-2 in future matches.
Elliott- 7. Helped us control the match with his composure on the ball, never looked like giving it away.
Lee- 6. Made one potentially costly error in the second half, but overall he was always offering himself as a spare man to pass to.
Burke- 8. Our main threat in the first half, had impressive pace to go past players considering how much he tracked back, got the assist for Novak.
Shinnie- 6. He took his goal well, but missed a couple of chances earlier in the game, and his passing wasn't the best.
Arthur- 5. A little too inconsistent, gave the ball away a bit too often, and didn't look so confident in the final third. 
Novak- 8. Worked very hard for the team in an Adam Rooney-esc way, hassled the defence and got himself into the right positions for the tap ins. 
By Gabriel Sutton

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