A young side took to Wiltshire for a local derby-of-sorts on Tuesday night, with a deflected opener perhaps undeserved for the hosts before a late comeback sent the travelling fans home happy. It was Deniss Rakels and Jack Stacey who sealed the win, but rather than a minute-by-minute report, I'll detail how the Royals performed position-by-position.
Anssi Jaakkola was given the gloves for 90 minutes, and gave a decent glimpse into his abilities as a back-up to Ali Al-Habsi. Only a world class dive, anticipating a skimming deflection, would have turned Swindon's opener away from the net, and otherwise he wasn't called into any breathaking stops.
That said, he came out and smothered a one-on-one adequately in the second-half, and appears very comfortable rushing off his line. Questions will arise over his distribution however, as a couple of throws and short kicks were intercepted in dangerous areas.
Triallist Gaston Campi was the key man to watch on Tuesday night, and the lanky Argentine made a couple of good interceptions but also allowed his marker in behind too often. Rob Dickie, alongside him, looked very composed and the question with Campi really is, wouldn't we just be better off allowing a youngster to hold that back-up spot? Surely the unfit and untested Danzell Gravenberch isn't going to be first-choice, so signing proper competition for Jake Cooper and Paul McShane, with Dickie and Gravenberch as rotation options, would surely cover that hole more sensibly.
Niall Keown, replaced at half-time by Sean Long, played right-back, the latter missing a few easy touches in his own half, while Zak Jules started at left-back, eventually replaced by Shane Griffin. Interestingly, I had the young Scot Jules down as a centre-half, but his pace caused problems down the flank. Rarely did we see him whip a ball in, although this came down to Jaap Stam's tactics more than anything. Full-backs didn't tend to overlap in the final third, instead the central midfielders drifted wide, along the 18-yard line, to cause problems in a Mezzala-ish role (google it). I'd also note that lumping crosses into the box was steadfastly refused at several points, in favour of working it back into the central midfield areas.
The aforementioned midfield consisted of Josh Barrett, Liam Kelly, and John Swift, for the first 45. For starters, Swift showed his touch and technique were a step above his League One/Academy surroundings, and the ex-Chelsea youngster turned his man, or laid out a strong forward pass, a number of times. Barrett's energy was very impressive, teaming up with Craig Tanner on the right-flank, and forcing a decent save from Town's keeper in the first-half.
Kelly, meanwhile, sat deep and got in amongst things to varying effect. It will be interesting to see if Stam sticks with a playmaker-type in the centre of the three going forward, possibly Oli Norwood, or switches to a tough-tackler such as Joey Van Den Berg.
As the game went on, Andy Rinomhota, George Evans, and Jack Stacey came on, and it was the latter who impressed the most. Certainly looking more physically imposing than he did when we first saw the academy product, Stacey's confidence in running caused problems for Swindon, and it was the midfielder who bagged the winner with a good break, and one-on-one finish.
Joseph Mendes lined up as the central target man of a front-three, offering good running on and off the ball. That said, chances didn't really fall his way, so a definitive judgement on the 25-year-old will have to wait. Dom Samuel on the left-wing was full of pace, troubling defenders with a good run into the box early on, although he didn't release the ball in time and was taken out with a tough-but-fair tackle. Sadly, it seemed to twinge his calf, and he was taken off after 37 minutes. Tanner was also a consistent worry for Town, providing good width and sending in a good ball for Rakels to equalise late on.
Rakels' performance was an interesting one. Without the physical strength of a target man, the workhorse nature of a Shane Long, or much pace, I was unsure about his role as a lone-striker. In the end, his well-taken goal perhaps reminded me most of Adam Le Fondre. Finally, fan favourite Tarique 'drag-back' Fosu got 45 minutes, and his speed impressed, in contrast to his dearth of actual product. I like Fosu, he's skillful, if a little too keen on cutting across a defender, and then stopping, to allow his man to catch up; but a Championship-quality winger he ain't, yet.