NO underbelly and a lack of character have been just two of the stinging criticisms aimed at the Swindon Town defence this season, but Saturday's goalless draw against local rivals Bristol City silenced a few of the critics, writes Andrew Steele-Davis.
The first half resembled a chess game, both sides trying to suss out each other's next move which resulted in a lack of goalmouth action. Town looked comfortable on the ball, new centre half Jack Stephens, signed on a one-month loan deal from Premier League Southampton just days before, oozed quality on the ball and his general play belied the fact that he is just 20.
While the first half was timid, the second half exploded into life with chances aplenty. Town looked to have the edge when Ryan Harley's driven free kick was well kept out by Frank Fielding in the City goal and the former Derby County keeper was called into action to produce a sublime double save to deny Michael Smith from the resulting corner.
However, the emphasis of the game turned on Alex Pritchard's straight red card for a needless and silly shove on Wade Elliott. Town were then forced to soak up wave after wave of City attacks, with the returning Wes Foderingham pulling off a string of fine saves.
The Swindon back four of Nathan Thompson, Troy Archibald-Henville, Jay McEveley and Stephens all impressed – with Troy in particular a man mountain.
The gutsy, determined display should boost all Town fans as the season draws to a close. Stephens' signing looks a coup already and he will be key with the visit of the in-form Preston to the County Ground on Saturday, with Simon Grayson's troops unbeaten in 12 league games.
Finally, Pritchard suffered a double disappointment at the Football League Awards last Sunday, missing out on the Young Player of the Year award (to Derby's Will Hughes) as well as the League 1 Player of the Year (to Brentford's Adam Forshaw).
The winger's nominations prove just how influential he has been for Town this season, producing a string of stellar performances and notching seven goals in addition to racking up ten assists in just 39 appearances.