Mark Cooper and the Swindon Town sack race..?

Sack Race 7

A home defeat for Mark Cooper’s Swindon Town on Saturday after leading MK Dons at half time was enough for an increasing number of supporters to demand chairman Lee Power removes the manager. With Cooper still in the Town dugout, Ron Smith asks whether now is the right time to change manager?

One victory in ten games in all competitions plainly isn’t acceptable, yet I remain in support of Mark Cooper’s management at Swindon Town. I appreciate a number of readers won’t agree and that view was made very clear on social media and BBC Wiltshire after the MK Dons match. That match saw a stumbling second-half performance during which the Franchise’s resurgence and eventual goals looked certainties, such is a low confidence in the Swindon side to hold onto a lead, let alone push on to deliver a convincing victory.

Town’s current position 8th in League One and eight points off the play-offs isn’t a crisis for a side where the pre-season objective was “to avoid relegation”. A canny transfer strategy involving the recruitment of young players from the Premier League (Spurs) and ‘rejects’ from any level originally looked promising as a means to provide a competitive squad with budgetary constraints. Two-thirds of the way through the season and unfortunately this youthful optimism has suffered from burnout and a lack of experience to push through the winter months to secure a play-off berth. As a result, Cooper is in an unusual position – fighting for his job while perhaps overachieving.

Looking back at previous Swindon sackings since John Gorman was fired after an away defeat at Bristol City – perhaps an ominous sign to come for Cooper – eight of the nine sackings resulted from a period of poor form relative to their overall points per game record. Jimmy Quinn’s final ten games marked a minor improvement relative to his whole 18 month term in the dugout. Should he be unjustly sacked now, Mark Cooper’s recent ten game record is the joint fifth worst record amongst this motley crew. With just three defeats from the ten games, Cooper’s side is the toughest of these to beat.

Final 10 Games (All Comps) W D L Overall League Pts/G Final Ten Pts/G Lg Pos When Sacked
John Gorman 2 2 6 0.86 0.8 16
Steve McMahon 3 2 5 1.33 1.1 16
Jimmy Quinn 4 0 6 0.95 1.2 24
Andy King (1) 2 3 5 1.2 0.9 20
Andy King (2) 2 1 7 1.36 0.7 23
Iffy Onoura 2 4 4 1.14 1 23
Maurice Malpas 2 3 5 1.17 0.9 17
Danny Wilson 0 3 7 1.38 0.3 20
Paul Hart 1 3 6 0.63 0.6 24
Mark Cooper? 1 6* 3 1.38 0.9 8?

No recent Swindon manager in a league position higher than 16th has been sacked. Both John Gorman and Steve McMahon departed with Town in 16th in Division One, two and three points respectively above the relegation zone, soon to be dragged into a relegation fight. The remainder have also have been sacked after being embroiled in relegation scraps, or following relegation. Performance in the cups was also a factor, with Maurice Malpas being sacked for a league position three points off the relegation zone and an early knockout from three cup competitions.

Given that Swindon haven’t sacked managers in their recent history for being in a position as strong as Mark Cooper, why should supporters argue for his dismissal? Perhaps the short-sightedness of the Premier League and the winning-at-all-costs attitudes, which broadly equates to changing the manager at least once a season, is creeping into the mindset of supporters lower down the pyramid?

In the end there has to be a sound business and footballing reason for Lee Power to dispense with Mark Cooper. With Town three points away from achieving the magical 50 points – that has been enough to avoid relegation in the previous eight League One seasons – and a run of wins away from being within a very outside chance of a top six finish, even securing a mid-table finish wouldn’t represent a disaster.

I acknowledge there’s criticism about the style of play with “boring” being the most common description I’ve read, but I certainly don’t find Town boring. It’s always captivating and fascinating for whatever reasons, and of course, frustrating to watch at times recently.

There has been a noticeable downturn in goals scored per game and the frequency of victories since mid-November, a period during which discontent about style were largely silenced. A few months later and the criticism is more vocal highlighting what Town’s style under Cooper seemingly needs, in the eyes of the masses, are goals. Or alternatively, a complete about-turn in strategy to reimplement Di Canio’s ‘loved’ 4-4-2 direct football. Actually the difference between the two manager in respect of average goals per game is quite narrow, Di Canio achieving 1.6 compared to Cooper’s 1.5 per game.

If Cooper was given the boot you have to ask what could any successor achieve that Cooper couldn’t at this point in the season? Could you give yourself a better chance of winning promotion now? Certainly not. Indeed, looking back at our recent history following sackings, the sacking didn’t avoid the eventual fate the decision was seeking to stave off.

In the end, time is what’s needed for a manager who was surprisingly thrust into the role in August. It seems wrong to equate Cooper to some of our greats at this point in time, but you must remember the early promise of Glenn Hoddle’s Swindon in 1991/92 being top in November only to suffer a winless eight game run and defeats in March before finishing 8th; patience led to great rewards. Bert Head’s youthful side took five years to secure promotion, similarly Danny Williams built slowly with 7th, 8th and 10th placed finishes before glory. Therefore, Power’s strategy, with Cooper at the helm, is perhaps best judged next season. They know there will be a nucleus of the existing squad to continue working with while adding talent in the summer and changing the pre-season routine to avoid the fatigue that’s crept in.

Having written this, I do fear for Cooper’s future and whether he’ll be able to get the vital victories to win over the negative reactions.  Swindon have very tough games coming up in March including Wolves (h), Bristol City (a), Preston (h) and Sheffield Utd (h) which, results depending, will define everyone’s commitment to realism and whether we are prepared to ‘endure’ at least one season of mid-table mediocrity for once.

The more fundamental problem is that the damage could’ve already been done with the negative reactions so far, but only you can change that. This, or even this season, isn’t the right time for a managerial change. So give him time and support our manager.

Right, I’ve had my say. Time for you to complete this poll and please add a little more to be debate in our comment section.

*The JPT Area Final 2nd leg is counted as a draw as the tie was decided by a penalty defeat.

Image source

Hall of Shame #5: Swindon Town 0-6 Ipswich Town – 3rd April 1999

Swindon vs Ipswich 9

A solid defence is something than Swindon have seldom had. Over the past decade, you can count a dozen Adrian Viveashs for every Gordon Greer. Mis-timed and clumsy tackles, back-passes to the keepers, poor distribution – the County Ground has seen it all, writes Rosie MacGillivray; who inducts her choice for the worst Swindon match of recent years into the Hall of Shame.

There have been a few shockers, but a 6-0 home defeat to Ipswich on 3rd April 1999 stands out for entry into the STFC Hall of Shame.

Ipswich played like a team who eventually won automatic promotion to the Premier League. Unfortunately, Swindon also defended like a team that conceded the most goals in the division. Town conceded a mammoth 81 goals during the 1998/99 season in 46 matches.

Swindon had a nightmare start as Craig Taylor – brother of Shaun – saw red for handling on the line - when it was easier to head the ball away – after six minutes. Mark Venus slotted home from the subsequent penalty and an up-hill challenge began. Craig was never able to emulate his big brother’s form at the County Ground. In truth, Shaun was everything Craig wasn’t. Shaun Taylor would have headed a bowling ball away, had it been required.

The Tractor Boys made the numerical advantage count, as they scored another three before half-time. James Scowcroft took advantage from an on-rushing Jimmy Glass for the second, before Tony Mowbray bagged a headed third and Jamie Clapham made the most of some non-existent marking for the fourth on the stroke of half-time.

Manager Jimmy Quinn attempted to shuffle the pack – one lacking both in quality and quantity – at the break. Brian Borrows made way for Robin Hulbert, before Mark Walters came on for Shayne Bradley.

Town went in quest of at least some pride, but their defensively frailties shone through, as holes were left in defence. The two changes did little to affect the game as Venus grabbed his second, again through the penalty spot, while Fabian Willis completed the rout.

The result was the first time Town had conceded six at the County Ground for almost 35 years.

The footage of the game makes for painful watching…

Swindon-town-fc.co.uk footage

The heavy defeat also instigated the inevitable fall-out between goalkeeper Jimmy Glass and manager Jimmy Quinn. The pair never saw eye-to-eye and Quinn’s public criticism of Glass proved the final straw. Glass had injured himself during the game, but with no substitute keeper, he was forced to continue. He was temporarily loaned out – where he would become at legend at Carlisle United – before returning to play eight more games for the club.

The hammering by Ipswich also condemned Swindon to their third 6-0 defeat in an 18-month period. At the beginning of 1997/98 season, Swindon lost 6-0 away at Man City, where our Man United loanee Chris Casper scored an own goal. Then in March 1998, Marco Branca, Neil Maddison and Alun Armstrong all grabbed a brace each for Middlebrough to condemn Swindon to yet another 6-0 loss.

We may have been watching Championship football – or Division One as it was known then, but it all started the slippery slope into financial turmoil and the pursuit down the leagues. The club has still not recovered from this time, especially after a relapse last season; and the shocking Ipswich defeat will live long in our memories for many years to come…so into the STFC Hall of Shame it goes…

Hall of Shame #5 is Swindon Town 0-6 Ipswich Town

Read more from the STFC Hall of Shame

Managers Countdown – Jimmy Quinn & Maurice Lindley

Paul Hart 1

No.28 | Jimmy Quinn | Manager Oct 1998 – May 2000 | Score 157.7

Quinn couldn’t translate his playing success into the dugout

Northern Irishman Quinn joined Town for a third time in 1998 as manager to replace Steve McMahon. Initially the move paid off for Chairman Rikki Hunt as Quinn led Town to the relative safety of 17th, 3 points above the drop.

In his second season the Mighty Quinn found his hands tied. The club had been poorly run for several years and hemorrhaging money, nearly bankrupt and soon to be falling into administration.Continue Reading