June & July 2013: Building a Business Plan for promotion…

Steve Murrall 4

2013 is nearly over and it has truly been an eventful and unforgettable year at Swindon Town. Brendan Hobbs jumped at the chance of writing our review of 2013, which has turned into an epic feature of writing; you’ve now made it to part five…

June & July

Although Swindon missed out on any Play Off orientated silverware, the club did win a prestigious award in the close season, with Marcus Cassidy receiving the plaudits as groundsman of the year for League One.

I think a lot of people take pitch quality as a given these days, especially armchair fans who frequently watch the endless bowling greens of the premier league. However if you’ve been to any away games in this division and seen some of the rubbish prepared elsewhere by our rivals you can really appreciate the brilliant nature of our pitch.

Marcus and his team thoroughly deserved the award and in some sense a share of any success we had on the pitch, because without his dedication and hard work us fans would’ve probably spent most of last season craning our necks upward to watch the long balls fly, rather than the ‘on-the-deck’ stuff we’ve been treated to.

The shock waves of all the recent boardroom upheaval and the inevitable financial pinch that followed was starting to be felt as Town were already asking office staff to step forward for voluntary redundancy. But it wasn’t all bad as we were informed that extra income streams were already being explored with Steve Murrall conducting Business Plan presentations, and earlier the announcement that a series of summer concerts were to be held at the County Ground. Some vast income sums were being bandied about, in some outlets it was reported that Town were set to clear a million pounds, guaranteed.

The line-ups were not exactly inspiring on either of the arranged days, certainly not to my taste but I was convinced the people of Swindon would provide a healthy attendance as concerts involving Bryan Adams and Elton John had previously been a roaring success in the past. Maybe not on this occasion though, whether it was down to poor advertising or poor weather conditions neither day looked well attended – with some of the images coming out from the CG suffering a power cut painting a pretty depressing picture. Like some cutting edge news reporter I did speak to an eye witness who attended the Revival Tour evening, who said and I quote “The best entertainment I had all night was when two girls engaged in some ‘foxy boxing’ over a bottle of tango, I threw money” classy stuff.

Big Summer Sessions

Away from the concerts, also joining the various office staff in leaving were two of our best performers from the previous season, with Aden Flint completing his protracted move to Bristol City and Alan McCormack packing his bags to join our recent Play-Off foes Brentford.

Also going, was the often cited ‘big earner’ [definition required] Gary Roberts, as he cleared his locker and was released by the club, straight into the welcoming arms of League Two Chesterfield. He was soon joined by fans favourite Simon Ferry and horrifyingly for this writer, Joe Devera who both eventually joined him in League Two with the financially frail Portsmouth. Tommy Miller and Raffa De Vita also found themselves unemployed, with Raffa only enjoying temporary visits to the Labour Exchange as he quickly joined ambitious Bradford City.

A few fans scoffed at the calibre of club that all of our released players ended up at, as many were always branded as ‘Championship Quality’, but they all joined good clubs, whereas in the past our released players tended to join only Supermarine or Chippenham.

So with office staff leaving, players leaving, some of our new board decided to get in on the act with Hooper and Rice, all part of Jed McCrory’s original consortium, leaving to pursue that always mysterious and oft cited “other business interests”.

Like some reasonably priced, disease free prostitute, it seemed the exit door was currently the only thing getting some constant action, so it was a relief when Swindon finally started bringing in some new talent with Fulham utility man Alex Smith the first in, presumably nodding to Gary Roberts et al whilst they made their way out.

It was evident that Town were pushing for a more youthful set up for the new season, with Spurs youngster Jack Bartham and former loanee Nathan Byrne joining on free transfers. In some quarters fans immediately and mistakenly translated the term ‘youthful’ with ‘cheap’ and the various forums and comments sections already started getting clogged up with some gluey despair.

Some bright moments pierced the gloom however, Foderingham signed a new contract, keeping the stopper at the County Ground until 2015, or until someone offers a big fat cheque for his services. Also bolstering the ranks were further Spurs youngsters Grant Hall, Ryan Mason and Alex Pritchard.

Portuguese Free Agent Tijane Reis was snapped up and it was reported that Town acted like some back-alley slapper having ‘beaten off’ many big clubs to secure his signature. The Tottenham influence also grew with Massimo Luongo returning on loan, having enjoyed Swindon hospitality the previous season. Town also added in the boardroom with Sangita Shah and Lee Power joining McCrory’s team.

Things seemed to be settling down nicely, the squad of talented youngsters was offering intrigue and maybe a little bit of hope to supporters and a few were getting quite optimistic with the new season looming into view.

So Kevin MacDonald decided this was the perfect time to quit, astonishing stuff. I’m not sure what annoyed me more about his resignation, the turmoil it would cause within the squad or the damage it would do to the new season prep? It was going to be neither of these, because the one thing that drives me insane more than anything is ‘new manager rumours’. Every out of work manager starts being linked (Steve Cotterill), or ex-Town players (Shaun Taylor, Luc Nijholt) or one that falls into both categories (Martin Ling), the barmy suggestions (Poyet – yes this was a serious suggestion by certain fans) or the inevitable, the perennially linked Paul Tisdale.

Kevin MacDonald

The Spurs links were unavoidable, with many suggesting that any one of Tim Sherwood, Les Ferdinand or Chris Ramsey were nailed on for the top job. The Adver saw it differently, announcing that Paul Hartley or a returning Glenn Hoddle were favourites for the position. Mark Cooper was put in temporary control of the team as managerless Swindon didn’t hang around in the transfer market, adding Yaser Kasim, Rossi Branco, Ty Belford and Ryan Harley to the ranks.

With no manager in place, it became apparent that these transfers were made by the Director of Football Lee Power, maybe in consultation with Mark Cooper. Many fans were outraged that a managerless club could make such signings – and that no manager would join a club in which they seemingly had no say in the transfer market. A large percentage seemed totally unaware that most European clubs and global giants operate in exactly this way; it’s a way to ensure continuity and provide control, stopping any future Di Canio style scenarios – expensively splurging on players quickly followed by an equally expensive mass exodus when it all goes wrong.

Read the rest of our review of 2013

Big summer sessions image from swindonadvertiser.co.uk

One In, One Out: Town’s Summer Transfer Strategy


A warm welcome to new writer Jonny Leighfield, who reflects on a very busy and successful summer transfer window for Swindon Town…

I must admit that at the time of writing, shortly after the summer transfer window has slammed shut, I’m feeling pretty pleased with the type of players Swindon Town have brought in and the ones we have, shall we say, disposed of. The turnaround had to be based around a ‘one in, one out’ policy in order for Town to stay within budget and you would have thought that we would be stuck with a bunch of kids or lower league rejects just to sustain our football club. But no. Full credit to the board, it was done in such a way that we managed to acquire some extremely talented individuals that we were actually receiving offers for on the 2nd of September even though they had only arrived just weeks before and played a handful of games.

So in total, it was 17 in and 16 out at Swindon HQ. The board started by using our ‘special relationship’ with Spurs to bring in a number of their youth academy products for regular first team football. These players turned out to be pretty handy. The likes of Ryan Mason and Grant Hall being some of the first names on the team sheet on a regular basis already and credit to them for that.

Being able to bring back Massimo Luongo was huge for the fans as it proved to them that even though the club had to tighten its belt in terms of transfers the board were still looking at quality as well as finances and Massimo has bags of quality. The fact that Town have now signed him permanently should hopefully show critiques of Jed and co. that they are fully behind the club; looking to sign talented players such as Massimo and therefore want us to achieve big things in the future. Also Swindon have given players such as Ryan Harley another chance in league one to prove himself was a very mature move by the board who clearly saw he possessed the quality to boss a game at this level, and he has done just that.


One transfer area that’s impressed is that we’ve brought in a reserve ‘keeper. We needed someone who has enough raw talent and ability to come in and play should we need to give Wes a rest in league or cup games. Tyrrell Belford looks a big guy who could handle himself in such a physical league or against bigger teams, so I look forward to his debut.

Another has been securing key players to sign new deals with Swindon Town. When the news broke that Wes had signed a two year deal I think most of us let out a little squeak of excitement as the best ‘keeper we have had for probably 20 years, and now committed to the cause. Also Darren Ward signing to continue his ever reliability at the back was a massive plus too. Our defence has been crying out for a rock at the back for some time now after it seemed impossible to hold down a place at centre half under previous managers.

The attacking signings have been very exciting and once all are fit and get a good run in the team we should have a strike force to be reckoned with. Tricky wingers such as Tijane and Alex Pritchard have come in who both love to run at players and have the ability to get their heads up and deliver which is great to see. We now have a couple of big hold up guys in the controversial Nile Ranger and big Danny N’Guessan who can actually win a header and bring our classy wingers in to play which is already bringing success in terms of goals and plenty of chances.

Of course there have also been a few high profile departures, most of which I deem necessary or not a huge loss to our football club. Players like Aden Flint who decided it would be perfectly acceptable to move 40 miles away to one of our biggest rivals to “further his career” (because we all know what that means) and Paul Caddis who, if rumours are to be believed, said the facilities at Swindon were poor and we would never achieve anything as a club.

But rumours and title-tattle aside a move for both of these players was best for both parties. Flint would never have been able to fit in to our ball playing centre half mould that Grant Hall looks like making his own and when you have home grown talent like Nathan Thompson at your disposal, who in my opinion is a better all-round player than Paul Caddis, it doesn’t seem like too greater loss.

However there are players that have left, that for me could still have worked under this new regime and I think were a big loss to the club. Players such as Simon Ferry and Joe Devera were the two that I would have loved to have kept. Not only for Ferry’s character but because I think they had genuine ability and like to get the ball down and play. I just hope they can further their careers at Portsmouth and make a name for themselves because I think they deserve it.

Oh yeah, and there’s that Yaser Kasim bloke isn’t there? (You didn’t think I was going to forget him did you?) Potentially the signing of the season already, Town turned down a rumoured quarter of a million pound bid for a player that we got for nothing no less than a couple of months ago. He is big, strong, powerful, has fantastic vision and ultimately the ability to run the game from central midfield. If we can keep hold of this guy, he could turn out to be our biggest asset and could take us places in the long run.

Here’s to a potentially very nervous January…

Follow @JonnyLeighfield

Match Report – Brentford 3 Swindon 3 (4-4) Pens 5-4

Griffin Park Brentford 1

Swindon were denied a place at Wembley in the cruellest fashion as a second half comeback was not enough to deny a rampant Brentford team in a thrilling contest. After 210 minutes, the two teams could not be separated and it was Miles Storey who had the misfortune of seeing his penalty kick saved ending Swindon’s season one game before they’d have liked. Report by Lee Clark.

Pre-match, Swindon fans were filled largely with hope more than expectation. There was a belief that the late Brentford penalty at the County Ground might prove costly. 1,800 Swindon fans travelled in gorgeous sunshine and created a fantastic atmosphere pre-game. Kevin MacDonald picked the same team from the draw at the County Ground two days earlier.

The first good chance of the game came to Swindon with less than a minute on the clock. Swindon earned an early corner after good work by Adam Rooney. Massimo Luongo’s cross was met by Aden Flint, and only a smart save from Brentford goalkeeper Simon Moore could prevent Swindon from taking the earliest of leads.

Swindon did not build on that early momentum. Brentford started to dominate possession and territory, without creating any clear cut chances. Like the first half of the home leg, the game lacked a lot of quality and a lot of the game was spent in the air. Both teams seemed more concerned about conceding the first goal than scoring it.

Around a quarter of the way into the game Brentford took the lead. Brentford started to get a lot of set pieces and Swindon were made to pay. The corner came in from Swindon’s right side, and via a combination of Adam Rooney and the big central defender Harlee Dean, the ball went beyond the reach of Wes Foderingham. Brentford took the lead on aggregate for the first time in the tie.

The goal should have sprung Swindon into life. However, it did the opposite, and Brentford looked even more dangerous and had numerous chances to double their lead. Firstly, Harry Forester got away down Swindon’s right side, and was only denied by a fantastic save by Foderingham at his near post. A few moments later, Trotta was played in on goal down the same side and he was also denied, this time by the upright. Only one team was in it.

Brentford weren’t to be denied. Their top goal-scorer, Clayton Donaldson, who had been quiet up to that point, found some space to turn on the edge of the area. His low shot nestled into the bottom corner to send the home fans into raptures. Most Swindon fans were certain their season was over and there was no coming back from 2 goals down. Moments later, the outlook was a whole lot more positive.

Swindon found space on the counter, with Adam Rooney, Andy Williams and Gary Roberts up against 4 defenders. Roberts had the ball on the right side of the Brentford box, and after faking a shot, he hesitated, and laid the ball across the goal to Adam Rooney, who from around 12 yards took the sort of chance that Swindon strikers had been missing all year. That Rooney goal meant Swindon went into the half time interval knowing if they won the second half they’d force extra time.

The second half got off to the worst possible start for Swindon. Brentford gave a foul away inside Swindon’s half. Swindon committed players into the attack, including Darren Ward. Instead of going long and using the height of the central defender, Swindon opted to take it short and pass it to Gary Roberts. Without looking, the winger played a criminal pass across the line of defence which Clayton Donaldson intercepted. With players committed, Donaldson was free to run in on goal and delicately lift the ball over the on-rushing Wes Foderingham.

The third goal finally managed to get Swindon playing the football that got them into the play-offs in the first place. Both Raffaele De Vita and James Collins came on for Andy Williams and Adam Rooney.  The substitutes made a big difference. Raffaele De Vita took a corner on the right side of defence, and Aden Flint rose highest to head goal-bound. The header was blocked, but Joe Devera was on hand to rifle the ball home into the roof of the net from close range.

Swindon continued to dominate, although Brentford looked dangerous on the break. Miles Storey replaced Simon Ferry who had a quiet game on his unflavoured position of the right side of midfield. As Swindon were pressing, Brentford were inches from killing off the tie. Brentford played the ball across the box to Sam Saunders, and he curled a shot onto the Swindon bar. Wes Foderingham was stranded, and it was a major let-off for Swindon.

Swindon had just moments to score and Aden Flint went up front to increase the aerial threat. It looked like the chance was gone, when Gary Roberts corner was knocked down and Raffaele De Vita’s swivel volley was blocked on the line. The handball protest was waved away, and as Swindon were appealing in desperation, Gary Roberts ran over to the other side to take another corner. He hooked the ball in, and Aden Flint rose into the clouds to power in a header and give Swindon 30 more minutes of football. The away end erupted into sheer carnage with Swindon equalising with less than 30 seconds on the clock.

The first ten minutes of extra-time were largely Swindon’s. Brentford were giving away possession cheaply. The momentum changed however, when Nathan Byrne, already in a very harsh booking, was adjudged to have deliberately handled the ball to prevent Clayton Donaldson get a run in on goal. This booking also seemed harsh, as Byrne had slipped and fell on the ball.

Swindon were now clinging on for penalties. Donaldson had the final chance of extra time, as he was poked through. From close range, he drew another fantastic save from Wes Foderingham. Donaldson rushed in on the loose ball, however Aden Flint got there first and cleared the danger. A few minutes later, and the final whistle blew. Swindon’s season was going to be decided on penalties again.

The first two penalty takers for Swindon were unexpected, but they both scored. Joe Devera placed the ball into the right side of the goal, and Aden Flint did the same with the opposite side. Simon Moore, the goalkeeper, guessed correctly both times but the penalties were so well placed he could not stop them. Sandwiched between them, were two successful Brentford spot kicks by Sam Sunders and the substitute striker Paul Hayes.

With the third spot-kicks, James Collins and the towering central defender Harlee Dean stepped forward. Both scored, putting pressure on the final four penalty takers. Sadly, Miles Storey cracked. He took a short run up, and his spot kick was easily saved my Moore once he had guessed the right way. Brentford scored their fourth spot kick, and although Gary Roberts scored, he was only delaying the inevitable as Adam Forshaw stepped up and lashed the ball past a helpless Wes Foderingham much to the delight of the Brentford fans who invaded the pitch to celebrate.

Just like a lot of the season, it was a “what if” sort of game. What if the referee had spotted Douglas’ handball in the run up to the Brentford penalty on Saturday? What if Gary Roberts hadn’t played that awful pass across the back line? What if Nathan Byrne hadn’t been harshly sent off? It was truly fitting that the most up and down season finished with the biggest rollercoaster of a game.

Swindon 1 Brentford 1: Late Bees Sting Sets Up Tense Wembley Decider

Brentford - Play Off

Swindon were denied taking a deserved win to West London on Monday after Brentford converted a late penalty to equal out Luongo’s goal and set up a tense second leg Play-Off decider. Reports STFC007.

Town, with the wind on their back in the first half, could have opened the scoring in the first minute had Adam Rooney crossed from the left to the on-running Gary Roberts, rather than squandered a golden opportunity by going at it alone and try to beat the Brentford keeper from a tight angle.

The Swindon squad included a number of players returning from injury. Alan Navarro and Miles Storey were on the bench with Simon Ferry starting out of position on the right of midfield. The Scot is most effective when being able to get involved in the distribution of play in the middle of the park rather than making searing runs on the wing. It’s therefore no surprise that Devera did not make any overlapping runs during the entire game making that right flank almost impotent from an attacking point of view. Despite this, Town were dominant throughout the game but again lacking the composure and quality upfront to take a healthy lead into the second leg.

Massimo Luongo in centre of midfield was initially unable to replicate his recent form, with mis-queued corners, wayward passes and deliveries into the box that weren’t clearing the first defender.
A packed Brentford midfield didn’t allow Luongo nor Alan McCormack enough time on the ball to retain possession and instead both Swindon attackers Adam Rooney and Andy Williams were being reached too soon with long balls.

And although Aden Flint and Darren Ward were defensively on top winning every single aerial challenge presented to them, their build up play was often too long including numerous inaccurate and sloppy passes between the defenders. Despite this, Swindon controlled the game. Roberts was well on top and causing problems on the left throughout the game with Byrne supporting him in attack where possible.

On 20 minutes, Brentford did have an opportunity to take the lead. A quick counter attack allowed the ball to be put behind Devera but Forshaw put his shot wide. Five minutes later Rooney was put through following a headed flick-on from Williams, but he allowed the ball to get too close to the onrushing Brentford keeper Moore who managed to clear his shot.

The start of the second half saw a similar pattern with Swindon controlling most of the game but unable to test the Brentford goalkeeper. So step up the match officials to make an impact on the game. When they were warming up I noticed that one of quartet was unable to complete some of the leg warm-up exercises. The Benny Hill / mini Donald from Benidorm look-a-like was in fact the lino on the Don Rogers Stand side.

During the entire game he wasn’t following play once; only ever looking for offside and throw-ins. It was therefore no surprise he hadn’t noticed that Logan had tripped Luongo and had to rely on the referee to spot this. The same referee who didn’t spot a penalty when someone tried to mount Flint from behind in the Brentford penalty area. Another clear case of watching the ball but not play.

Swindon did take the deserved lead in the 70th minute. Some intricate play involving Ferry on the right ended up with Luongo a little off-centre outside the penalty area. A well placed side footed shot beat Moore to his left. During the celebrations that followed, the referee made a ‘hurry-up’ gesture to McCormack, who himself made a dismissive gesture to the referee and pointed at the Brentford goalkeeper who had been allowed – unpunished – to maximise the time taken for goal kicks.

Town were in the ascendency and trying very hard to score the second. Five minutes later it should have been 2-0 when a breakaway allowed Rooney through on goal but some hesitation allowed the Brentford defender block his shot. Some of the Brentford players started to panic and Douglas had to calm down ‘The Bruiser of Brentford’ Dean, from losing his head. On the other end, a last ditch clearance from McCormack prevented El Alagui to test Foderingham from close range.

Luongo was voted Man of the Match by the match sponsors – seemingly for his goal – and the 4th official showed there were an additional 3 minutes to be played. Brentford piled on the pressure and I – as well as others around me – was waiting for Kevin MacDonald to show his nouse and relieve some of the pressure by introducing both remaining substitutes during the remaining 3 minutes and see out the game. Not so, the naivety showed.

So instead, Brentford were allowed to continue to apply the pressure helped by the referee for initially not spotting the clear block by Donaldson on Byrne and then again a handball – this time by Douglas – leading up to the penalty award after the goal hero Luongo unfairly tackled Forrester.

This time, Brentford converted the penalty deep into injury time to equal the tie – meaning that Foderingham has been beaten in each of his previous six penalties faced.

Swindon deserved more, keeping in mind not only the number of opportunities they created but also that the only time Wes was called into action was to get the back out of the net from a penalty. But, it’s still all to play for. Would I have liked for Town to take a 1-0 lead to Brentford on Monday? For sure. But somehow, this late equaliser which for some felt like a defeat could somehow be a positive instead of a negative.

That last minute penalty Brentford scored seemed to have a profound effect on the Brentford team and their manager; it came across as a sort of cleansing from ‘that’ Championship penalty miss.
But it was the way in which they celebrated at the end of the match – not relief – but it almost seemed as if they had just received their Wembley suit fitting appointment.

This last minute pain inflicted on the Town players could help rally and galvanise Town to perform like they did against Crewe – with passion, determination and without fear. With the great Swindon support behind them and the way Swindon outplayed Brentford for 70 minutes earlier this season, I am confident they are able to get the result they deserved but were unable to get today.

It’s been a good season so far, let’s hope we can make it a great one on Monday.


Swindon Town
Wes Foderingham / Aden Flint / Joe Devera / Darren Ward / Nathan Byrne / Simon Ferry ( James Collins – 82′ ) / Gary Roberts / Alan McCormack / Massimo Luongo / Andy Williams / Adam Rooney
Substitutes not used: Leigh Bedwell (GK) / Alan Navarro / Luke Rooney / Tommy Miller / Miles Storey / Rafaele De Vita

Referee: Geoff Eltringham
Attendance: 10,595 (1,502)

Four things we learnt from Swindon v Stevenage

20130422-211046.jpg 1

Alex Cooke gives us a quick run-down of Kevin MacDonald’s adjustments to Swindon’s set up.

Swindon 3 v Stevenage 0 wasn’t a game which swung on a tactical innovation or an adjustment in formation, Town were mostly the superior team, individually and numerically. And although Stevenage manager Graham Westley switched systems time and again, adjusting his increasingly brutal and isolated forward line, Stevenage found themselves undone in midfield were the discipline of Massimo Luongo allowed Alan McCormack to regularly break beyond the central pairing.

1.Town have missed Joe Devera
For all of the speed and toughness of Nathan Thompson, Swindon’s defence has been physically weaker since Devera and Jay McEverley picked up their injuries. While both lack the kind of attack that Thompson and Nathan Byrne offer, or the versatility of Alan McCormack, both are vastly better in the air and in reading, rather than just reacting to threats. In this match, Devera gave the centre-back pairing greater cover in open play and superior marking for Stevenage’s set-piece bombardment. Likewise, when Town had their own corners and free kicks, he was able to threaten.

2. Right-footed left backs can work
Nathan Byrne’s move to left-back has succeeded so far, partly as it has allowed Devera and McCormack back, but also because Byrne seems to understand his limitations. Many right-footed left-backs gallop forward only to find a rival full-back happy to show them down the line. They do this knowing that their rival can’t cross accurately with their wrong foot, or that they will need to stop and turn to get the ball onto their right foot to deliver.

20130422-211046.jpgByrne delivering the ball into the box that eventually led to Town’s third.

Byrne, though either coaching or thought, negates this problem by running from wide diagonally towards the opposition’s near post. This allows him to dribble into a degree of space, but more importantly to hit diagonal balls with the outside of his right towards the back post. Okay, they aren’t really crosses and they bend out rather than in towards the goal but against Stevenage they were threatening, especially with Adam Rooney alive to the possibilities.

It also has to be said that Byrne’s distribution, and his defensive heading in particular, remain astonishingly bad, consistently yielding possession close to Town’s own goal. Which could be a major worry against the height and power of Sheffield United.

3. Gary Roberts needs space
Where Byrne now undertakes rather than overlapping, Gary Roberts has more room to stay as wide as possible. This seems to suit him as an orthodox winger, as he favours curling early balls into the box rather than dribbling to the byline.

Of course, Robert’s performance must be seen through the lens of the sending off. After all, while Graham Westley tinkering with his forward line and formation, Roberts often had a huge gap to play in as Stevenage’s best player, Luke Freeman, tried to support their solo forward.

4. Swindon can threaten from corners
Town actually seem to have become more threatening from corners and free-kicks lately. This can be attributed partly to the accuracy of Massimo Luongo’s delivery but also a bit of variety in the approach – including scoring from a short corner.

While Luongo drives very good in-swingers for any near-post headers, he seems to also play a longer ball to beyond the back post for Aden Flint and others to nut across the goal. Obviously it worked against Crewe and almost did against Stevenage, it also acknowledges the fact that Flint isn’t actually a very accurate with his heading and hitting an area might be better than always going for goal.

Darren Ward – The essential signing before the deals were stopped

Darren Ward 2

Daniel Hunt asked if he could write a blog to analyse Swindon Town’s centre-back pairings to find out which one has led to one of the best defences in the Football League, but as you’ll read, it quickly turned into a Darren Ward appreciation article.

It has almost gone unnoticed that, with the experienced defender in the starting line-up, Town have accrued over two points per league game – promotion form no doubt. Compare this to results when Darren Ward is not in the side and you can really appreciate the true value of the free transfer from Millwall.

Swindon Town are blessed with options at centre-back, a tribute to the size and depth of squad that Di Canio has put together at the County Ground. Pre-season indications were that club captain Alan McCormack and summer signing Troy Archibald-Henville were the preferred central pairing, but such are the comings and goings of a League One side – particularly one under Di Canio – that McCormack now finds himself filing in at left-back and Archibald-Henville is sat firmly on the treatment table after a prolonged season warming the bench.

But for a recent training ground injury to Joe Devera, which offered Aden Flint a way back into the side against Shrewsbury, Ward and Devera had formed a formidable partnership in their ten games together. Their record as a pairing conceded only four goals and helped Wes Foderingham keep no fewer than six clean sheets. This is remarkable when you consider that Joe Devera looked set for a season competing for the right-back berth with Nathan Thompson and Darren Ward was living out a personal ‘nightmare’ in Millwall’s reserve side before coming to SN1.

Darren Ward - Defence Comparison

The former Watford and Millwall defender had a less than auspicious start to life on loan with Swindon Town. I was the unfortunate soul responsible for writing the match report as Ward debuted and Town crashed to an embarrassing 0-1 defeat to rivals Oxford United on September 5th (Oxford United 1-0 Swindon Town, Match Report). Ward’s performance that horrible night lead to these quotes:

“A promising first half performance faded into the Oxfordshire night as a collision between new team mates, Ward and Flint, allowed Alfie Potter to snatch a barely deserved win for our neighbours up the A420”

“Bessone was comfortably the most impressive debutant on show, Giles Coke was steady and the less said about Darren Ward the better – for now!”

“The only downside had been Ward in central defence. The Millwall centre-half is known to me and many other Town fans through his commanding performances against us in the recent past. He had come on the promise of being a footballing defender, just like Di Canio demands, but Ward’s distribution looked very one-dimensional (i.e. long) all night. I’m sure there is better to come from the ‘Peckham Beckham’ but his circumstances are not too dis-similar from the last defender Millwall loaned us, Andy Frampton, and we all know how that turned out…”

It makes me cringe when reading those comments back, knowing how instrumental Ward has been since reaching full fitness and becoming comfortable with his new team-mates and surroundings. I have very happily eaten humble pie, let me assure you! How could I compare him to Andy Frampton? The only characteristics they share are age and experience, in every other department Ward is light years ahead of his former Millwall team-mate.

A few months on you come to appreciate that Ward keeps it nice and simple on the ball, which has led to very few mistakes. He’s also dominant in the air and clearly loves a scrap with an opposition striker, a proper supporter’s centre-half in the Shaun Taylor/Gordon Greer mould. You can bet your life that the second-half conditions at Dean Court recently didn’t faze Ward or his partner in crime Joe Devera. They were met with a relish that the Bournemouth centre-backs couldn’t muster as the Cherries’ entire 90 minutes was riddled with mis-kicks and slips – eventually allowing Andy Williams to grab a well deserved equaliser.

Much of Ward’s longevity owes to his commitment to a self-professed ‘caveman’ lifestyle. Di Canio’s train hard, play hard philosophy seems to have fitted hand in hand with Ward’s own 100% approach to life and football. In other circumstances, Ward could well have found himself as captain of Swindon and it wouldn’t surprise me if the captain’s armband dons Darren’s arm in future. He has brought a calming influence to a back line that was ‘almost’ there in terms of solidity. The introduction of his experience was the final piece of the jigsaw and the 12 wins and 11 clean sheets in 20 league games since he’s joined pays testament to that.

Hopefully Darren Ward can follow in the footsteps of some esteemed recent Swindon Town defensive company and carry on being successful well into his thirties. My money is on the caveman…

Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88

AFC Bournemouth 1 Swindon 1: Wet, Wet, Wet…

Dean Court Bournemouth 1

Swindon salvaged a valuable and deserved point at a rain soaked Dean Court, writes Richard Baynard.

Town’s goal from Andy Williams followed a weak clearance from Bournemouth keeper David James, levelling the game with just five minutes remaining. The result was really no more than Swindon warranted overall, but after going in at half time one down having been on top for most of the first period, in the wet conditions it felt like the game might be getting away from us in the second.

We could have taken the lead as early as the fourth minute. After playing the ball out to the left side, Roberts played a low ball into the area – initially, Collins wasn’t able to get onto it, Ritchie also tried to but was blocked – the ball eventually falling to Miller, who struck a powerful shot at goal, which was well saved with a strong arm by David James.

The game was pretty open. Bournemouth got into positions to play in some dangerous crosses in the opening fifteen minutes, but Swindon were creating the better openings. On eighteen minutes, after Ritchie’s first cross had been cleared, Nathan Thompson picked it up in the middle, playing it out to Miller on the right side. With his back to goal, he played a neat reverse pass down the line to Ritchie in space – his right foot cross found Williams in a central position, but his headed effort was straight at James when anywhere else would have been in. But the Town striker had possibly been unsighted by a Cherries defender who had tried to cut the cross out.

By this point though, the weather was beginning to play its part in the game. The pitch was fine before the game, but it had begun to rain heavily just before kick off, and in some areas – most notably in the half that Swindon was attacking – water was beginning to sit on the surface. On 21 minutes, the conditions almost helped us to open the scoring.

It came about as Collins chased down what had been a rather ambitious through ball – David James advanced to cut it out, but as he slid out to claim it, his momentum on the wet surface took him out of the area, and he was forced to let go of the ball to avoid giving away a free kick. The ball fell to the feet of Roberts – and from where we were stood, it looked like he should have shot into what looked like an unguarded net – can only assume that his path was blocked though, as he tried to slip the ball into Collins, but the pass was cut out and cleared.

On 26 minutes though, Bournemouth took the lead, slightly against the run of play. Lewis Grabban moved down the Town’s right side, crossing a low ball into the box – Ward should have cleared it, but he failed to make a good connection, and the ball was picked up by Pittman in the area with his back to goal. He swivelled to shoot, but Devera did well to get in the way – again the ball fell to a Bournemouth shirt though, and it was played out to Harry Arter on the edge of the area. Arter had time to pick his spot, and he did so with a well taken strike into the corner of the net.

Ten minutes later, we created a golden opportunity that should have seen Collins level the scores. After a patient build up in which the ball was swept from left to right and back again, Hollands played the ball between two defenders and into Gary Roberts. The winger played a dangerous ball in, as both James and a defender tried to collect it, but ended up getting in each other’s way. With both players on the floor, the ball dropped at the feet of Collins, he manoeuvred it around them, but though he had the goal at his mercy he seemed to go for power when it wasn’t required, resulting in his shot sliced off the outside of his left foot, bending wide of the post. Before half-time, at the other end Lewis Grabban also shanked a shot wide for the hosts, from a position where he never really looked like scoring.

When the half time whistle went, the condition of the pitch was looking dubious. The referee though took the bizarre decision of extending the interval by five minutes allowing the ground staff to work on the pitch… But of course also allowing more rain to fall. The groundsmen also seemed to be concentrating on areas that were not the worst affected, and even though it was announced that the second half would go ahead, it was still a little bit of a surprise when it did… Personally, I thought the pitch was just about playable and at this stage I was still pretty confident that we’d get something our of the game.

That confidence almost drained out of me during the first twenty minutes if the second period though. Obviously struggling in the conditions, both sides were making numerous mistakes on the ball, and the referee didn’t make any concessions for the poor surface, giving free kick after free kick when players couldn’t keep their feet after the slightest of contact.

Bournemouth were doing most of the attacking, getting some joy in running with the ball through the wettest part of the pitch, with Town players reluctant to make a challenge and giving a free kick away. On 48 minutes, one such run almost ended in a goal. Swindon failed to make a tackle or a clearance as Arter danced through – only a superb save via the feet of Foderingham denying him his second of the game.

Finally though, on 65 minutes, Swindon sprang into life again, after the introduction of Martin, Ferry and de Vita for Collins, Miller and Roberts respectively. De Vita’s first contribution to the game saw him get down the left flank, making a yard to enable him to play a low ball square into the area. It bypassed everyone in the middle, finally finding Ritchie about ten yards from goal – I was expecting the net to bulge, but again it was blocked by James.

Four minutes later, a Ritchie cross found the head of Martin, but stretching for the ball, he could only direct straight at James. The Cherries went straight up the other end to force Foderingham to make a diving save from a long range effort. A couple of minutes later, Grabban came close to sealing the game with a headed effort after Swindon had again failed to clear in the conditions – only a superb stop from Foderingham keeping him out.

Swindon were still pushing forward for the equaliser, but with the clock ticking down, we needed to be quick. Both De Vita and then Ferry were frustratingly flagged for tight offside calls when in good positions from the second one though, Swindon profited from a little good fortune.

After not converting either of the two other opportunities that David James had gifted us, it was third time lucky. James’ weak clearance failed to get further than forty yards from goal, only finding Matt Ritchie, who headed back towards goal, in the space between the defence and keeper. As Martin chased it down, James rushed out and slid the ball away – two Bournemouth defenders seeming to get in each other’s way – allowing Williams to pick it up. As the remaining Cherries defenders backtracked to protect their goal, Williams took his time to ensure he hit the target, his placed shot zipping off the surface to elude the last defender on the line and into the net. Moments later, James was named as man-of-the-match – a decision presumably made prior to the goal!

After the goal, Swindon continued to press and had the game gone on any longer, I’m sure we would have claimed a winner. Williams played one ball across the face of goal that was cleared by a defender from under his own crossbar, then, with the final move of the game, a weaving run by Danny Hollands was ended when he was tripped from behind. Ritchie and Chris Martin lined up to take it, and it was the latter who struck at goal; taking a deflection on the way through, the ball whistled just past the far post and the ref blew for full time before the corner could be taken.

It was certainly a shame that the weather had such a huge part to play in the game. Two decent footballing sides would obviously have preferred to have got it down and played the ball, it just wasn’t possible on the saturated surface. In the end, a draw was probably reflective of the game.

I suspect Bournemouth will no doubt feel aggrieved at the late equaliser, and having had two good second half chances. On the other hand, Swindon were the better side for most of the first half and the last twenty minutes, with at least three decent opportunities of our own that we didn’t convert. With a number of tough away games coming up, it’s important that we take points off as many of our promotion rivals as possible – I’m sure the Cherries will be right up there at the end of the season.