Danny Wilson: 2 Year Report
Danny Wilson has only served as manager of Swindon Town for two years, having been appointed on Boxing Day 2008 after his out of the blue dismissal from Hartlepool earlier that month. In this period Town have progressed from relegation certainties to a Wembley Play-off final, however now questions are being asked of Wilson as Town fail to realise raised expectations.
Given the rivalry with Bristol City, the appointment of a former City manager raised some eyebrows, not least because here was a guy who had failed to guide City to promotion. At that time the other contender was Ian Holloway, always my number 1 for the job, who needless to say has achieved so much since. Despite the board not bringing in my preferred, at least we’d gained an experienced and much sought after manager in Wilson to save us from relegation.
Immediately Wilson had to deal with the mess left by his predecessor Maurice Malpas. Town were firmly lacking direction and backbone despite having Simon Cox, Billy Paynter and JP McGovern at our disposal. Within weeks Gordon Greer and Hal-Robson Kanu had joined on loan from Doncaster and Reading respectively to fill evident voids. With the addition of this new blood, forward Simon Cox continued his imperious form thanks to the new support. Town slowly improved and settled with a deceptively high 15th finish, although only 4 points clear of the drop.
As for 2009/2010, we had expected an improvement, at most a top 10 finish, however to be in contention for automatic promotion until the final match and then to make a Wembley final, that wasn’t in the script.
Back in January 2008 when new chairman Andrew Fitton took control of the club, he set about on a five year plan for promotion and Championship football. For a club without proper investment both on and off the field for many years, the five year plan represented a realistic target.
So as 2009/2010 progressed towards it’s conclusion, our astonishing improvement in a year was welcomed and of course vastly enjoyed, albeit in ‘over-achieving’ Wilson inevitably created a rod for his own back by raising the bar, perhaps too high.
On reflecting on the Wembley appearance a week after the defeat, I certainly believed our progression to challenging for the top 2 was a season too soon. Not least was this because of the lack of experience in the squad that ultimately cost when it mattered most.
Six months on, given our inconsistent start to 2010/2011, the Wembley defeat is even harder to take, as we’ve made a less than spectacular start to the season with a hangover that shows little sign of abating. I’d hoped for Town to push on and build on the play-off defeat in a similar manner that Millwall had done after their defeat against Scunthorpe in 2008/2009.
The reasons for this have been numerous. The usual injuries and suspensions, a suspect and unsettled defence lacking leadership, Wilson moving away from a 4-4-2 with a more centred and ineffective JP McGovern, as well as losing and not replacing key players in Billy Paynter, Gordon Greer and Danny Ward that left a gaping hole in the squad.
The quality of the football has suffered. We’d become accustomed to a fast open flowing fluid football in 2009/2010, utilising the wing to perfection with JP McGovern crossing from the right and Danny Ward cutting infield from the left. This approach certainly beffited the beautiful game and has seen some of the best football witnessed at Town in many years. Now the team has again become a liability in defence, disjointed and devoid of true width, but not sufficiently fluid through the narrow middle to compensate, strangely similar to the team Wilson inherited and a gigantic step backwards.
Wilson’s tenure hangs in the balance and dependant on rebuilding the shattered confidence of the defence and on Charlie Austin, who lest we forget, has only just over 1 year experience in the Football League. Whether Charlie stays or, as seems more likely, moves to a Championship or Premier League club this January, will be critical and will define our season.
What Wilson has demonstrated at Swindon is that whilst his vision cannot be questioned, finding the right players for the task and to fit his optimum strategy is incredibly difficult to achieve. Wilson’s transfer strategy has largely been sucessful and we’ve witnessed a high calibre of player step out on the County Ground pitch, albeit with some notable exceptions including Alan O’Brien. A Gordon Greer, Danny Ward or an in-form Billy Paynter don’t come around very often, let alone a prolific non-league goalscorer swiftly adapting to life in the Football League. However, in denying the need to immediately replace Gordon Greer, he’s shown a naive reliance on an existing defence that isn’t up to the mark, despite bringing in defensive specialist coach Peter Shirtliff. Without the quality Wilson’s teams often lack the basics and reverted back to kick and rush when under presure.
So of course I’m frustrated and disappointed by the distinct lack of progress, but willing to stay patient and stick right behind Danny despite the recent troubles. We must remember Fitton’s 5 year plan to fully understanding when this vision is likely to be achieved, this is still a long / mid term project and for now Wilson remains an integral part of that ambition.