Home vs Away: Looking for reasons for five defeats on our travels

With 13 points gained at the County Ground and 3 away, without any improvement in our form on the road we can kiss goodbye to promotion back to League One at the first attempt. What has been responsible for Swindon being beaten 5 times on the road, but only by Oxford at home?

Paolo Di Canio puts into action the same tactical approach home and away, through a pressing and attacking 4-4-2. This is not only potentially fluid and effective but incredibly demanding, particularly on our travels. With some seeing the use of a near identical system home and away as naive, arrogant and unrealistic for the many battles in League Two, is there anything concrete to back up a change in approach on the road?

Obviously results speak volumes, however if the tactical setup was ineffective you would expect to see this manifest itself in a significant difference in the possession won, corners won and shots on target compared to your home form.

  Home Away
Possession Won 54% 51.3%
Swindon Shots Per Game 13.2 10.7
Shots Against Per Game 6.8 7.3
% Swindon Shots on Target 50.6% 46.9%
% Opposition Shots on Target 43.9% 38.6%
Corners Swindon Won Per Game 5 5
Corners Conceded Per Game 2.8 4.7

The figures show Swindon have achieved a broadly similar advantage on our travels to that secured at home. In no area have Town surrendered possession, total shots, shots on target and corners won to our opponents. As expected the effectiveness of the advantage is slightly reduced with opponents closing the gap slightly at their park, but the clear superiority in these numbers remains.

However these numbers only tell part of the story. By ranking defensive and attacking phases into home and away form this reveals more about our strengths and weaknesses against all of League Two.

Looking at our defence away from home, Di Canio’s side has performed very well in comparison to the remainder of the division. Shots have been restricted to 7.3 per game with only 38.6% on target. Both are the fewest any team has restricted an opposition attack at their home. Corners conceded stands at the 6th fewest and only 7 teams have restricted more possession by their opponents.

Despite these positives it remains the last line of defence, Phil Smith and Mattia Lanzano, that has let the team down, saving a low 52.9% of shots on the road, the 23rd worst in League Two, the best being Morecambe with 89%.

Can a change in formation really help the goalkeepers stand firm between the posts and up their save rate? All this considering the defence in front are the most efficient at restricting shots…

Clearly the problem is between the posts. This has existed for some time, with Town lacking a dominant ‘keeper since the days of Digby and his Washbag. This goalkeeper issue isn’t an ‘away specific’ problem. At home we save only 61% of shots, ranked 22nd. So is there something else away that has been the cause of the five defeats?

Our six hosts have a solid conversion rate of scoring 18.2% of their total shots against us. This strike rate which represents the 5th strongest attack any team has faced on their travels – behind Crawley who’s hosts converted 21.4%. The quality of the attacks we face away are stronger than those which have travelled down to Swindon, scoring a slightly lower 17.1%, but equally ranked 6th.

However, none of our six host have a strike rate from their overall home games at or above 18.2%. The closest is Shrewsbury at 18.1% which is the 4th best in League Two. As for the others, Crawley 8th with 15.1%, Macclesfield 10th with 14.3%, Burton 16th with 11%, Cheltenham 17th with 10.6% and Dagenham 21st with 5.5%.

So perhaps you could interpret this that all six hosts have raised their games against us, however I’m inclined to suggest this is further proof of an efficient yet leaky backline, vulnerable to a quick counter and set pieces which ultimately needs a robust ‘keeper to save the day, which we haven’t got. More experience and a new goalkeeper remains sorely needed.

On the attacking front, following the 2-0 defeat at Burton Albion, Paolo Di Canio knew he didn’t have to necessarily change tactics as he was well aware of where the problems lie:

“Once again we have possession of the ball but we can’t score a goal. This is my frustration, we don’t have a centre forward.”

The statistics completely back up Di Canio’s assessment. Of our six away games Swindon are ranked 15th in attacking efficiency away, compared to 3rd from home performances. While the percentage of our 46.9% shots on target away is slightly lower than the 50.6% we achieve at home, this is the 18th best in League Two, proving a fair share of possession (ranked 8th) hasn’t created good enough opportunities for our strikers to take full advantage of.

But as Rotherham show, you don’t need a massive number of shots (10.3 ranked 12th) and a high rate of those on target (48.3% ranked 13th) to find the net 12 times away from home. So Swindon’s lack of goals, with 4 scored away compared to 16 at the County Ground, may be as a result of another factor. Potentially one which may excuse, albeit slightly, the Swindon strikeforce who converted just 6.3% of their shots away compared to 20% at home…

So far our host’s ‘keepers at Cheltenham, Dagenham, Shrewsbury, Crawley, Burton and Macclesfield have saved a staggering 86.7% of shots faced, equating to the 4th toughest last line of defence to be broken by an away team.

Delving deeper this isn’t a fluke, purely driven by poor Swindon performances and lack of eye for goal by the strikers.

Of our six hosts, Swindon have faced 4 of the top 6 League Two goalkeepers with high save rates at their home; Macclesfield 2nd with 87.5% of opponent shots saved, Dagenham 3rd with 85.1%, Burton 5th with 83.3% and Shrewsbury 6th with 82.8%%. With these consistently high performances on their own patch is there any wonder Swindon were restricted to scoring just once in these four trips, despite still managing 10.7 shots and 46.9% on target per game…

With the next two away games against 8th defensively ranked Accrington and 20th ranked Plymouth, both with 16th and 20th ranked save rates at home respectively, there is every chance Swindon’s strikeforce will face ‘keepers short on confidence and hit the net. If they don’t then even the addition of Jake Jervis hasn’t been enough and we’ll also know the blame can be shifted onto the strikers.

So does Di Canio bow to a change of tactical approach in away matches? Perhaps, but how this is achieved depends largely on each opponent. It’s telling that our only League Two victory on the road came at Crawley, who have a similar type of players, approach and mentality to Di Canio’s side. Suggesting there’s no need to change approach away when we play some of the division’s more fluid outfits.

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