What’s gonna stop Swindon becoming League 2 champions?

With the trip to the Kassam behind us, one of the greatest distractions to consolidating our lead at the top of League Two has gone. However, the title race has 13 tough matches remaining, so is anything gonna stop Swindon from becoming League Two champions? Writes STFC007.

After capturing top spot on the first day of the season all the way back in August last year, Swindon Town FC suffered four defeats in a row and with it dropped into the relegation zone. The mockery that followed shaped the team under the leadership of Paolo Di Canio as determination, discipline but above all self belief took over and transformed the results culminating in a record breaking ten match winning streak and retaining top spot again four match days ago.

After the demolition of Crawley Town at home on Valentine’s Day, I stated that the results against our main title rivals such as Torquay, Shrewsbury and Cheltenham would shape our season and not the distraction of the game against the noisy neighbours. While they continue their struggle to hang onto the last play-off place with a very tough run-in indeed, we look to consolidate our position at the top of the League full of confidence of being able to bounce back into League One at the first time of asking as League Two Champions.

Since Christmas, not many teams have been able to keep pace with the equilibristics and animals of the Swindon Town circus, as each of the promotion prospects hit a bad patch at some stage.

Initially the wheels on the Southend pleasure beach bus seemed to have come off with no spare in sight. This was followed shortly by a slow puncture suffered by Crawley, as their ambitions appeared left at the January bus stop when two of their key players got off.

Torquay, who were the in-form team, since managed to lose two on the bounce, and after Swindon’s home win against Shrewsbury have managed to get a little distance between them and the rest of the chasing pack.

As we come to the business end of the season, is there anything that could stop Swindon Town from being crowned League Two Champions at the end of the season?

Besides some obvious possible set-backs, there are also some less likely circumstances that could impact our season:

1. Injuries

It goes without saying that we have a very talented squad. There are several options in midfield with at least 6 or 7 genuine contenders for the places up for grabs each matchday. But when Ferry was ill, we missed a creative brain in the centre of midfield able to vary play at speed, springing surprise and maintain continuity throughout the 90 minutes. A long term injury from any of the creative midfielders could limit our options and subsequent the supply to our strikers.

I have lost count of the permutations up front that have featured this season, but the ideal partnership has not yet materialised. The in-form Benson would need some relief at some stage having played twice a week more or less since he joined. Losing Benson for any length of time as a result of picking up an injury would be very difficult to cover based on the current available options.

Flint’s injury has been a blow and although Devera has provided very good cover, the back line has not been as strong as when Flint had been playing together with McCormack, Caddis and Ridehalgh. We should be able to cover any injury at the back, but any injury here will ultimately weaken our defence.

2. Complacency

I admit, I have gone to the County Ground and some away games not thinking if we were going to win, but by how many goals.

Despite Di Canio’s discipline and high standards expected from his players both on and off the field, his repeated statements that we are the best team in the League and that we are going to win it, surely must influence his players’ thinking from time to time – after all they are still human, at least until May.

Today I read Di Canio may introduce quite a few changes for the game against Dagenham & Redbridge. While on one hand it would be a good thing to give some of the players a breather after 2 games a week for some time, it also indirectly creates ‘The Manchester United effect’ where a weakened team is expected to win against so-called ‘inferior opposition’. I recall this being the main reason they are no longer featuring in the Champions League this season but instead may play against the European powerhouses such as Standard de Liege or Hannover ’69.

3. The Wembley effect

There are still four League games to be played between now and March 25, when we take on Chesterfield in the JPT final at Wembley. Two of those teams have automatic promotion ambitions, one wants to get into the play-offs and one is fighting for Football League survival. Looking only one game ahead is very difficult as the media, friends and family of the players and undoubtedly the players themselves will be thinking somewhat ahead to their possible Wembley appearance. Remaining grounded and focusing solely on the League takes strength of character. It’s down to the entire coaching staff to ensure the squad does remain focussed only on the next game.

I am really only thinking about a win on March 25, so don’t really want to consider any other outcome. But I am conscious that a Wembley hangover has had an impact on quite a few teams in the past.

4. Negativity

I was at the County Ground when we played against Shrewsbury and some people in the stadium thought it necessary to boo the team off the pitch at half time. Sure, I shook my head at some of the action I had witnessed in the first half, but I cheered them on during the game and applauded them when they left the pitch at half time. The players are human and thrive on encouragement and appreciation, just like any other human, be it at home or at work.

I noticed Ritchie reacting to some people in the crowd at what was said to him. So instead of him 100% concentrating on his job, he was put off by his own supporters and agitated enough to react. Not a good mindset to be in to try and win a match.

So next time the team find themselves in a bad patch during the game where the same player overhits the ball for the third time in a row, or someone fires wide a ‘sitter’ for the second time, please cheer your team on instead of jeering. Your actions have a direct impact on our team’s performance and with it the amount of points they collect.

It’s not just the negativity from the outside, but also from within that can have an effect on the team. I’m no qualified psychologist, but the rather deflated, disappointed, almost exasperated demeanour of Di Canio after the 2-0 home win against Accrington recently when they achieved the 10 wins in a row, could I guess, have a positive effect on the players, but reacting like this too often, surely could have an adverse effect of the team.

5. Fear of failure

There are many ways to describe this, but the ability to bounce back after a set back and being able to deal with the pressure as the finishing line approaches, will determine which team will become the eventual champion as illustrated in the 1995/1996 Premier League title race.

Swindon still have to play 13 games; 6 away and 7 at home of which 2 against top 7 opposition. Our nearest rival at the moment, Cheltenham, still have to play four of the top 7 team with 3 of those away.

In contrast to previous seasons, a lot of results have gone Swindon’s way over the last few months. I am sure that this trend will continue especially as points will be dropped by title rivals playing each other.

While some of the above elements could have an impact to a greater or lesser extend at some stage during the run-in, I cannot see anything other than a big injury list having an impact on Swindon making an immediate return back into League One as Champions.

Now, where’s that piece of wood…

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Sing-a-long….Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now….


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