Should Swindon have let 18 goal James Collins join Hibernian?

He may have scored 18 goals in 2012/13, including a hat trick at Stoke City and four against Portsmouth, but Swindon Town have allowed their top scorer James Collins join Hibernian for £200,000. Ron Smith and Alex Cooke ask whether Town should have let the striker leave?

James Collins only joined Swindon last summer in what transpired to be an expensive transfer with serious ramifications for the club. The Irishman originally failed to agree a new contract in Shropshire and while free to join a new club, a compensation fee was due to Shrewsbury, but the two sides couldn’t agree a valuation.

The Professional Football Compensation Committee tribunal ruled that Town may pay Shrewsbury £140,000 plus add-ons, as well as 20% of any profit made by the future sale of the Irishman. In addition, Swindon were required to pay Shrewsbury £20,000 per 15 appearances up to a maximum of £80,000 – of which £60,000 has been paid to date and a further installment would’ve been due after another nine appearances.

The immediate implications of the joint tribunal with Troy Archibald-Henville last September resulted in Town entering into a transfer embargo. This threw Town into a downward spiral off-the-pitch and ultimately hastened the departures of Jeremy Wray, Andrew Black and Paolo Di Canio.

On the pitch Collins’ goalscoring impact was disjointed to say the least as the season progressed.

The superb hat trick against Premier League Stoke City in the League Cup 2nd Round showed a glimpse of what he could offer, but served later to distort our memories. For those three goals at the Britannia were the only he scored in his opening 12 games in 2012/13.

For the remainder of the campaign, Collins’ goals would typically arrive like buses – you wait and several arrive at the same time. Three goals arrived in three successive October games versus Bury, Coventry City and Scunthorpe Utd. Then after a five game spell without a goal, Collins scored a brace in a 4-1 win against Yeovil Town.

Another five games passed and then undoubtedly his finest performance scoring four goals in 22 minutes against a hapless Portsmouth, this was after coming on as a substitute on 60 minutes. He not only scored four that day, he assisted Danny Hollands in the 5-0 thumping. This performance illustrated his strengths, being powerful and a real handful for centre backs because of his workrate.

collins 12 minute hat trick

Some consistency followed with one goal in the next game against Carlisle, yet then five further goals in the remaining 23 games told his story.

In that 23 game run Swindon only secured further seven wins as the automatic promotion dreams faded. Collins’ importance to the team during this period was crucial considering four of his five goals came in vital victories over Colchester, Tranmere Rovers, Yeovil Town and Crewe, with three after coming on as a substitute.

There lay Collins’ perceived value to Swindon. During his 51 appearances and 2,724 minutes on the field of play, Town scored 43 goals of which he contributed 18. This 42% ratio showed he was the second highest impact player last season, behind Miles Storey scoring 43% of goals while on the pitch. His impact as the target man outlet when Town were fighting to win was apparent with eight goals scored as a substitute from five games, in all but one case a match-winner.

However, he did make a total of 22 appearances when coming on as a substitute and while Collins did sometimes make an impact, Town became reliant on an inconsistent striker. The statistics also demonstrate that on 17 other appearances as a substitute that Collins failed to score, including the vital play-off semi-final – penalty shootout goal excluded. Of those games Town only won five, drew seven and lost five.

Of course, strikers shouldn’t be judged solely on their scoring record – and Collins did contribute to Swindon’s overall game.

He contributed effort, running with great vigour and enthusiasm. He bullied defenders. He attacked space behind the back line, stretching the play and opening gaps for the supporting striker to work in. He also gambled, playing off the shoulder of the defender – and getting caught offside accordingly.

But what he didn’t do is look up, or link play in the final third. His solitary assist for the season indicates a soloist. Head-down hammered snap-shots around the 18-yard box are far more common than slipped passes to colleagues.

Playing as a solo striker also exacerbated his flaws, just as Sam Morris told us when he signed. Too often he ran away from the ball carrier – instead of occasionally dropping off to offer the one-two or create a potential third-man run. Against Doncaster, where he played up top alone, his lack of nous was noticeable as he tried to take on a pair of behemoths at their own physical game, and a sloppy first touch hardly helped. By the time the play offs came, he seemed to have better understood the role but his finishing was still too erratic.

A soloist 18 goal return didn’t indicate that Collins was a striker of the calibre of Simon Cox, Billy Paynter, Charlie Austin or Sam Parkin and in that respect replacing the Irishman shouldn’t present Town with too much concern. The existing squad members of Andy Williams, Miles Storey and Paul Benson can operate as a spearhead of the attacking line, with Ryan Mason playing in a linking role behind performing a role that Collins couldn’t offer. However what Swindon now lack against is strength and a bully in attack for the remaining forwards, including the wide men, to exploit the space.

Its clear that Collins is replaceable, but at what cost?

A £200,000 transfer fee doesn’t represent a great deal considering we’ve paid Shrewsbury £200,000 already. While Town don’t have to pay any percentage gained following a profit as part of the sell on clause, taking into account wages and other bonuses, the Collins deal has transpired to be yet another purchase of the Di Canio era that hasn’t allowed the club to profit.

How Swindon now fill the gap left is an interesting picture. The long term loans quota appears to have been maxed and a permanent experienced frontman signing is what we can expect. With Jed McCrory so fond of signing QPR’s Andrew Johnson, James Collins’ departure could free up wages to allow such a signing to be made in time for the 2013/14 season, which is now just over a week away…

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