How can Swindon’s opposition score if they don’t have the ball?

Swindon Town’s strategy under Mark Cooper is meant to be one of dominance in possession and passing football, and yet our opponents seem to be scoring frequently of late. Ron Smith asks how can the opposition score if they seemingly don’t have the ball?

Looking at the key statistics after the pathetic weekend FA Cup defeat, I couldn’t have been the only one to notice that victors Macclesfield Town scored four goals without reply despite Swindon Town winning 59% of the possession. It was also how the Silkmen turned their 41% possession into 14 shots – of which eight were on-target – when Town managed only five shots and a single Ryan Mason shot on target.

The ability of our opponents to score more than one has been the story of the season so far. In Swindon’s 20 games, we’ve conceded in a total of 13 and on averaging conceding 2.08 goals per game. Compare this ratio to the 2012/13 season when Town conceded an average of 1.56 goals per game.

Swindon have been largely dominant in possession too this season, winning the battle for the ball on 12 matches, playing out for 50/50 in three, and losing possession five times – versus Wolves, Preston, Walsall, Plymouth and MK Dons – but only in two of these matches did the opposition’s percentage go above 52%. However, the percentage won by Town has been hardly Barcelonaesque, flirting around the 50-58% level, still providing opponents with important time to build their own momentum.

2013.11.10 Goals Conceded

Importantly, winning the possession battle does correspond to higher instances of Swindon being able to secure a clean sheet. Town have secured seven clean sheets from their 20 games, with six of those secured in games when 53% or more possession has been won by the Robins. A further one instance occurred when drawing possession. However, of those 12 games in which Town have won more than half of possession, it still remains just a 50% likelihood for clean sheets in those circumstances. But is this high a enough return..?

The worry is that in the previous two games Town have won – above average – 59% and 63% respectively of the ball, yet they’ve conceded six goals. While five were easily scored against Port Vale, the fact they were able to seemingly waltz through the central defence twice underlined the weakness in the defence to concede at least two per game. As for Macclesfield, I just can’t bear to watch as Town’s defence make such simple errors against the Silkmen’s rapid attacking.

Fortunately, excluding Port Vale and Macclesfield, Town have conceded in only two games in eight when winning at least 53% possession – at Peterborough and Shrewsbury. However for whatever reasons, whether it be a dip in form; laziness; complacency; tiredness after dominating possession; or purely retaining possession deep and making mistakes close to our goal, these instances are inexcusable and exceptions to the usual rule that our opposition fortunately don’t score when they don’t have the ball.  


  • Your question is vital to the future development of this team. The greatest problem I would argue is that our midfield lacks tacklers. Often when the opposition regain possession it is results in them easily riding three or four tackles in midfield and then being able to attack our fragile back line at will.
    Sadly Cooper has not got the tactical awareness to counter these deficiencies and Lee Power is relying on DVDs too much to make assessments of what is required as they do not show you the whole picture.
    Unless there is a change of management very soon – we will waste the potential that we have at the club. We need an astute manager who can bring discipline to the club.
    One question – is our medical room a black hole? So many players enter it being told they will be out for a few weeks – then they disappear for months!


  • I agree that the problem is more with the middle of the field than the back (although inevitably it is the centre backs which get the blame – and it is certainly true that Hall has struggled at times, whilst Ward remains as steadfast as he can sometimes, seemingly, almost on his own). The problem seems to be that a three man back line, with wing backs can be very exposed if the wing backs are not in place to defend when needed, and that seems to me (at least in the games I have seen) to be the problem – huge acres of space on either side of the centre, and then Thompson, especially, but also McEveley at times having to rush back, often committing fouls in the panic. The central midfield, meanwhile, whilst amazingly skilful in attack – and solid when the ball is in front of them, does not contain the natural defensive player who can add the extra weight at a moments notice when the ball comes over the top. Kasim has been brilliant in engineering attacks from in front of the back line, and in breaking up ground attacks, but his lack of experience has shown when chasing back. Without one or other – wing backs ready to begin in defence, or a proper defensive midfielder, the centre backs (and remember, we don’t really have three – McEveley himself has said he likes to get up over the half way line when he can… – are left horribly exposed!! It IS a matter of discipline/inexperience, because Thompson, McEverley and Barthram have all shown what good defenders they can be…

    No…we do not need a change of management….just a recognition (from the crowd as well as the manager) that half the team is little more than yoofs, and need to control their natural exhilaration a bit!!


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