What’s going wrong at Swindon Town?
Swindon Town not only lost against Oldham Athletic but they also failed to score in a home league game for the first time since last March. Considering Town managed a grand total of one attempt on target and two corners, that result is hardly surprising, so Adam Tanner assesses what went wrong.?
1. Managerial Input
Cooper made a couple of odd decisions yesterday, which I don’t feel helped our cause.
Yaser Kasim appears to have been left out to avoid collecting his 10th booking and being banned for two games, which would have ruled him out of the JPT first leg on Wednesday. On that basis, maybe Kasim shouldn’t have played at Walsall either, in case he had been booked there. And, assuming that he doesn’t get booked at London Road, are we going to leave him out of the following two league games, to ensure that he doesn’t miss the home leg? Perhaps we should also leave Wes Foderingham out of those matches, in case he gets sent off? Suspensions, like injuries, can arise at any time, and I would prefer us to just deal with them as and when they arise. Kasim is a key player, who I feel should at least have been on the bench. I would gladly have forfeited him at Peterborough in return for a win, or even a draw, yesterday.
Elsewhere, I appreciate that Cooper wants to ease the likes of Troy Archibald-Henville back into contention, but I struggle to accept that the correct move at half time was to replace one centre back with another. Whereas Ward has struggled lately, he was not really part of the problem in the first half as I felt the defence had generally looked stable. Although we had played poorly in the first half, the match was clearly in the balance, and a more positive change may have been more worthwhile under the circumstances.
2. Nile Ranger
On the subject of positive substitutions, Nile Ranger didn’t make it on until the hour mark, when he replaced Barker, who had a quiet game. I know that management of Ranger is not straightforward and I accept that there have been times when the club has needed to freeze him out of the squad, for various reasons. But when he is involved, I find it desperately frustrating to see him start games on the bench. Prior to yesterday, we had won each of our previous four home games, during the course of which Ranger had provided two goals and four assists. I genuinely don’t think we would have beaten any of Coventry City, Peterborough United or Shrewsbury Town without him on the pitch.
I’m unconvinced by Cooper’s regular suggestion that Ranger doesn’t work hard enough during games. He easily holds his own physically, and is a great aerial asset at both ends. Ok, perhaps he doesn’t track back 50 yards on a regular basis, but if we are playing with a lone striker the last place I personally want to see him during open play is in the left back position, in the same way that I don’t expect to see Darren Ward tearing down the wing when we’re attacking. The fact that a footballer is not charging about at all times like a bull in a china shop does not mean that he isn’t trying. Personally, I consider Ranger to be our best outfield player, and as long as he has been behaving reasonably I’d prefer to see him on the pitch at all times.
3. Senior Players
A team as inexperienced as ours, with the huge majority of players aged 23 or under, inevitably requires the few active senior players to take a positive lead. This is currently lacking.
Jay McEveley has generally proven himself to be a solid defender with some (quite raw) attacking instinct and a strong winning mentality; however, he has been substituted three times in recent weeks, and his injury gremlins appear to have returned. Darren Ward has struggled throughout the season to adapt to our new style, and his playing days look numbered. Above all, Ryan Harley has so far been a great disappointment. I was quite excited when we signed him; I expected him to become the focal point of our midfield. This hasn’t yet happened. He was poor yesterday, and I sense that he is playing in a comfort zone. I expect to see an improvement from him.
4. Junior Players
A large percentage of our first team regulars, especially in midfield, have made more first team appearances this season than in the rest of their careers combined. That’s a big deal, and it’s probably unsurprising that many are struggling to hit the standards that they did in October.
For instance, Massimo Luongo looks to me like a class act who just badly needs a break. And Nathan Byrne had a pretty bad day on Saturday. He kept working hard and did not hide, but he barely got a cross or pass right. In fairness, he is a better player than his recent form suggests, and I suspect that he is suffering from his perceived versatility. I think we need to establish what his best position really is, and try to confine him to it for the time being. He is probably too young to cope with rotating between so many different roles.
The season is a long slog (this one will contain a minimum of 55 matches) and I think that, six months in, we are starting to see a bit of fatigue, both physical and mental, from several of our youngsters. The bad news is that, as well as playing every Saturday, we have midweek matches scheduled for five of the next eight weeks. So I suspect that most of the lads will need to soldier on.
Follow Adam Tanner on Twitter @adamtanner87