Why is there a prevailing mood of misery at Swindon Town..?
Adam Tanner gives his thoughts on the prevailing mood of misery around the County Ground during recent weeks…
During last week’s draw with Crawley Town my mind wandered several times from the match. I’ll spare you my musings about my shopping list, and car insurance renewal; I know the game wasn’t a classic.
But I will share a comparison that came to mind. Cast your mind back almost three years to the day, to the visit of Walsall on 5th March 2011. We were over three months into an eight month run without a home win, and played out a typically dismal goalless draw. Our team consisted largely of the inept, and the downright disinterested. To put it mildly, we were hopeless, and within weeks we were relegated from League One and propping up the division.
Despite this, I recall a healthy crowd of 10,489 giving the team a pretty strong backing, and a decent ovation at the end. Okay, we had just appointed a new manager but, of all the emotions that Paul Hart managed to invoke amongst the support, excitement and enthusiasm were some way down the list.
Last Tuesday, 7,062 turned up and none of us, myself included, got anywhere near such levels of support. We’ve all heard calls for Mark Cooper to be sacked, and (probably empty) vows not to renew season tickets. So, during the last few days, I have been racking my brains as to why this is the case. After all, the 2011 side was performing well below expectations, whereas the 2014 equivalent has significantly exceeded them.
Surely last week we should have accounted for the fact that we were missing, in my opinion, our three best outfield players; Massimo Luongo, Alex Pritchard and Nile Ranger? A fair comparison would be to ask Liverpool to play without Gerrard, Sturridge and Suarez; results and performances would inevitably suffer. Surely we should account for the fact that many of our players have played substantially more first team games this season than in the rest of their careers combined? Factor in the very disjointed pre-season that they endured, and it’s hardly a wonder that several are now flagging somewhat. Surely we should respect the fact that Cooper has managed to assemble a decent, low-budget squad nearly from scratch, with very few poor signings having been made in the process, whilst tiptoeing around the wreckage left by the erratic and volatile Paolo Di Canio’s frequent expensive blunders?
Here are my thoughts as to why the mood around the County Ground been one of such depression lately:
1. Unfamiliar Territory
With over a quarter of the season still to play, I think it’s fair to say that we’re extremely likely to be playing in League One next season.
During the last 28 seasons, we have been promoted or relegated 11 times. We have also had five unsuccessful playoff campaigns, and a handful of narrow escapes from relegation. The last few years have been particularly volatile, and we haven’t witnessed anything resembling mid-table since 2007-8. It’s very unusual for us to be looking ahead at a two-month period which, in the greater scheme of things, doesn’t look too important.
By contrast, League One contains some very static clubs. Tranmere Rovers haven’t moved since 2001, and Oldham Athletic have, remarkably, been in the division continuously since 1997. I expect fans of those teams would be a lot more tolerant of a mid-table finish; it’s just the norm. But for Swindon fans, this represents alien territory. And we don’t know how to cope.
2. Home & Away Form Reversal
Clearly, the majority of our fans attend either few or no away matches. 288 Swindon fans made the trip to Crewe; approximately 3% of our average home support. Therefore, it’s inevitable that home form will set the prevailing mood amongst supporters.
For the season up until late January, we had averaged a little less than 2.5 points per home game, and a little over 0.5 points per away game. We had scored as hosts to every opponent except Chelsea. Therefore, despite a number of pretty abject away defeats, the masses were broadly satisfied.
In recent weeks, roles have curiously reversed; we have produced a string of good away performances, with results to match, but have looked flat and impotent at home to several average opponents (although, lest we forget, we have lost one home match since November). Therefore, although we are amassing points at a similar rate to earlier in the season, the support base is far less happy.
3. Style of Play
I suppose this is the most obvious factor, but I have deliberately left it until last.
There’s no doubting that our, let’s call it “patient” passing game can produce long spells of turgid football, as it did during Tuesday’s first half. This is particularly prone to generate frustration at the County Ground, where the onus will always be on Town to take the initiative. I accept that a “Plan B” does not seem to appear on Cooper’s radar, and that consequently we can look frustratingly pedestrian, especially when we are apparently chasing games.
But although we often look toothless, especially early in games, we have ultimately posed enough of a the division’s joint sixth top scorers. The system also has other merits. Remember the days of Danny Wilson (and others), when we would concede key late goals on an almost weekly basis? This season, we haven’t conceded a decisive goal any later than the 85th minute of a match, and I’m sure this is closely linked to our players’ ability to stay calm and keep hold of the ball in all situations.
It’s important to note that all seven of our remaining home matches are against fellow top half sides, so it seems fair to assume that our lads will need a bit of help in getting the season over the line. So let’s just try to appreciate the fact that, for once, we aren’t likely to suffer the type of crushing disappointment (a la Brentford last May) that lower league fans come to expect, and relish games against the likes of Wolves and Bristol City as we aspire towards a top ten finish that would represent very worthwhile preparation for next season.
You never know, we might even enjoy it.