Mark Cooper and the Swindon Town sack race..?

A home defeat for Mark Cooper’s Swindon Town on Saturday after leading MK Dons at half time was enough for an increasing number of supporters to demand chairman Lee Power removes the manager. With Cooper still in the Town dugout, Ron Smith asks whether now is the right time to change manager?

One victory in ten games in all competitions plainly isn’t acceptable, yet I remain in support of Mark Cooper’s management at Swindon Town. I appreciate a number of readers won’t agree and that view was made very clear on social media and BBC Wiltshire after the MK Dons match. That match saw a stumbling second-half performance during which the Franchise’s resurgence and eventual goals looked certainties, such is a low confidence in the Swindon side to hold onto a lead, let alone push on to deliver a convincing victory.

Town’s current position 8th in League One and eight points off the play-offs isn’t a crisis for a side where the pre-season objective was “to avoid relegation”. A canny transfer strategy involving the recruitment of young players from the Premier League (Spurs) and ‘rejects’ from any level originally looked promising as a means to provide a competitive squad with budgetary constraints. Two-thirds of the way through the season and unfortunately this youthful optimism has suffered from burnout and a lack of experience to push through the winter months to secure a play-off berth. As a result, Cooper is in an unusual position – fighting for his job while perhaps overachieving.

Looking back at previous Swindon sackings since John Gorman was fired after an away defeat at Bristol City – perhaps an ominous sign to come for Cooper – eight of the nine sackings resulted from a period of poor form relative to their overall points per game record. Jimmy Quinn’s final ten games marked a minor improvement relative to his whole 18 month term in the dugout. Should he be unjustly sacked now, Mark Cooper’s recent ten game record is the joint fifth worst record amongst this motley crew. With just three defeats from the ten games, Cooper’s side is the toughest of these to beat.

Final 10 Games (All Comps) W D L Overall League Pts/G Final Ten Pts/G Lg Pos When Sacked
John Gorman 2 2 6 0.86 0.8 16
Steve McMahon 3 2 5 1.33 1.1 16
Jimmy Quinn 4 0 6 0.95 1.2 24
Andy King (1) 2 3 5 1.2 0.9 20
Andy King (2) 2 1 7 1.36 0.7 23
Iffy Onoura 2 4 4 1.14 1 23
Maurice Malpas 2 3 5 1.17 0.9 17
Danny Wilson 0 3 7 1.38 0.3 20
Paul Hart 1 3 6 0.63 0.6 24
Mark Cooper? 1 6* 3 1.38 0.9 8?

No recent Swindon manager in a league position higher than 16th has been sacked. Both John Gorman and Steve McMahon departed with Town in 16th in Division One, two and three points respectively above the relegation zone, soon to be dragged into a relegation fight. The remainder have also have been sacked after being embroiled in relegation scraps, or following relegation. Performance in the cups was also a factor, with Maurice Malpas being sacked for a league position three points off the relegation zone and an early knockout from three cup competitions.

Given that Swindon haven’t sacked managers in their recent history for being in a position as strong as Mark Cooper, why should supporters argue for his dismissal? Perhaps the short-sightedness of the Premier League and the winning-at-all-costs attitudes, which broadly equates to changing the manager at least once a season, is creeping into the mindset of supporters lower down the pyramid?

In the end there has to be a sound business and footballing reason for Lee Power to dispense with Mark Cooper. With Town three points away from achieving the magical 50 points – that has been enough to avoid relegation in the previous eight League One seasons – and a run of wins away from being within a very outside chance of a top six finish, even securing a mid-table finish wouldn’t represent a disaster.

I acknowledge there’s criticism about the style of play with “boring” being the most common description I’ve read, but I certainly don’t find Town boring. It’s always captivating and fascinating for whatever reasons, and of course, frustrating to watch at times recently.

There has been a noticeable downturn in goals scored per game and the frequency of victories since mid-November, a period during which discontent about style were largely silenced. A few months later and the criticism is more vocal highlighting what Town’s style under Cooper seemingly needs, in the eyes of the masses, are goals. Or alternatively, a complete about-turn in strategy to reimplement Di Canio’s ‘loved’ 4-4-2 direct football. Actually the difference between the two manager in respect of average goals per game is quite narrow, Di Canio achieving 1.6 compared to Cooper’s 1.5 per game.

If Cooper was given the boot you have to ask what could any successor achieve that Cooper couldn’t at this point in the season? Could you give yourself a better chance of winning promotion now? Certainly not. Indeed, looking back at our recent history following sackings, the sacking didn’t avoid the eventual fate the decision was seeking to stave off.

In the end, time is what’s needed for a manager who was surprisingly thrust into the role in August. It seems wrong to equate Cooper to some of our greats at this point in time, but you must remember the early promise of Glenn Hoddle’s Swindon in 1991/92 being top in November only to suffer a winless eight game run and defeats in March before finishing 8th; patience led to great rewards. Bert Head’s youthful side took five years to secure promotion, similarly Danny Williams built slowly with 7th, 8th and 10th placed finishes before glory. Therefore, Power’s strategy, with Cooper at the helm, is perhaps best judged next season. They know there will be a nucleus of the existing squad to continue working with while adding talent in the summer and changing the pre-season routine to avoid the fatigue that’s crept in.

Having written this, I do fear for Cooper’s future and whether he’ll be able to get the vital victories to win over the negative reactions.  Swindon have very tough games coming up in March including Wolves (h), Bristol City (a), Preston (h) and Sheffield Utd (h) which, results depending, will define everyone’s commitment to realism and whether we are prepared to ‘endure’ at least one season of mid-table mediocrity for once.

The more fundamental problem is that the damage could’ve already been done with the negative reactions so far, but only you can change that. This, or even this season, isn’t the right time for a managerial change. So give him time and support our manager.

Right, I’ve had my say. Time for you to complete this poll and please add a little more to be debate in our comment section.

*The JPT Area Final 2nd leg is counted as a draw as the tie was decided by a penalty defeat.

Image source

7 comments

  • A good read.

    Looking at our fixtures, the way the team are playing and the teams we still have to play, my (pessimistic) forecast is for 1 victory and 4 draws, giving us a nerve-wracking total of 54 points come season end. We should stay up, but below Bristol City.

    The crunch will be the summer – can we keep Pritchard? Will Nile Ranger deign to stay with us? Will Power keep faith with Cooper? Will Cooper keep faith with playing football? Will our young squad find their maturity soon enough? And will the fans keep their patience?

    Lots of questions. I’m nervous about the last one, and just hope that the pressure from the happy-clappers and the get-it-forward brigade will not force the hand of Power, and that he has the balls to see this project through into 2014/15

    I’m all for Cooper staying through to next season, as a project like this one needs time, patience and a couple of defenders

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    • I think we’ll get a few more than 54 points, but breaking the 60 point barrier will be tough.

      As for Pritchard, we won’t be able to keep him for beyond, likewise with Ranger, someone else in the Championship will take a punt with him.

      As for fans keeping patience, I really doubt that will be case, but I hope it doesn’t end out that way.

      Like

  • I question the excuse that the team are tired I would like to see a little more direct attacking and the ability to change the style of play to suit the opposition the other teams are aware of our style of play and cash in on our weakness all to often but we must stick with the lads through to the end of the season

    Like

  • Is it just me but I have believed all season that Ward as been the bulk of Swindon weakness. This is the main reason we concede so many goals.

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  • At the start of this season’s campaign many Town fans were not very optimistic and hoping for a mid-table finish.

    However for most of the season we’ve been hanging around 7th / 8th spot which subsequently raised expectations among many fans that a PO place could suddenly be within reach.

    The team played well the first half of the season, but as soon as there were some injuries and suspensions, we did not have sufficient depth quality to replace them – the recent notable exception being TAH.

    The home form had been great, the away form not so. But instead of the away form improving, the home deteriorated. Teams have played more direct against us, allowing us to pass the ball around, but targeting some of our weaknesses.

    I believe it’s the individual mistakes by the players that costs us. The disappointment of not reaching the JPT Wembley final and then not winning several games on the trot had fans looking for someone to blame.

    I will never ask for someone to lose his/her job, because I would not want anyone to do this to me either.

    Before he was appointed I had heard of Mini and Tommy but not of Mark. Similarly I had never heard of Kevin MacDonald either.

    If there is to be a change, I hope it’s at the end of the season. It would be lunacy if the Swindon Town board – whose fans hoped for a mid table finish rather than relegation – sack their manager because they are unlikely to make the play-offs.

    On the flip side, if we genuinely cannot afford a manager with a proven successful track record – and therefore somewhat increasing the chances of success – then this is OK with me as long as the club do not set themselves unrealistic targets at the same time.

    There have been many managerial changes in the FL this year. Many haven’t worked out, the notable exception being Nigel Clough, who may just elevate Sheffield United from possible relegation to PO outsiders….

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  • Great article Ron. I’m insulated from seeing the style as I don’t get to the games, being based in Oz, but I do remember the Danny Wilson days where superb performances in 67 and 68 against West Ham, Forest and Sheffield Wednesday in the cup were offset by disappointment in the League.

    It wasn’t until we secured Frank Burroughs, John Smith and Peter Noble in 1968 that we finally got the team into shape to sweep all before us in 69.

    You can’t buy success in League One without risking oblivion, as we saw under PdeC. You need to build up and that takes time. My expectations were raised after a good start like everyone’s and I’m disappointed but we have the nucleus of a good young side and we need to keep building.

    The young players will mature and learn and so will Mark Cooper.

    As it is, I’m sure this discussion is irrelevant. Lee Power seems to have a vision which includes playing a certain way and planning for the long term. Getting rid of Mark Cooper after a season in line with his plans makes no sense.

    Like

    • Steve’s point final is excellent: Cooper won’t be sacked (nor should he be) as Power’s long term plan is progressing, albeit with a blip of late. This season should be most difficult as it is the transitional one. Next season we should avoid:
      – a scratch squad assembled in a rush – hence uneven nature of team. Such as having no striker into autumn.
      – complete lack of preseason for a huge chunk of the squad, which has seemingly contributed to numerous strains and pulls. There has been some bad luck with injuries to Reis and Smith.
      – A change in manager on the eve of the season, and an assistant coming in.
      – a substantial chunk of the wage bill not being on the pitch – William, Benson, Rooney, Roberts, TaH, Navaro etc.

      The obvious caveat is that loans need to be sorted earlier so they can be fit and duplication avoided in position.

      Next season will be the time to make any assessment as then Cooper will have had a chance to contribute to recruitment, drill the shape and the fitness so it remains throughout the season, and can play a settled team, shape and style.

      Like

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