Learning to play the Swindon Town way…

Steve Fleming asks whether Swindon Town’s direction to ‘play the Mark Cooper way’ was the right strategy as the season unfolded..?

Mark Cooper is determined to play one way and in one style, at all costs. He says it’s a learning process but are we expecting too much from an inexperienced young team to have them play a way which may not be best suited to League One?

Football is about success; we all want and crave success. Town had a realistic chance of securing a play-off position as the season developed and perhaps the overall strategy could’ve changed to substance and the basics to reflect our transition from pre-season ‘relegation favourites’ to potential promotion challengers after we started to lose a grip on 6th place.

Isn’t it then best to start at getting the basics right in each position, rather than burden a young player with a certain style of play? Entertainment is one reason which has been given for continuing with the style approach, a style that’s been made popular by our current World Cup winners, however entertainment on the pitch doesn’t equate to this approach. It can equally be a pinpoint cross, a well-timed tackle, even a last ditch boot into row Z.

Style also doesn’t always equate to success even at the highest levels of football. Even teams with style, such as our greatest Town teams between 1990-1993 needed substance. Steve White and Shaun Taylor may not have been the most stylish, but they had a substance, solidity and knew their roles. The basics of their game and natural fight seem to be what we lack at the moment and it was disappointing the team wasn’t strengthened in January to fix those deficiencies.

Cooper admits the current crop of players are “invariably young, trying to learn and trying to find their way in the game”, however are these payers restricted by the way he’s asking them to play and has this been hindering our chances? His view for some weeks is “we want to win as many games as we can, trying to play the way we play and see what happens” but as we’ve lost ground and with only one win in 12 games a rethink of the approach is needed; that Plan ‘B’ which has been sorely missing.

There are a lot of questions but ultimately does Mark Cooper have the answers? Time will tell, but to truly play the style both he and Power want they need to dictate and consistently play a high tempo, have players with experience and the vision who have that bit extra on-the-ball. The current team lacks experience and the stamina needed to play this style of football successfully for 46 league matches, meaning that Cooper’s perseverance of this style is adding unnecessary pressure to our team.

I want the team to do well and Cooper to succeed, but remember entertainment is different for all and one style is not always it. Substance and style blend would suit me fine!

What do you think? Do you enjoy our style of play and Cooper’s view that this approach will persist no matter what? Or alternatively did you find a direct system with surging runs and effective use of the flanks dull, or just as entertaining?

Follow Steve Fleming on Twitter @stevebecks2000


  • Retaining ball whether that involves moving backwards or sideways is fine but there needs eventually to be some end product whether that be killer pass, cross or even dare I say it actually having a shot! There has been far too much tippy tippy with nothing at end of it bar surrendering ball to the opposition since Christmas. Lack of Mason and Ranger hasn’t helped but think what we really lack is a Nicky Ajose style goal poacher. Once Pritchard went off on Saturday it was difficult to see how on earth we could create a position to score a goal.


  • I see no problem at all in expecting a particular style of play, and personally have been very ready to go with the chosen style this season. But for it to become incisive and threatening to other teams, it requires the players to know each others’ game thoroughly, to know where each one is going to be, and for those without the ball constantly to be making themselves available to the ball holder – what we got used to seeing with the Caddis/Ferry/Ritchie triangle, which was, at its best, scintillating. Trouble is for that degree of team awareness to develop, you have to have stability…and I don’t know that you can get that with a team which relies on loanees…if we keep the core of the team for next season – and i would class that to be Thompsons, Pritchard, Kassim, possibly Luongo, tho he has tailed off, Ranger and Byrne, and add an Ajose-type, and settle down with a strong centre-back pairing – Troy and potentially the new guy sound hopeful….we could get to a really interesting situation next season. If we lose any or most of that core, we will have to start all over again….


  • I agree with bits of what you are saying but I think you’ve contradicted yourself: So the young players did really well early on in the season passing the ball, but young players shouldn’t pass the ball as it is too difficult for them?

    Is that what you are saying? It appears to be.


  • 1.Possession without Penetration is Pointless
    2.Too much of our play is in front of the opposition making it to easy to defend,opposition goalkeepers have had it far far to easy at the CG of late making the lack of goalmouth action tedious to watch
    3.Cooper is tactically inept the way we set up against Wolves for example was a joke why wait to half time to change it


  • very well written piece,can anyone tell me just who and what the backroom staff are/do?.when pdc was here his assistant had clipboards regarding info on the opposition,right/left footed etc.i don’t think ive seen much action down on the touchline this season.to be honest its just soundbites from cooper as even he has commented just how little he knows of playing staff.lee power makes all the decisions.


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