Red Alert: Does Mark Cooper’s side have a poor disciplinary record?

Adam Tanner examines the reasons behind Swindon Town’s poor disciplinary record under Mark Cooper, and looks at other issues which can arise from it.

Mark Cooper tends to allow a few meaty adjectives to roll off his tongue during his interviews. “Incredible”, “remarkable” and “astonishing” all regularly feature.

In recent weeks, these words have not been used to describe our track record versus Bristol City, the new purple third kit, or even the decision to start with Andy Williams ahead of Michael Smith in a competitive match. Instead, they have featured with reference to refereeing decisions which Cooper doesn’t like.

To an extent, he has a point. For example, Nathan Thompson’s red card at Cheltenham has now been rescinded, and, according to Cooper, he received an apology for Thompson’s second yellow card at Yeovil, which the rules don’t allow to be withdrawn. He clearly isn’t the only League One manager with a willingness to loudly complain about officials, a point proved quite comically by Steve Cotterill last weekend.

However, under Cooper’s management, Swindon’s disciplinary record has been consistently bad. For instance, last season, his first in the job, we managed to end up with the joint second worst disciplinary record in League One.

2013-14 Disciplinary Records

So far this season, things have improved, and our record in the league is currently the joint tenth worst, but the fact that, in our last 24 games in all competitions, we have received 6 red cards suggests that there is still much room for improvement. All of this is despite the fact Cooper’s teams have been characterised by a fluid, passing style, and a general absence of excessively physical players. As the link shows, a team with a similar structure, Walsall, had the best disciplinary record in the division, with no red cards all season.

Surely factors behind our poor record under Cooper must go far beyond bad luck?…

Management Styles

I was never keen on Paolo di Canio, but one of his clear attributes was the ability to impose high standards of discipline. Although our playing style under him was more robust than under Cooper, the general disciplinary record was relatively ‘good’ in 2011/12 with 64 yellows and 4 reds.

On a related note, nobody under di Canio was ever sent off for anything resembling violent conduct. It seems likely that the prospect of something substantially more violent in the dressing room afterwards was enough to encourage players to think twice.

Under Cooper, standards have slipped a little, and many players have been disciplined in ways that could easily have been avoided. In the latter part of last season, three players were sent off during scuffles; first Alex Pritchard at Bristol City, then Troy Archibald-Henville and Nathan Thompson at Notts County. It seems likely that a more tolerant attitude towards indiscipline might make players less reluctant to go in with fists raised.

Moments of Madness

Not all of Nathan Thompson’s red cards have been contentious; nobody was disputing the one in the cup tie versus Brighton in August.

To remind you, we were 3-2 down, with around 30 seconds of stoppage time remaining, when Thompson cheaply conceded possession, allowing his opponent a clear run on goal. Whilst pursuing the guy, he had a few seconds to gather his thoughts and appreciate that, regardless of whether the player scored, Swindon would have virtually no prospect of recovering the match. The logical move would clearly have been to allow the player to shoot. By committing a professional foul and conceding a penalty (from which Brighton scored anyway), Thompson ended up with a needless suspension… as a result of which the following suspension was also extended.

It’s no secret that we have an extremely young team. Perhaps the folly of youth has a bearing upon our disciplinary record.

Response to Decisions

Although we have had some bad luck, I’m not keen on the assumption, which can emerge from contentious decisions, that everything would have been fine had it not been for the latest refereeing scandal. Last November, for example, Cooper implied that we would have been on course to turn a 0-0 draw at Crawley into a win had Nathan Byrne not been sent off in the 87th minute. Whereas we will never know for sure, the fact that we hadn’t managed an attempt on target during the first 86 minutes doesn’t add much weight to his argument.

Last year’s first round defeat at Macclesfield bore many comparisons to the Cheltenham one; we were hammered by a lower ranked team, played poorly, and didn’t draw a serious save out of the opposing goalkeeper in the process. Yet last season, we had no external factors to blame, and were forced to view the defeat in the cold light of day, for what it was. This year, although we were already behind when Thompson was sent off, the majority of the blame seemed to focus on the referee, enabling a high-quality team to sweep under the carpet a number of goals which it should never have conceded.

Perhaps one of the most knackered of football clichés, that “these things even themselves out over the course of a season”, has proved itself over the course of the last couple of weeks, during which time two contentious, and unusually early, red cards have had quite contrasting effects on our performances and results.

Moving forward, I feel that a bit more perspective would help to ensure that, when things go against us, we don’t allow a bit of bad luck to affect an excellent team to the extent that it sends things off the rails.


  • I’m not quite sure I get the central point this article is making – we’ve had quite a few bookings, but think it would make it clearer to show how many are Nathan’s and how many are others – and what the booking were for.

    I’m also not sure if the two seasons under Cooper should be treated together – they are very different. Dissent was the problem in the first, this time the issue has been more about the style and how it can expose defenders if not covered properly. The issue there is about the counter-attack and how in the last two home games Cooper has altered the shape, seemingly to counter it.

    The Di Canio comparison is possibly better made on the grounds of this difference in style – his was a team built on minimising risk. People were rarely exposed and so rarely booked. And, it was a much easier league. Might have been better to look at year two and see how that was going…


    I’m sorry if my comments seem to have offended, that was not my intention. I was hoping to extend the debate. Let me know and I shall delete the comment entirely.

    With apologies,


  • Issue of dissent are down to youthful exuberance

    Professional fouls, or in the case of N Thompson at Cheltenham being put into a ‘last man’ situation, are a result of risk taking and the need to prevent the opposition from scoring


    • Yep. I guess NT will need to choose his moments particularly carefully from now on since, as we’ve learned the hard way, he’s often likely to be the last man.


  • I resent the indiscipline shown when there is a problem and a number of our team rush in to the melee. A good manager would have instilled in them that no one should rush in. Let the opposition do so and there is a good chance at least one will be sent off. It is things like this that annoy spectators.
    I am sick to death of the constant use of the phrase “they are a young team”. Most of them have been involved with professional clubs for a number of years. They must be slow learners. The case in pint was N Thompson’s sending off against Brighton. It did not take much to assess that it is not worth a sending off – let him score. In any case Fotheringham might have saved it.
    One of the greatest ever manager’s Brian Clough ran his teams in such a way that they had very few bookings and sendings off. He took players of limited ability and moulded them to play his way – this included being disciplined on the pitch.
    So I hold Cooper responsible for the poor disciplinary record. He is the one who needs to “man – manage” his players to not only play footy but to behave. Failure to do so could cost us dearly in the weeks to come.


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