23 games to go and still a long road ahead for Swindon

Swindon Town finished 2014 with a win over Port Vale and find themselves back in second place again in League One. At exactly the midway point of the 2014/2015 season with 23 games played,  STFC007 looks back at the season thus far with some observations and assesses the long road ahead.

As a Swindon Town supporter, I cannot be anything else but very pleased how the season has progressed thus far. Could it have been better? Not so sure. Could it have been worse? Without a doubt.

Here we are, a few days before the New Year. Realistically, who’d have thought at the start of the season that Swindon would be in an automatic promotion place at the end of December? A long way to go yet I hear you say. Of course there is, but there are a lot of points in the bank and I’d rather have my club sit in second from top than second from bottom.

Who’d have thought it though. I mean really, who’d have thought it at the start of the season – that we would be second in the table just after Christmas. The owner – Lee Power – perhaps and quite possibly the manager Mark Cooper with a select following from some of the players. But as the season progressed and the results matched the quality of the football on display, more and more of the Swindon supporters and onlookers agreed that this was indeed a good team; a team that – according to several League One managers – has thus far played the best football in the division.

But, looking back a few things stood out for me as the season progressed.

Mark Cooper – The Architect and Executioner sticking to his guns

I must admit – I had heard of Mark Cooper – but his coaching credentials didn’t quite match that of the experienced League One manager required to get the best out of the team. I recall mentioning that I had heard of Mini and Tommy, but not of Mark. Well, we have now and I stand corrected!

He may be a bit predictable at times, dropping the extra long pause before answering a question in the post match interview or introducing a substitute around the 60 minute mark, but after tinkering with the formation a few times, he has been able to get the very best out of the players. He is level headed, doesn’t get carried away after a couple of good results nor get downhearted after a few indifferent results. A  steady influence of the team sticking to his beliefs on how the team should play each week. As expected, he gets linked with vacant managerial positions.

The current Swindon Town hierarchy play it straight

In previous years, the rumour mill was always rife with names of possible players the club were after. Whilst it made good copy for the local media, in such cases there is always the increased probability of a deal falling through or the terms changing for various reasons.

This year it’s different with the cards being played much closer to the chairman’s chest where the release of information taking place on his terms. There have been a few scuffles with the local media since he took over. A good relationship with local media is always important for any sports club; and whilst I can see both sides of this, as a supporter I take the owner’s side. I wouldn’t want a possible deal jeopardised because there are stories in the press; I’d rather have them work it behind the scenes so the best possible deal for the club is secured before announcing it.

The most recent issue about unpaid rent is another one that the chairman was upset about on how it was reported. As a tenant he was trying to get the best possible deal for the club; again I can see both sides, but as a supporter I am on the chairman’s side who is trying to get the best deal for the club.

I just hope the club and the media can find common ground and get along well for the remainder of the season and beyond.

Increased local media coverage of Swindon Town

Besides The Washbag, there are several fans based websites and social media pages but for many years The Swindon Advertiser and BBC Wiltshire were the only two main local news media reporting on Swindon Town. Last season, FLIC Wiltshire started coverage of Swindon Town and this season Swindon Link Sport has joined as well with some excellent coverage.

So there is plenty of choice to get the latest Swindon Town news. If you follow them all on social media, there’s no chance you’ll ever miss a Swindon Town line-up or a goal, in fact you may end up with a similar message five times if you also follow the club.

It’s good to see the increased media coverage of Swindon Town.

No magic wand to increase match-day attendance

Trust STFC has in conjunction with the club done some excellent work in trying to increase the number of people attending home games. One such initiative saw local school kids get free tickets to watch the home game against Fleetwood. There have been other initiatives to bolster the attendance including a multi-game ticket offer.

The chairman has previously stated that if attendance does not increase, he may be forced to sell some players in January to balance the books. The last home game was attended by more than 9,000 which is an increase over previous matches.

But there aren’t any easy solutions to solve this overnight. I believe that this price of a ticket is reasonable if you compare it to similar leisure activities. The ownership dispute at the start of the season may have hampered sale of season tickets, but there are many other contributing factors. Not only are there many other competing activities or means to spend your money on, to attract those who are not regulars requires more than just good results. Attendances will improve as Swindon continues to do well in the table, but it’s not only the quality on display that determines if people come and watch or not. People may in the past have been attracted to come and watch due to ‘better known’ players in the squad or due to a better known manager not that long ago.

A well filled stadium adds to the overall atmosphere, so I hope the numbers will continue to increase.

Good results can mask some of the areas for improvement

There have been games this season where three points could easily have been one or even zero had the opposition been more clinical towards the end of the game. It’s not always the performance, but the result that determines the mood of the supporters, sometimes papering over the cracks of possible improvement needs, like the ability to correctly take a throw in or the ability to shoot equally well with both feet.

A few individual errors, or the number of missed chances will always take a back-seat when another three points are on the board, whereas a disappointing result will see a sometimes exaggerated response.

Live is so much easier when your forwards score regularly

It’s not often that all strikers in the club are on the score-sheet on a regular basis. Williams has racked up 14 closely followed by Smith on 12 and Obika with six. Together they have accounted for almost three-quarters of Swindon’s goals. Where other teams may struggle to get hit the back of the net, having your forwards score on a regular basis is one less problem to solve.

This year is as good a year as any to get promoted

I always find it difficult to judge the strength of the League at the start of a season. There are teams that sometimes surprise – some say that Swindon fall into this category this year – and some teams that disappoint. With Wolves, Brentford and Rotherham getting promoted last season, none of the teams that were relegated from the Championship nor those that were promoted from League Two currently feature in the top six. Does that mean the League is weaker compared to last season? I don’t think so. Last season Wolves were the bookies’ favourite for promotion and in the end were runaway winners. This year, the pre-season favourite is currently in first place; so from that perspective nothing has changed, but it’s much closer this season as there are some very good teams in the competition and the top four are only separated by four points at the halfway stage.

Looking ahead

Now, where does that leave Swindon? Well, at the end of 2014 at the halfway point, in second place. However, the season is only halfway through and prizes are only awarded at the end of the season. I recall last season Leyton Orient being in top position for large part of it, ending up in a play-off place and the season before that Tranmere Rovers doing the same for even longer, but then only finishing in 11th. Can the same happen to Swindon? Well, everything is possible.

The most important period in the competition is always the one that is immediately ahead. At first it was the start of the campaign making sure that last year’s form continued; then it was a tricky November when Swindon had to play a number of promotion chasing teams followed by a difficult December when many matches would be played in quick succession.

Now it’s the month of January that’s the immediate obstacle. Two key players are away due to International duty in the Asian Cup, at least for the next three games but possibly as many as five.

Also, the transfer window could see some players moving out as well as some joining. How quickly they can become an effective part of the squad can also impact the continued progress of the team.

As long as the squad is able to remain relatively injury free and we are able to keep the core of the squad together I see no reason why we should not remain competitive for the remainder of the campaign.

Finger crossed – only 23 more games to go…

STFC vs Port Vale Highlights

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