#2 Pre-season Angst


veraging out the predictions of commentators and supporters, Swindon Town will finish 14th in the 2014/15 campaign; eight places from the play-offs and seven places from relegation – apparently a season of mid-table mediocrity beckons. I wish I could offer a pin-point prediction, but I can’t. I might as well play a game of Pin the Tail on the League One Table. However, I would say that this Swindon side is not the sort of side one would typically think of finishing in 14th spot come the season’s end. In fact, mid-table mediocrity and Swindon Town are uneasy bedfellows. The last four campaigns have been: play-offs – relegation – champions – play-offs – 7th place. Swindon and Bradford are the only two teams, since the inception of the Premier League, who have been in all four divisions. The current side might reach the play-offs, but they could just as easily go down. It won’t be dull: brilliant in spells but, ultimately, fragile. Of course, as a biased fan, I’m over-egging matters.

The Club’s pre-season has been severely hampered by the ownership dispute between Lee Power and Jed McCrory; mercifully ruled in favour of the former. The dispute has prevented Swindon from signing new players until a few weeks before the start of the season. So far Swindon have signed Anton Rodgers (son of Liverpool manager Brendan), 21, on a one year deal: a central midfielder who is comfortable in possession (a pre-requisite for Swindon signings under current management). Anton Rodgers started his professional career at Brighton, where he worked with Swindon’s assistant coach, Luke Williams, before going to Oldham who released him. The Oldham fans thought little of him when he did feature, which was seldom because of a bad knee injury. He is unlikely to start ahead of Kasim, Louis Thompson and Luongo in central midfield.

Perhaps Swindon’s most promising signing is left-sided player Brad Smith, 20, on a season’s long loan from Liverpool. For a 20 year old he is physically imposing and quick: Liverpool think highly of him. He is a welcome addition, especially given the absence of left-sided players in the squad. The other two signings are two 19 year centre backs: Josh Lelan on a ‘work experience’ (I think work experience is a euphemism for unpaid) short-term loan deal from Derby and Jordan Turnbull, a local lad hailing from Trowbridge, on a season’s long loan from Southampton. At the end of last season Swindon’s back three (in a 3-5-2 formation) was Jack Stephens (on loan from Southampton); Troy Archibald-Henville, who Swindon released as he refused to accept a ‘pay as you play’ contract and Jay McEveley whose wage was too high and has signed for Sheffield United. Swindon now have only three recognisable centre backs, two of whom are 19. Swindon are trying to sign Jack Stephens, 20, on another loan deal from Southampton, but the new Southampton manager, Ronald Koeman, will want to assess his ability and ensure that he has sufficient centre back personnel before sanctioning any release. The paucity of signings is unsettling a contingent of the Swindon Town fans rekindling the inane phrase ‘a lack of ambition’.

Thankfully, Swindon’s finances aren’t quite so dire that they have had to accept offers for their best players. So far, Swindon have rejected bids for Massimo Luongo, and the Thompson brothers: Nathan and Louis. Rotherham reportedly bid £600,000 offer for Luongo – a substantial offer for a League One player. All of Swindon’s shining lights remain.

Mark Cooper’s post-match comments on the friendly 1-1 draw with Bromley were a little disconcerting. Always candid, perhaps overly so, Cooper said that a lot of work needed to be done defensively, particularly in defending long balls through the middle. I can see it now: Swindon playing all of the good football only to be undone by individual defensive howlers and long punts over the top. Actually, this is rather snobbish of me: I have no idea as to the footballing style of Swindon’s opening opponents  Scunthorpe. All I know is that they are 28 games unbeaten; many predict that they will finish in the play-offs; and that they have Paddy Madden – a talented footballer, but a pain in the arse to manage, by all accounts. I am anxious. A good start to the season for Swindon is vital more so because of their young squad and the team’s possession-based style. Confidence is key.

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