#9 The Defence, Poor Attendances and the Return of King Rat


s you might have gathered from my previous articles (bordering on the gushing), Swindon are one of the best teams in League One offensively. They have only failed to score in one game all season, away to Crawley Town when they played almost half of the game with ten men. Defensively, they aren’t quite as good. Swindon are not bad defensively, having managed to keep four clean sheets after 16 games, and they have improved considerably since the opening few weeks of the season, but the defence might not be quite robust enough for the Club to get promoted.

Against Rochdale and Colchester the defence regressed. This stemmed principally from the absence of Nathan Thompson as sweeper because of his two game ban resulting in a makeshift back three. Against Rochdale Mark Cooper tried Kasim as the sweeper, which, tactically, was not a great success. Kasim (dubbed by some as the ‘Iraqi Pirlo’) can tackle and is not bad positionally, but his instincts are offensive rather than defensive and he is awful ‘in the air’. All of Rochdale’s goals came from headers, two of which were from corners. Playing Kasim as a sweeper also weakened Swindon’s midfield, shorn of its conductor. Cooper won’t play him there again. 

Against Colchester Cooper moved Kasim back to his deep lying central midfield birth and played Louis Thompson as a right sided centre back in the back three moving Jack Stephens to the sweeper position. Louis Thompson did very well and, defensively, Swindon looked a little more secure than they did against Rochdale, but there were still significant problems, although many of these were not because of a lack of cohesion among the back three. Indeed, missing Louis Thompson’s dynamism, Swindon’s midfield offered the back three pretty much no cover resulting in numerous three on three defensive scenarios, which was especially problematic given the pace of the Colchester front three: Sears, Massey and Healey*. None of Kasim, Reeves and Luongo (the central midfield trio) are quick and they were not able to recover when Swindon lost the ball in midfield and Colchester counter-attacked. Louis Thompson’s speed and ability to recover in such situations is vital given how far advanced Swindon’s wing backs and midfielders are frequently positioned. 

Even with Nathan Thompson in the side Swindon are not strong defensively. It’s difficult to say whether this principally stems from Swindon’s high defensive line, the possession based style, the individuals or the 3-1-4-2-2 formation. Quite a few of the goals which Swindon have conceded have resulted from opposing players latching on to long punts and getting in behind Swindon’s back three. Personally, I would not abandon the high defensive line because it would adversely affect Swindon’s attacking, possession based game. I’m pretty confident that Swindon will improve the synchronisation of the defensive line (indeed they already have to an extent) as the season progresses. Equally, the inherent weakness of the three centre back formation, creating pockets of space in the corners of the pitch, has been exploited by the opposition with long balls played down the channels. However, given the personnel at Swindon, it’s probably the best formation available. Tactically, Mark Cooper, in recent games, has sought to ameliorate the wing-back problem by instructing Byrne and Bell/Toffolo not to push forward simultaneously so that Swindon have an extra man at the back, hopefully resulting in more four on three situations and fewer three on three situations when the opposition counter attacks. It worked very well in Swindon’s 1-0 win at home to Preston.

Another defensive problem, which stems principally from the tender years of the Swindon first XI, is the frantic defending – too much tackling and not enough shepherding. There still seems to be a degree of nervousness when the opposition is in possession and the Swindon players, on occasions, over commit themselves, thereby losing their defensive shape, perhaps too concerned by what the opposition can do or too confident in their ability to win the ball back quickly by tackling. 

‘Off the pitch’ matters are not nearly as rosy as they are ‘on the pitch’. Lee Power reminded the Swindon fans that not enough of them are turning up and that he might have to sell players, presumably in the January transfer window, if the gates do not increase. Power said that for Swindon to break even the Club’s average home gate needs to be 7,500. He was particularly disappointed by the approximate 6,600 attendance against Preston on a Tuesday evening given that it was a second versus third clash. Annoyingly, this fixture had been initially scheduled for a Saturday which, almost certainly, would have resulted in a bigger gate. Still, Swindon’s average attendances are down by over a 1,000 since last season which is rather baffling and worrying given the great football on offer.
Equally, Swindon’s most hated man – Jed McCrory – decided that he was undeterred by the words of Judge Nicholas Strauss QC’s at the High Court: “I frankly don’t believe Mr McCrory’s evidence” and has succeeded in being granted leave to appeal. The matter will now progress to the Court of Appeal for a further hearing. Given McCrory’s purported contention that he is entitled to a chunk of the ownership of Swindon Town having contributed bugger all financially, he would not appear to have the strongest of cases. My reading is that this is the last throw of the dice by a desperate man who has no other options, egged on by lawyers possibly acting on a contingency, no win no fee basis. I’m pretty relaxed that he has little chance of winning, but it is yet another irritation for Lee Power and Swindon Town. I might attend the hearing to chuck a pizza at McCrory. Does the man below seem like a trustworthy, reputable fellow to you?

* I was generally very impressed by Colchester United and they are far better than their current league position suggests.

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