#15 Wobble – Blip – [Slump]


windon are in a spot of bother. At the start of February they were title contenders; now they are bottom of the League One form table. Player confidence is eroding, exacerbated by a braying contingent of Swindon fans at home games, and consequently Swindon’s tika-taka style – requiring bravery and considerable personal responsibility – is in danger of imploding. 

Swindon have lost five out of their last eight games, losing away to Sheffield United, Oldham, Scunthorpe and at home to Crawley and Gillingham. The away defeats did not concern me unduly given Swindon’s poor records at each of Sheffield United, Oldham and Scunthorpe, the playing conditions, and Cooper’s assertions that Swindon’s performance levels did not dip materially in these games from previous fixtures with positive outcomes. However, the defeats at home to Crawley and Gillingham did, with Swindon looking blunt in attack and, particularly against Gillingham, very vulnerable to the counter-attack.

In the ‘wobble – blip’ phase Cooper’s stance, at least to the media, was, essentially, that Swindon were still dangerous going forward, accomplishing multiple entries into the final third of the opposition’s half of the pitch, and creating several goal scoring opportunities. Quite simply, Swindon were missing chances which they were previously tucking away. The wins would come if Swindon kept on doing what they were doing. After all, Swindon were still playing with a poise and swagger admired by many opposition fans and managers. But not all Swindon fans agreed, with plenty opining that Swindon’s possession was sterile, not opening up teams with their previous regularity. 

Certainly, there has been a shift in how teams (not all) are setting themselves up against Swindon: defending deeper and content to let Swindon play the ball out from the back. In short, teams are ‘parking the bus’, generally with two deep-lying banks of four depriving Swindon of space centrally in their third of the pitch. Previously, teams tended to adopt the high press against Swindon, fearing that they would not be able to withstand a Swindon siege, which gave Swindon more space in the opponent’s third and more opportunities, to use the buzz-phrase, ‘in the transition’. However, now teams seem increasingly relaxed at the prospect of Swindon camping out in their third of the pitch reckoning that Swindon will find it difficult to cut through the two narrow banks of four – increasingly so with the poorer pitches – forcing Swindon to go wide to find space where they are less threatening. Equally, parking the bus will encourage Swindon to commit too many players in advanced positions to find a breakthrough, thereby creating opportunities on the counter-attack, which Swindon – pace and athleticism not being a strong suit, particularly in midfield (Louis Thompson aside) – are not well equipped to handle. 

Evidently, not all of Swindon’s woes stem from a shift in the opposition’s set up. Some players are just out of form and, given their tender years, quite possibly fatigued. Harry Toffolo’s crossing is out of sync; Kasim appears sluggish: we probably have the Iraqi national coach’s regimen to thank for that; Michael Smith is not imposing himself in matches like he was in the first few months of the season when he was regarded as a £500,000 plus player; and Andy Williams, not helped by the lack of space in behind the opposition which he needs to be at his most effective, is not converting his chances. Tactically, some believe that Swindon’s 3-5-2 formation is not working. Given that Swindon’s training has been tailored to the 3-5-2 system all season, and they have a shortage of wide players, switching formation to a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 at this late stage would seem ill-advised when the 3-5-2 has generally served them very well thus far. Then there are the advocates of the “Plan B”; translation – be more direct. Were Swindon to adopt a more direct approach it would be disastrous. For a start, the Swindon players are ill-suited to this style of play. Indeed, when they have fleetingly adopted such an approach the outcome has been generally to lose control of proceedings, resulting in a slugging match. Worse still, Plan B would damage Swindon’s reputation as a nursery/training ground for talented young players. Swindon would not be able to continue to secure or attract the talented youngsters that they have today. In fact, adopting Plan B would mean no Lee Power and no Luke Williams. Plan B won’t happen under Lee Power’s tenure, and thank God for that! 

By far the biggest problem which Swindon have is the injury to Louis Thompson. Unfortunately, Swindon do not have a replacement box-to-box midfielder which leaves the central midfield imbalanced. None of Kasim, Luongo, Gladwin or Swift are very good off the ball and do not relish defensive duties. Without Louis Thompson the midfield seems overly tentative in possession, possibly perturbed that if they lose possession their lack of pace will be exposed on the counter-attack. Even Jack Stephens, for all his qualities, does not have the pace, recovery or ball winning abilities in advanced areas of Louis Thompson. 

To end the current malaise Swindon would be best served by sticking with Plan A. Spring is nigh, opposition pitches should improve and the poor form of certain players will hopefully be short-lived. As I recall, Swindon had a poor February last season, but finished the campaign reasonably strongly. Let’s also pray that Louis Thompson has not played his last game for Swindon. Without him promotion seems unlikely.

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