#21 The Pre-season Pessimism Seems a Little Silly


espite the severance of the last vestiges of the excesses of the Di Canio era with the departures of high earners Foderingham and Andy Williams, the signing of Jordan Turnbull on a season long loan, recruiting another batch of talented, highly sought after youngsters from Liverpool, and retaining Kasim and Byrne (at least for now), the expectations amongst Swindon supporters and local media outlets on Swindon’s prospects for the forthcoming campaign have been overly negative.

Of course, in part, the pessimism was logical. Swindon lost five outstanding players in Foderingham, Stephens, Luongo, Gladwin and Louis Thompson. The play-off defeat left many supporters wounded, jaded, fed up with the naivety and lack of nous of the precocious Swindon youngsters, preferring pragmatism, experience (even seemingly for its own sake, despite Ricketts’s ineffectual spell) and graft if this ultimately yields ‘results’. Then there was the disappointment of Alfie Mawson opting to sign for Barnsley and the misguided frustration of many at Swindon not rapidly investing the Luongo and Gladwin transfer proceeds by incurring transfer fees on new players. Perhaps, more significantly, the media restrictions imposed by the Club  naturally irking those reporters of local media outlets (and me for that matter), who are influential in calibrating supporters’ pre-season expectations – unduly tainted the local media’s views on matters strictly football related. Indeed, Total Swindon Sport’s Sam Morshead – the most prominent and articulate critic of the Club’s media restrictions – in the most recent podcast of The Washbag (the principal Swindon Town FC blog), particularly peeved, half-jokingly suggested that last season might prove to be a ‘well-orchestrated fluke’. I would certainly disagree with such sentiments, but, ultimately, we shall see.

Swindon’s 4-1 drubbing (and it was an utter drubbing in the second half) of Bradford on the opening day of the season has shifted supporters’ expectations. Swindon’s performance, particularly defensively, was stronger than the last season opener against Scunthorpe in which Scunthorpe missed three or four sitters and Swindon’s defence looked vulnerable to all long, central upfield punts.

Swindon began the match with a 4-3-3 formation with Vigouroux in goal; Nathan Thompson at right back; Branco and Turnbull as centre backs; Ormonde-Ottewill at left back; Jordan Williams as the holding central midfielder with Kasim and Stewart in more advanced positions either side; and a front three (right to left) of Byrne, Hylton and Obika.

Swindon were not that bad in the first half and Bradford were certainly not the dominant side as many reports have suggested. The first Bradford goal was very good and did not stem from bad Swindon defending. In the 4-3-3 formation Swindon looked okay defensively, but the formation was adversely affecting Swindon’s passing and attacking play. Swindon were playing in straight lines and Kasim could not influence the game in an advanced midfield role. Kasim’s the ‘Iraqi Pirlo’ and, accordingly, needs to be played in a deep central midfield to dictate matters. Swindon’s build-up play from the back was conservative with Vigouroux often punting the ball long because of a paucity of passing options. This was completely different after the break with Nathan Thompson playing as sweeper and Kasim in the deep lying central midfield role.

After the break, Swindon played what some have labelled a 3-5-2 formation, which is a simplification. In fact, it was a fluid 3-2-3-1-1 formation with a back three of Branco, Thompson, Turnbull; Williams and Kasim sitting in front with Stewart in a more advanced central position; Ormonde-Ottewill and Robert (who came on for Hylton ten minutes into the game) pushed up on the flanks; and Byrne playing in a free, ‘number 10’ type role with Obika as the ‘number 9’.

The change in formation coincided with Swindon pressing Bradford high up the pitch and winning back possession rapidly, often in advanced areas. Bradford did not have any significant spells of possession in the second half and after about 75 minutes were spent physically. 

The negative of the match from Swindon’s perspective was the injury to Jermaine Hylton suffering a suspected fractured collarbone, which will probably result in a two month absence. A blow for the Club given his talent and the lack of options up front. Swindon will sign another striker before the transfer window closes.

A brief word on each Swindon player:

Vigouroux: A very impressive debut. He has presence, calmness and good distribution. His distribution is not as good as Foderingham’s yet, but I think it might well be after 10 to 15 games. There could be a few howlers in the interim. I was concerned how Swindon would cope without Foderingham; I’m not any more.

Rossi-Branco: Always plays well against Bradford and once again shackled James Hanson, who was reduced to an unathletic, bedraggled, sweaty mess by the game’s end (I’m very glad that Swindon’s game does not revolve around a 6’4”front man). Branco is underrated by most Swindon fans with many unduly prejudiced by the much publicised grappling with Aden Flint. His ability on the ball has improved vastly and he deserves more starting opportunities (although Swindon’s loan arrangement with Liverpool will mean that Jordan Williams will be given preference ahead of Branco if Williams is moved to centre back).

Thompson: Looked okay at right back, but very impressive as sweeper. With Kasim he dictated Swindon’s build-up play in the second half and played with great authority. His talents are wasted at right back where he becomes peripheral.

Turnbull: Excellent, as always.
Kasim: Needs a team to be built around him which probably explains the relative lack of interest from clubs higher up the football pyramid. As a deep lying creative midfielder he is outstanding. He dictated Swindon’s rhythm and tempo with Thompson in the second half.

Williams: Incredibly big for a 19 year old and a good tackler. He was assured in possession, but dwelt on the ball for too long at times. He looked a little uncomfortable when receiving the ball in tight situations at the back. He will improve rapidly as he adjusts to the pace of first team, competitive football. I expect him to blossom at Swindon. His lack of pace means that he is suited to the centre. He will probably be used as a centre back and central midfielder this season like Jack Stephens.

Robert: Good on the ball and creates space for others, but was largely peripheral. He will not offer much defensively. He was the least impressive of the new Swindon signings and I’m glad that the Club only offered him a one year deal. His best position is as a number 10 as he doesn’t have much pace. I’ll give him ten games before I make a definitive judgement.
Stewart: I was very impressed. Very athletic and physically stronger than I was expecting. A much needed replacement for Louis Thompson, offering athleticism and dynamism in midfield and protection on the counter-attack. Like all Swindon signings he is technically proficient. Already, he is one of Swindon’s most important players.

Ormonde-Ottewill: Looked more comfortable in the second half in a more advanced role. Technically assured, quick, with a cultured left foot. A good signing.

Byrne: magnificent in the free role. I think Cooper would have liked to have played him in this role more last season were it not for the plethora of attacking central midfielders Swindon had last season. Unfortunately, he did a little too well and will probably be sold before the end of the transfer window.

Obika: Linked up play well and is vital to Swindon’s prospects this season as the only number 9 type striker with the seemingly impending departure of Michael Smith. His first touch for his goal was exquisite. I think he is of Championship calibre.

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