After a summer of rebuilding, following the loss of no less than seven first team players, Mark Cooper’s Swindon Town will be hoping to defy expectations, yet again, with a successive challenge for promotion throughout the upcoming Sky Bet League One campaign.
The club have complied with their usual frugal transfer policy over the summer window, which has led to an number of astute additions – players believed to be capable of filling the void left by their predecessors – while fans have been pleased to see a number of high profile loan arrivals from top flight outfit Liverpool.
The disappointment of Wembley last time round remains an open wound for the County Ground faithful, but an assured start to the new season will undoubtedly have the Town End rocking again. For the fans, promotion and a return to the Sky Bet Championship remains the ultimate goal.
Story of last season
At the beginning of the previous term, Swindon had been widely tipped for the drop – turn back time to the first day of the season, and few would have predicted the events that were to follow.
Indeed, it was a season in which the club set out to defy all expectations – securing a convincing fourth-placed finish, before earning an audience at Wembley at the end of a riveting play-off campaign.
Disappointment followed, as Robins were soundly beaten 4-0 by Preston North End on a miserable afternoon for all involved with the club. Nonetheless, the lessons from the club’s incredible journey remain.
The standout game of last season? The club’s incredible 5-5 draw with Sheffield United in the play-off semi-final second-leg at the County Ground, following a tantalising comeback in the first-leg, which saw Mark Cooper’s side prevail 7-6 on aggregate.
Despite the adverse situation faced the by the club this summer – losing Massimo Luongo, Andy Williams, Wes Foderingham, Louis Thompson, Ben Gladwin, Harry Toffolo and Jack Stephens – the Swindon Town policy has remained in full force.
The past several years has seen the club opt for nurturing youthful talent, rather than spending large sums of money on already established names. The 2015 summer window proved little different:
Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill became the first name to arrive at the County Ground, on a free contract, following his release from London outfit Arsenal. The 19-year-old, who trained regularly with the Gunners first-team squad, is expected to prove a real handful down the Swindon left flank.
The summer window has also seen the involvement of a number of trialists, all of whom have been given a decent opportunity to show their stripes ahead of the new campaign, with the hope of earning a permanent contract with the club. Drissa Traore and Fabien Robert are the two most promising talents that have joined the club in this manner.
Traore, a tenacious holding-midfielder, joins the cub having been released by now-League Two club Notts County in the summer, while Robert – a creative attacking-midfielder who, from first impressions, looks a mightily impressive talent – becomes a Swindon player after leaving French top flight club FC Lorient at the end of last season.
The SN1 supporters were over the moon with the appearance of Jordan Turnbull versus Liverpool last weekend, as the 20-year-old Southampton defender – born in Trowbridge – marked his return to the Country Ground for a second loan spell. Having played 51 times for the club last term, he adds much needed quality at the back.
Mark Cooper’s young squad now boasts a number of Liverpool links, with the most recent coming with his loan captures of Reds youngsters Kevin Stewart and Jordan Williams, who are expected to feature heavily throughout the upcoming season. Meanwhile, promising goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux is also expected to join the club on a temporary basis from Anfield.
The Iraqi international found himself overshadowed somewhat by Massimo Loungo’s presence in central midfield last term, but he has emerged as a key player, while scoring some important goals – during the Robins’ busy pre-season schedule.
A classy customer in the centre of the park, Kasim has the ability to singlehandedly dictate the tempo of a game. He possesses a stellar first touch and pinpoint precision in his passing, which makes him such an indispensable asset as the linchpin in Mark Cooper’s possession-based system.
Linked with an exit during the summer window, with various Championship sides lurking, his talent is quickly being recognised throughout the Football League. He will be a key figure for Swindon this term.
Nathan Thompson is Swindon Town through-and-through, having graduated from the youth team, and he is absolutely adored by the club’s fans.
Named the Robins’ Player of the Year in both 2012/13 and 2013/14, the 24-year-old – who also captains the Robins – is an instrumental asset for Mark Cooper’s side, particularly in terms of his leadership, but also due to his ability at the back.
Confident in possession, and having developed an efficient understanding with right-sided winger Nathan Byrne, Thompson opts to carry the ball out of defence whenever possible, and yet he is never to be seen shirking his defensive duties.
In an ever-changing, youthful Swindon squad, Thompson’s knowledge of the club and its philosophy is invaluable.
The sense of expectation following the summer arrival of former FC Lorient midfielder, Fabien Robert, cannot be comprehended. After an injury-ridden spell in France, Town will be hoping to profit from the Ligue 1 outfit’s lack of patience.
A player with a penchant for the spectacular, the 26-year-old will bring much need flair to Mark Cooper’s midfield. He instantly caught the eye with his contribution in the Robins’ pre-season defeat to Everton, during which he excelled thanks to his determination in the centre of the park.
With Kasim and Traore ensuring defensive stability, Robert will be called upon to be Town’s creative force and will be expected to contribute heavily both in goals and assists. On first impressions, he looks a very capable replacement for the departed Massimo Loungo, but only time will tell.
Mark Cooper likes to utilise a 3-5-2 system at the Country Ground – the formation that took his side to a Wembley play-off final last season – and Swindon are widely predicted to line up in the same manner ahead of the new term.
This set-up – implemented to ensure the SN1 outfit dominate possession in each encounter – relies on extreme composure with the ball. Rarely will you see a long-pass played. Rather, this system focuses on short, sharp passing by the Swindon players, keeping the ball until a chink in the opposition defensive armour is revealed.
Due to the high-risk nature of this playing style, the club were often see making mistakes at the back last term – a trend that has continued throughout the pre-season schedule. More often than not, these errors have been made in the Robins’ first-third, which usually results in an opposition shot at goal, or worse still, a goal conceded.
Interestingly, the Robins have also been seen toying with four at the back throughout the latter stages of each pre-season encounter, which suggests Cooper is looking to implement a plan B; something the club so often lacked throughout the previous campaign. Depending on the outcome of the club’s first few games, we could a quick change of system on the manager’s behalf.
Mark Cooper has earned himself a reputation as one of the brightest managerial minds in the game after guiding the Robins to the upper echelons of the English third tier.
Having joined the SN1 outfit from AFC Telford as assistant manager in March 2013, the 46-year-old became the club’s head coach on a full-time basis just six months later, following the departure of Kevin MacDonald
He has since enjoyed great success with a squad that boasts an average age of just 21 and one of the smallest budgets in the division – with around £1.5million spent on wages a year.
It is testament to the 46-year-old manager that the likes of Premier League club’s Tottenham, Chelsea, Southampton and Liverpool have all offered young players on loan knowing they will receive the right education.
However, he cannot take all the praise for all the fantastic work at Swindon.
By his side has been Luke Williams who, having previously spent time at Brighton and Hove Albion, has undoubtedly had a hand in installing the successful set-up that the club enjoys today.
He, alongside Cooper, has been responsible for implementing the very unique style 3-5-2 possession-based system, which has seen them assert their dominance over the majority of their opponents in League One.
First Six Fixtures
- Bradford (H)
- Bury (A)
- Port Vale (H)
- Southend (A)
- Sheffield United (H)
- Crewe (A)
Swindon open the season with a tricky home tie versus Bradford; a team that could well challenge for promotion again next term. For Cooper’s side this will represent a first taste of competitive action – with plenty of new faces making their official club debuts. Then, a trip to League One new-boys Bury, before the first mid-week game of the season – a home tie at the County Ground against Port Vale.
Following the club’s opening three fixtures, Cooper and co. will then travel to Essex for their away tie against Southend. Then, the club’s toughest tie of the opening month awaits, with heavily-tipped title contenders Sheffield United’s set to visit SN1. A positive result against Nigel Adams’ side would be some way to cement the club’s intentions.
Finally, the Robins kick-off September on the road, with an away trip to Crewe Alexandra.
Final Standing Prediction – 3rd
Being an optimistic Swindon supporter I am going to push the boat out and suggest another campaign of expectations being blown of the water. The bookies make the Robins sixth-highest favourites to win League One at 14/1, while to win promotion the club is valued at 9/2.
The third tier is a different animal this time round, with the club’s contending for the top six considerably weaker than the likes of Bristol City and MK Dons from the season before. With further additions before the end of the summer window – namely an experienced centre-back and a prolific striker – Town could be well within reach of a promotion challenge.
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