After an inconsistent season that has seen the majority of last seasons Play-Off Final squad depart along with two managers, supporters of League One outfit Swindon Town are overdue some good news – and in the form of striker Nicky Ajose, they may be about to have it.
The creative and pacy forward has netted ten times since the turn of the new year, with six of those finishes coming in the last three matches alone with a hat-trick against Blackpool, a brace against Colchester and the first of Swindon’s goals against his former side Peterborough at the weekend.
A product of the highly successful Manchester United academy, the striker benefited from the advice of club legend Ole Gunner Solksjaer during his formative years and was subsequently rewarded with a professional contract by Sir Alex Ferguson. After being sold to Posh for a figure believed to be around £300,000 in 2011, Ajose spent the majority of the next three campaigns on loan to an array of lower division clubs, including a spell at Swindon which heralded ten goals and an established position up front.
After being sold to Leeds, Ajose was unable to find his form and failed to score in each of his four appearances at Elland Road, before being loaned to Crewe. Eight goals for the Railwaymen saw Ajose finish the season as their joint top-scorer, before Swindon Town signed the Bury-born player once more in August.
Failure to secure promotion in a crushing 0-4 loss at Wembley last May had negative ramifications for the Wiltshire-based club in the summer, with the loss of the majority of the first-team squad to sides of a higher league status such as Rangers and QPR, along with the clubs sustainable financial plan, leaving Swindon with their second rebuilt squad in three seasons.
After a mixed first month to the new campaign that saw three victories dovetailed with an early Capital One Cup exit at the hands of League Two outfit Exeter City, Swindon scored just two points in the next two months, leaving ten of their twelve fixtures empty-handed. In every league game between the 12th September and the 14th November, if Swindon claimed a result, Ajose claimed a goal.
The departure of long-term manager Mark Cooper and the appointment of Martin Ling had a revitalising effect at the County Ground, with Swindon winning five of their next six matches before the new manager left Swindon on good terms due to personal issues. Ajose would score another four under the club legend’s tenure, only failing to find the net.
Long-term assistant manager, Luke Williams, is the most recent appointee to the hot seat and has so far enjoyed a resurgent return to form for his side. Despite the inconsistent and sometimes risky style of play introduced by Mark Cooper still being practiced at SN1, a last minute winner for Barnsley in the last fixture of January is the only occasion since the New Year on which Swindon have lost, and another five victories have seen the Robins rise to within seven points of the Play-Off positions.
So why is Ajose hitting form at the right time, and why is this good news for Swindon? Firstly, the variety of Ajose’s style of play is a nightmare for defences at Football League level, with the Bury-born striker proving this campaign he can score from almost any situation, with a stunning free kick last weekend among several close-range finishes and plaudible individual efforts in recent weeks. Equally, Ajose’s pace brings others into the game and has enabled him to form a positive relationship up front with former Tottenham trainee, Jon Obika. Obika’s ability to hold the ball up and pick a good pass has spelt trouble for defences in the third tier on numerous occasions this season, and continues to do so.
Ajose isn’t afraid to put in a shift, either, with this writer seeing the young forward putting in a shift on each of the four occasions he’s been to The County Ground in recent weeks. Tracking back and helping out the midfield is another ability Ajose can add to his rapidly improving resume, with his efforts going some way to fill the void left by the departures of Luongo, Gladwin and co. last summer.
At his current rate of scoring, Ajose is due to hit another 8.96 goals this campaign, something Swindon will be incredibly welcoming of if they are to make a late surge into the Play-Offs, as some are starting to predict. With his strike partner Obika only due another 3.58 markers this campaign, it is becoming clear that the form, and indeed fitness, of Ajose is going to be a major factor in how high Swindon are able to rise at this late stage in the season.
The Football League usually throws in several last minute twists and turns as the season reaches its business end, and Swindon Town supporters will be hoping this year it’s their turn to be on the receiving end of lady luck, in a break from recent seasons. One thing is certain; if Nicky Ajose can continue his current form, they have as good a chance as any to secure one of those coveted four spots in May.