It is only ten games into the new season but already Swindon feel like a club in need of change. Three wins, two draws and five defeats, including poor performances in losses to local rivals Oxford United and Bristol Rovers, have got the nerves jangling amongst supporters who have started to fear for the club’s League One status.
Often the Robins seem toothless up top, with new signings Luke Norris and Nathan Delfouneso having failed to find the back of the net and the majority of the side’s goals coming from elsewhere on the pitch. Alongside that, the defensive frailties from last season remain, with inexperience and a lack of squad depth at the back often biting Swindon and taking games away from them.
Despite the negatives, however, there are also causes for optimism. For every dismal defeat to Bristol Rovers or Northampton Town, there have been excellent performances in away games against QPR in the League Cup and Oldham in the league.
Individuals have, as well, shone. Jon Obika, when fit, has proved that he can score goals. The performances of Lloyd Jones, Michael Doughty and James Brophy, as well as goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux, have been impressive.
Ultimately, inconsistency has so far harmed Swindon’s season. After just ten games, this is worrying and raises questions as to whether the Robins can ultimately avoid the relegation zone, come the end of April next year. On their day, the club’s players have proven that they are a match for anyone in the division, something that makes their disappointing performances even more frustrating.
Who is to blame, then?
Certainly, some of the blame must be aimed at the playing staff, particularly for the insipid derby defeats, but it is also time to start asking questions of the manager. Luke Williams, upon his appointment, was widely hailed as a good choice. He was seen, rightly or wrongly, by many as the man behind the successful football played by Swindon’s 2013-14 side who nearly reached the Championship, and his initial promotion was met by decent results.
However, Swindon is Williams’ first managerial role and questions are now being asked about whether or not he has the ability to occupy the top position at a club. His inexperience in turning around clubs in the Wiltshire outfit’s situation may worry some fans and he seems not to have a plan B when things turn against his young side. It might be the case that Williams suffers from something similar to Steve McClaren, who is widely regarded as an excellent coach but a middling-to-poor manager.
In fairness to Williams, the circumstances under which he finds himself are not ideal by any means, and possibly not of his own making. Swindon chairman Lee Power has actively aimed to get the club onto a sustainable footing after the lavish spending, backed by a wealthy owner, of the Paolo Di Canio era.
To do this, Power has aimed to bring in players on the cheap, give them a chance to prove how good they are, and then sell them off for large fees after a short time at the club. Players like Massimo Luongo, Ben Gladwin and Nathan Byrne have all left the County Ground in recent years for relatively large sums, money that allows Power to continue running the club without spending too much of his own money.
However, whilst a mix of talented youngsters and Premier League loanees can create a decent side, it can also leave a club with a team lacking in experience that can be easily out-muscled by savvier, more traditional third division clubs. This is what happened last season and what is currently happening again this time round.
Fans have been frustrated with the club’s reluctance to bring in experienced players to bolster the squad and to give the side some much-needed knowledge of how to grind out games at League One level. This is particularly the case when it appears to fans that the money the club makes from selling players has not been wisely reinvested into the current squad.
Swindon’s problems this season are plain to see, with a poorly balanced squad preventing any kind of consistency in the team’s performances week on week. A lack of a quality striker is a big concern (although Norris and Delfouneso may yet come good) and defensive frailties make the side’s issues with scoring even more dangerous.
Unfortunately, the deeper issue of the philosophy behind the club’s recruitment means that these problems are unlikely to be fixed anytime soon. It is more probable that Luke Williams will have to struggle on with his current squad, meaning that Swindon’s fans can look forward to more inconsistent displays and another season spent looking over their shoulders at the relegation zone.