Swindon’s recent 1-0 home victory over Chesterfield put the club on 55 points and ensured that they are mathematically safe from relegation this year. Counting down until relegation is mathematically avoided is a far cry from this time last year though, where the Robins were close to securing their place in the playoffs and on the road to a playoff final appearance at Wembley.
After defeat in the final to Preston North End, Swindon’s successful squad were dismantled, with loan players returning to their parent clubs and the majority of the club’s permanent assets either being sold on to Championship clubs or leaving on free transfers. A summer of rebuilding was required, but fans remained confident that the club could at least make another push to challenge for the playoffs, particularly considering that League One seemed to be relatively weak when compared to previous years.
However, the club has endured a turbulent 2015-16 season. Swindon are currently on their third permanent manager of the season, multiple players have been given disciplinary bans due to various off-field issues, and those players not serving bans have been hit with a succession of injuries that have forced youngsters to make an earlier-than-expected step into the first team. Add to this the fact that the current manager, whilst having been lauded for his skill as a coach, is a novice when it comes to managing an entire club, and it is not difficult to see why Swindon have struggled for consistency.
In many ways, then, the end of the season could not come at a better time for Swindon. The off-season will give the new manager time to imprint his ideas onto the squad, and hopefully there will be the opportunity for him to bring in his own playing staff, even when you consider that there is very little money for him to spend.
The task of rebuilding over the summer is a tough one, however. Like last season, Swindon will likely struggle to keep hold of some key players. Louis Thompson will return to parent club Norwich, and it seems unlikely that he will be returning. Similarly, Yaser Kasim, whilst hardly setting the world alight this season, seems to be looking to leave. There are also question marks over the futures of Lawrence Vigouroux and Jordan Turnbull, two of Town’s loanees.
In a move to counter the fears of fans, Chairman Lee Power has come out to say that the club is aiming to keep hold of the core of its current squad and that two players are already being lined up for the start of the summer window. The Chairman also claimed that he wanted to move away from such a heavy reliance on loaned players for the coming campaign, which on the face of it seems a positive step. But whether or not such moves come off, and more pertinently whether or not those players are of sufficient quality, remains to be seen.
There are also question marks as to how involved manager Luke Williams will actually be in assembling the Swindon squad for 2016-17. Former manager Mark Cooper, upon his unveiling as Notts County boss back in March, claimed that the transfer policy at Swindon is entirely dictated by Chairman Lee Power. This raises questions as to the input and impact that Williams can have on Swindon’s season. One caveat to this is that Power and Williams both seem to understand and agree that the club should play in a certain way, meaning that signings made by Power are more likely at least to fit in with the desired playing style of the club.
To move on from transfer policy, what of rebuilding the expectations of fans and supporters of the club? Understandably, after coming so close to promotion in 2014-15, fans and the media predicted and expected another strong season from the Robins. But that was in a different league. League One looks set to be a much tougher proposition this time around.
The division will still contain sleeping giants Coventry and Sheffield United, plus potentially Millwall, Peterborough, Barnsley, and Bradford. Add to that the relegated Championship trio of MK Dons, Charlton Athletic and Bolton Wanderers, plus the promoted quartet of clubs from League Two (potentially containing Plymouth, Portsmouth, Bristol Rovers and/or Oxford United), and the division is shaping up to be incredibly competitive. Given this, should Swindon be realistically expecting to crash the promotion party, or has the chance for promotion to the Championship now gone?
At the other end, many of the weaker teams look to have slipped (or are about to slip) out of the division. Swindon have been lucky this year in that teams below them have been poor. It remains to be seen if Swindon can rely on the same thing again next season, should things start badly.
For sure, Swindon should be sensibly eyeing the top half of the table, and in fact, another relegation dogfight could do a lot of harm to the club. Fans are already dissatisfied with the way the club is run, and the style of football that is played which leaves Swindon vulnerable at the back. More of the same is likely to push the relationship between club ownership and supporters to breaking point, and a club of Swindon’s financial means cannot afford to alienate its fans. This link needs to be rebuilt over the summer as well so that the negativity coming from the stands does not spill over into next season.
Overall, it is clear that the job facing Power, Williams et al. at Swindon this summer is a huge one and one that may define the reigns of both men. Get it right, and Swindon could be good for an outside chance at the playoffs. Get it wrong, and a return to the fourth division for a third time in 11 years could become reality.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Nick Howells.