Would strengthening these areas help Swindon progress in League One?
With just over two weeks until the summer transfer window closes, Swindon Town still have a lot of work to do if they are to assemble a squad that is capable of making waves in League One.
The vast majority of fans believed that the summer window would always be vital for Swindon this season, and initially at least, it seemed that the club shared the same view. Chairman Lee Power stated early that he wanted his transfer business concluded early, but given the work that still needs doing it is fair to say that things haven’t gone exactly to plan.
Indeed, after a quick start that saw the club swoop for non-league sensation John Goddard, Swindon’s fans had to wait until hours before the season opener at home versus Coventry before the majority of the club’s signings were made, with Lloyd Jones and Michael Doughty arriving, and Luke Norris shortly after. Since then, Swindon have signed Darnell Furlong on loan from QPR, but the squad still seems bare and the fans are not happy.
Ordinarily this might not constitute a crisis, but Swindon have also continued their streak of injuries from last season, in the process shearing the first-team of a number of starters. The club’s most experienced centre-back, Rafa Rossi Branco is currently out injured, as is the most experienced striker in Jon Obika, who in particular is developing a habit of being injured. On top of that, new signing Norris suffered an ankle injury in the recent defeat away at Chesterfield, further diminishing Swindon’s attacking options.
With Branco injured, defence is looking weak. Whilst Lloyd Jones; on loan from Liverpool, has a big reputation as is highly regarded, his lack of experience will be a set-back at times this season. Moreover, the reckless performances of much of the back-line has been criticised by fans, suggesting some more old-heads might be a sensible route to follow. Nathan Thompson is assured and one of the club’s best defenders when he is fit, but question marks remain over the mental strength and ability of the remainder of the young and relatively inexperienced players available to manager Luke Williams.
Some fans had hoped that the club could lure Southampton youngster and former loan player Jordan Turnbull back to SN1, but he was recently signed by Coventry on a three-year deal. The club succeeded in bringing in QPR centre back Darnell Furlong on a season’s loan, but as another young player question marks remain over his experience and his ability to impose himself at the back, something that the Robins sorely need.
Focus must now switch to bringing in at least one experienced central defender, and possibly a left-back, before the close of the window. The impact that figures such as Adam El-Abd and Sam Ricketts have had on Swindon’s defence in recent years should show Swindon’s hierarchy that a similar player with experience and ability at League One level should be top of their wish list.
Midfield is an area where the club have talent in abundance, with some astute signings over the summer. Iraq international Yaser Kasim remains on the club’s books, and could play a crucial role for Swindon this season if he can recapture his best form. John Goddard, a goal scoring midfielder from Woking, and Conor Thomas from Coventry are both decent additions, as is the return of QPR midfielder Michael Doughty.
Instead, it is up front where the real worries lie. Gone are the goals of top-scorer Nicky Ajose, and the remaining options lack the clinical finishing or fitness that will be needed to fire Swindon to safety and possibly into the play-off picture. Jon Obika, as already mentioned, is injured at present. He has a decent record when fit, but he seems to be suffering from a number of niggling injuries. Plus, he has indicated his desire to leave the club and is currently winding down the final year of his contract. There is no question about whether Obika will try hard for the team, but he will need to remain fit to do so effectively.
Joining Obika on the injury list is Luke Norris, recently signed from Gillingham. Norris has looked good in his first appearances for Swindon, but he cannot score goals from the physio’s table. Moreover, even though it is possible to excuse because he is relatively young, Norris does not have a brilliant strike record. 25 league goals in 109 appearances isn’t exactly inspirational form, and it is unlikely (but not impossible) that he will suddenly transform into a 20-goal-a-season striker.
The only other senior option for Swindon is Jermaine Hylton. Since signing from Redditch United, Hylton has spectacularly failed to live up to his billing as a hot prospect and has managed just one goal in 27 appearances in his 18 months at the club. Unless a miraculous turnaround is set to occur, and from current form this season that is unlikely, Swindon will desperately need to bring in striking options to fill the gap left by Ajose.
Manager Luke Williams conceded that the club were enquiring into the availability of Aston Villa striker Nathan Delfouneso, but a move has yet to materialise. Even if he did sign, his record is not exactly inspiring either, with just 16 career league goals by the age of 25, although his pace and movement might help Swindon in attack.
In short, Swindon’s focus should be on both attack and defence, something that, at this stage of the transfer window, should have been properly addressed. The Robins are known for the attractive approach they try to bring to the pitch, but this can sometimes come at the expense of pragmatism and any kind of ‘safety first’ approach. Williams and Chairman Lee Power should bite the bullet and sign a tough, experienced defender to work alongside the younger, more technically gifted players.
Similarly, whilst they cannot be blamed for the injuries to the sides’ main strikers, they have not attracted enough cover for such an injury crisis, and that is something that will have to be addressed soon. Otherwise, 2016-17 will be a struggle for the club. Seemingly gone are the days where Swindon had a realistic ambition of gatecrashing the promotion spots. This season might well see the club again tread water in the division, although without investment soon it could yet turn out to be far worse.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Liam Daniels