What an utterly bizarre this has been so far. As soon as we think we have learned something new and definitive, it is smashed apart by the very next game.
Coventry City are poor on the road, right? Wrong, we’ve won three out of our past four league away games.
Marcus Tudgay is a bad player, right? Wrong, he led the line expertly and grabbed his first goal of the season the day after being made available for transfer.
We need experienced defenders, right? Wrong, a back four with an average age of 20 excel against Walsall.
All of which renders the task of writing these previews practically meaningless. Given the past evidence, can we actually take anything that we have learned from a promising win against Walsall into this Monday night meeting with Swindon Town? Or is the chaos of this season going to bring something totally unexpected into being?
On paper, this is a very tough game against a Swindon Town side who lie second in the league and will go top if they beat us by two or more goals. Throw in our poor home form of late, this should be a fairly easy win for Swindon. Yet there are signs of improvement, even from the unlikeliest of sources, of late and a win for ourselves tonight would incredibly take us eight places up the league table to the dizzying heights of 10th. Win this and suddenly there is something other than survival to play for this season.
The permanent signings of Frank Nouble and Aaron Martin will go a long way to boosting our chances, both are high-calibre additions for this level. If Nouble could find some consistency and if Madine is added permanently, our issues with creating goalscoring opportunities would be a thing of the past. A lot of ifs in that statement though, so we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.
Last week’s youthful defence of Phillips, Willis, Pennington and Haynes will be broken up after another unfortunate injury to Phillips. Both Aaron Martin and Andy Webster should be fit and Reda Johnson is a possibility to feature in this game too. It’s important now that Pressley finds continuity in his team selections to build a sense of momentum. On the one hand, Willis and Pennington showed that they could be an effective central-defensive partnership but with Pennington a short-term loan and Willis still recovering from a loss in form, you would imagine that Martin and Webster will be restored to the starting 11 at the earliest possilbe opportunity.
Madine could feature in this game but may be somewhat short of full fitness. With Tudgay finally demonstrating his quality last week, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to play it safe and keep Tudgay in the side. If we want to get into conspiracy theories here, perhaps it suits Pressley that Madine may miss the chance to play in front of the Sky cameras whilst the transfer-listed Tudgay has the opportunity to raise some further interest from other clubs. It would be truly machiavellian if that was Pressley’s line of thinking.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Allsop; Pennington, Martin, Webster, Haynes; O’Brien, Thomas, Fleck, Nouble; Tudgay, Jackson.
Last Time We Met
Most teams should be happy taking a point away at Swindon but I still look back on August’s 1-1 draw as a big opportunity missed. Not only did we take the lead, thanks to Josh McQuoid bamboozling Wes Foderingham with a so-bad-it’s-good first touch leaving him with a tap-in, but Swindon were without a host of key players for that game. It underlines a poor record against Swindon Town which stretches back to 1964, the last time we beat them in the league.
How Are They Doing?
Swindon were without target-man striker Michael Smith and right-back/centre-back Nathan Thompson through injury and suspension respectively the last time we met them. Not only that but a summer that was overshadowed by a High Court battle over the club’s ownership left Mark Cooper playing catch-up on a limited budget whilst building his squad over the pre-season. That meant that other key players such as Jack Stephens in defence, and Jon Obika in attack had not even been signed the last time we played them.
Swindon weathered that tough early season and then strengthened with some key signings, have put together a challenge for the League One title. The above mentioned players have been important but Swindon have quality in all areas of the pitch, but they do lack the squad depth of their promotion rivals. Mark Cooper will once again have to contend with some big absences with Yaser Kasim and Massimo Luongo both on international duty, those two dominate the midfield with metronomic passing.
The next month for Swindon may well depend upon how well John Swift, a highly-rated Chelsea loanee, Ben Gladwin, who is a big central midfielder with excellent technical ability, and Louis Thompson, an energetic box-to-box midfielder, can step up to the task of replacing Kasim and Luongo. All three are pretty exciting players in their own right but may not offer that domination of possession that Swindon have become accustomed to.
Unsurprisingly, Swindon Town’s top-scorer Andy Williams is also someone to look out for. Back in the days when Swindon were big spenders in this division, Paolo di Canio snapped Williams up after an impressive spell with Yeovil. The forward never quite hit it off in his first two seasons at the County Ground and even returned on loan to Yeovil last season but made little impact. Williams has found his old mojo this time around and has established himself as first-choice despite some strong competition for places in the Swindon attack.
The aerial threat of Michael Smith is always be a concern for us, some much so that Pressley tried everything he could to sign him last summer. Smith can be a little inconsistent, as to be expected with young players, but is the key player for this game as he adds a physical edge to Swindon’s attractive, passing style of football. Nathan Byrne from wing-back is another force of nature with his pace and trickery, he could very well be the one supplying Smith with the service from crosses that he thrives on.
Possible Line-Up: (5-3-2) Foderingham; Byrne, Stephens, N Thompson, Turnbull, Toffolo; Swift, Gladwin, L Thompson; Smith, Williams.
After all this talk of unpredictability, now is the time to actually make a prediction. Despite Swindon’s impressive season thus far, there are reasons to believe that we could win this one (aside from the general chaos this League One season has been). First, Swindon are without arguably their two most important players for this game. Second, Swindon has to rely upon two late goals to get a point against Fleetwood which may be a sign that the season is starting to catch up with their small squad. Finally, we are starting to find some consistency of late and we will pose Swindon some tough questions of their promotion ambitions tonight.
I am going to stick with the rational line of thinking and go for a 1-0 win for Swindon Town.