Two draws in a row is always a good way to find out which of our fans our optimists and which of our fans our pessimists. Whilst we are in the midst of the season, there is no context to define whether we should be happy that we’re two games unbeaten or disappointed that we’ve failed to win for the past two games. At the moment we’re both at once, we’re Schrödinger’s football team.
Tony Mowbray’s quantum physics experiment travel to Swindon Town for our next game with a great opportunity to open that box and reveal an unbeaten side ready to continue a promotion push. The main positive is that we’ve looked solid at the back, although we perhaps rode our luck against Rochdale, with Aaron Martin, Reice Charles-Cook and Chris Stokes in good form over the past few weeks, there’s hope that there is life without Reda after all.
There are however reasons to believe that in that box is a dead cat (or a rubbish football team? I’m not sure what the next extension of this metaphor is). Reda Johnson is a massive loss, as impressive as Martin, Charles-Cook and also Stokes have been, you worry that they’re one error away from losing the confidence they’ve been oozing of late. If we continue our recent inability to create or take clear-cut chances, that’s going to put increasing pressure on our defence to stay strong. Right now, we’re either waiting for our attack to suddenly click or our defence to fall apart to define this run of results.
The introduction of Joe Cole has changed the dynamic of how our forward options can be utilised. You would imagine that he would prefer to have Armstrong to play in that striker position ahead of him to spring the forward’s pace in behind the opposing defence. With Cole wanting to put his foot on the ball more in the final third, there is less of a need for the battering force of Marc-Antoine Fortuné. However configures the forward line though, there has to be more of an emphasis on getting players in support of one another as it’s been a little too disparate of late.
John Fleck returning to starting contention is a welcome boost though, offering our defence the comfort of playing it out from the back a little more calmly and our attack better quality ball to feed off. With Joe Cole now playing ahead of him, we have an axis of creativity running through the team which should help bring our exciting young forward players into the game much more rather than they having to do everything on their own.
Last Time We Met
Given our strong start to the season and Swindon’s poor one, this game comes as almost a complete reversal to where the two teams were back in January. In front of the Sky cameras, Swindon were at the top of their game as they completely passed us off the park, pausing only to score the requisite number of goals to kill off any vain hopes we had of winning. It was probably that game on a freezing Monday night at the Ricoh Arena that saw Steven Pressley lose the majority of support from home fans, ironically instigating the changes that have seen our fortunes change so markedly since then.
How Are They Doing?
As mentioned above, Swindon are having an absolutely torrid time of it this season having reached the play-off final in the previous campaign. Since being eviscerated by Preston back in May, all but seven of the 18-man squad have left the club (although a further three have since returned on loan) which has meant they’ve had to completely rebuild the squad with a bunch of free transfers and loans of players with little pedigree at League One level.
Things got off to a decent start though with Nathan Byrne banging goals in and winning games almost on his own. Byrne though was sold off to Wolves and things have unravelled at pace, helped on by an injury crisis that has at times taken as many as 11 first-choice players out of contention. The team’s form and performance levels have gotten worse and worse as the season has progressed, culminating in manager Mark Cooper’s sacking last Saturday.
If you were unaware, Cooper has been replaced on a caretaker basis by chairman Lee Power. Power is not your ordinary chairman though, heavily involved in signing players and reportedly in tactics and team selection too, he is a proper football man with strong views on how the game should be played. As the previous sentence would suggest, the sacking of Cooper may not herald that big a change to how things are going, especially too as first-team coach Luke Williams is reportedly the key figure on the training ground.
Despite the complete gutting of last season’s successful side, Swindon do still possess quality that could sting us in what looks like an eminently winnable fixture. They key players will be in midfield where Yaser Kasim, an international with Iraq, has a passing range to rival John Fleck and has Ben Gladwin playing slightly ahead of him who can provide further inspiration. Attacking left-back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, a former Arsenal youngster, can beat defenders at will and may be played further forward with the classy Jordan Turnbull returning from suspension to fill in at full-back. There is also Nicky Ajose who is a useful striker at this level, probably not worth the opprobrium that surrounded our failure to sign him back in August.
There has to be a strong degree of confidence heading into this fixture, we’re in pretty good shape at the moment and Swindon are decidedly not. Perhaps the biggest reason to see this game as a potential win for us is that Swindon are still looking to play the ball out from the back rather than attempt to set up shop and nick points for their relegation battle. We’ve tended to do much better against teams with ambitions of playing good football and thus leave space for us to exploit at the back.
As someone who sat in those cold Ricoh Arena stands back in January and questioned just what the point of watching football even is, it would be nice to see us inflict some form of payback against the Swindon lot. I’m fairly confident that we’re competent enough as a team to take advantage of another’s complete loss of form, even despite our current lack of goals. A 2-0 win for the Sky Blues is my call.