The cold hard return to reality after being Premier League Stoke couldn’t have been starker than losing away 1-0 to a shocking goalkeeping error and slipping from 3rd in the division to 8th in the division. It seemed to sum up how our season has gone thus far, every opportunity we’ve had to make things assert our status as promotion contenders has been allowed to slip. We now head into a home game against the team with the best away record in the division with every chance now that we could find ourselves in mid-table and three points away from the play-offs.
We’re at the stage of the season where results start to define our end-of-season hopes, there has been no greater pressure to win – or at least, avoid defeat – than this Swindon game. While we have tended to come up trumps this season when the pressure has been ratcheted up, the goalscoring situation at the moment challenges our ability to continue to do so.
While Marc McNulty’s recent run of form has been hugely welcome, one player cannot be expected to carry the entire goalscoring burden of a side challenging for promotion. We’re reaching a stage with Maxime Biamou where his function in the side as someone who facilitates attacking play has to be counterbalanced by his utter inability to put the ball in the back of the net. It’s reached the point where bringing Stuart Beavon back into the side isn’t completely out of the question.
Getting goals from midfield has to be seen as an area of priority for Mark Robins, with our two January signings – Josh Barrett and Jordan Maguire-Drew – under pressure to integrate quickly in to the side. The early signs seem positive, Maguire-Drew has caught the eye in his two appearances thus far, while Josh Barrett scored a hat-trick for the under-23s on Monday from a left-midfield position. Barrett could well have played himself into a starting position ahead of Jordan Shipley, provided he feels fully-fit.
Elsewhere, it will be interesting to see whether Rod McDonald comes back into central defence alongside Jordan Willis, despite Tom Davies having been fairly solid (albeit not with the ball anywhere near his feet) over the past few games. With Swindon Town posing more of a threat with pace than physicality, that could give McDonald the edge.
Last Time We Met
After so many points dropped away at Swindon over recent years, winning at the County Ground felt like a landmark moment for us this season. Not only did we beat Swindon at the County Ground, but we did so after falling behind early on to an expertly-taken strike from Luke Norris.
Step up, Michael Doyle. The captain enjoyed an interesting September evening, first equalising during an uncharacteristic raid in the opposing penalty area, and then, characteristically, finding himself caught in the middle of an incident – that looked very much like a bite on the bum – that saw Swindon’s James Dunne sent-off. Duckens Nazon stepped up soon after, curling in a typically audacious long-ranger, to secure the win.
I would imagine that James Dunne won’t have forgotten about that evening, expect this game to be round two.
How Are They Doing?
Swindon have been a perplexing team this season, their home form has been atrocious, while their away form has been near-immaculate. As one of the better-resourced sides in the division, they should have been among the automatic promotion challengers, but inconsistency has dogged their season. Currently though, they are on a run of four wins in five and could move into third-place – and with a game in hand over much of the division – with a win in this game.
Top-scorer Luke Norris has kind of summed up this current iteration of Swindon Town under David Flitcroft. Despite an impressive tally of 11 goals this season, with some wonderful strikes among them, Norris has frustrated Swindon fans with a lack of reliability in front of goal and his tendency to flit in and out of games.
Norris is supported by a cavalcade of nippy forwards in David Flitcroft’s counter-attacking strategy. Keshi Anderson, Paul Mullin and Kaiyne Woolery are all fairly quick players who are probably more suited to playing as central strikers, but have been shoe-horned into playing as a three behind Norris, to varying degrees of effectiveness. Swindon have added to their attacking threat by signing proven League Two goal poacher Marc Richards from Northampton Town.
With two defensive-minded midfielders in James Dunne and Amine Linganzi, getting the ball forward on the counter or hitting teams from set-pieces is an important element of Swindon Town’s threat. Former Premier League free-kick wizard Matthew Taylor has supplied nine assists this season, despite being clearly lacking in mobility. Taylor is one of several set-piece experts in Swindon’s squad, with Ollie Banks, Ellis Iandolo, and the likely to miss this game ex-Sky Blues fans’ favourite Chris Hussey all on the books too.
A more fondly-remembered ex-City player in Reice Charles-Cook has been in excellent form in goal for Swindon after first-choice keeper Lawrence Vigouroux was dropped for disciplinary reasons. Given Mark Robins barely gave Charles-Cook a look-in, he may be turning up to prove a point to an ex-manager.
Far be it for me to be pessimistic, but I’ve got the heebie-jeebies heading into this game. Swindon’s away form cannot be ignored and they are a team in good form in general, while our lack of luck/ability in front of goal is in danger of puncturing our hopes this season at this most crucial phase.
If we can’t win this game, we need to develop a tougher streak in at least avoiding defeat than we have in a lot of tight games this season. The minimum we need to take from this game is a clean-sheet, I’m hoping that can see out a 0-0 draw but I’m fearful we could lose this 2-0.