Get involved! Send photos, video, news & views. Text WILTS GAZETTE to 80360 or email us
SWINDON TOWN: After the window, where do Swindon Town stand?
6:00am Tuesday 3rd September 2013 in Sport
SEVENTEEN new faces, 16 departures, half-a-dozen new contracts and a complete overhaul of shape and style - the summer of 2013 has seen an unprecedented shift in direction at Swindon Town.
Such has been the scale of the renovations, it’s a surprise Kevin McLoud hasn’t been at hand to give a running commentary from the sidelines.
This is a grand design, one met with trepidation and partial ridicule in the beginning which has grown to show maybe it’s not just the pipedream of a bunch of chancers.
So, with the summer transfer window now shut, how does the Swindon squad compare to its predecessor? Where are the weak links? Can you really win anything with kids?
Chief sports writer Sam Morshead takes a fine toothcomb to the Town set-up and has his say on an exhausting summer in the transfer market.
- WHEN the League One season came to an end in May, with heartbreaking play-off defeat at Brentford, no one could have predicted the level of change that would take place at the County Ground over the following months.
In total, 33 moves in and out of the County Ground have occurred, at a ridiculous average rate of more than two a week, and many fans have said to me how they have lost track of who’s still part of the Town squad, who’s left the club and who’s arrived.
To give the current board some credit, they had a vision and have managed to stick by it - despite not always conveying exactly how they intended to restructure the squad from top to bottom.
Young talent has been given the chance to shine, with a unique Tottenham connection intelligently utilised to bring in a group of players all of whom knew one another and were able to quickly settle in their new environment.
And then came the patience and perseverance. Sticking it out for weeks to secure the signings of Ryan Harley and Danny N’Guessan, convincing Wes Foderingham, Nathan Thompson and Darren Ward to sign new deals and picking up Mohamed El Gabas and Yaser Kasim for peanuts. That was a true test of character, the Town board passed with flying colours.
- IN GOAL, manager Mark Cooper’s options have actually improved.
Under Paolo Di Canio a third-string keeper was not deemed necessary, meaning Leigh Bedwell was left to sit on the bench and not have the chance to go out and get games and generally mature.
With the arrival of Tyrell Belford - untried in the Football League but highly rated - at least that opportunity is now actually there. Getting Foderingham to sign a new, two-year deal was an exceptional piece of business.
Swindon rebuffed a tentative approach from Brentford for the stopper, and have said “hands-off” to all suitors since. Foderingham has become an integral part of the dressing room. He played a part in Alex Smith’s arrival, having known him from Fulham, and has helped Nile Ranger settle in quickly.
He is a senior and established member of the squad, practically irreplaceable. His new contract was the blow your socks off signing of the summer.
- AT THE BACK, Swindon are perhaps at their thinnest. Joe Devera left for pastures new in the summer - a decision much derided by sections of Robins support - while Troy Archibald-Henville has gone out on loan to Carlisle for a month.
In Grant Hall, Town have their most ball-playing centre-half for many years and the crucial re-signing of Darren Ward alongside him means there is a formidable and blossoming centre-half unit to be proud of.
Strip it back, however, and the bones are too quickly exposed. Jay McEveley has not played often enough in the heart of defence to qualify as a back-up centre-back and Raphael Rossi Branco is a complete unknown. Aaron Oakley, when he recovers from a broken foot, will take time to ease himself into life as a pro.
Last year Town were spoilt for centre-back cover. This year, though the two first choice centre-halves are the best technical pairing the club has had in recent years, the options behind them are a tad worrying.
Out wide, there aren’t the same concerns.
Nathan Thompson, barring injury and suspension, will provide a more consistent and resilient defensive option than Paul Caddis, Joe Devera, Alan McCormack or anyone else who has filled that role recently.
In the current system Thompson gets forward more and his late runs into the box have already resulted in one goal this term. Nathan Byrne is the utility player to back up Thompson on the right, McEveley on the left and on both left and right wings.
Byrne’s pace is his major asset, he is a better attacker than a defender and perhaps in time Alex Smith will be recognised as the deputy left-back. He has certainly looked more comfortable there than in the middle of midfield.
- THE centre of the park has featured the most regeneration. Gone is the rigidity that blighted last term’s run-in, as players tried to do every job going and got lost in their own shape.
The fluidity amongst Swindon’s tight three is absorbing to watch. Much of it revolves around Kasim - an astonishing find, proven by the £250,000 bid received from an unnamed Championship club on Deadline Day.
Kasim was a flop at Luton, and when you think about it you can understand why.
As tenacious off the ball and totally cool on it as he is, he is not a traditional box-to-box player. He is a luxury that you wouldn’t often be able to slot into a square midfield four.
But this season it seems Swindon are more than happy to indulge in luxury, and Kasim can sit in front of the back four as much as he likes, drift forward at will and split an opposition defence in two with the sort of timing of a pass usually reserved for international scrum halves.
Would you have Simon Ferry, Tommy Miller and Alan McCormack or Yaser Kasim, Ryan Harley and Massimo Luongo? For entertainment value, I know which I’d prefer.
With Louis Thompson as back-up to Kasim and Ryan Mason starting to show tantalising ability on the ball, it seems absurd that the current squad has been put together at roughly 70 per cent of the cost of its predecessor.
When Jed McCrory & Co inherited the side in February, the annual wage bill was a shade under £4.5million. Now it is around £3.1million and, though the club are once again sailing close to the wind with the Salary Cost Management Protocol (financial fair play), it has to be recognised that they have found a way of reducing the cost while exaggerating the entertainment value.
- UP FRONT, Town have made some tough decisions.
They refused to be bullied into a contract worth up to £8,000 per week all inclusive of bonuses, living costs and agents’ fees for Adam Rooney, they took a chance in offloading James Collins and letting Andy Williams leave on loan.
They backed themselves to recruit to fill the gaps accordingly.
As a result, Swindon have a potent frontline of Ranger, Dany N’Guessan, Nicky Ajose, Tijane Reis, Alex Pritchard, Miles Storey and El Gabas.
Ranger’s acquisition was controversial, and split fans’ opinions, but he is the best hold-up striker Town have had in donkeys’ years and he has a convincing finish that oozes Premier League quality.
N’Guessan is a work horse and a powerhouse, and adds physique to an otherwise light frontline.
In Ajose, Reis, Pritchard, Storey and El Gabas, Swindon have quick, tricky, dynamic players who will run at defenders and scare them half to death.
Again, the whole concept screams entertainment. And surely that’s what you want when you pay your hard-earned money on a Saturday. Entertainment.
Comments are closed on this article.