Swindon Town have a new head coach in Mark Kennedy, so how will the 48-year-old look to set up his new side?

Kennedy has had two stints in senior management, a 12-match spell with Macclesfield Town and then 73 games in charge at Lincoln City, where he guided them to an 11th-place finish in League One during his only full season.

His Lincoln side were noteworthy for their defensive stability, having the 6th-best record in the third tier during the 2022/23 season, earning clean sheets and wins against both of the automatically promoted sides in Ipswich Town and Plymouth Argyle.

When discussing his tactical philosophy during his introductory press conference, Kennedy said that he liked his sides to be easy on the eye, but also flexible enough to do both sides of the game.

He said: “People have this obsession about being in possession, but football is an in-and-out-of-possession game, that is a fact,” he said. “The out-of-possession thing is really important to me.

“When I went to Lincoln, we were a 433, build out from the back, play short from goal kicks at all costs, and high pressing team. What I figured out really quickly was I didn’t have the players to do it and we weren’t comfortable enough doing it.

“From that, we evolved into a 343 counter-pressing and counter-attacking team and we were excellent at it.

“Ultimately you build your team around the players you have got, formations are just a by-product of that.

“The one thing that I do believe I am is an adaptable coach, I have always played and worked with possession-based teams, but I am incredibly proud of changing the mindset, recruitment, and style of play like we did at Lincoln to be really successful.

“When we had the ball, we were pretty pleasing on the eye, but you have to maximise the qualities of the players and hide their deficiencies at every level. We want to play exciting football and we will play exciting football.”

During the 2022/23 season, Lincoln set up with a variation of 433 in ten of their matches (including all of the opening five games) and used a variation of 343 in the other 36. Despite there being a notable shift to the back three after the early weeks of the season, this did not make a big difference to the general shape of the team.



In the back four, the holding midfielder, which was often Matty Virtue, would drop between the central defenders and the fullbacks would push forward. The in-possession shape was a 334, with the full-backs pushing on and providing width, with one more defensive outside midfielder, behind a narrow attacking quartet.

In the back three, the basic shape would remain a 334, with the wing-backs still providing the width and one more defensive midfielder allowing a more adventurous one, often Max Sanders, given the license to get involved with the dual attacking midfielders and striker.

Defensively, his Lincoln side were not a blood and thunder pressing side, ranking 18th in League One for final third regains. They were more of a mid-block side that looked to usher teams out wide in a rigid shape, generally while using the 343 out-of-possession shape. His defenders Adam Jackson and Paudie O’Connor both ranked highly for blocks and clearances as they dealt with balls into the box. O’Connor in particular was amongst the league’s best in aerial duels won.



During a Carabao Cup victory over Sheffield United last season, you can see that defensive structure at its most impressive against the then-Premier League outfit. Lincoln looked to stay compact within their shape and prevent room in the middle of the pitch. They stuck religiously to their shape and shuffled across in that structure when the ball went into wide areas to force the Blades backwards. They took United to penalties and progressed as they were unable to break down the disciplined play from Lincoln. Swindon are unlikely to be in a situation in which they face such a mismatch in quality, but it displays the way in which Kennedy was able to make his side as difficult to beat as they were with the principles they used in normal league games.

The current Swindon squad has some of the pieces to fit with Kennedy’s archetype. The signing of Ollie Clarke will likely see him deployed as the more defensive outside midfielder and Paul Glatzel (and potentially Sean McGurk if he chooses to extend his contract) seems perfectly suited for the narrow forward role either side of a central striker. Danny Mandroiu and Jack Diamond, both of whom are now without a club, were both expected to create and chip in with goals like Town’s young pair showed themselves capable of last season.

One-time Swindon loanee Ben House played 44 of Kennedy’s 46 games in 2022/23, flourishing as he scored 12 goals as the main striker in this system. On top of his goalscoring, he was expected to get through a lot of work off the ball, ranking in the 94th percentile among strikers in recoveries in the final third and made more tackles than any other forward. This archetype would seem to fit Aaron Drinan, who has a great work ethic and ranked in the 81st percentile for possession won in the final third on a per 90 basis in League Two last season.

The role that Udoka Godwin-Malife ends up taking will be interesting as he likes to get forward and can probably work as the right-back, but has not generally tended to be used as a wide outlet during his time at Swindon. Equally, the outside centre-backs in the back three at Lincoln were not as adventurous as they were at Swindon last season.