Sunday, May 29, 2011

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

A year is a very long time in football. This statement is even truer if you happen to support Swindon Town. Unfortunate to fall at the final hurdle at Wembley with the then idolised Charlie Austin having a golden opportunity to equalise. Who knows what would have happened had the former bricklayer scored his 21st goal of the season that rainy afternoon.

Despite the defeat, optimism quite rightly surrounded SN1 for the coming season. Andrew Fitton went public with his intentions to go one better and ultimately secure a place in the Championship. The same aim he had when he took over at the County Ground in 2008.

Unfortunately, every Town fan knows the disaster the club had last season, ultimately securing bottom place and relegation into the basement division. So, just where did it all go wrong?

The yet so near, yet so far from promotion meant our top performing players had an appetite for Championship football. Top scorer Billy Paynter turned down a contract and instead decided to join newly promoted Leeds United. The striker had scored 29 goals and had formed a lethal partnership with Charlie Austin.
Never replaced

The departure of Billy Paynter was seemingly inevitable and unavoidable. I, however cannot say the same for the exit of our influencial captain Gordon Greer. Experience and leadership qualities are not to be under-estimated; his last gasp equaliser against Norwich summed him up. The popular opinion is that the club should have offered the experienced Scot the contract he wanted. Gus Poyet came calling and he left Brighton who went on to win the league.

As well as the departure of our top scorer and captain, we also had some influencial loanees that returned to their parent clubs. Bolton's Danny Ward really showed his ability with nine goals, including two in the play-offs. His performances showed he is going places and ultimately joined Championship side Coventry and latterly high flying Huddersfield Town. Defender, Stephen Darby was also a consistent performer, whilst on loan from Liverpool, although what the Town supporters will really remember him for if his winning penalty at the Valley.

The 29 goals from the departed Billy Paynter were never going to be easy to replace along with his work ethic. Vincent Pericard has never been and never will be a clinical finisher; this combined with his fitness problems never made him an able replacement. The same could be said for Thomas Dossevi. The Togo international, who despite early promise with two goals versus Nottingham Forest in a pre-season friendly was never really cut out for English football.

Greer's departure left the inexperienced Scott Cuthbert and Sean Morrison as our defensive partnership. Both Cuthbert and Morrison were individually players with a lot of potential. Having failed to keep a clean sheet from October to January, it was evident they both needed a leader alongside them.

One word I would use to describe some of Danny Wilson's signings. Unnecessary. The signing of David Prutton, for me did more of a hindrance than help. He upset the balance of the midfield and broke up the winning partnership of Jonathan Douglas and Simon Ferry. The signings of two left-backs in Michael Rose and Alan Sheehan also stunted the development of the young but consistent performer Callum Kennedy. Loan signing David Ball was largely uninspiring,  although I feel he wasn't given enough opportunities. The loan captures of Mike Grella, Jon Obika and Calvin Andrew on the whole were very dissapointing.

The departures of key players and their replacements not filling in the void that had been left, Swindon struggled. Well, everyone except the superb Charlie Austin. He had scored 12 goals and with the realisation that Swindon were fighting for survival and not promotion, he requested a transfer. He was sought from a number of Championship clubs and finally left for Burnley. His replacement Elliott Benyon, despite scoring on his debut never really took over the baton.

Some of the blame had to rest on the shoulders of manager Danny Wilson. His signings, both in pre-season and January were poor and fairly uninspiring. He was sacked in February after a heavy defeat to Southampton. However, I believe his exit should have happened earlier after a home defeat to lowly Yeovil.

Paul Hart took the reins and had previously kept Crystal Palace and Portsmouth up in similar circumstances. He was always set to fail, with his negative tactics of playing 4-5-1 at home to fellow relegation contenders Walsall and Dagenham & Redbridge. Our first win since January away to Brentford gave us little hope, but two home defeats followed there could only be one outcome. The final nail in the coffin was finally hammered in after defeat at Hillsborough with two games left to play.

Paul Hart failed to see out the end of the season and Andrew Fitton has since stepped down and Jeremy Wray has temporarily taken over. His first task was to appoint a new manager and gone down the route of Paolo Di Canio. With no experience it is a gamble, but as they say the bigger the gamble the bigger the reward. I hope the passionate Italian proves this theory and by the end of season, I hope to be here sharing the joys of promotion.

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