Swindon look to bounce back from forward exit
For most clubs, losing a top goalscorer usually spells out a following season of frustration in front of goal, finding that the man sent in to replace the golden boy is not up to scratch. Especially when said player had scored almost half the team’s tally that season. Well, not Swindon Town.
Simon Cox leaving for West Bromwich Albion last summer long appeared inevitable, but the resulting void was significant whichever way you looked at it. Sure, the money collected for the young striker was handsome, but finding a replacement was always going to be telling for Swindon’s fortunes the following season.
Cox had hit 29 league goals in the campaign prior to his departure but could do nothing more than help his side to a finish of lower-half obscurity. With the team’s over-reliance on their talismanic striker, the future looked concerning without him.
The man in charge
Fast forward one year, however, and the pages tell a fascinating story. What was supposed to have been a season of consolidation without their prized asset quickly transformed into an incredible promotion chase, ending with a narrow play-off final defeat to Millwall.
Admirable, most would agree, but quite how they achieved their success is down to several key factors, not least manager Danny Wilson.
Wilson has seemingly always been that nearly-man, perhaps too nice for his own good. Overseeing Barnsley’s famous rise to the Premier League was a good start, but it didn’t last. It was a similar story at Sheffield Wednesday, the romance of an impressive first season fizzling out soon afterwards as the Owls spiralled towards relegation.
Mediocre spells at Bristol City and Milton Keynes Dons paved the way for a resurrection at Hartlepool, before Wilson finally found his way to Swindon. At first comfortable, content — but now threatening to restore Swindon back to at least a shade of its former glories.
Robins strike gold
Wilson trawled the English scene in preparation for Cox’s departure and eventually plucked Charlie Austin from Poole Town — ultimately the man moulded to replace the Championship-bound striker.
Expectations on the shoulders of the then 20-year-old may have been relatively low from sceptical Swindon supporters, but with an incredible goal-scoring record at non-league level things could have been worse.
A healthy 19 league goals later, with Swindon firing on all cylinders in League One and Wilson’s capture was looking like a masterstroke. But where there is a striker finding the net, there is usually a partner in crime.
Paynter steps up
Perhaps the most admirable achiever of last season’s flight up the table was Billy Paynter. The forgotten man whilst providing the vital support for Cox’s goal-hunt, Paynter had never been a true goalscorer in a Swindon shirt, nor indeed in his inglorious career flailing around the lower leagues. There was barely a reputation to his name, let alone a reputable record.
So you could forgive fans at the County Ground for picking their jaws up off the floor at the end of the campaign with Paynter having helped himself to 26 league goals. Quite where it had come from nobody knew, with even his most ardent of backers spluttering in disbelief.
Obviously, two men don’t make a team. But goals win football matches, and when you lose the cornerstone of your success in front of goal fortunes can change quickly. Swindon not only replaced Simon Cox in front of goal last season, they did it twice over.
Astute dealings in the transfer market saw the inspired permanent signings of David Lucas, Gordon Greer, Jonathan Douglas and Scott Cuthbert — all arriving with much to prove but ending the campaign as collective heroes.
Battling against all odds, they achieved what at the start of the campaign would have been near unthinkable, Danny Wilson’s well-crafted side defying expectations to take their place as the darlings of League One.
Wilson deserves immense credit. This stalwart may not have seen everything go his way in his managerial career to date, but right now there is no better man for the job at the County Ground. With the desire and respect from his squad clearly present, success is already halfway through the door.
Naturally the question of whether they can do it all again remains. One thing is already confirmed, that they will have to go at it without the services of Paynter, who will be plying his trade with Leeds United in the Championship.
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice. But Wilson has to find another successor to his top goalscorer for the second summer in a row.
The burden of expectation may grow on Charlie Austin’s young shoulders this season, but if last season’s showings were anything to go by then Wilson may already have his man.
Written by: Joe Brewin