The Thursday Preview: Swindon Vs Notts County
My word it’s been a horror show at Swindon this season. Having treated their fans to a play-off final last term, the Robins have suffered the fate that can so often befall a losing finalist and are staring in the face of fourth tier football after a largely forgettable 8 months.
Whereas Millwall, their Wembley opponents in 2010, have managed to keep their squad intact and aren’t yet out of the race for a spot in the Championship’s top six, it’s been a different story in Wiltshire. Two key cogs in Town’s spine, captain Gordon Greer and forward target Billy Paynter, were the first to go, departing for bigger things at Brighton and Leeds last summer. Leaving Swindon with yawning holes in their back and front lines, manager Danny Wilson wasn’t able to patch his side up accordingly and marquee signings David Prutton and Thomas Dossevi have failed (abysmally in the latter’s case) to reignite a side on the slide.
Promising centre half Sean Morrison followed Greer and Paynter out of the door in January, moving up the M4 to Reading, and it was left to Charlie Austin, scorer of 17 goals this season alone, to provide the final nail as he completed his move to Burnley. Loan replacements have arrived thick and fast across the last few months, but if you consider that Calvin Andrew has probably been the pick of the crop then it may be easier to understand why it’s been such a traumatic 2011 so far.
Indeed, until the Robins gained a surprise win at Brentford two weeks ago, they’d gone a whopping 18 games without recording three points. Danny Wilson hit the road during the drought, and was replaced by everyone’s favourite firefighter, Paul Hart, but the upheaval at the top has done little but steer Town closer to the drop. After his first win in eight attempts Hart spoke to the local media, pleeing with the Swindon board to make a decision on a permanant manager, but that nudge and wink has had little effect and the journeyman-ager continues to roll on towards seeming doom.
One man who is in possession of a contract beyond the end of the season is Hart’s counterpart on Saturday, Martin Allen, who U-turned his way back to the top of every right-thinking football fan’s black book by shooting up to Meadow Lane just days after he’d been given a go at resurrecting a stalling career. Replacing Paul Ince, Allen joined a club freefalling down the league a la Swindon, but a win at Tranmere in the week before thousands of freeloaders marked the end of a nine game losing streak which indicated that, as focused on the short-term as County’s board seem to be, the Magpies’ third manager of the season might just be the man to keep them adrift.
It’s not as though the squad Allen has inherited is short of League One quality. Although midfield prancer Ben Davies upset our mate Stu Brothers by hopping on the indigo to Pride Park, the squad that overcame Sunderland and held Man City to a replay in the FA Cup remains in situ. Lee Hughes is joined by Neal Bishop, Mike Edwards and Jon Harley in a cabal of wise old heads that Allen may well rely on the scrape past the post, and any points gained from here are likely to be earned through gritted teeth.
A home game against Brentford follows for County before two encounters with top six material; MK Dons and Brighton providing the unwanted opposition. This puts Saturday’s fixture, in which a Notts win would put them out of Swindon’s sight, into context and with Dagenham and Bristol Rovers threatening to do their worst, I can see another bad race day for the Robins. The top lads of Notts to win by a goal.