WE’VE reached the 15-game mark of Swindon Town’s League One season and, frankly, that’s plenty of time to assess just how good a start the Robins have made to the 2014/15 campaign.
It’s as-good-as darn-it a third of the way through the term and, though far from becoming fully formed, the table is well out of its embryonic stage. Besides, enough of the season has elapsed for a quarter of managers in the Football League to lose their jobs.
Swindon, with 26 points from their 15 outings, have made one of their best starts to a season in the last two decades. In fact, since 1995/96, no other Town squad has accrued more points from the same amount of games in the third tier.
It’s an impressive statistic. Since Steve McMahon’s all-conquering, Division Two title-winning side, the Robins have reached the play-offs in League One on three occasions from 12 attempts, yet this lot have leapt fastest from the blocks.
Defending the defence
Still, however, there remains a sense of uncertainty about the place. While performances have by and large been excellent, fans remain unconvinced by the Town defence, which is perhaps a little odd given Swindon have conceded fewer than the 19 goals they have thus far shipped in only seven of the last 20 seasons by this point.
Furthermore, two of those campaigns were spent in League Two and, remarkably given the number of times the words ‘leaky’, ‘fragile’ and ‘sieve’ have been chained to this Town rearguard, during Paolo Di Canio’s first year at the club, which ended with the fourth-tier title, the Robins had only let in four goals fewer at the corresponding stage of the campaign.
Perhaps it is the way Swindon concede – the ‘unnecessary’ mistakes which, in reality, are a fundamental necessity given the risk-reward mantra adopted by Mark Cooper and his players since his appointment as boss.
Under Di Canio, there was always a feeling of great certainty at the back, even on the occasions when there was none. A rigid back four, supported by two very technically correct central midfielders, left opponents scavenging around the 18-yard box for chances like pigeons chasing crumbs around Trafalgar Square.
Now it’s different. Now Swindon gift-wrap sights of goal with a frilly bow; but, and this might surprise you, they don’t do it all that often. In fact, they offer opponents the fewest number of opportunities inside their own penalty area, on average, of any club in the division. Just when they do, they’re more often than not memorable. For all the wrong reasons.
So, while the defence is hardly a sturdy unit – not yet, at least – perhaps some of our pessimism on that front is a tad misplaced.
Context is always an important component in assessing just how good a patch of form has been and, with this in mind, Link Sport’s totally unscientific difficulty grading method is being pulled from the back of the bookshelf and given a thorough dusting down.
By taking a mean average of the league position of all the sides Swindon have faced in their first 15 games of any given season, we can discover just how tough a start each Town edition has faced in the last 20 years.
With the opposition’s average place over the first 15 matches coming in at 11.1, the 1998/99 season began in the trickiest fashion of any since 1995.
In 2012/13, when Paolo Di Canio eventually took Town to within touching distance of top spot before abandoning ship, his side faced opponents which averaged a ranking of 15.1 – the second easiest opening to a campaign in the given period.
Here’s the full table, for those interested…
|Season||Ave pos of 1st 15 oppos|
And then there’s the goals scored column.
No Swindon side in League One has scored more goals in their first 15 matches than the 2014/15 crop since 1995 – that includes the League Two-winning squad of 2006/07, either of Di Canio’s teams, Danny Wilson’s play-off bound group (albeit pre-Charlie Austin) or the Sam Parkin/Tommy Mooney-inspired 2003/04 edition.
They’re two goals better off than they were at this stage last term and have netted as many times as Steve Finney, Wayne Allison & Co 20 years ago.
So, statistically speaking at least, Cooper’s crew are flying. Not that he wants to have anything to do with comparisons to the past.
He told me this morning, when I chucked some stats at him in a random fit of geekiness: “It’s a different era, a different time, a different group of players. It’s brilliant and it’s great that we’ve done it – fair play to the players – but I think we can do even more and be even better.
“It’s not all doom and gloom. It sometimes seems that way when you lose a game and everyone wants to look at the negatives and why did this or that happen. Sometimes you just lose a game.
“It happens to Man United, it happens to Man City, it happens to Real Madrid. Not Chelsea at the minute. You are allowed to lose a game. It’s not okay but it happens and you just have to bounce back.”
Of course, he’s right in a way to play down what his team have achieved but it’s important to note just how impressive they have been over 15 games of the new campaign.