Swindon Town FC

Tim Sherwood and Swindon Town: ‘One of the Biggest Miscalculations the club has ever made’

November 10, 2016. A huddle of journalists are gathered at the ‘Imagine Cruising suite’ – the room where Swindon Town make their significant statements to the press, as opposed to the more ‘cosy’ area for the post-match evaluation.

All they have been told is at that half-past one Swindon will be making a ‘major announcement’. The press officer is eluded to what is about to happen just 10 minutes before the big moment of Tim Sherwood being named as the club’s director of football.

It was not immediately clear then that that would not only be the first time Sherwood addressed the media in person, but the last as well.

Swindon Town are the sort of club you would describe as ‘modest’, if you were trying to appear respectful, but mindful of causing offence to its loyal, but now disenchanted fan base.

Its finest hour came almost 50 years ago, with the 1969 League Cup win over Arsenal, and it has graced the Premier League only once, over two decades ago. They conceded over 100 goals, finished bottom (then 22nd), and got relegated again the season after.

Ever since, they have been trying to get back, without success. This season they got relegated back down to League Two, after escaping it in the spring of 2012.

Like many clubs of its stature, it predominantly prides itself not on league titles, or cup victories (minus 1969 of course), or, nowadays, even derby wins, but on the ‘we made him’ sort of badge of honour you get when a player achieves great things not at your club, but because of said club.

Those, too, are fading now. Even Charlie Austin, the true 21st-Century Swindon Town poster boy, poached from Poole Town in 2009, has had just one call-up to the England squad. He didn’t play.

Managers though are a different kettle of fish. Glenn Hoddle cut his managerial teeth in the West Country, guided the Robins to the Premier League, and went on to manage England, with a stint at Chelsea in the middle.

In 1989, Ossie Ardiles was in the dugout of the County Ground in a red tracksuit winning promotion to the first division with an Argentine blend of tiki-taka, 11 years post-World Cup ticker tape. The promotion shortly became a demotion due to financial irregularities, but as the memories of that sting, the on-the-pitch triumphs do not get forgotten.

Nor do the accolades of other ‘big names’ Lou Macari, Steve McMahon, a certain Paolo Di Canio or the coaching team of Dennis Wise and Gus Poyet, who sowed the seeds of a Swindon League Two promotion-winning campaign in 2007, before they upped sticks to Leeds and Paul Sturrock carried on from where they left off.

It was therefore a bold claim when now-chairman Lee Power described the appointment of Sherwood as: “One of the biggest appointments the club has ever made,” which was preceded by him being labelled “one of the top, young English managers.” Not modest statements for this modest club.

Two days after the unveiling, Swindon thrashed Charlton Athletic 3-0 to much fanfare, in front of the Sky Sports cameras. The assorted media stuck around for this post-match press conference at least, but their questions were answered by still-head coach Luke Williams, instead of the man recently given full control of “all football-related matters”, which consists of “transfers, tactics, and training,” as well, it would turn out, team talks.

The wins dried up, Sherwood never turned up, the non-local media stopped coming and Williams was answering press questions and facing fan forum backlash for a team that was no longer his.

If there was one manager you could say is no stranger to the cult following social media brings, Sherwood might be it. His Jack-the-Lad persona that saw him reach Vine ‘fame’ for throwing his trademark Gilet and kicking door-opening buttons was only exacerbated when the ‘Director of Football’ began an FA Cup first-round replay against Eastleigh in the stands and ended it in the dugout. The first, and only, time he did so.

The BBC pondered: “Does Tim Sherwood manage the Robins or not?” while JOE declared that: “Tim Sherwood has gone full Football Manager at Swindon Town.” The second jibe became remarkably literal in February.

Not managing actual football teams of course.

With Swindon hovering just above the relegation zone, reeling from a 1-0 loss at local rivals Bristol Rovers and in the middle of what would turn out to be a five-match losing streak, Sherwood appeared – doing a Q&A, not for the media, but for Squawka in a promotion for the computer game, Football Manager.

Four days later Swindon had, and lost, another derby – against Oxford. Sherwood was absent. Power told TalkSPORT on Valentine’s Day, no less, that firstly Sherwood’s hiring was “one million per cent an old pals act” and then revealed that Sherwood was not at the Oxford match as he was doing some “football business for that club” that could only be done on that day.

That was after Town fans had twigged that Sherwood’s birthday was the day after the Oxford game.

Williams was put back in charge of on-pitch activity but Sherwood was back in the stands for the trip to Bury the week after. That was until half-time, when Sherwood launched into a tirade at the referee, calling him a f****** mug for awarding the Shakers a penalty.

On February 23, he was slapped with a two-game stadium ban for his comments. Swindon won both of those games. The first time they achieved back-to-back victories in over a year.

He was back for the home game against Chesterfield. Swindon lost. The Robins didn’t win again until a home match against Millwall, 1-0. Sherwood stayed away from that one. Maybe if he stayed away every week Swindon would have survived.

Alas, they were relegated, which confined Swindon’s to next season’s League Two and, on June 14, just over seven months after arriving, Sherwood’s departure was confirmed.

“Tim’s gone.” Those were the cold words of Power on a hot summer’s day in Swindon at the introductory press conference for the club’s new manager, David Flitcroft. No clouds were in sight that day, not even the biggest one in the club’s recent history.

 

 

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Kasim thanks fans after winning Swindon Town poll

Yaser Kasim has lavished praise on his fans after he was voted Swindon Town’s greatest player of the 21st Century in a recent poll by BenjaminWillsBlog.

“It’s a great achievement, I personally want to win football games rather than awards but I’m thankful for all the people that voted and thankful that the Swindon fans have taken me to their heart.”

The Iraq International, 23, has made a huge impact in Swindon since he arrived from Brighton and Hove Albion on a free transfer last summer.

So much so that he captained the side in a 1-1 draw against Coventry City on August 30 2014 due to regular skipper Nathan Thompson missing the game through suspension – becoming the first Iraqi to do so in English professional football.

“Yes, very much so! (This is a proud honour for me), considering I’ve only been here for a year. I’m particularly proud of the team right now also and enjoying the football a lot.”

A huge contingent of Kasim’s votes came from his native Iraq and the midfielder described his loyal fan base in glowing terms.

“They are a big part of why I want to achieve so much with the national team. Their love for their own is beautiful.”

Iraq are set to play in the Asia Cup in January 2015, something Kasim is “very much” looking forward to but his feet are firmly on the ground.

“It’s all about preparation. We still have a month and a bit to go”.

The competition may see Kasim line up against tournament hosts Australia where club team mate Massimo Luongo plays his International football.

“It would be weird to play against him but would be fun at the same time. It might be very exciting!”

Kasim’s Iraq will contest Group D with Japan, Jordan and Palestine while Luongo’s Socceroos are joined in Group A by South Korea, Oman and Kuwait.

The Asia Cup is played from the 9-31 January which means the pair will miss a maximum of four Swindon matches (Coventry away, Chesterfield home, Bradford City home and Sheffield United away).

 

Who have you voted Swindon Town’s greatest player of the 21st Century?

Relegation, Promotion and the threat of Administration, twice. The 21st Century has not been a boring one for Swindon Town fans but while 2000 onwards will be best remembered so far for Wembley heartbreak, more Wembley heartbreak, Paul Hart and Paolo Di Canio, who have been the players that put smiles on Swindon folks’ faces?

10) Paul Caddis: One of only eight players who stayed at Swindon following the side’s relegation from League One in 2011, Caddis was given the task of leading the club back from whence they came after taking over as captain from Oliver Risser that October.

His consistent high performances during that campaign were rewarded with a League Two winner’s medal and a spot in the League Two Team of the Year. He only missed seven league games, scoring four goals in those 39.

That season, and Caddis’ Swindon career, would end on a sour note though. Di Canio reportedly stripped Caddis as captain due to a “change of attitude” in the Scot.

Di Canio told BBC Wiltshire: “He’s not the same player, not the same attitude, so it’s time to make the decision,”

“Now is the moment to change and send an important signal to everybody because Di Canio is the same.”

“If he wants to jump again he has to not only come back as he was last year but better because my demands are higher this year.

“If I had the same Caddis as last year it would already be a good base because there was availability and desire to improve.

“They have to follow me. And if they don’t want to follow me then they are out.”

It was a sad end to a story that looked liked it had plenty more chapters to come and duly Caddis is showing what Town are missing out on as he continues to impress in the Championship for Birmingham.

Paul and Paolo during happier times

Paul and Paolo during happier times

9) Alex Pritchard: Out of the four loan signings from Tottenham in the 2013/14 season (a further two joining permanently), one young Hotspur stood out from the crowd. So much so that on Tottenham’s first game since Pritchard’s return to North London he was named on the bench away to West Ham.

Voted the second best player in League One and short-listed for the Football League Young Player of the Year Award, the tiny midfielder certainly made a huge impact during his short Swindon spell.

The five foot six inch winger ended his time in Wiltshire with six goals in the league to his name, one of them being a fantastic free-kick away to MK Dons on the Sky Sports cameras and arguably an even better one during a visit at Port Vale, it is something he is fast picking up a reputation for.

He also pitched in with 13 assists over the course of the campaign showing how vital he was in his one season.

Pritchard’s tenure at the County Ground was a brief one but he will be fondly remembered by Swindon supporters.

8) Massimo Luongo: Swindon’s Australian asset Luongo has come on leaps and bounds since his 2013 Summer transfer when he joined for what now looks like a bargain at £400,000.

Luongo initially arrived at the County Ground in March of the same year, signing on loan until the end of the season, scoring two goals in five games, firstly in a 4-1 home win over Crewe Alexandra and then the opener against Brentford in the first leg of the Play-off Semi Final.

Since his permanent swtich, Luongo has established himself as one of Town’s key men, forming a formidable part in the heart of the Robins’ midfield with Yaser Kasim and Louis Thompson.

The Socceroos starlet represented Swindon on the International stage in June of this year, becoming the third player in the club’s history to go to a World Cup while contracted at the County Ground. Alan McLoughlin for Ireland in 1990 and Jan Aage Fjortoft for Norway in 1994 are the other two.

Sadly he didn’t feature in any of Australia’s three games (all of which they lost) in Brazil but regardless, the future looks bright for the 22-year-old.

ML PO Goal

7) Nathan Thompson: Only Fraser Digby (twice) and Shaun Taylor join Nathan Thompson in the short list of players that have won back to back Player of the Year awards, something the current Swindon captain is very proud of.

Speaking to BenjaminWills’Blog Thompson announced:

“What makes this award so special is that it’s voted for by the fans, and each game I try to give 100% for them and the club, so to be recognised in this way is very humbling indeed.

“It goes without saying I’m immensely proud to captain a club that I’ve been at not just for my professional career, but for my Centre of Excellence years and youth development too. I take the role extremely seriously – working hard to ensure the team morale is high – so that this team gives back to the fans and the club.”

Youth product Thompson contributed two assists in his debut season as Swindon skipper as Town finished 8th in League One and at the time of writing has led a team with an average age of 22 to the play-off spots in League One.

Rockin' Robin Thompson with the first of his Player of the Year awards

Rockin’ Robin Thompson with the first of his Player of the Year awards

6) Wes Foderingham: Touted by many as the best Goalkeeper Swindon have had since Fraser Digby, Foderingham has been something of a revelation since he arrived on loan from Crystal Palace in October 2011.

A relative unknown quantity, Foderingham had only previously had spells at Conference North and South sides Boreham Wood, Histon and Bromley before being thrust into the line up of a side expected to win League Two.

Foderingham was calmness personified however, marking his first Football League appearance with a clean sheet in a 0-2 win at Accrington Stanley.

Four more games would pass without Foderingham’s goal being troubled, and the England Under-19 International would become the first Swindon custodian to keep five clean sheets in his first five home matches (Gillingham, Bradford City, Aldershot Town, Morecambe and AFC Wimbledon).

Another two would follow in games at home to Macclesfield Town and Crawley Town. If Shrewsbury didn’t breach his goal, he would have broken a Swindon clean sheet record that stretches back to the days of a certain Mr.Digby.

5) Matt Ritchie: Out of all the players featured in this list, Matt Ritchie is the most successful in terms of personal accolades earned during his tenure at the club.

Swindon’s triumphant League Two title winning campaign of 2011/12 saw 39 players in total make league appearances in some way shape or form but Ritchie at times made it look like a one man operation.

Alan McCormack would be awarded Player of the Year that season but Ritchie would be given everything else, being named in the League Two team of the year and League Two player of the year itself, not forgetting.

One more honour would follow – Swindon Town’s Goal of the Season, for his rasping long range effort in the 2-0 home win over Gillingham.

The following season he picked up the League One Player of the Year award as Swindon finished fifth in their first season back in League One, however Ritchie departed the County Ground for Bournemouth in January for what was pittance fee £500,000 considering Paolo Di Canio once valued him at £10 million.

4) Sam Parkin: Su-per, Super Sam, Su-per, Super Sam, Su-per. Super Sam, Super Sammy Parkin! It is no surprise the Chelsea youth graduate features highly on this list, but what is a surprise is the impact he made at SN1.

Only 11 goals in 64 games in four loan spells at Millwall, Wycombe Wanderers, Oldham Athletic and Northampton Town over two years saw him sold by his Premier League club and snapped up by maverick manager Andy King.

Paltry Parkin became potent Parkin in no time at all, scoring a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Barnsley on the opening day and ended the season with 26 goals in 48 games (all competitions) overall as Swindon finished 10th in the old Division Two.

The 2003/04 season would see less goals for Parkin, 19 in 40, but Swindon would enjoy a higher league position, finishing fifth only to lose to Brighton in the Play-offs.

Mid table mediocrity would rear its ugly head once again the following campaign but 23 goals in 41 games did give the Town faithful something to smile about anyway. 73 goals in 124 games makes ‘Super Sam’ Swindon’s top scorer in the 21st Century so far.

3) Charlie Austin: Very much the poster boy of Swindon Town in the 21st Century, Charlie Austin joined the club from non league Poole Town in 2009  after Bournemouth were denied the striker due to a transfer embargo.

He made an instant impact at Town, scoring three minutes into his debut start away at Carlisle in November and then netting a 58th minute winner in a 2-1 win over Huddersfield Town in his County Ground bow.

Another 18 more would follow and Austin finished the  2009/10 season on 20 goals, it could have been one more if it wasn’t for that Wembley bobble but the less said about that the better.

Austin formed a formidable partnership with Billy Paynter, the pair providing 56 goals between them but Paynter’s departure to Leeds during the Summer did not hamper Austin.

The then 21-year-old scored 12 in 25 in the 2010/11 season and despite his January move to Burnley, he finished Swindon’s top scorer that season as the Robins were relegated to League Two.

2) Simon Cox: As this list proves, Swindon have had somewhat of a penchant for a gifted striker this past decade and Cox was arguably the best of the bunch.

He may have failed to make an impact in the Premier League, unlike Charlie Austin for example, but 48 goals in games makes him Town’s 30th top scorer of all time.

Cox signed for Swindon on January 31 2008 after initially impressing during a loan spell earlier on in the season, netting eight in 19 and he finished with 14 in 36.

What stands Cox ahead of the likes of Austin and Parkin in the eyes of many is his ability to seemingly score from everywhere.

Famous volleys such as his pre-season strike in Fenerbache and another one closer to home against Walsall are still fresh in the memory and go some way into indicating why he was voted Swindon’s Player of the Year in the 2008/09 season.

1) Yaser Kasim: The Iraqi Xavi or the Iraqi Pirlo, whatever your preference there is no denying the talent of the player plucked from obscurity.

Kasim, a man who saw first team chances at Conference Premier side Macclesfield Town limited, took like a duck to water two tiers up when he was signed by Mark Cooper last Summer.

His rise has not gone unnoticed, bizarrely after impressing in a 0-2 League Cup win at Queens Park Rangers, Harry Redknapp reportedly enquired about taking his services to Loftus Road just two months after he signed the dotted line at the County Ground.

The baller from Baghdad has become a lynch pin in the heart of Swindon midfield, dictating play and contributing four assists and two goals along the way.

He has made continued in the same vain this campaign and has two assists and two goals so far to his name.

Swindon fans and staff will be hoping he isn’t missed too much when he departs for the Asia Cup in January with Iraq.

 

Swindon Town have found their ideal captain in Nathan Thompson

At 23-years-old, Nathan Thompson is the second youngest captain in League One leading the youngest side in the division, Swindon Town – a team with an average age of just 22, but while experience at the County Ground may be low, the ambitions are high.

“I look at the talent and potential we have in our team and I think the Championship is where we belong”, Thompson insists.

“The ethos of football we play is different to any team in League One, and arguably the Championship and Premier League too. In my opinion it is the way ‘the beautiful game’ should be played and, when we are in form, the opposition can’t compete with us.”

It is big talk from the sprightly Swindon skipper who seems completely unfazed at the task of captaining such a youthful side.

“The fact I’m the longest serving player (at the club) helped me take to the role and my team mates have been extremely supportive of me, so I’m grateful they’ve helped make the transition a smooth one”.

His team mates may well be the secret to his success but it was Thompson that took the plaudits after Town’s 0-3 win at Chesterfield last Tuesday night.

Swindon’s two games previous had ended in a 2-3 loss and a 2-2 draw on their own patch to Rochdale and Colchester respectively in what were disappointing results considering the Robins were the fourth best team at home in League One last season.

Thompson missed those two games due to a suspension but his return match ended with Swindon securing their first clean sheet since September 27 where they beat Barnsley by the same score at Oakwell.

This is even more impressive given the fact that Thompson is now playing a sweeper role in a three man defence instead of his favoured full-back position.

Nathan Byrne, arguably Town’s stand out performer so far this season, is occupying Thompson’s right wing-back spot while the left has been covered by former loanee from Liverpool Brad Smith and now Amari’i Bell who has joined temporarily from Birmingham City.

“Throughout pre season I trained in the wing-back position and I only switched to centre back a couple of training sessions before our first game”, Town’s back-to-back Player of the Year explains.

“It was a shock but I didn’t have time to dwell on it – which I think has helped me. As time’s gone on and I’m learning more about the position, my confidence has grown and I enjoy the new role I play during games”.

This attitude is a testament to Thompson’s character who genuinely gives his all for the club he has been at since the age of 12.

When asked how he felt about being awarded Swindon’s Player of the Year award for two years running he responded:

“What makes this award so special is that it’s voted for by the fans, and each game I try to give 100% for them and the club, so to be recognised in this way is very humbling indeed.

Top of the Tree: Rockin' Robin Thompson with the first of his Player of the Year awards

Top of the Tree: Rockin’ Robin Thompson with the first of his Player of the Year awards

“It goes without saying I’m immensely proud to captain a club that I’ve been at not just for my professional career, but for my Centre of Excellence years and youth development too. I take the role extremely seriously – working hard to ensure the team morale is high – so that this team gives back to the fans and the club.”

Giving back, as he puts it, is clearly very much at the forefront of the man’s mind as he is also an ambassador for the girls’ Centre of Excellence as he “feel(s) it’s important to show them I was in a similar position once, and with perseverance they could be in my boots one day too”.

Said perseverance and more importantly hard work have reaped the awards for “Thommo”, something he did not forget as he recalled the time he first put pen to paper on a professional deal for the Wiltshire side in 2009.

“When I think back to to when I first signed my professional deal this club had a very different ethos in developing young players. The average age of the first team was around 26 and not many players remained at the club past their scholar.

“While there were occasions of concern and anxiety (that he would never get his chance at Swindon), I had a very strong support network around me and that helped me to keep focused and determined to break into the Swindon Town first team.

Interest from Premier League teams Arsenal, Everton, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur around that time did not distract him either.

“One thing I have learned is to keep attention focused on my game and, at that point in particular, leave off-field discussions to my parents and third parties.

“It’s often seen where youngsters leave lower league teams to join top flight clubs and too often it’s unsuccessful. Therefore, while it’s always flattering to have interest from these sorts of clubs, the last thing I wanted to do was get carried away so I was committed to establishing myself at Swindon.”

That sort of attitude will be music to the ears of many a Swindon Town fan I’m sure. The future of SN1 is in a safe pair of feet with Nathan Thompson with a wise and selfless head on those young shoulders too.

Follow me on Twitter: @BenjaminWillsSJ

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Stephens could be set for Swindon return – Chairman Power

Lee Power, chairman of League One side Swindon Town, has confirmed that the club are trying to get Southampton defender Jack Stephens to return to Wiltshire.

Stephens, 20, impressed during his brief loan spell at the County Ground towards the end of last season making ten appearances as the Robins finished eighth.

He is yet to make a senior appearance for Southampton since he arrived at St Mary’s from Plymouth Argyle in 2011.

The centre back is only expected to be returning to the County Ground on loan.

Power is keen to set up an affiliation with the Saints as Swindon’s partnership with Tottenham Hotspur has ended following the dismissal of Tim Sherwood who is closely connected to the Swindon owner.

Swindon and Southampton are set to meet in a friendly on July 21st and more members of the Premier League side’s academy could be set for a brief stint in Swindon in the near future.

Top 10: Best young League 1 players

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10: Dele Alli (MK Dons)

The first, and youngest, member of this top 10 list, Bamidele Jermaine (Dele) Alli is a real star in the making. A third tier regular at the tender age of 18 (having been 17 for the majority of the season), making 26 appearances for Milton Keynes this season and scoring six goals in the league along with two assists does not go unnoticed.

Those six goals makes him the third highest goalscorer at Stadium:MK and his impact would have both surprised and delighted his boss Karl Robinson who is a young Manager himself.

Alli has already got International recognition, with nine England Under 17 caps to his name.

Despite being so young, Alli has already scored his first senior hat-trick in a 1-3 away win at Notts County.

“He’s one of the most gifted 17-year-olds this country has ever seen” Robinson announced at the final whistle. High praise indeed.

9: Luke Freeman (Stevenage)

Stevenage’s go to man for success is former Arsenal man Luke Freeman.

The 22 year old winger is the Boro’s third leading scorer with six strikes and the club’s main provider with a further six assists. Freeman sadly couldn’t save Stevenage from the drop back down to League 2 but without him the Hertfordshire club would not have been as close to survival as they were.

Dartford born danger man Freedman is attracting attention from clubs in the higher divisions and following Stevenage’s relegation, it seems even more unlikely that he will stay at Broadhill Way.

8: Matt Tootle (Crewe) 

It would not be a list of young talents in League 1 without a Crewe player, would it? The Alex’s esteemed youth academy that has developed talents such as Leeds United’s Luke Murphy, Dean Ashton, Nicky Maynard and most notably Manchester United’s Nick Powell, has found another gem in Matt Tootle.

A Crewe regular since 2009, the 23-year-old has already notched up over 150 games for the Gresty Road club and has been an ever present, not missing a single game as the Railway Men avoided relegation from League 1 for a second successive year.

If Tootle keeps this sort of form up, don’t be surprised if the latest export from Alex’s Academy goes on to bigger and better things like many before him.

7: Harry Maguire (Sheffield United)

In a season that has seen Sheffield United perform well below what they are capable of, Jacob Harry Maguire has been a rare consistent performer at the back and was one of the key men during the second half revival under new boss Nigel Clough.

Thanks to Clough and also to Maguire’s performances at the heart of the Sheffield defence, the Blades soared from relegation fears to finish just one place outside the play offs in 7th along with an FA Cup run that would see them eliminated 5-3 by Hull in the Semi Finals.

Maguire has been a key figure at Bramall Lane since 2011, missing only nine league games in the last three seasons as Sheffield United seek to return to the Championship after three disappointing seasons in League 1.

With an ever improving Maguire, next year might just be their year.

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6: Nouha Dicko (Wolves)

11 August 2013 and Nouha Dicko comes on as an 86th minute substitute for James McCarthy at Wembley as Wigan go down 2-0 to Manchester United in the Community Shield. Fast forward eight months and he’s at Wolves in League 1.

Dicko had spent a brief loan spell in Wolverhampton last season, four appearances, all off the bench, one goal. Not enough as Wolves found themselves in the third division having been in the top flight two years previous.

Five goals in five goals for Rotherham United from November to January was all it needed to convince Kenny Jackett to bring Dicko back to the Midlands and the Frenchman’s goal scoring form has not slowed down with him netting 12 in 19 for Wolves as they powered to the League 1 title.

The winger/striker, who is also eligible to play for the Mali international team scored two goals on his return debut at Molineux, a 3-1 home victory over Bristol City while he also grabbed a hat-trick in a 6-4 win over Rotherham, showing no love for his former club.

21 year old Dicko finished the season as Wolves’ second top scorer, with only one behind Bakary Sako on 13. Not bad for a bloke who only joined in January. Wigan could yet rue letting this boy go.

5: Moses Odubajo (Leyton Orient)

Arguably the division’s surprise packages this season, Leyton Orient have sealed themselves a play off spot thanks to a number of quality performances from their young squad.

None more so than from 20-year-old midfielder Moses Adubajo. The Leyton Orient club graduate scored 10 goals from midfield this season and added six assists to his season tally.

Premier League clubs have been alerted to the goal scoring midfielder’s achievements with Tottenham among the clubs reportedly after his signature this Summer and if Russell Slade’s side fail to cross the promotion line then it may be difficult to keep hold of Odubajo.

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4: Callum Wilson (Coventry)

Few would have predicted how much of an impact Callum Wilson would make this season following a poor showing this time last year. His total of one goal in 11 last season became 21 in 36 after just a year.

Wilson enjoyed a prolific partnership with Leon Clarke in the first half of this campaign but while Clarke’s goals dried up as he switched Midlands allegiances, Wilson continued to flourish.

21 goals makes Wilson the joint third top scorer with Rotherham’s Kieran Agard, some achievement for a man who missed ten games and being part of a side with -10 points at the start of the season. On top of that, every match being theoretically an away trip with Coventry playing their “home” games 33 miles away at Sixfields in Northampton.

Coventry finished the season in a very respectable position of 18th considering their points deduction and small squad, in addition to losing Clarke midway through the season. Without Wilson, it could well have been a very different outcome.

3: Britt Assombalonga (Peterborough)

Powerful striker Britt Assombalonga has proved to be the signing of the season in League 1 this term. A relative risk by Darren Ferguson to sign him as the Zaire forward had never played third tier football, and had never scored for Championship Watford (playing five games).

Five goals in five for Conference side Braintree Town in 2011/12 and 15 in 43 for League 2 Southend the following season though was enough to convince Ferguson Jnr to snap up Assombalonga for a club record fee, which is unknown, but the 21-year-old proved he was worth his weight in goals, notching 23 in 40 games.

He would turn out to be a villain to Swindon fans, first netting on his Posh debut at London Road in a 1-0 win over the Reds and then leveling the scores in the JPT second leg to force the tie into penalties. Peterborough won to book a spot at Wembley.

Assombalonga would keep up his JPT scoring habits, slotting home a penalty in Posh’s 1-3 win over Chesterfield to win the competition for the first time in their history.

The former Watford man will be looking to show the Hornets what they have let go next season with Peterborough looking to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt via the play offs. Should Posh earn promotion, they have a certain Ferguson risk to thank.

2: Alex Pritchard (Swindon)

Out of the four loan signings from Tottenham (a further two joining permanently), one young Hotspur stood out from the crowd. So much so that on Tottenham’s first game since Pritchard’s return to North London he was named on the bench away to West Ham.

Voted the second best player in League 1 and short-listed for the football league young player of the year award, the tiny midfielder clearly has a huge future ahead of him.

The 5 foot 6 inch winger ended his time in Wiltshire with six goals to his name, one of them being a fantastic free-kick away to MK Dons, something he is fast picking up a reputation for.

Pritchard may find himself back out on loan next season, quite probably a division or more up from this term with QPR reportedly keen on him but the 21 year old has expressed his desire to prove himself at Tottenham after signing a two year contract  in January last year to quash interest from the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

One thing is for sure is that he will be fondly remembered by Swindon supporters and the feeling is mutual. Pritchard calling this “the best season of my career”. Hopefully many more to come for the England Under 20 International.

1: Adam Forshaw (Brentford)

League 1’s player of the year, Adam Forshaw has been exceptional in the Red and White of Brentford, contributing eight goals and four assists from the centre of midfield as the Bees recovered from the sting of losing out on promotion on the final day of last season.

Brentford also had to show mental toughness to bounce back after then suffering more heartbreak that season, losing the play off final to Yeovil.

The Griffin Park faithful finally saw their side gain promotion to the Championship thanks largely to Forshaw’s performances and Manager Mark Warburton keeping the ship steady midway through the season following Uwe Rosler’s departure to Wigan in early December.

Everton reserve player of the year 2012 Forshaw, 22, was linked with a move out of West London in January but committed his future to Brentford stating “My aim is to get promoted with Brentford. I’m really enjoying it here.

“I feel I’m gaining a lot of experience playing regularly. Last year was a massive learning curve for me.”

Bees fans will be hoping Forshaw shys away from speculation for a second successive season in the Summer and stays on at Brentford with the club looking to establish itself as a Championship side.

Forshaw will very much be key to any chances of that.

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Always look on the bright side of life – Why Swindon fans should not be moaning

After Swindon’s latest loss, this time a 1-4 home trouncing by Wolves, Town fans are not in high spirits. Being eight points behind sixth place Peterborough with Posh having a game in hand doesn’t look encouraging as Swindon’s play off ambitions are fading fast. Here are five reasons why Swindon supporters should still be smiling though.

1) Few thought we’d get a play off spot in pre season anyway

Following then Chairman Jed McCrory’s decision to slash the wage budget from £5 million to £2.5 million, 12 players decided to leave the club. The two departures that left fans most upset were fan favourite Simon Ferry and club captain Alan McCormack who left on frees and then signed on at Portsmouth and Brentford respectively. The mood following these departures was at an all time low, if memory serves correctly, a lot of the doom mongers were thinking relegation was looming. Manager Kevin MacDonald was not the man who captured the imagination of many of the Town faithful either. He resigned pre season but at a terrible time and spirits at the County Ground didn’t look like they’d raise any time soon. A new Manager was forthcoming though.

2) We have an inexperienced Manager, who is doing admirably

Mark “cheap option” Cooper was MacDonald’s assistant when the Scot arrived on February 28th and was appointed full time boss August 20th after one win and two defeats as caretaker in the first three games of the season. Cooper was seen as the cheap option as he was hired from within when people such as Neil Warnock and Paul Tisdale were linked to the job as well as club legends Glen Hoddle and Martin Ling. Even Tim Sherwood’s name, Tottenham reserve Manager at the time, was mentioned due to Swindon’s new link with Spurs, an appointment that would have made sense with a fair few Tottenham reserve team players now plying their trade at Swindon. Sherwood now has the top job at White Hart Lane of course.  

Mark Cooper is not known across the footballing world, having previously managed at Tamworth, Kettering, Darlington and Telford, along with an ill fated spell at Peterborough. Despite this though he is doing a good job, leading Swindon to the brink of a Wembley final, only being denied by former club Peterborough on penalties and challenging for the playoffs with an inexperienced squad, which leads onto my next point.

3) Swindon have a young team

Out of Town’s 16 new faces (14 in the Summer, then Dany N’Guessan in September and Ben Gladwin in November followed by Michael Smith and George Barker in January), only 3 are above the age of 23 (N’Guessan, Ryan Harley and Mohamed El Gabas). El Gabas has since left the club, which means that Swindon Town have a squad average age of 22.8, (23 if you want to round it up), the lowest in the division.*

*All players calculated had played at least 5 times this season at the time of writing.

"Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life"

“Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life”

4) Injuries

Swindon have been dogged by injuries for what seems like all season.  The most notable of these would include number one Goalkeeper Wes Foderingham who has been ruled out with a groin injury since the trip to then league leaders Leyton Orient, which Town lost 2-0 with Tyrell Belford in goal. The Robins were 4 points off a play off spot before that game but as Peterborough won and Swindon lost, the gap was increased to 7 points. Swindon have not won since Foderingham has picked up his injury.

Another key man sat on the treatment table is joint top scorer Nile Ranger. The 22-year-old former Newcastle man is out for the rest of the season after tearing his hamstring in the Valentines Day draw at home to Colchester. Ranger has scored 10 goals this season and shares that tally with Nicky Ajose who was lively in a Red shirt but his loan has now expired and has returned to parent club Peterborough, he has four in six for them.

The club’s player of the season last year Nathan Thompson also looks to be out for the remainder of the season now with an ankle injury, Grant Hall has been nursing a calf injury since mid January, Alex Pritchard has just returned from a medical ligament strain while Ryan Mason, a highly rated youngster, has missed more games than he’s played.

5) Swindon are producing fine talents

One of the club’s many Tottenham youth players at SN1, Alex Pritchard, has blossomed since joining the club on a season long loan following England’s abject display at the Under 20 World Cup which he featured in. The 20 year old winger has been nominated for both young player of the year, and player of the year awards for League 1 which, should he win the player of the year award, would be the second Swindon player in a row to do so after Matt Ritchie won it last season. Ritchie also scooped up the League 2 player of the season award when Town surged to the title win in the 2011/12 season.

AP QRP

Along with this, Massimo Luongo, another addition from Tottenham, a permanent one this time, has recently received his first International call up for Australia as he now tries to book himself a place on the plane for the World Cup no less. Should Luongo make The Socceroos’ 23 man squad he’d be the third player in Swindon’s history to go to a World Cup while being at the club. Alan McLoughlin (Italy 1990 for Ireland) and Jan Aage Fjortoft (USA 1994 for Norway) are the other two. Yaser Kasim has also just been called up to his country’s last squad, and made his debut in a 3-0 win over China as Iraq sealed their place at the 2015 Asia Cup, which will be held in Australia next January.

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Diamond in the rough or just rough? The curious case of Nile Ranger

(Originally posted November 15th 2013)
Nile Ranger, 22, was tipped for great things in his Newcastle days when he joined the club in 2009, aged 18, but four years down the line he finds himself in League 1 and in danger of people remembering him more for his off the field antics than his football ability.

Ranger’s problems off the field are nothing new however, back in the days when he was on Southampton’s books as a 15-year-old he showed promise but found himself imprisoned in a Young Offender’s institute for 11 Weeks following an armed robbery. He returned to The Saints after, briefly, before being released due to his behaviour.

He was somewhat fortunate to be signed up by Premiership outfit Newcastle United then but he earned his place, scoring 15 goals for the Under 18’s and 7 for the Reserve team and was rewarded with a 3 and a half year deal by Alan Shearer as Newcastle prepared their assault on The Championship following their unexpected Relegation.

Ranger was awarded his Magpies début in the season opener against West Brom as an injury time substitute  for Shola Ameobi before winning his first start, getting the Man of the Match award in a 1-0 victory over Leicester City three weeks later. Ranger proved he could get goals in tier two after netting in the 2-0 wins over Coventry and Crystal Palace.

Ranger wouldn’t make much more of an impact as Newcastle romped to The Championship title and didn’t feature much in the following Premiership season either, mostly limited to Carling Cup games. He took whatever chance he got however and managed to score in two of those fixtures in wins over Accrington Stanley and Chelsea. Ranger made his Premiership début as an 89th minute substitute vs Wigan and went on to make a number of sub appearances, most notably against Arsenal where he turned past Laurent Koscielny who fouled him and got sent off, maintaining a 0-1 win for Newcastle. Bad-Boy Nile also started a few games that season following injuries to Andy Carroll and Leon Best, failing to add to his goals tally but he was still awarded a 5 and a half year deal by Chris Hughton.

Whilst 2010 was a good year for Nile Ranger on the field, his behaviour in 2011 would cause him problems off it. On 27 August he was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a man in Newcastle city centre leaving the victim unconscious in the street, but was found not guilty in October 2012 and then in October 2011 he was charged with being drunk and disorderly in Newcastle’s Cathedral Square. The charge came only days after Ranger had been reinstated to Newcastle United’s first-team training after a three-month exile in the club’s reserves. Prior to this, in May 2011 Ranger was questioned by Newcastle after posing with a gun in a photograph. The gun was later handed in.

Striker Ranger in Shooting training...of sorts.

Striker Ranger in Shooting training…of sorts.

 

In what was an eventful 2011 for him, Ranger joined Championship side Barnsley to try and get his mind in football gear again, however it didn’t work out for him, five appearances, no goals and a foot injury had his loan cut short and back to Newcastle he went. He would try again in March 2012, this time opting for Sheffield Wednesday, then in League One.  Two goals in eight games was satisfactory as Wednesday won Promotion back to The Championship, however Ranger was still getting into trouble. Firstly making a homophobic comment on Twitter for which he was fined, then he was arrested again for breaching bail whilst awaiting trial for four assault charges. Then in September, Ranger was accused of criminal damage to a front door of someone else’s property, the charges were dropped 2 Months later however after the Court agreed that the Newcastle Front-man had damaged the door fearing his Girlfriend was being kidnapped.

Despite all of this however the Newcastle man still continued to get in the papers for all the wrong reasons. The 25th of January would prove to be the day that Ranger’s reputation would hit rock bottom. Ranger was arrested on suspicion of rape in a Newcastle hotel room and was charged for this on the 8th July and is due in court again in the New Year. His 2013 didn’t end there though, he was convicted of assault in March and hit the headlines again in July after getting “Ranger” tattooed on his forehead, coinciding with a Smiley face on his bottom lip which he isn’t shy on showing.

Smile for the Camera. Ranger's tattoo
Smile for the Camera. Ranger’s tattoo

Newcastle had got fed up with Ranger’s behaviour and released him by Mutual Consent in September. Two goals in 51 league games was not enough to justify his behaviour and Ranger was temporarily unemployed.

That was until League 1 outfit Swindon Town decided to take the risk. Despite negative press and an understandable annoyance from supporters, Ranger signed a 1 year deal on the dotted line in Wiltshire with the option of a second depending on his Court Case outcome. At the beginning it looked like a master-stroke by new boss Mark Cooper, Ranger repaid the faith shown in him, scoring 6 goals in 15 games including an 87th winner against West Country rivals Bristol City. However, now, Ranger seems to be showing his true colours. He’s missed several training sessions in the last Month, some from Swindon giving him time off for his court case, some for unknown reasons. Ranger has now gone AWOL and shows no signs of being in Cooper’s plans for the time being.

And this is what ultimately lets Nile Ranger down. He’s proved he has talent, he’s been capped for the England U-19’s 11 times, scoring 6 goals and although he may not be cut out for The Premiership, he may have been if he concentrated on his football more than his life of crime. One level he looks to have found himself at is League One with Championship chasing Swindon where he could really prove himself.

If Ranger is found innocent in January and Swindon forgive him for his missed training sessions and he finally learns to keep his head down and get on with his Football he could become the good player everyone expected back in 2009. However, it could all be too late for Nile if he gets found guilty in Court and then he’ll be added to the never ending “what might have been” list.