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Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Inside Line: Swindon Town v Bristol City (15/11/2014)

After a brief hiatus from the league and an all-too-rare level of success in the two cup competitions, City return to league action this weekend in the first of a trio of mouth-watering clashes at the top of league one.  Preston North End and Peterborough United are on the horizon, but for now a classic local derby looks to be on the cards, as Steve Cotterill takes his unbeaten league leaders to the County Ground to face Swindon.

Stu Radnedge caught up with Dan Johnson www.twitter.com/danwjonson - a blogger for the Swindon Advertiser, to get the other Robins’ take on their own great start to the season.

“As the new campaign got underway in August it was hard to predict what sort of season was on the horizon. Due to a courtroom battle over the clubs ownership the club had only signed a handful of players in time for the big kick-off.

However, despite suffering a chaotic pre-season, Town began with a win, beating Scunthorpe 3-1 at the County Ground.  The opening month continued in the same vein with Mark Cooper’s side suffering just one defeat in League One.

Those impressive results continued into September, as Town went throughout the month unbeaten, including three away wins.  One of the best performances came against Sheffield United, where Town brushed aside the promotion contenders 5-2 at the County Ground.  All three of Town’s forward line got on the score sheet, with homegrown talent Louis Thompson adding a fifth in the final five minutes.  This result in particular highlighted the superb style of play on offer at the County Ground.

Despite many calls to change from fans, Mark Cooper has persisted with playing from the back, knocking the ball around in defence.  Using a sweeper in Nathan Thompson who dictates the play, with Yaser Kasim sitting in front of the back three, feeding the ball to either Massimo Luongo or Louis Thompson, who have both been superb this season, the system is all geared around retaining possession of the ball before using the pace on the flanks.

October was another good month for Town, but it was the clubs away form that was taking all the headlines with impressive away wins against Leyton Orient and Chesterfield.

So far this month, Swindon have managed to take a step forward in their home form, beating one of the favourites for promotion Preston North End 1-0, but has suffered two defeats, one away at Milton Keynes, and another in the FA Cup away to Cheltenham.

The 14/15 season is Mark Cooper’s first full campaign at Swindon, after being appointed full-time boss in late August 2013.  Dad Terry Cooper will be well known to Bristol City after playing and managing the club for six years in the 1980’s.

Last season, alongside coach Luke Williams, Cooper built a successful side, that went onto finish in a respectable 8th position in League One.  In this campaign, the former Tamworth and Peterborough boss has built on last season’s success, and stood firm on his style of play, which has paid off so far, with Swindon sitting 3rd in League One, two points outside the automatic promotion spots.

One of the reasons for Town’s new formation was losing key men Alex Pritchard and Nile Ranger in the summer.  Cooper had no choice but to change the teams formation, out went last season’s 4-1-4-1 to a 3-5-2 in this campaign.

Out of the eleven that started in the same fixture last September, five are still playing in the first team.  Goalkeeper Wes Foderingham and club captain Nathan Thompson are the only survivors in the back five, and are now joined by Southampton loanees Jordan Turnbull and Jack Stephens.  Wiltshire-born Turnbull is enjoying his first foray into first team football, but his defensive partner Stephens has enjoyed some experience, and played a key role in Town earning a point at Ashton Gate last season.

Out of all the areas on the pitch, it’s Swindon’s back three that are the most inexperienced, with this weekend’s game far by the biggest game of their young careers.

One of the key differences in the clubs formation this season has been the use of wing-backs. Right sided wing-back Nathan Byrne has been one of the clubs best players so far this season. After playing as a full back in the last campaign, he struggled to make an impression in the side, but since the introduction of a new system, he has flourished in his new position.  Both Amari’i Bell and Harry Toffolo are on loan deals and have been in direct competition to fill the left wing-back position.  Amari’i Bell enjoyed a good start to his loan deal, but in recent weeks has gone off the boil, which has made way for Harry Toffolo, who has grabbed his chance with both hands and put in some impressive displays in recent weeks.

Incredibly over the summer Town managed to keep the best area of the team in one piece, our midfield three of Yaser Kasim, Massimo Luongo and Louis Thompson are still at the club, and enjoying a superb season.  But that talent hasn’t gone unnoticed, with Kasim and Luongo both earning international recognition for Iraq and Australia respectively, meaning both players will be missing for this weekend’s big game at the County Ground.  This comes, as a huge blow for Swindon, with the heartbeat of the team being ripped out for one of the biggest contests of the season, Jake Reeves and Ben Gladwin are likely to take their place in the team.

The biggest change in the team this season has been the talent that Mark Cooper has had to pick from up front.  Last season our standout front man was Nile Ranger, despite what happened in his personal life, no one could doubt his ability on the pitch.  But this season the club has gone from one gifted front man to three talented strikers.  Michael Smith, Andy Williams and Jonathan Obika have racked up 21 goals between them in the league so far this season, nearly ¾ of all Town’s goals in League One.

Chairman Lee Power and manager Mark Cooper have done a great job in producing a competitive team in League One considering the cut backs that have had to be made in the first team, especially the wage bill.

In the last three meetings between the sides, Swindon have been fortunate enough to face a Bristol City side on a bad run of results, but this season they face an unbeaten team full of confidence.  We all know that local derbies never follow the script, with Swindon the home side and missing key players and City the visitors, riding high in the league, it promises to be a must-watch game in Wiltshire this Saturday.”

Huge thanks to Dan for his insight, let's hope his concern at the missing internationals proves a valid one.

It looks and feels like our toughest test of the season to date, at a venue where traditionally we haven’t had loads of success, from memory (stats may tell a different story). What is certain is we’ll have to be firing on all cylinders to get something from the game, but we all know we can do that this season.


The Exiled Robin

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