The year 2020 has been surreal, it has been a year like no other. There has been a lot of ups and a lot of downs supporting Swindon Town this year. It started with a wonderful away day in Plymouth Argyle, was wondering if the year had peaked that day. Ended on a low 4-1 home defeat in front of no crowds at home to MK Dons. A lot has happened in between
The month of January felt like a soap opera itself a Telenovela if you will. Opening day of the year win at Plymouth Argyle with the Ginger Pele netting the winner from close range. Celebrating with the fans in the crowd, a few iconic photos flying around that day on social media… Bless Bless. The home game against Bradford City in the freezing cold was not an easy on the eye game. It ended up as a 1-1 draw, but there was worse news yet too come. As Eoin Doyle was recalled by Bradford City after his prolific start at Swindon. Some Swindon fans didn’t take it well on the social media, but it was the right thing to do. Looking at it now, we will be doing the same thing to Scott Twine in the next few days.
Without Doyle, it started well with that brilliant home win over Crewe Alexandra with a injury hit squad. Richie Wellens went on record saying that he had to change the shape and went with a 3-5-2 and it worked. Jerry Yates who took over the no9 mantle from Eoin Doyle netted with a proper strikers finish into the top corner. A week later was the real acid test which Swindon were undone by a very physical and direct Newport County, Swindon couldn’t get to grips to the style of play and succumbed to a 2-0 defeat. It was a style of clashes. Then Jerry Yates was re-called back to Rotherham for cover as they were struggling with injuries in their bid for promotion to the championship. Port Vale were put to the sword with one of the goals of the season contenders from Michael Doughty. The last game of the month was the second defeat of the month this time away at Colchester, losing the game 3-1. Where some Ex-Swindon players did the damage in Luke Norris and Theo Robinson. The madness to the end of the month was not over as Anthony Grant had his moved confirmed permanently after his loan move from Shrewsbury in the summer of 2019. Paul Caddis signed an 18-month contract, Rarmani Edmonds-Green signed on loan from Huddersfield. Hallam Hope signed from Carlisle for an Undisclosed fee; Admiral Muskwe signed on loan from Leicester City. Then the best news of all was the reunion of the boys of Jerry Yates and Eoin Doyle, Yates was signed back on loan from Rotherham till the end of the season and Eoin Doyle was signed for an undisclosed fee from Bradford and signed on a six-month contract. Matt Palmer was also added in on transfer deadline day to add competition to that midfield.
There were only four league games played in February as Swindon had two games called off. At the time we were thinking that would be a tough run in for march and April, sadly we were wrong. The month started with a brilliant home win over promotional rivals Exeter City 2-1, played in the wind tunnel. Hallam Hope netting the winner just before half time right in front of the travelling support. That day was wonderful, there was a sell out at the County Ground with over 13,000 In attendance for a league two match. That is how much people believed in this football club and their push for the promotion to league one. Back-to-back away games picked up 4 points for Swindon with a 1-1 draw against Carlisle and a crucial 1-0 win over Northampton thanks to a late winner from Jordan Lyden. The next game against Scunthorpe was called off due to the bad weather before kick-off, I was five minutes away from the ground when it was called off. Next game was a week later against Grimsby and Swindon won the game in convincing manor with a brilliant home performance winning the game 3-1. Mansfield game a week later was called off due to a waterlogged pitch
The start of March and there were only two games played, the re-arranged game against Scunthorpe on a freezing Tuesday night. Eoin Doyle scored a brace in that game and that was his first two goals back at the club after his January permanent move. The final game to be played in the month was the 2-0 home defeat to Forest Green Rovers. Little did we know this would be the last game with fans for close to 9 months. As just a few days before the away trip to Oldham, Football got suspended and put-on hold worldwide due to the global pandemic. It took Mikael Arteta to test positive two days before the next round of fixtures to be played for the season to be stopped. It was mad what was going on, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Cheltenham festival should never have gone ahead, and 3,000 Atletico Madrid fans should never have travelled down to Liverpool for the UCL Tie. That happened in a space of a few days and football was put on hold.
On June 9th, 2020, Swindon were announced as League Two Champions via PPG, even though being second in the league behind Crewe. Swindon had played a game less, Crewe Alexandra finished second and Plymouth Argyle finished third. Play offs were between, Northampton Town, Colchester United, Exeter City and Cheltenham Town. Northampton Town went up via the play offs after defeating Exeter convincingly 4-0 at an empty Wembley. This was surreal, I have seen Swindon Town win the league title three times. Twice at the County Ground in 1996 and 2012 and in 2020 at my Kitchen Table while working from home. Social distanced celebrations went viral on the socials, it was very disheartening that fans could not be there to celebrate properly. If there was no global pandemic it would have been perfect if Swindon clinched the title at home to Leyton Orient on the final home game of the season. One because it was a day after my birthday, but alas we had to wait a couple of months more.
The global pandemic hit the club hard, with the spending to get out of league two in January Swindon are feeling the effects of it now a few months into the league one season. That championship winning squad was ripped apart. The loan players bar Diallang Jaiyesimi went back to the parent clubs. Jaiyesimi was signed permanently on a long contract in the summer and that was a relief as he is a game changer. Eoin Doyle went to Bolton on a long contract and is closer to home and that deal totally made sense. Jerry Yates and Keshi Anderson departed to Blackpool. Danny Rose went to Grimsby; Luke McCormick went back to Plymouth Argyle. Kaiyne Woolery and Lloyd Isgrove left the club after prolonged chases and both went to league two clubs in Tranmere Rovers and Bolton, respectively. That loss of players and the experience lost has hurt the club in the league one campaign so far. They were not properly replaced and Swindon on the pitch are paying for it now.
There was good news on contract extensions with Zeki Fryers, Anthony Grant, Elis Iandolo, Mathieu Baudry and Rob Hunt all signed contract extensions. There was fear that both Grant and Fryers would leave to joint Blackpool, but that was rebuffed to sign new deals at the county ground. They were joined by new arrivals in Joe Fryer, Brett Pitman, Joel Grant, Jonathan Grounds, Akin Odimayo, Matt Smith, Tyler Smith, Jack Payne, Jordan Stevens, Matej Kovar and the returning Dion Donohue and Diallang Jaiyesimi. Scott Twine and Matt Palmer were sent out on loan to Newport County and Wigan Athletic, respectively.
The season starting in September started with back-to-back to defeats home in two different competitions. The league cup, Swindon were knocked out by Charlton Athletic with a 3-1 defeat, which was costly as Jordan Lyden picked up an injury and missed most of the season with it. just a few days later Swindon lost to WBA u23 in the EFL Trophy 3-2, a bit of a worrying start to the season conceding six goals in two games. That trend would continue so far this season.
The league season started off with a bang and a brilliant 3-1 home win over Rochdale but after the final whistle came the sad news that Michael Doughty had left the club for personal reasons. There were rumours flying around on social media before that game and Richie Wellens in the post-match presser was right to call that out. Those rumours can spread around like wildfire and when he was not in the match day squads for both WBA and Rochdale games you knew something was going on behind the scenes. The emotion and support in the next few days on social media was outstanding and I hope he is sorting out his personal problems and is enjoying his life outside of football.
The next game after the Rochdale home game was away at Blackpool and Swindon succumbed to a 2-0 home defeat with 1,000 fans in attendance as a pilot which the EFL tested in grounds in the UK. CJ Hamilton tore Swindon defence that day and got both goals, Swindon returned to home comforts with a 4-2 home win over Burton Albion. For the second home league game in a row, they raced to a 3-0 lead before half time. Good start to the month in September with 6 points of 9 in the league on which the club needed to concentrate on this season.
But October was a tough month, with a splatter of inconsistent performances and a poor run of form where Swindon were in the top half to relegation candidates in the space of a month. Five defeats in a row in all competitions and conceding goals for fun, started off with a 3-1 defeat away at Peterborough where Swindon should have been out of sight at half time. Missed 4-5 guilt edge chances and should have had a penalty on Paul Caddis. Not given and Peterborough made Swindon pay in the second half. Exeter hit 4 in an EFL Trophy game just a few days later and two late Swindon goals added respectability to the score line.
Back-to-back home defeats in the league followed against AFC Wimbledon and Sunderland without scoring. Then followed a worrying 2-1 away defeat at Northampton where you would be banking a better performance and a response, sadly did not get that and it was another disappointing result. I was so looking forward to this season but at that point I was thinking what the point is and what is happening behind the scenes at the football club. This was all happening before Swindon Town biggest game of the season a a420 derby against local rivals Oxford United. This game was called off due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the Swindon squad. That was the second game that Oxford United had called off in a space of a few weeks due to COVID-19 19. That game would be played at the end of November. Hull City came to the County Ground and were defeated in a spirited display 2-1 and the winner from Joel Grant was a brilliantly well worked goal. From front to back in seconds.
November was a horror show of a month, more bad defending, and costly mistakes away at Plymouth and at home to Darlington in the FA Cup an embarrassment of a display. That was sandwiched in between Richie Wellens leaving the club and moving to Salford City. He talked about loyalty in himself and at his players at the start of the year and in the summer and when the going got tough he uprooted and took Noel Hunt with him to go up north. You can understand why he left to be closer to home and the catchment area of Manchester of picking up players, but it left a bitter pill in the mouth with what he said previously about loyalty.
John Sheridan came in to take charge till the end of the season and safe to say it has not gone well. His first game in charge was the Shrewsbury game and Swindon did well to come from 3-1 down to salvage a 3-3 draw. Accrington Stanley home game was a disaster a horrible performance and was totally outplayed from start to finish and was lucky it was only a 3-0 home defeat. Then the first of two local derby wins, a gritty home win over Bristol Rovers thanks to a Brett Pitman close range header. The Lincoln defeat was tough, stupid defensive mistake and it could have been eradicated. Thought Swindon did okay in that game. But away at Oxford United our local rivals, Swindon managed to win a game against Oxford United in 19 years. March 2001 was the last time Swindon won against Oxford. Tom Broadbent was the hero, came on with half hour left and played up front a role which he is not used to playing in and netting both goals. Gone down in Swindon folklore.
You think Swindon form would pick up in December after that win against Oxford United, you would be horribly wrong. 5 defeats out of 6 and Swindon ended the year second bottom and staring back into the abyss of league two football again. The rot stopped just before xmas with that late equaliser from Brett Pitman against Charlton in front of 2,000 fans. But that was just short lived with that horrible display against MK Dons where the game was lost in the first half with such a passive display. Back to no crowds, as in the last few days Swindon went from tier 3 to tier 4. Back to soulless empty stadiums.
The Calendar year reading for 2020 is quite horrifying, 64th best team of 92 with 40 points from 32 games with an average of 1.25 points per game. All that great work at the beginning of the year gone down the drain.
What next for Swindon Town in 2021 a new manager? the return of Scott Twine and Matt Palmer to bolster the squad from their loan deals. It feels like this club on the pitch is sleepwalking back to league two in a heartbeat. it feels like the 05/06 and 10/11 season all over again where Swindon form in both seasons fell off a cliff and relegation to league two happened. Wonder if lightening will strike again.
Thanks to Scot Munroe for the 2020 review.. Happy new year town fans.