The new league season is here, host of Express FM’s Football Hour and Pompey Live pundit Jake Smith turns the spotlight on newly promoted Swindon Town as part of his club-by-club preview.
Intro: The Robins, who were founded in 1879 as Swindon AFC, are one of three football clubs based in and around the town of Swindon, alongside non-league sides Swindon Supermarine and Swindon Spitfires.
Swindon Town, however, boast the accolade of being the only Wiltshire-based football club in the Football League, only Salisbury City (now Salisbury FC) have come the closest in recent history to becoming the county’s second professional team.
The club’s nickname ‘The Robins’ derives as a reference to the former name of the European robin – “redbreast” – and has been recognised by the club since the start of the 1902/03 campaign, when the title began to appear in the matchday programme notes.
Swindon are able to show off somewhat of a respectable trophy cabinet for a club which has only once graced the heights of the Premier League – the Robins have twice won promotion to the top-flight via the Play-Offs in the division now referred to as the Championship, five-times been promoted from this league (once as champions) and have won the League Two title on three separate occasions, one of which being in 1986 when it was known as the Fourth Division. The club also have one League Cup title to their name and have been runners-up of the EFL Trophy and the FA Charity Shield.
Home Ground: County Ground (Also known as The Energy Check County Ground for sponsorship purposes), Swindon (Wiltshire), 85 miles (by car) from Fratton Park – Capacity: 15,728
2019/20 Table Position: 1st (Automatically Promoted from League Two) – 69 points after 36 games with an average of 1.92 points per-game.
Overall Head-To-Head Record: Swindon Town Wins: 28 – Draws: 18 – Portsmouth Wins: 23
Previous Meeting With Pompey: Swindon Town 0-2 Portsmouth, 21st July 2018, Pre-Season Friendly
2020/21 Fixture Dates:
Saturday 26th December, 2020 – Fratton Park
Tuesday 20th April, 2021 – County Ground
Manager: 40-year-old former Blackpool and Leicester City midfielder Richie Wellens is the man in charge of Swindon Town.
He took up the role following the sacking of previous manager Phil Brown in November 2018. Wellens managed to help the Robins to a 13th-place finish after a poor start left supporters fearing relegation.
In his first full-season as boss, he secured the League Two title as a result of the unweighted points-per-game system, which was put in place following the curtailment of the 2019/20 season due to COVID-19.
Wellens’ only previous managerial job came at Boundary Park, where he was appointed on a permanent basis in October 2017 after a five-match unbeaten run whilst holding caretaker duties. He was relieved of his duties in June 2018 after Oldham were relegated down to League Two.
One To Watch: Former Blues striker Brett Pitman will undoubtedly cause problems for the Pompey defence when the two sides come toe-to-toe this season.
The 32-year-old spent three-years at PO4 and, in his first season at the club, netted 25 goals across all competitions to become the Pompey’s leading scorer for the campaign and the first player since Svetoslav Todorov to score 20 goals or more for the club in the same season.
Jersey-born Pitman will don the No. 8 shirt for Swindon this season and is contracted until next summer – he ended his spell at Fratton Park controversially, though no official word of a fall-out between him and manager Kenny Jackett ever came to fruition. Pitman scored 37 goals in 81 competitive matches for Portsmouth.
Signing of the Summer (So Far): 22-year-old Aspire Academy graduate Diallang Jaiyesimi, known simply as ‘DJ’ by Town supporters, will be acknowledged as one of the best transfers into the club this season – joining Swindon on a permanent basis from Norwich City, for whom he failed to make a single appearance during his four years at Carrow Road.
The No. 7 can play pretty much anywhere in attack, having previously known to fill-in as a winger, a central-attacking midfielder and up-front too – his ability to perform well in a number of roles is something which rightfully attracted the attention of so many clubs earlier in the summer.
Jaiyesimi is also known for his powerful play, big physical presence and pace on the counter-attack.
Despite being born in England, the attacker has previously been selected to play for Nigeria Under-20s, with the then Team Nigeria UK boss claiming: “Jaiyesimi is a Nigerian and he has been approached to play for Nigeria, he will be available to play for Nigeria if called upon.”
Though still only young, DJ has yet to feature for the senior side on the international stage.
Season Expectation: Swindon Town come into the new League One campaign as one of the four newly-promoted sides from the basement tier and arguably one of the strongest of the bunch.
The first objective of any promoted team is to secure survival, though expectation amongst Robins supporters is a little more than that.
The squad and the depth within at Wellens’ disposal reflect a team who should be avoiding a relegation dog-fight and instead pushing on to a respectable mid-table finish.
My Predicted Finish: 17th
A New Era in League One for The Robins – Swindon Come Prepared
Swindon Town supporter Ben Nicholls, who has been following the club since 1992, is unsure why a lot of opposing fans in League One have his side down to be battling against relegation this season, explaining why he believes the Robins are well prepared for life in the third-tier: “A lot of fans will look at us initially and think we are going to struggle because we’ve lost Eoin Doyle and Jerry Yates. However, very little goals were coming from midfield last season and we’ve taken care of that.
“Once we have a big, new number 9 with League One goalscoring experience”, Ben continued, speaking before the signing of Brett Pitman, “we’ll be more than comfortable.”
Discussing the impact that the newly-imposed salary cap has had on Richie Wellens’ side, the Town supporter claimed: “Not a great one, our budget would not have been more than £2.5million anyway. Besides, it’s not much of a cap at the moment as pre-existing contracts are unaffected so, to most clubs, there’s not a lot of difference.”
Ben then went on to reveal his expectations of Swindon for their first season back in League One, since their relegation in 2017: “I’d say top-half, this is going to be a tight league. I am predicting anywhere between 6th and 11th.”
“Our best signing of the summer, without a doubt, has to be DJ (Diallang Jaiyesimi) – when he was released, a lot of Norwich fans were confused as to why, especially considering their relegation. Many Canaries supporters thought that he could play a real part in the Championship this season.”
At the time of writing, Richie Wellens has also added Arsenal youngster Matt Smith, Reading centre-half Akin Odimayo, Jack Payne from Lincoln City and Tyler Smith, on-loan striker from Sheffield United. He has also brought in goalkeeper Matej Kovar from Manchester United, Bristol City winger Jonny Smith and former Blues forward Brett Pitman, who left Fratton Park at the end of his contract earlier this summer.
Jaiyesimi, who had been reported by reputable journalist Alan Nixon as to having 20 clubs chasing his signature, also had offers from Championship clubs, but ultimately chose Swindon Town as his next challenge. Ben was quick to point out DJ’s best attributes and what he can offer to Swindon this season: “He can play as a number 10 or a wide man in a front-three, he has quick feet and is full of tricks and can score plenty of goals.”
When the 22-year-old put pen-to-paper on a permanent deal at the County Ground earlier this summer, following a successful loan spell last campaign, manager Richie Wellens called it a major coup for the club, before saying: “He can be anything he wants to be in his career.”
“I would certainly choose DJ as a player who could go under the radar next season, in particular with fans who aren’t too familiar with Swindon Town. He is unknown to League One fans but everyone will soon know just who he is and what he can do.” – Ben alluded.
Moving on to the style of play set up by gaffer Richie Wellens, Ben suggested what makes the former Leicester City midfielder so popular amongst Swindon supporters: “It’s his high-tempo, aggressive high-press brand of football, which is very entertaining to watch. Players do, however, need to be extremely fit to maintain performance levels for the full 90 minutes. We do tend to suffer with a number of muscle injuries because of it.”
To move forward in the right direction following their promotion from League Two back in June, Ben underlined the importance of keeping the gaffer at the club: “We need to do whatever we can to keep Wellens. He always said this club has the potential to sustain itself in the Championship. As long as that is the goal, and everyone is pulling in that direction, he will remain here.
“He has so far been a man of his word and turned down jobs at Blackpool and Doncaster recently. The man almost has a god-like status with the fans. In November 2018, when he took over the club, Swindon were a mess. We were 18th in League Two and sleepwalking towards non-league football but since then, we’ve signed over 30 players and I can only think of three who haven’t worked out – that’s an unbelievable success rate.
“The big test”, Ben concludes, “is when Championship clubs come knocking, which will happen if our season goes how we expect it to.”
As an outsider to events at Portsmouth, the Swindon supporter began to pitch in with how he sees the season unfolding at Fratton Park: “It’s an odd one for me. Coming from League Two, I can’t say I’ve followed League One closely at all. I though Pompey had a decent season last time out. The quality of both sides in those Play-Off Semi-Finals, however, was poor, although understandable after the prolonged break.
“Oxford were there for the taking in both games and you threw it away. In terms of Kenny Jackett, he’s a manager who has achieved promotion from this level a few times. I’m assuming that the fans have a problem with how long he is in the tooth, which can be said also of a few of the larger clubs in the league with Phil Parkinson (Sunderland) and Paul Lambert (Ipswich) too.
I expect big pressure on Kenny this year if the club is not in and around the top-two fairly early on. If Portsmouth do decide to press the reset button, I would recommend Ryan Lowe, who is relatively new on the management scene but has already recorded two promotions in two seasons for Bury and Plymouth.”
You can follow Ben on Twitter – @pieman80