Swindon facing uncertain future

Wednesday 8th May 2013 21:30

Kevin MacDonald: Summer of rebuilding for Swindon boss

Kevin MacDonald: Summer of rebuilding for Swindon boss

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Swindon's FanZone blogger Christopher Panks believes the club faces a difficult next season after missing out on promotion from League One.

It is difficult to know where to begin with analysing the second leg of Swindon's play-off semi-final with Brentford, let alone the season.

At every milestone, from full-time in the first leg to the conclusion of extra time in the second, the scoreline, at least figuratively, reset to 0-0.

The sides were inseparable, and following three and a half gruelling hours of football, the tie, poised at 4-4, would be decided by penalties, a toss of a coin.

Swindon's teenage striker Miles Storey saw his penalty saved by Simon Moore in the Brentford goal and so the home side proceed to Wembley 5-4 victors.

It was poetic that glory for the Bees came from the same penalty spot, in front of the same stand that their ambitions of an automatic promotion place evaporated with Marcello Trotta's missed injury time penalty. But this only really tells half the story.

With only a day's rest between the first leg on Saturday and Brentford's turn to host on Monday, Bees boss Uwe Rosler made four changes to his starting line up, a luxury not possible for Kevin MacDonald in the other dugout due to an extensive injury list.

The league's best home side predictably dominated the opening period and would have had a deserved two-goal cushion at half-time were it not for scrappy effort bundled over the line by Adam Rooney in the dying minutes.

That advantage was restored swiftly after the restart after a sloppy ball by Gary Roberts expertly played in Clayton Donaldson. Along with his strike partner Trotta, seemingly motivated to make amends for his indiscretion from 12 yards nine days earlier, Donaldson was very impressive, looking much more like a striker capable of his 24-goal season tally.

Chasing the game, MacDonald introduced fresh legs in the form of leading scorer Jim Collins and Raffa De Vita, reorganising the formation to 4-5-1.

The extra man in midfield, with De Vita on the right and Simon Ferry more central, allowed Swindon to deal with the controlling Toumani Diagouraga, challenge effectively for loose balls, press the opposition and most importantly retain possession.

Again Swindon were given a glimmer of hope as Joe Devera made the score 3-2, stabbing home a corner.

When, with 20 seconds of injury time remaining, Aden Flint's bullet header was blocked superbly on the line, it seemed that the chance to force extra time had passed.

But somehow, from the resulting corner, Flint rose highest again, and this time made no mistake in front of 1800 travelling fans. It is a moment that will not be quickly forgotten.

The extra time which followed was most noteworthy for Nathan Byrne's harsh dismissal for a second bookable offence, and then came the penalties.

Only one side could progress in a contest that neither side deserved to lose and that's what you get with a penalty shootout. The harsh nature is intrinsic of the beast.

The players performed admirably, as they have all season, and to get that far was an accomplishment in itself. At each setback they refused to give up, like a hulking boxer who drags himself from the canvas. Swindon left it late but despite repeated falls, when the final whistle blew, they were on level terms. After 12 rounds, like their opponents, they were on their feet and could look them in the eyes as the judges announced their decision.

At least they made it as far as penalties; it was always going to be difficult.

For me, the problem lies in how often fans have had to frame experiences like this, this season. While it's right to praise the collective effort, character and resilience to correct a difficult circumstance, against strong opposition, to ignore that the situation was one of their own design is remiss.

Repeatedly it has happened this season. At least we've got Paolo. At least we've got a strong squad. At least we can bring in players on loan. At least we're strong financially. At least we've got Ritchie. At least we'll go up automatically.

One by one, each of these qualifications relinquished until the only one which remained was the most important of all - at least we've got a club.

After all, over the course of this year, it has been far from certain. Again, thinking in this way deflects from the unpalatable truth that the decisions of those within the club, fuelled by the understandable clamour of the fans to sail to the promised land of the championship, almost took the good ship Swindon over the edge of the world.

Now that the variables have been removed, clear direction needs to be instilled by the board and management team and quickly. While the shifting sands of whether we'll be playing in the same league or one up next year have been unresolved, no progress has been made on tying down talented players to longer contracts. Many are out of contract this summer.

A summer of change lies ahead as the board shape the strategic direction of the business they have secured and the manager sculpts the squad.

That five members of the youth squad, and Tottenham loanee Nathan Byrne have been offered deals before experienced, higher-earning players indicates that the wanton spending may be over.

If that is the case, MacDonald and his rookies will need time to develop and I hope that the Town faithful afford it.