As it turned out, it was with a whimper rather than surge that Swindon ended their hugely disappointing league campaign this term, a capitulation not dissimilar to last season’s run-in which handed over the reins of power to Leeds and Millwall respectively in the race for promotion. Conversely, this time around, the action was played out to affect matters at the foot of the table, rather than the summit.
When Paul Hart was announced as Danny Wilson’s replacement in early March three key fixtures lay ahead of him in the space of a week, a trip to Plymouth sandwiched by the visits of Dagenham and Redbridge and Walsall, all fellow strugglers. From the fixtures Hart’s men took two points, the performances were improved defensively but we continued to look toothless up top.
Chairman Andrew Fitton must have been hoping that Hart’s perceived level of Ray Mears style extreme survival, embodied in great escapes with Portsmouth and Crystal Palace, could galvanise the players for these fixtures and grind out three results. Sadly, this faith was not rewarded in output.
It was perhaps with a sense of irony then, that it was at Hillsborough last term that Crystal Palace’s 2-2 draw on the final day of the season confirmed Hart’s team’s Championship status and consigned Wednesday to league one, and that this season Hart’s men lost out, Neil Mellor scored his 19th and 20th goals of the season to help the owls to a 3-1 victory.
The majority of Swindon fans, not residents in an asylum, had accepted that relegation was probably a matter of when and not if, particularly after witnessing the tactics employed by Mr Hart against our fellow strugglers at home, setting the team up in a, Burley-era Scotland, defensive 4-5-1 formation.
Now the task of rebuilding for next season, captain Jonathan Douglas, who finally scored his first in a Town shirt on Easter Monday with an 18 yard piledriver, revealed in an interview that each of the Town players have a clause in their contract that can be activated by the board to extend their stay by a year, so “it’s in the board’s hands if I stay or go”.
The big news, however, is that the man who has the task of rebuilding the club over the summer and mounting a serious challenge to a return to league one is not, as expected, Andrew Fitton. At a press conference on 27th April Andrew Fitton resigned as club chairman ending a tenure of over three years having saved the club from certain extinction. Since then the club has revived itself under the stewardship of Mr Fitton, and it is a club to be proud of supporting once more.
That was embodied in the rage felt by Town fans directed at Paul Hart on Easter Saturday as Swindon gave away a lead at home to fall foul of a 2-1 defeat against Notts County. That is Mr Fitton’s legacy and it is one he should be proud of. Town fans now feel anger rather than apathy when they see abject displays and it has not been that way for the best part of a decade.
Taking his place in the chair is director Jeremy Wray, whose first task will be to decide who will take charge of first team affairs in order to as he puts it “mount a promotion push”.
It will not be Paul Hart, whose negative tactics, questionable team selections and flippant media handling style has not endeared himself to Town fans. That said, some of the abuse that has been levelled in his direction in recent weeks at the County Ground has been nothing short of disgraceful. While I understand pride in your club, Paul Hart is just a man trying to do a job and to come under that level of single-syllabic vitriolic spew from your own fans has been totally unacceptable.
To get out of league two, we need a manager who can create a siege mentality but who can also grind out results on pitches that aren’t in such a fantastic condition as the carpet that we play on in SN1. They need to have an adept backline and encourage the players through tactics to get forward, something that Paul Hart seemed incapable of achieving. Some names already circulating are former players like Paul Bodin and Paul Trollope who, presumably, fans would hope could have a similar effect to Kenny Dalglish at Anfield, though I am dubious about their respective management records.
Some fans are keen for a punt to be taken on big names with no managerial experience, like Robbie Savage, Robbie Fowler or Andy Cole, the latter two working as coaches at league one clubs Huddersfield and MK Dons respectively in recent seasons. This worked well when Dennis Wise was appointed in 2006 when Swindon last graced the bottom tier but also risks the club being used as a stepping stone.
Glenn Hoddle has been Mr Fitton’s guest at the County Ground in recent weeks and his legend goes before him having guided Town to the Premiership in the early 1990’s but would be dependent on him standing aside at his Spanish Academy and this seems unlikely.
Once the decision has been made on the man at helm in the dugout for next season, the overhaul of playing staff must begin and it remains to be seen how big a turnover of players is on the cards. Promotion as champions, must be the aim.