On Easter Monday, Swindon Town became the first club to be relegated from League One this season. A 3-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday confirmed their place in League Two next term, a feat that few would have predicted at the start of the season – following their success in the previous campaign.
Little under a year ago, Swindon were just 90 minutes away from the Championship, after a 1-0 defeat to Millwall in the play-off final saw the Robins narrowly miss out on promotion from League One. But, fans remained confident that the club would mount a similar promotion charge this season. So why is it Swindon now find themselves exiting the division in the wrong direction?
The club were dealt an early blow in the summer when top-scorer Billy Paynter turned down a new deal in favour of a move to newly-promoted Leeds. However, the club did keep hold of his striker partner Charlie Austin, who had been a sensation since joining from non-league Poole Town the previous year. Along with this, Togo striker Thomas Dossevi was brought in to help fill the void Paynter had left.
Poor start to the season
A disappointing start to the season saw the club without a win in the league until mid-September, a run which had seen Swindon drop into the relegation zone. However, two wins in two weeks against Southampton (one being in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy) reminded everyone of their promotion credentials. Wins against Walsall and Huddersfield saw them move further up the table.
But, in what seemed to be a very stop-start early season, they went on to suffer two defeats in a week – to Plymouth and Dagenham and Redbridge. After another JPT win against Torquay, they went on to beat Bristol Rovers. However, this was followed by a four-match winless streak in the league, a run which saw them plummet down the league.
After an FA Cup win against Plymouth, they dropped out of the JPT after losing on penalties to Brentford. But, a win in early November against Colchester saw them pull out of the bottom four. Again, they could not build on this and had to wait until December for their next win.
On the end of a giantkilling
An undoubted low-point of the season was the defeat to non-league Crawley in the FA Cup. After an initial draw away from home, the Blue Square Bet Premier side won 3-2 in extra time at the County Ground. Luckily, the bad weather moved in and gave the club a bit of time to regroup over the Christmas period. A 1-1 draw with Peterborough rounded off 2010.
After a 2-1 defeat at Bournemouth on New Year’s Day, the Robins recorded an impressive 4-2 win away at high-flying Charlton, helped by a brace from top-scorer Charlie Austin. Although the fans were hopeful of a 2011 revival, little did they know that this would be the last time they tasted victory until April.
Disappointing defeats to Oldham, Yeovil Bristol Rovers saw the club on the brink of the relegation zone. The club decided to sell promising defender Sean Morrison to Reading and, following the 0-0 draw with Tranmere, top-scorer Charlie Austin left to join Burnley.
This proved a pivotal point in the season. Looking back over results from the point they sold Austin proves it. While Austin was at the club, the scored 37 league goals – since his departure, they have managed just 11 goals. The last thing you want to do when battling relegation is sell your main source of goals!
In an attempt to fill the huge gap left by Austin, boss Danny Wilson brought in Elliot Benyon from Torquay on transfer deadline day. Despite this, February proved to be as disappointing for the club and things seemed to get worse. From the six games they played, Swindon managed to pick up just a single point – courtesy of a late Benyon equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Rochdale. The club also found themselves stuck in the relegation zone, with just a brief escape post-Southampton defeat thanks to superior goal difference.
With the club looking at a desperate battle to avoid the drop to League Two, boss Wilson decided enough was enough and resigned on March 2. The club wasted no time in replacing him, bringing in experienced head Paul Hart, who had helped Crystal Palace survive in the Championship the previous season.
The failed Hart transplant
However, the Hart-factor came to no avail as March offered little more in hope of avoiding the drop. A 0-0 draw with Walsall in early March saw the club re-enter the bottom four – a place they would fail to leave for the rest of the season. The Robins went on to pick up a further two points that month, thanks to draws with Dagenham and Redbridge and Huddersfield.
With desperation and panic truly set in at the club, they were given a glimmer of hope when recent loan signing Calvin Andrew scored the winner at Brentford – their first win since the turn of the year. However, the damage had already been done and three games later they would find themselves relegated.
Consecutive home defeats to MK Dons and Notts County left the club on the brink of relegation to League Two – something that was finally confirmed by a loss at Hillsborough on Easter Monday. Fans of the club would probably accept it had been inevitable and just a matter of time.
So where does that leave Swindon now? Paul Hart has departed, chairman Andrew Fitton has resigned – things do look bleak for the Robins. All fans can hope for is a positive end to the season, with both Oldham and Tranmere still to play.
But let this be a lesson to other clubs who fail in the play-offs this season. One year you may find yourself just missing out on bigger and better things, but the next you would give an arm and a leg to be in that position again. Just ask Leeds fans, they suffered the same fate a few years ago.