This time last year Swindon Town fans had reason to worry as 2009 approached.
The club had gone over one month without replacing Maurice Malpas who was sacked after a poor start to the season which saw the side produce plenty of dire, lacklustre performances.
First Ian Holloway (now manager of Blackpool) was favourite, then it was John Ward (now assistant manager at Stockport) after several big bets were placed. We read Richard Money (now manager of Luton) was set to takeover and then Town legend Colin Calderwood (now assistant manager at Newcastle) was on the brink… Even former player Dave Hockaday’s name was mentioned (he now manages Forest Green Rovers).
The board had already showed more than positive signs of moving the club in the right direction as far as the off-the-pitch running of the club was concerned – that cannot be questioned. However, the appointment of Malpas and their struggle to replace him was clearly frustrating the Town fanbase – especially as the supporters were enduring another season of dire football on show.
In mid-December fellow strugglers Hartlepool United had ditched Danny Wilson after two-and-a-bit seasons in charge that included gaining promotion to League One finishing 2nd (one place above Town). Wilson’s tenure at Victoria Park had run its natural course – they were in need for a change.
So when the announcement was made on Boxing Day 2008 that Danny Wilson was Swindon’s new manager I guess it’s not surprising that many Town fans questioned the appointment.
Let’s face it, Danny Wilson would hardly bring stayaway fans surging back into the County Ground. People said it was simply a cheaper/easier option as we were unable to get other options out of their current jobs.
After months of scrapping, we avoided relegation. It wasn’t pretty and despite it being a bit of a safety excuse of many new managers he never blamed the previous regime. Simon Cox kept us up, but the likes of Gordon Greer, Owain Tudur Jones and Hal Robson-Kanu all did their bit… all three Wilson signings.
In the close season Wilson took bold and braves steps to improve the side – out went 13 professionals on free transfers on the same day (Pat Kanyuka, Simon Cox and Jerel Ifil would follow them out of Wiltshire later), only Craig Easton and Lescinel Jean-Francois earned extended deals.
In came Jonathan Douglas, Scott Cuthbert and David Lucas as new backbone of the club. Lucas has added a bit more stability between the sticks while Cuthbert has forged a fine partnership with Gordon Greer who became the sides captain. Douglas often stands out as too good for this level. Add Simon Ferry to the squad on a permanent basis and work on the ever-improving partnership between Billy Paynter and Charlie Austin then things could get exciting.
It’s important to write that we’re not there yet – we still find ourselves losing 5-0 at Gillingham (!) and 3-0 at Bristol Rovers along with a poor loss at home to Hartlepool United. There have also been those frustrating draws that leave fans wondering if it could be any better!
What is certain though is that we started the year worrying that League Two was creeping up on us again and now one year on we’re keeping up with the Play-Off pack.
Much can change between now and the end of the season – but well done to Danny Wilson and his coaching staff on improving the clubs form in 2009 and here’s hoping we can have something to genuinely cheer about in 2010 and beyond.
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