How Swindon Town are flourishing under the management of Richie Wellensby Gabriel Sutton / 16 September 2019, 16:30Tweet
Richie Wellens’ Swindon Town are second in League Two after a 3-0 win over Macclesfield.
Even at this early stage, the Robins look prime promotion contenders, having appeared as bottom-half fodder 10 months earlier.
What has Wellens got right since taking charge? The Sack Race investigates...
Before vs after
In Swindon’s 36 League Two matches that preceded Wellens taking over - we include the 4-0 defeat to Carlisle as that came before he had had a full week of training – they took 42 points under David Flitcroft and Phil Brown combined.
That averages out at 54 over a full season – the same number that low-budgeted Morecambe accrued in 2018-19.
In Swindon’s 36 league matches under the Mancunian, they have taken as many as 60 points – enough to give them 77 over a full season, which is more than Tranmere who got promoted via the Play-Offs and Mansfield, who missed out on the automatics on the final day.
Before Wellens took over Swindon looked short of ideas and wholly reliant on individuals like Michael Doughty and Steven Alzate, then on loan from Brighton.
One of the things the former Doncaster midfielder tried to change was to introduce more clarity in terms of style of play, with high-pressing and quick transitions being a key feature of their work.
This had great success against the top sides and Swindon won 3-2 at MK Dons and 3-1 at Bury in the second half of last season, but a run of home games in which they struggled to break down lower placed sides stalled their momentum and put pay to their Play-Off chances.
Still, the progression was there for all to see.
Swindon appear to have got their recruitment right this summer – and while Lee Power has not yet earnt the trust of all natives, he should be credited for not only picking the right manager but also backing him.
10 of their 13 signings are under 28, while seven have played at least two divisions higher.
What this means is that the Robins have signed players who are of a high-pedigree for this level, but who are also somewhere near the peak of their careers – Lloyd Isgrove and Jerry Yates being classic examples.
The switch to two up top
Swindon’s formula in the second half of last season was 4-3-3 with Theo Robinson – then on loan from Southend – flanked by Keshi Anderson and Kaiyne Woolery.
This year, though, Wellens has moved towards a 4-4-2 – maybe because he thinks with two strikers by trade, they have the wherewithal to hold onto the ball high up the pitch against deep-lying opposition.
Eoin Doyle arrived with a good goalscoring record at Chesterfield and Oldham, but also with mixed reviews from Bradford fans who questioned his work ethic.
There is no doubting though the work ethic of Yates, who signed from Rotherham in the summer and, having been a willing runner throughout his career to date, has displayed a real hunger to build up his upper-body strength and become a more aggressive centre-forward.
In the only two home games with Doyle and Yates up top, Swindon have scored six goals against bottom-half opposition, which shows they are eradicating a key issue from the previous campaign.
When Wellens first took charge, left-back looked a key area to strengthen.
Swindon were short of a natural, left-footed player in that position – surely they needed to solve that problem and give themselves an equivalent to Callum MacFadzean at Bury or Harry Toffolo at Lincoln?
Zeki Fryers’ injury though, in late August’s 1-0 home defeat to Northampton, has handed another opportunity to Ellis Iandolo – and so far, he is proving he can be the answer.
Although the right-footed attacking midfielder by trade does not have the wherewithal to attack on the outside, his technical quality means he can find inside passing avenues that your more conventional left-back might not see.
Sometimes when injuries or suspensions occur, managers should see it as not a disruption, but an opportunity to learn something new about the squad and potentially gain something different – that has proved the case with Iandolo’s resurgence.
The Grant and Rose combo
Anthony Grant joined Swindon on loan on transfer deadline day and has already shown the potential to be a key addition, having contributed to the team dominating the midfield battle against Leyton Orient and Macclesfield.
Grant was frozen out at Shrewsbury – he did not quite fit into the 3-5-2 system that Sam Ricketts wanted there – but there is little doubting his capabilities at this level.
The former Crewe ball-winner is strong, tenacious and defensively disciplined, making him the perfect foil for the more technically accomplished Daniel Rose.
It may be premature to talk about Wellens in terms of a Championship job just yet, because he is still to achieve something tangible as a manager – and no doubt he is very dedicated to his current work.
It is, however, very clear that both at Oldham and Swindon, Wellens has drastically improved the team’s on-field fortunes.
In fact, the 39-year-old is not just improving results at the County Ground but, through his ambition and determination, he is changing the culture of a club from one that had been in decline over the previous four years into one that is progressive and forward-looking.
An exciting future awaits.