Town have small squad and ability to implode defensively
13 December ~ Jack Stephens, one of Swindon's three centre-backs, drifted in from the periphery of my vision. Then he began a diagonal off-the-ball run from his own half to the heart of Fleetwood's massed defence. His surprising move drew a marker and opened a gap for the ball to go through. A chance was created but missed. What on earth was he doing? It was a moment that summed up the boldness with which Swindon manager Mark Cooper has his team playing. That I wasn’t screaming at him to get back and defend also showed how much watching this side has changed me.
Like Stephens’s move upfield, the team's league position of second feels slightly false. Not because of the quality of their play or the growing abilities of the youngsters, but because of what underpins it: a squad of 17 regulars, buttressed with five loans, and with little experience of League football. Today’s opponents, Notts County, with the likes of Alan Smith and Roy Carroll, will provide stark contrast.
Swindon aren't afraid to keep the ball, despite just one of the last starting XI being over 24. And four straight league wins, coming against Preston, Bristol City, Peterborough and Fleetwood, have proved that they can even do so against rivals who are bigger, stronger and older.
Despite passing these tests, fans' caution stems from what is to come. In January, creative pivot Yaser Kasim and midfielder Massimo Luongo will depart for the duration of the Asian Cup, with Iraq and Australia respectively. And with the average home attendances almost 1,000 lower than last season, chairman Lee Power has admitted that another player could be yet be sold.
Seventh-place Notts County might be the lowest scorers in the top ten of League One but Swindon have also shown an ability to implode on the road – those marauding defenders can leave the sweeper exposed. Then, such as at Cheltenham Town in the FA Cup, the simplest long ball can lead to a goal. Or five, on that occasion.
Shaun Derry's first full season at County has shown remarkable progress from last season's near-relegation. However, being without a league win since the middle of November and reliant more on exceptional away performances than home ones, he will be hoping that the reputed “manager of the month curse” strikes November's winner – one Mark Cooper. Alex Cooke