Swindon Town Season Review 2011/12 Part 2
As 2011 ends on a high, Paolo Di Canio manages to clear up some funds by selling Elliot Benyon to Southend along with midfielder Michael Timlin who fell down the pecking order at Swindon. In a move of genius Town secure the permanent signing of Paul Benson who had been on trial at Town earlier in the season in exchange for temperamental striker Leon Clarke thus finally having something to show for the clubs investment in a striker from earlier on in the season. Town would also sell Will Evans to Hereford United after enjoying a successful loan spell earlier on in the season. 2012 got off to a cracker as Town welcomed Premier League side Wigan Athletic to the County Ground for an FA Cup third round showdown. Town came out of the starting blocks firing on all cylinders. Town man for man matched Wigan despite being 3 divisions above Town. On 35 minutes Town's luck ran out as Aden Flint was adjust to have tripped Ben Watson in the area. Up stepped Callum McManaman to take the penalty however Wes Foderingham saved the initial shot but McManaman would slot home the rebound giving the Premier League side a 1-0 lead. Town's spirits were not crushed and only five minutes later a Swindon Town cross would meet Alan Connell's head which would soar out of the reach of Wigan's Ali Al-Habsi sending the Town fans into raptures. At half Time it was 1-1, Town had more than matched their opposition. In the second half Paul Benson scored his first goal for Town due to a lucky deflection to give Town a well earned 2-1 lead. Town's fitness levels would shine through and Town would hold on to win meaning they were looking forward to a plum fourth round tie. After the match Di Canio dedicated the win to his late father and said that it was the greatest moment of his career to date. Town's giant killing exploits would galvanise the Town as well as the team. The following week Town travelled to Barnet for the first leg of the JPT Southern Area final. Town would take a 1-0 lead thanks to Aden Flint but would concede on 72 minutes meaning it was all to play for at the County Ground. The JPT match was followed by Town's first and only visit to the Don Valley Stadium to play hosts Rotherham United and secured an unlikely 2-1 win thanks to a Matt Ritchie brace.The exploits of Town's cup heroes were not going unrecognised with Matt Ritchie drawing interest from AFC Bournemouth. Bournemouth's interest was backed up by several bids, all that were re-buffed by the Town board who once again reiterate their desire to secure League One football at the first chance of asking. A return home to play Macclesfield Town followed next week and Town were able to grind out a 1-0 win over the Silkmen who were battling for their Football League lives however next week, Town would secure themselves as promotion hopefuls. Late in January Town released Alberto Comazzi from his contract along with Samsung win a contract winner Jordan Pavett who failed to make a first team appearance. Although players were leaving, Town were finally able to secure the signing of long sought after winger Luke Rooney from Gillingham after The Gills turned down a couple of previous bids from Town. On the 28th of January, Town made the trip to the King Power Stadium with the aim of causing another FA Cup upset against high spending Championship side Leicester City. Over 4,000 Town fans made the trip and sang the whole match despite going down 2-0 and for the first time this season, Town fans chanted 'We are going up'. Swindon Town would become perennial promotion candidates after beating League Two high flyers Southend United 4-1 at Roots Hall in a match they dominated from start to finish to round off January.
February began with a potential trip to Wembley Stadium on the cards as Barnet visited to the County Ground for the JPT Area final second leg. With the score 1-1 from the first leg, nerves were fraying during the match but Town would end up beating a resilient Barnet side 1-0 thanks to an Alan Connell strike and for the second time in two seasons, Swindon Town were going to Wembley. Town's trip to Wembley would also be the first time Paolo Di Canio would go to Wembley after failing to achieve the feat as a player. 7 days after a wild pitch invasion following the Barnet match, Swindon Town would welcome fellow promotion chasers Crawley Town to the County Ground. This time instead of insulting Swindon Town and making outlandish comments about the club and manager being a circus, Crawley boss Steve Evans stated that Di Canio was a breath of fresh air and good for the Football League. Di Canio questioned Evans sincerity asking why he insulted him and that Evans was now just trying to kiss his backside prior to their encounter. Over 8.300 flocked to the County Ground to witness what would be a highly charged encounter. Town would go on to win the match 3-0 once more much to the embarrassment of Evans who was on the receiving end of some strong abuse from the Town support. Evans would cause controversy by allegedly telling one of his players to break Luke Rooney's legs resulting in Town celebrating directly in front of the portly Crawley boss. Any hopes that Medhi Kerrouche would return to Swindon any day soon were dashed as Town shipped him to Oxford United on a months loan. On the 18th of February, Town travelled to Edgar Street and secured a massive 3 points against Hereford United thanks to goals from Paul Caddis and Paul Benson who was becoming somewhat of a cult hero following his goal scoring exploits since his arrival from Charlton a month earlier. The following Tuesday, Town hosted Shrewsbury under the floodlights in the best match we saw all season at the County Ground. Shrewsbury were perhaps one of the only teams who actually came to Swindon with the intention of playing attacking football. Shrewbsury were making all the right moves and would be rewarded on 40 minutes as the visitors opened the scoring with Matt Richards getting past recent loanee Daniel Boateng to give the Shrews a 1-0 lead heading into the break. Town seemed to be reinvigorated after the break with the introduction of Alan Connell into the game who would score a brace to give Town a massive 3 points ensuring they reached the summit of League Two. Town's impressive home form would continue with a pair of 2-0 wins over Dagenham and Redbridge and Burton Albion.
March promised to be a pivotal month for Town, with matches against Oxford United to whet the appetite of fans as well as the visit of fellow promotion chasers Cheltenham Town and Torquay United. To top if off Town would be playing in the Johnstones Paint Trophy final at Wembley Stadium against League One basement dwellers Chesterfield. Town's first game in March would be down the A420 at the Kassam Stadium. Despite Swindon giving Oxford over 3,000 tickets, Oxford gave town a Paltry 1,400 to fight over. Fans camped out over night to ensure they got tickets to the match, Town had no chance of securing extra tickets due to Oxford selling out their entire allocation in December and deciding against a temporary stand due to the costs involved in such a scheme. Di Canio was keen to make up for the loss at the County Ground admitting it still hurt, All 1,400 Town fans joined in a chorus of 'We are Swindon we're top of the League' to rile their opponents. Heading into the match all eyes were on James Constable. Earlier in the season Di Canio had claimed Constable was a Swindon fan and later had a bid accepted by Oxford to discuss terms with the player. Constable would refuse talks with Town following the bid being accepted and was the key threat to score against Town. Luck as it was went Town's way and Constable would be red carded shortly into the match. With a fierce atmosphere where Town fans were ducking debris from their neighbouring Oxford fans, it made for an uncomfortable afternoon at the Kassam Stadium. Nevertheless, shortly after Constable's dismissal it seems to rally Oxford's players with Asa Hall scoring past Wes Foderingham who had bobbled the ball to give the U's the advantage. Sadly it went from bad to worse for Town fans, as Lee Holmes who was on loan from Southampton, set up Oli Johnson who scored a second, it was a sucker punch Town never recovered from and Oxford had done the double over Swindon Town. Following the match however, despite fans being glum, Di Canio marched over to apologise to the fans and held his red and white scarf in the air in an act of defiance saying we were going up, Oxford were staying down. The fans responded with cheers and chants of being top of the league, we may have lost but our spirits weren't broke following Di Canio's actions. Relegation threatened Dagenham and Redbridge visited the County Ground the following week and were quickly dispatched 4-0. 4 days later Cheltenham Town who were nipping at Town's heals, visited the County Ground where over 10,000 fans saw Swindon nip a 1-0 win. The loss for Cheltenham would start a torrid run of results which would see them vanish from the promotion picture.
The following Saturday, Town hit the road for a clash at Gresty Road, a place Town had a rubbish record at as of late. Despite this, Town were favourites to add to their lead but would lose 2-0 before heading back home to play fellow promotion rivals Torquay United who were hoping to pull off an upset. Town would make up for the dismal performance at Crewe by beating Torquay 2-0 thanks to goals from Alan Connell and Oliver Risser who was starting to really make an impression in the side. Town would once again have a home game which would be a 0-0 stalemate against local rivals Bristol Rovers before heading on the road and recording successive victories over Barnet who were fighting for their Football League lives and Morecambe who had started the season brightly but slipped down the table as the season progressed. Next was the big one, Town's second trip to Wembley in two seasons. Town despite being in League Two, were heavy favourites against League One's Chesterfield who were fighting relegation most of the season. Over 30,000 fans from Wiltshire went to Wembley and hoped. The atmosphere was brilliant as Town fans congregated at the Green Man pub singing and drinking prior to kick off. That was as far as the fun went though, Town would lose the final 2-0, once again Swindon had failed to perform in a big match. Whilst disappointing, Swindon Town were on course for promotion back to League One which was the objective all season.
As April kicked off, Town were nearing promotion and at one stage were 9 points clear of second place Shrewsbury Town whose home record was raising eyebrows. Town returned home to play Northampton Town who put forward a spirited performance. It became clear, Teams were coming to Swindon to draw not win. Most teams would park the bus in front of goal and Northampton were no different. Town would go on to win the game following a Lee Holmes goal to give Town a vital 1-0 meaning they were only a win off promotion if other teams around them lost. With promotion now a real possibility, Town hosted Plymouth Argyle in front of over 10,000 fans at the County Ground. A lot was riding on the match, A win for Plymouth would ensure League football for the club next season whilst a win coupled with a Shrewsbury or Crawley loss or draw would see Town back in League One. The teams went into half time scoreless and the score remained the same until around 80 minutes, News had fed through that Crawley were losing meaning if Town could get a goal, they would be up. Alan Connell duly delivered sending the County Ground faithful into a frenzy. Sadly the joy was not to last, Crawley would equalise meaning the champagne was left on ice mathematically and that promotion could be won away on Tuesday at Aldershot Town. In fairness Town were un-officially promoted, Only a miracle would see them playing League Two football due to their superior goal difference. With over 1,400 Swindon Town fans travelling to Aldershot, Excitement levels were at an all time high, would promotion finally be secured just two days later?