Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
Richie Wellens is beginning to establish himself as one of the most exciting, young coaches in the EFL.
The fact he suffered relegation while in charge of Oldham last season is slightly misleading, because he inherited a side rock bottom; results imply that had he been in charge there for the whole season, they would have finished 13th.
Of course, his high-pressing methods need the right personnel and Wellens has been given the backing from chairman Lee Power to re-shape the squad.
The dearth of natural left-backs had hindered the Robins in the first half of the campaign, with midfielders Matthew Taylor and Ellis Iandolo deputizing.
Ali Koiki, who arrived on loan from Burnley, gives Wellens a much-needed natural option and he has already had a strong start to his senior career, making a proactive interception to prompt a give-and-go that set up the opener in a 2-1 win at Tranmere.
For the second goal, midfielder Michael Doughty attacked ruthlessly in transition, rounding off an incisive move with poise to re-emphasize his return to full fitness.
Under Phil Brown, Swindon had been reliant on one individual like Doughty, or Brighton loanee Steven Alzate, to engineer attacks single-handedly.
There is more coherence about their play under Wellens, who has found a system to incorporate withdrawn forwards Keshi Anderson and Kaiyne Woolery in the same eleven.
With young centre-backs in Luke Woolfenden, on loan from Ipswich and Tom Broadbent, who joined on loan from Bristol Rovers this month, they can play the high-line to sustain the pressing play that Wellens demands.
Crawley Town’s away record under Gabriele Cioffi is serious cause for concern.
Since the Italian took charge in September, the Red Devils have lost nine of their road encounters in League Two, the one exception being December’s 0-0 draw at Newport.
The return includes 3-1 losses at Notts County and Colchester, a 5-1 defeat at Tranmere and a 2-0 loss at Macclesfield.
Cioffi is finding it difficult to identify his best eleven, switching to a 3-5-2 system for last week’s 1-0 home defeat to Port Vale.
When Josh Payne is suspended – he completes a two-match ban this Saturday – Dannie Bulman is the only natural holding midfielder in the squad.
Bulman is a consummate professional who has given a lot to the game since starting out at Ashford Town in 1997 but, at 40, one questions whether he will have the legs to contain this Swindon midfield, which will overload central areas and be full of energy.
Crawley’s rear-guard looked unsure of itself last week; nobody quite knew who’s job it was to close down opposing striker Ricky Miller, who is not particularly quick and did not have many teammates in support, for Port Vale’s goal.
Against a Swindon side that fly forward in transition with pace and energy, the defensive issues in the Vale camp could be exposed even further.
Swindon to win -1 handicap – 5/2
You can also read Gabriel’s thoughts on this week’s Championship action here