TWELVE months ago we trundled to London Road, Peterborough with low expectations to see a hastily-assembled Swindon Town side take on one of the League One title favourites, writes Danny Hall.
Despite being beaten we came away knowing that the new-look Town had the potential to be formidable.
I still firmly believe that had we been able to keep Nile Ranger – who joined soon after – on the straight and narrow, we would have made the play-offs and won the JPT along the way.
Fast forward to the County Ground on Saturday and the start of a campaign in League One where there are no Wolves and Brentford, and nothing especially frightening in the trio demoted from the Championship nor the quartet coming up from League Two i.e. the division will be easier to win this year.
Unfortunately, Town have signally failed to fill the void left by the departures of Alex Pritchard, Ranger and Troy Archibald-Henville among others; we are diminished by their absence.
What we do have is the core of last year's side in the Nathans – Thompson and Byrne – plus super-keeper Wes Foderingham and arguably two of the best midfielders in the division, Massimo Luongo and Yaser Kasim, who were the architects of Swindon’s 3-1 victory over newly-promoted Scunthorpe on Saturday.
Iraqi international Kasim was good in the first half – in the second he ran the show as if guesting from the Premiership.
Give yourself a treat and get along to watch Kasim sometime – he is usually worth the £25 entrance money on his own.
So the midfield is fine – until both Luongo and Kasim are tempted away to play in the Asian Cup in January for Australia and Iraq respectively, but what of the defence and attack?
Having gone 2-0 up in 12 minutes with some delightful football, we then tried to self destruct and the makeshift back three of Josh Lelan, Jordan Turnbull and captain Nathan Thompson could quite easily have let in six goals before half-time.
The simple expedient of hitting a long ball at our new 5ft 9in central defender led to the goal that put Scunny back in the game. Why the visitors did not persevere with this tactic, I don't know.
And each cross which came in caused panic in our ranks. Only poor finishing, fine saves from Foderingham and rank bad luck for the visitors stopped it from becoming a little embarrassing. Then our third goal against the run of play right on the break killed off the opposition.
The sooner centre back Jack Stephens arrives back from Southampton on loan the better. We know his huge capabilities from last season.
Apart from understandably being out-jumped in the build-up to their goal, I thought Thompson was excellent, Jordan Turnbull showed potential but this jury is out on Lelan.
Liverpool’s Brad Smith, while not having quite the same success down the flanks as his opposite number Byrne, grew as the game went on.
But I remain convinced that perming any two from three up front with Michael Smith (despite his two tap-in goals), Andy Williams and midfielder Ben Gladwin is not the way forward.
We desperately need a striker who can consistently unsettle defences – and, of course, they don't come cheap.
Until we find that player the main reason for going to the County Ground will be to see an artist like Kasim at work.