A little under 12 months ago Charlie Austin burst through on goal for Swindon Town in their League One play-off final against Millwall at Wembley Stadium. With the game goalless, the prolific striker was expected to tuck away the chance and put the Robins on the road to promotion to The Championship. A bobble of the ball later, Austin put the chance wide and the Lions went on to break Swindon’s hearts by winning 1-0 and claiming the final promotion place from the third tier.
Since that date both Austin and his strike partner, Billy Paynter have moved on to pastures new. Paynter was the first to leave, joining Leeds United on a Bosman, with Austin moving to Burnley in January. The loss of those two tore the heart out of the Swindon team, and a run of poor results, which left the Robins in the relegation battle, led to the dismissal of manager Danny Wilson.
Now a year on and Swindon are leaving Npower League One, only in the wrong direction. The 3-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday on Monday, coupled with other results saw The Robins’ relegation to League Two confirmed. Caretaker boss, Paul Hart, was unable to repeat his escape act of the previous two seasons, when he saved Portsmouth and Crystal Palace respectively from relegation.
Hart’s reign at Swindon has been problematic. His public spat with loanee striker Mike Grella resulted in the American striker returning to his parent club, Leeds United. His inability to stem the tide of poor results saw him come under heavy criticism at the hands of the Town fans following the home defeat to Notts County on Saturday. Hart was so stung by the abuse from certain sections of the County Ground that he went public to vent his anger, telling the Swindon Advertiser: “It was disgraceful behaviour from those supporters – I’ve never witnessed anything like that before, I understand their frustrations, but the 33 games prior to us coming in have apparently been brushed under the carpet with them.”
Hart is not the first casualty though of the club’s relegation. Wednesday saw the resignation of chairman Andrew Fitton, ending his three-year control of the Wiltshire club. Fitton had taken over in 2008, when his consortium bought the club from previous owners, Sir Seton Willis and his son James, rescuing the club from extinction by paying off a £900k tax bill.
However in a statement on the club website, Fitton spoke of his disappointment at the club’s relegation saying: “I feel the time is therefore right for me to step away from my role as chairman, to draw a line under the frustrations of this season and recharge my batteries.”
His fellow consortium member, Jeremy Wray has been named interim chairman. The new chairman’s first task is to decide if Hart is to be the manager who will be tasked with leading the team in their first season in the bottom tier since 1985/86. The 57-year-old is set to meet Wray on Thursday to discuss his, and the club’s future.