|view Sturrock's match-by-match record|
Once Dennis Wise had departed for Leeds United after just five months in charge, the Town board gave club captain Ady Williams the chance to manage the side in a caretaker capacity. Originally given six games to impress, consecutive defeats in his first two games prompted the board to think again, and Paul Sturrock was approached - who himself had recently been sacked by Sheffield Wednesday despite supporter pressure to the contrary. After signing a three year deal early in November 2007, it was made clear that Sturrock's contract with Swindon had a special clause inserted, ensuring that he could not leave the County Ground for at least eighteen months, to avoid a similar scenario as with Wise.
"Luggy" wasted no time in stamping his authority at Swindon - within three days of his arrival, striker Fola Onibuje felt Sturrock's wrath, being released on loan after an alleged disagreement at the new boss' first training session. By the end of the year, seven more players left the Town's books - two being released, two loan players returning to their parent clubs, two loans that eventually ended in permanent transfers, and one retiring through injury. Others were told that they were surplus to requirements. Sturrock signed just three players to replace them - Sofiane Zaaboub, a player who he had taken on trial at Wednesday; Michael Timlin on loan from Fulham, and his son, Blair, who had been without a club since being released by Rochdale at the end of the previous season.
On the pitch, Sturrock had a clear vision of the way his side would play - a direct, hard-working style, using wide men to regularly deliver crosses into the danger area. The plan seemed to work almost immediately - Swindon winning their first four games under the new regime, December bringing victories over champions-elect Walsall and promotion chasing Bristol Rovers, and an undefeated league programme in January, including four straight victories and an important win over MK Dons, brought the Manager of the Month award to the County Ground. The only blemishes on Sturrock's record were defeats at lowly Mansfield and Macclesfield, and an exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Championship side Crystal Palace - Swindon sat in second place in the table, five points clear of fourth placed Hartlepool, who were the Town's next opponents.
Unfortunately, the curse of the Manager of the Month award was to strike. Hartlepool went away from the County Ground with all three points, courtesy of an Andy Monkhouse goal - one of the players who Sturrock had let go during his first cull - and the defeat was just the first of a lean February, that yielded just four points and two goals - one of which came from the penalty spot.
March seemed to be going the same way - an unconvincing win at home to Accrington sandwiched between away defeats at Grimsby and Stockport - until Sturrock played his trump card during the last week of the transfer window. Sturrock secured the signature of five players, and though only one was to make a real impact, the others brought competition for places - but more importantly, the signings allowed Sturrock to implement a more effective version of his style of play. Striker Barry Corr was drafted straight into the first eleven to play alongside youngster Lukas Jutkiewicz, whilst usual strikers Lee Peacock and Christian Roberts dropped back into midfield - Peacock in the centre, Roberts on the wing. The new lineup took the field for the first time in a televised encounter at fourth-placed Lincoln - the 3-2 victory putting the Town back into the automatic promotion slots - Corr scoring on his debut, and ironically Roberts and Peacock both netting from their new midfield positions, having not found the net between them in the previous nine matches.
A win at Shrewsbury was followed by two goalless draws, then three straight victories against Torquay, Bury and Mansfield left the Town on the brink of promotion. Needing just a single point from the final two games, Sturrock made what he called "the biggest gamble of my career" in resting the injured Corr for the penultimate game of the season at Bristol Rovers - when the Town lost 1-0, it left them still needing a point in the final game against top team Walsall, who needed victory to ensure the title. On a nail-biting afternoon, Corr returned to the first eleven despite his injury, a Jerel Ifil goal finally securing promotion back to League One at the first attempt as the Town drew 1-1.
Soon after the season ended, Sturrock was quick to begin to shape his squad for the new season, releasing six players along with the sale of Jutkiewicz to Everton, and replacing them with six others. Four of the six signings had worked with him previously at either Wednesday, Plymouth or in Scotland - including a permanent deal for Corr, and a new club captain in Hasney Aljofree. However, with the club in the process of a takeover, and an outstanding Company Voluntary Arrangement payment now months ouerdue, Sturrock's hands were tied to an extent - and the Town went into the season with very little firepower up front - striker-cum-midfielder Peacock starting the opening games in his old position. In another twist, three players were signed by the club's prospective owners - none of which filled the gaping hole up front.
After a lean start to the season, Sturrock was eventually able to add to his squad on transfer deadline day, when he moved for three of his "prime beef" targets - two of which were surikers, and a third was another Sheffield Wednesday old boy, John-Paul McGovern, who was to score on his full debut at Hartlepool. The following week, Simon Cox (a loan signing from Reading) also opened his league account, whilst the other new striker, Billy Paynter, netted a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Bournemouth. The next home game brought a 5-0 victory over a poor Gillingham side - and from looking shot shy in the opening games of the season, the Town were now scoring for fun.
Off the field though, things were far from rosy. After a newspaper article in the Swindon Advertiser claimed that the takeover of the club would cost £18m, the long, drawn-out deal finally fell through, leaving Swindon in a precarious financial position once again. Fans began to protest, and a new investor was found, but with footballing debts outstanding, and the long process of due diligence beginning again, the Football League hit the Town with a transfer embargo. The timing wasn't great - approaching the loan transfer deadlime, the Town had an injury crisis at the back - and an obviously disgruntled Sturrock made his feelings known in the media.
In the meantime, Sturrock was already being linked to other clubs - being particularly heavily linked with the Leicester job in September. When the job went to Gary Megson, it seemed as though the danger had passed - only when Megson left suddenly to join Bolton in November, the rumours returned. Ironically, this time the job was handed to Plymouth boss Ian Holloway - thus vacating a job at a club where Sturrock had done so well previously. A local newspaper poll soon revealed that more than 50% of Argyle fans wanted Sturrock to return, and it was widely reported that he would be installed before the Town's clash with Bristol Rovers towards the end of November. As it was, Sturrock presided over the 1-0 victory, thus ending a run of four winless games since the Gillingham rout - returning to Swindon the following Monday only to negotiate his way out of the eighteen month clause, saying farewell to the players just over a year since his arrival, and leaving the Town searching for their fifth manager in just over two years.
MANAGERIAL RECORD AT SWINDON:
date of birth