A year after relegation from League One, Swindon bounced back at the first attempt - gaining automatic promotion back to the third tier of the league, finishing in third place despite a topsy-turvy season both on and off the pitch.
With a newly installed management team of Dennis Wise and Gustavo Poyet, and new investor Bill Power injecting over £1 million into the club, the season began on a wave of optimism - Wise immediately introducing a scientific approach to pre-season training, and a set of measures to make the club more professionally run. In addition, nine new players were brought in before the season kicked off - and after the Town won a pre-season tournament in Ibiza, one of those signings was to make an incredible debut - Slovakian goalkeeper Peter Brezovan pulling off a string of fine saves, including two penalty stops, to help the Town to an opening day victory at Hartlepool.
Though the Town's performances were hardly convincing, they managed to win all of their first six games to shoot to the top of the table - Swindon needing a last minute super-strike by Australian striker Royce Brownlie to seal a 2-1 win over Barnet, and an own goal to record a 1-0 victory against Rochdale, in a match where the Town missed two penalties themselves. The start ensured that Wise picked up the first Manager of the Month award for the season - but just as with their previous promotion eleven years earlier, it was at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham where Swindon were to first taste defeat in the league - the Welsh Robins scoring twice in two second half minutes to come back from a goal behind to win 2-1.
The Wrexham match was also significant as it marked the debut of former England captain Paul Ince, who after a prolonged transfer saga, turned down offers from Wolves and Birmingham to link up with his ex-England teammate Wise at the County Ground. In truth, the arrival of Ince caused more waves off the pitch than on it, as the terms of his contract seemed to be the start of a rift in the boardroom. Longer standing members of the board accused Power and chief executive Mark Devlin of agreeing to a deal with Ince without the necessary agreement - eventually, Power, who along with Devlin had been injured in a plane crash travelling back from the opening day game at Hartlepool, pulled the plug on his investment, citing the injuries that he sustained in the crash resulting in him being unable to be as involved in the club as he originally intended - though he later admitted that this was not an entirely accurate reason. Ince also left the club as well, just over a month after he joined. Later in the season, Power would reappear on the scene as an investor behind the Fans' Consortium, a group headed up by the Supporters' Trust with the intention of taking over the club.
The boardroom wranglings seemed to have an effect on the pitch - after the original six game winning streak, Swindon won just one of the next seven - including a run of four consecutive 1-1 draws, in one of which ex-Town striker Tommy Mooney grabbed an injury time equaliser for Wycombe. After that game, and amidst rumours that Wise was being courted to join Leeds, where his former chairman at Chelsea, Ken Bates was in charge, Wise revealed his anger at acting Chief Executive Bob Holt, who previously had revealed details of a confidential meeting between Wise and the board, in which Wise had indicated that he was to stay at Swindon. After Wise described Holt as "out-of-order", Holt resigned over the issue - and one month later, Wise and Poyet followed Holt out of the exit door, after a deal was reached to take the pair to Elland Road. After fifteen games, Wise left the club in third place, just three points behind leaders Walsall.
Club captain Ady Williams was originally given the opportunity to take over - and after being handed the position of caretaker manager for a six-game trial, he brought in former team-mate Barry Hunter as his assistant. His reign was to last just two games though - after home defeats against Lincoln and Hereford, the board moved to sign Paul Sturrock, recently sacked by Sheffield Wednesday, and with previous experience at Dundee United, Plymouth and Southampton. Sturrock wasted no time in applying his own footballing philosophy - within a fortnight, three players had left the club on loan (including two of Wise's pre-season signings), and two players on loan at the Town were sent back to their parent clubs. All of Sturrock's first four games ended in victory though - after starting with a cup win over Carlisle, league victories followed against Torquay and Bury, and a last minute penalty secured passage into the Third Round of the FA Cup at the expense of Conference outfit Morecambe.
Over December and into the New Year, though the Town tasted defeat against struggling Mansfield and Macclesfield (now managed by Ince), they played four sides in the promotion hunt, and won all four - starting with a superb 2-0 victory at Walsall, followed by 2-1 wins over Bristol Rovers and Wycombe, and on New Year's Day, a 1-0 scoreline completed a double over Milton Keynes Dons, with keeper Phil Smith superbly saving a penalty to ensure the Town's victory in a backs-to-the-wall performance. Though a third round tie at Crystal Palace ended Swindon's cup campaign, they went through January undefeated in the League, winning four matches before drawing at Peterborough, courtesy of a last minute equaliser from Sturrock's son, Blair. These results meant that Sturrock senior was named as the Manager of the Month - and the Town sat in second place, still three points behind Walsall, but five clear of the fourth-placed team, Hartlepool.
Hartlepool were to close the gap at the beginning of February, when a goal by Andy Monkhouse - one of the players signed by Wise in the close season that Sturrock allowed to leave - secured a 1-0 victory for the Monkey Hangers at the County Ground. The win was part of a brilliant run for Hartlepool, who went 23 games undefeated to shoot to the top of the table - Swindon meanwhile were undoing some of their good work from earlier in the season, a bad run during February extending into the end of March - a run of seven games bringing just two victories and four goals, two of which came from the penalty spot. By now, the Town had slipped to fifth place, three points off a promotion spot.
Just when it seemed that the wheels were falling off the Town's promotion bandwagon, Sturrock played a masterstroke - signing five players in a short spell leading up to the loan transfer deadline. Though only one of those players started the televised match at fourth-placed Lincoln, the team was completely reshuffled - the former strike pairing of Christian Roberts and Lee Peacock moving back into midfield roles, and new man Barry Corr starting up front with young star Lukas Jutkiewicz, who had already agreed a deal to join Premiership side Everton at the end of the season. Though it was nine games since either Peacock or Roberts had found the net, both players, along with Corr, scored as the Town came from behind to win 3-2, and suddenly the promotion chase was back on track. Corr and Roberts both scored again the following week as Swindon beat promotion-chasing Shrewsbury, before consecutive 0-0 draws at Hereford and Rochdale threatened to slow things back down.
Two late goals from Lukas Jutkiewicz in the following two games though were to turn the Town's season. In a match that Swindon had dominated without ever applying the finishing touches, and shortly after Jack Smith had seen a penalty saved, rock bottom Torquay equalised from the spot with just eight minutes remaining. As the Gulls fans were still celebrating, Jutkiewicz popped up with a half-volley to hand the Town three points, and he repeated the feat a week later, scoring five minutes from time to secure a 1-0 win at Bury. A comfortable 2-0 win over Mansfield the following week left Swindon on the brink of promotion, and prompted a pitch invasion by a small number of Town fans, despite the fact that it was not yet sealed - though with the Town being six points clear of fourth-placed MK Dons and having a superior, though not insurmountable, goal difference going into the final two games, it seemed that it would only be a matter of time.
On the penultimate weekend of the season, Swindon made the short trip to Bristol Rovers, who themselves needed a win to maintain their push for the play-offs. A lacklustre performance from the Town, along with a first-half goal from Rickie Lambert, meant that the game was lost - but with just minutes remaining, the away end erupted as rumours of a Tommy Mooney goal at Wycombe against Milton Keynes filtered through. It all proved to be a false hope, and the Dons stole two goals in the final few minutes to snatch a 2-0 win and take the promotion race into a nail-biting final weekend. With Swindon still three points clear, they had to face new leaders Walsall at home - and though the Saddlers had wrestled the top spot back from Hartlepool on goal difference and were already promoted, they still needed to win the game to ensure they would be crowned as champions. The Dons' opponents, Accrington Stanley, had just saved themselves from relegation, and had little but pride to play for. A defeat for the Town and a four goal swing would see the Dons promoted.
Somewhat surprisingly though, the final game was not as nail-biting as expected. The nerves were calmed when Accrington took a first half lead, and with the Town giving an assured performance in front of a sell-out crowd, all seemed to be going well. Early in the second half, Jerel Ifil came forward for a corner, and scored the first league goal of his career with a bullet header - it proved to be the goal that secured Swindon's promotion. Though Walsall equalised in injury time with a superb strike, and Milton Keynes eventually won 3-1, the final whistle at the County Ground was greeted with celebrations in all four stands - Walsall winning the title, and the Town finishing in third place.