Tranmere Rovers travel to Swindon Town on Tuesday night looking to get back to winning ways. 

In ‘typical Tranmere’ fashion, Rovers followed up their 4-0 victory at home to league leaders Stockport County with a 1-0 defeat against 23rd placed Forest Green Rovers. 

Nigel Adkins’ side failed to convert any of their five shots on target as Charlie McCann netted for the hosts, just before the break. 

Tranmere haven’t won at Swindon since March 2006, despite travelling to Wiltshire nine times since then.

Ahead of the game at The County Ground, I spoke to Swindon Town Podcast @LoathedStranger about all things Robins.

Hi The Loathed Strangers, when did you start following Swindon Town? What was your first experience of the club like?

I’ve been an active supporter of Swindon Town since my first game which was in November 1990, a 2-1 home loss to Port Vale.

My main memory from that day is listening to the foul-mouthed tirades of old men with thick-Wiltshire accents in flat caps smoking pipes which, admittedly, sounds more 1950 than 1990 but those are the memories.

Since then, I’ve seen Town play in four divisions, witnessed plenty of great players and enjoyed some lovely moments but also countless false dawns and assorted nonsense to last a lifetime.

Swindon won promotion from League Two in 2020 as Richie Wellens’ side were crowned Champions. What have been some of the best and worst moments in your time as a Swindon supporter?

Best: Seeing the Glenn Hoddle era as a kid. Hoddle was a ‘cheat code’ and his side was full of players who are still considered in the highest regard by Town fans. It’s a great shame he didn’t stick around for one more season.

Worst: Swindon Town have been on the brink of extinction a couple of times during my time supporting them. No rubbish season compares to the fear that your club’s future is in serious doubt!

Could you tell us about the podcast?

The Loathed Strangers (a Swindon Town related reference to ‘Fever Pitch’ by Nick Hornby) was established in 2017 and went live in 2018. We’re over 650 episodes in with the initial focus being ex-player/employee/fan interviews, but we have evolved over time to concentrating on current events.

It’s sort of taken over my life but I’ve made some great friends over the last seven years.

Swindon have played their home games at The County Ground since 1896. What are your thoughts on the venue and where should Tranmere fans go to make their most out of their night around the area?

The County Ground is a relic but it’s our relic. We desperately need to enter the 21st Century on the stadium front but I’m sure the floodlights won’t let anybody down this time (I write that with minimal confidence!).

The Merlin tends to be the away friendly pub unless the away bar on the County Ground site is open.

Swindon are 18th in the League Two table after picking up 40 points in 34 games. Thoughts on the season so far?

It’s not been a largely horrendous time since the nine game unbeaten run ended in late-September. Since then… 5 wins in 24 games – 20 points from a possible 72. Michael Flynn was replaced by interim head coach Gavin Gunning in January.

A 7-4 home loss to Aldershot in the FA Cup (we were 7-0 down after 58 minutes) – Rubbish moments are so frequent that we’ve largely gotten away with this one.

Town are 18th yet, somehow, only 9 points from the Play-Offs (at the time of writing) which means a fair percentage of the fanbase still harbour hopes of a dramatically late Play-Off push and I’d love to have a large dose of that optimism but I can’t see it happening.

Australian Clem Morfuni has been majority owner of the club since 2021. What are your thoughts on him? His time at STFC hasn’t exactly been smooth.

I’m not a huge fan of the Morfuni era.

He arrived with much gratitude and appreciation, but you’ll find it hard to find a bigger decline in popularity.

There’s been lots of big talk but it simply hasn’t translated to what we have been seeing on and off the pitch. It’s being dismissed by the club as pessimism and we have to be more positive but 

Season 1: An unexpectedly good and highly emotive season. Expectations were initially extremely low, but we made it to the Play-Offs only to lose on penalties at Port Vale in the Semi-Final.

In hindsight, it’s largely agreed that the success was down to individuals who had remained from the previous regime.

Season 2: This is when the Morfuni era truly kicked-in to operation with a change of philosophy with many of the reasons behind Town’s success on-and-off the pitch the previous season leaving the club.

It didn’t go well. Two managers arrived and left while there was a significant dip of quality within the squad despite the welcome return of Charlie Austin.

Season 3:  So it’s been a disaster since October, an absolute disaster.

The Morfuni Era has been mostly about surrounding himself with people who he likes/trusts but may not necessarily be what’s good for the football club. Town have employed a lot of inexperience, and it has shown.

Gavin Gunning is the current interim manager of Swindon, following former boss Michael Flynn’s dismissal in mid-January. What are your thoughts on the 33-year-old’s coaching style and how has he aimed to galvanise the club?

Gavin Gunning is an interesting character. 

He quietly arrived without fanfare at the start of the 2022/23 season as a first team coach under Scott Lindsey. He then had two spells as co-caretaker manager with Steve Mildenhall during the season (which, in terms of performances and results, was good fun).

He then disappeared from the first team set-up under Michael Flynn. His Swindon duties then consisted of being a ‘loans manager’ and assisting the U18s as a defensive coach. He also helped launch Morfuni’s Australian soccer school before being appointed as interim head coach for the remainder of the season (18 games).

Many fans like him as he has a very matter of fact way of speaking and talks a reasonably good game whilst others are sceptical.

We will probably play four-at-the-back with two holding midfielders and an attacking central midfielder with a front three of two wide men and centre forward. There’s been a mild improvement with the new signings but not enough to see a miracle turnaround to the season.

Taking a look at the bookies odds for the next managerial appointment, it is Gunning that is favourite. Would you be happy with him getting the job permanently?

No. I think such an appointment represents this regime. It might work internally but for the club but I can’t see it being a success. It feels like a holding position, and I’d be genuinely shocked if he got it on a more permanent basis.

Tranmere last played Swindon two days before Christmas as Kieron Morris and Tom Davies netted for the Whites in a 2-1 win after Dan Kemp edged his side in front in the 22nd minute. What were your thoughts on that game and will Swindon get their revenge this time ‘round?

I think there will be an expectation for Swindon to win this. It’ll definitely be identified as a ‘must win’.

Swindon possesses a good attacking threat. Daniel Kemp has 24 goal involvements in 27 games whilst Jake Young has 20 goal involvements in 26 games. Charlie Austin is also at the club. Are The Robins quite exciting to watch despite their position in the league table?

Dan Kemp and Jake Young have gone! Dan Kemp is the best player we’ll see this season and I suspect Jake Young won’t have a better spell as what he enjoyed at Swindon.

We’ve brought in a few players since who look quite interesting, but we’ll see how they do over the next few weeks and months.

Charlie Austin is a nuisance to any opposition at this level but isn’t the player he once was (which is no crime). 

However, Swindon’s attack hasn’t been the issue this season, that honour belongs to our defensive play which has been as bad as I’ve ever seen it.

There are a couple of Rovers links in the Swindon squad. Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and Paul Glatzel. How have they both been getting on?

I really like Paul Glatzel. We are all aware of his injury record, so expectations aren’t sky-high but he’s a real tryer and has been worth more than his solitary goal thus far.

Rushian Hepburn-Murphy has endured an on/off season. He disappeared for a while and has struggled since returning but he’s a nuisance on his day. The problem is that his day doesn’t occur enough.

What were your thoughts on the January window’s transfer recruitment and where that leaves the team now? Five players were brought in on a permanent basis, including 22-year-old Southampton shot stopper Jack Bycroft who has slotted straight into the side. Forward Harry McKirdy returned back to the club.

Prior to Deadline Day, I think Town supporters were ready to get the pitchforks out ready in preparation for the apathy-fuelled revolution but then Harry McKirdy was announced amongst several other late signings and then that seemed to simmer a lot of the fanbase.

Given that my expectations for the remainder of the season are quite low, it’s quite hard to judge the new signings especially as some aren’t match fit.

Jack Bycroft is a work in progress. Seems to have real potential in some areas.

We haven’t seen enough of Aaron Drinan to judge so far.

Harry McKirdy can only play about 30 minutes at the moment (this might change for the Tranmere game) but causes the familiar mischief and scored a late equaliser at Gillingham.

Zach Elbouzedi is on loan from AIK and looks pacy but frustrating in equal measure.

Pharrell Johnson and Sean McGurk are relative rookies, but the latter comes with a lot of good reviews from Leeds and we’ve already seen this in places including the opener at Gillingham.

Conor McCarthy has made our defensive line look steadier but we’re still conceding goals and he was largely responsible for MK Dons first opener on February 17.

Finally, what are your thoughts on TRFC?

The side of Half Man Half Biscuit and, therefore, you’re fine by me.

I still think of the Tranmere side of the 1990s. Nixon, Malkin, McGreal, Irons, Morrissey, Nolan, Brannan, Muir, Hughes, Aldridge, Nevin et al.

It’s a great shame that this side didn’t make the Premier League (apart from in 1992/93, of course).

Tranmere’s win against Swindon was a classic of the genre for us this season. Essentially, losing from a winning position! Six of that starting eleven have since left the club (and one other probably won’t play) so you’ll see a new side.

Tranmere’s last visit to Swindon resulted in a one-all draw, back in mid-November 2022. Josh Hawkes opened the scoring in the ninth minute before Jacob Wakeling netted in the 30th.

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