|view Payne's match-by-match record
Few players emerged from the wreckage of Town’s 2020/21 relegation with their reputations enhanced, but attacking midfielder Payne was certainly one of them, attracting scouts from the Championship as the Town headed for League Two. Having signed for Town from Lincoln City in the summer of 2020, the 25 year old had come through at Southend United before spells with Huddersfield and Lincoln, and had already played 200 league games at a reasonably young age.
Town initially found it a little difficult to find a position for Payne, who played on the right-hand side of a front three in Town’s first game at Charlton before being moved into the hole behind Brett Pitman for a good run of games. Later in the season he would play as a deeper lying central midfielder and, with less distinction, as a wing back. Centrally behind a striker seemed to be his best position though, and it was from there that he scored his first Town goal away at Peterborough in October, finishing from a Jordan Stevens cross into the box.
Across the season, Payne made 36 league starts and 47 total appearances, the most in Town’s squad and some way ahead of everyone else. In those appearances, he scored four goals, including a 30-yard cracker in the defeat to Milton Keynes between Christmas and New Year, and provided six assists. His numbers weren’t spectacular, but they were the best in Town’s squad and his effort and skill levels far outshone most of his teammates, making him one of the leading contenders for the player of the year awards.
At the end of the season, Town were relegated to League Two and it was reported that Payne had a relegation break clause in his contract. Despite offers from higher division clubs, Payne decided to stay at Swindon, a decision he attributed to not wanting to move across the country again. It was to prove a huge boost for Town amidst their takeover turmoil, with Payne being one of just eight contracted senior pros on the books at the time of Clem Morfuni’s takeover of the club being confirmed.
As the 2021/22 season began, Payne was central to new manager Ben Garner’s plans, scoring on the opening day of the season away at Scunthorpe on his way to his best ever goalscoring season, with 13 in total including eight by the end of November and a brace against Walsall on the final day of the season to fire Town to the playoffs. He was nominated for the League Two player of the month award in both November and April.
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