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Swindon bounced straight back to League One in style at the first attempt - storming to the League Two championship.
After an unexpected relegation, it was all change at the County Ground over the summer - after relieving interim boss Paul Hart of his duties when the Town's demotion was confirmed, chairman Andrew Fitton stood aside also - director Jeremy Wray stepping into the hot seat. A West Ham fan, Wray's first job was to appoint a new manager - and he turned to Hammers legend Paolo di Canio, a surprising and controversial appointment that immediately brought the media spotlight to SN1 in a fashion that hadn't been seen since the Town's season in the Premier League.
Di Canio's first job was to rebuild a squad that had seen a number of senior players depart - and, assisted by agents, a relentless stream of triallists led to twelve new faces signing up before the season's start - no fewer than forty players would be used over the season, with many falling by the wayside, unable to cope with the new manager's strict approach. After a pre-season camp in Italy, and despite an unconvincing performance, the new-look Town side opened the season with a 3-0 victory over Crewe in front of an expectant crowd.
Despite the winning opener, things did not go to plan for the rest of August - back-to-back defeats at Cheltenham and Dagenham were followed by Oxford's first win at the County Ground for 38 years - and though there was some respite in the Carling Cup with a surprise derby win at Bristol City, another defeat at Shrewsbury left the Town in 21st place in the League Two table. Then, at the end of the month, national headlines were made after the Town were knocked out of the Carling Cup by Southampton - new signing and intended star striker Leon Clarke publicly clashing with Di Canio at the end of the game over the Italian's training regime - Clarke becoming the first of many players to fall by the wayside over the course of the campaign.
The following match saw top-of-the-table Rotherham visit the County Ground in front of the Sky TV cameras, and though former Town loanee Alex Revell twice put the Millers in front, Alan Connell came off the bench to net twice - the first within ten seconds of entering the fray - to give the Town their second win of the season. The following two games saw the Town register two more victories over promotion-chasing sides - firstly over Southend, and then at Crawley, whose manager Steve Evans spent most of the pre-match build-up deriding the fact that "Paolo Di Canio's circus was coming to town", only for the Town fans to have the last laugh.
Though the season seemed to be gradually taking a turn for the better, the Town's away form was still of some concern - and after a disastrous debut for Italian keeper Mattia Lanzano ended in defeat at Burton, Di Canio launched into a tirade after another reverse at Macclesfield - accusing his side of having the attitude of "chihuahuas" and stating that they needed to develop a nasty streak. It seemed to have the desired effect - the Town going on a run of fifteen games undefeated in all competitions - including a wonderful team goal finished by Raffaele De Vita to win three points at Plymouth, and an amazing long-range strike by Matt Ritchie that put the Town on their way to victory over Gillingham - moving into the top seven for the first time since the opening day. Progress was also made in the cup competitions - despite being on a 42 match unbeaten run of their own, League One table-toppers Huddersfield were thumped 4-1 in the First Round of the FA Cup, before another third-tier side in Colchester were beaten on their own ground; and the Town also battled through to the Area Final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, beating Exeter, Wimbledon and Southend.
After a blip at Torquay on Boxing Day, the Town seemed set to drop more points at bottom-of-the-table Northampton on New Year's Eve - but, despite being down to ten men due to Oliver Risser's red card, Alan McCormack netted a last-gasp winner in front of the travelling support, prompting iconic scenes as Di Canio raced from the dugouts to celebrate with the players and fans - a move that would later cost him a £500 fine and a one-match touchline ban - but McCormack's goal proved to be the catalyst for an incredible run of form that would propel the Town to the top of the table.
A week later, Swindon made national headlines as they registered the shock of the FA Cup Third Round - coming from behind to beat Premier League side Wigan in front of a packed County Ground. It was a performance that led Di Canio to suggest that his squad should be commemorated with a statue, and he was later to apologise for referring to his players as chihuahuas earlier in the season - explaining that "when a dog is a puppy, you can confuse a chihuahua with a baby rottweiler… now they are adult rottweilers."
After sitting out the victory at Rotherham due to his ban, Di Canio returned to the touchline for the visit of Macclesfield - and though the Town won by a single goal, the Italian was sent to the stands again for vocal protests over a penalty decision. The incident sparked another tirade in the post-match interview, with Di Canio shouting at reporters, "I do what I want in the technical area, they can't stop me… if they want to send me off every game, no problem. I will win this league anyway because my team is a strong team" - this despite the fact that the Town were still only in fourth position in the league table, and three points off top spot.
That was soon to be rectified though. After FA Cup dreams were ended at Leicester, the Town travelled to high-flying Southend at the end of January and thumped them by four goals to one, to leapfrog over the Essex side in the table and into the promotion places for the first time since the opening day. Two weeks later, another thumping victory over promotion-chasing Crawley left the Town a point off top spot with two games in hand - and sandwiched between these two victories, a place at Wembley was secured with aggregate victory over Barnet in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Area Final.
Swindon finally moved to the top of the table a week after the Crawley victory, when they faced yet another promotion candidate in Shrewsbury - and after going behind in the first half, the Town were perhaps lucky when the away side were denied a free-kick for an alleged professional foul by Alan McCormack in the second period. Alan Connell came off the bench to net twice in twelve minutes and turn the game on its head - leaving the Town a point clear at the top with two games in hand, and Shrews boss Graham Turner apoplectic at the decision that he felt cost his own side the top place.
The Town cemented their position with further two goal victories over Accrington and Burton - thus registering ten League wins on the bounce - breaking the previous club record of eight that was set in 1926, and equalled in the Fourth Division championship season of 1986. Unfortunately, the run was to come to an end at Oxford - despite James Constable's early sending off, the U's quickly netted twice in a three minute spell, and repelled the Town's attacks for the rest of the game to register their first double in the derby since 1972/73. The Town quickly recovered with a thumping victory over relegation-threated Dagenham, before facing three more sides pushing at the top of the table - and though defeat was suffered at Crewe, that result was sandwiched between important home victories over Cheltenham and Torquay, who were both in second position when they visited the County Ground - the results leaving the Town seven points clear and with a game in hand.
With opponents Chesterfield rooted to the bottom of the League One table, the Town were hot favourites to emerge victorious from the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final at Wembley, but despite the backing of 30,000 Town fans, it was not to be. Di Canio surprisingly handed a debut to new signing Jay McEveley, and later introduced another from the bench in John Bostock - Oliver Risser becoming the first Swindon player to score at the new Wembley, unfortunately into his own net, to give the Spireites the lead early in the second half, before Craig Westcarr wrapped things up in injury time, racing away to net with the Town pushing forward for an equaliser.
Despite the setback, the Town registered three more victories on the bounce in early April - at Barnet, Morecambe and at home to Northampton, before Alan Connell's late goal to seal victory over Plymouth put Swindon in League One all but mathematically - twelve points clear of fourth place with a nineteen superior goal difference. Though the crowd stayed behind after the game to celebrate with Di Canio, as had become common practice as his side climbed the table, the Town boss never appeared - it soon emerged that his mother had passed away the previous day, and he left the ground immediately to fly back to Italy to be with his family.
Showing tremendous professionalism, Di Canio returned to be present for the Town's trip to Aldershot just three days later - the packed away end raising scarves during a minute's silence in honour of his mother. Unfortunately though, some members of the Town squad hadn't shown the same dedication - and after ending the game on the wrong side of a 2-1 scoreline, Di Canio laid into his players, accusing them of going out drinking and celebrating too early.
The incident led Di Canio to make eight changes to his side for the trip to Gillingham a few days later - and though the Town were again beaten, the failure of both Crawley and Torquay to record victory meant that promotion was secured - and with Shrewsbury also drawing at Accrington, the Town went into their final home game of the season against Port Vale knowing that three points would seal the title.
If Swindon had limped over the line to promotion, the sealing of the championship could hardly have been more convincing. After Matt Ritchie settled any nerves with a goal before half-time, the Town ran riot in the second half with four more goals - Paul Benson with two, Aden Flint and Alan Connell netting the others. The League Two championship trophy was presented to captain Paul Caddis after the game - and whilst Di Canio celebrated in a custom made T-shirt to dedicate the victory to his late parents, Simon Ferry paraded around the County Ground pitch in only his underpants.