ALAN McCormack believes Swindon Town are in pole position in the League One promotion chase thanks to the training methods of manager Paolo Di Canio.
With games set to come thick and fast over the next two months, due to postponements at Christmastime, the Robins will require every ounce of stamina they have to maintain their challenge at the top of the table.
Di Canio’s strict focus on fitness has already proved effective on the field of play this season, with Town scoring 14 goals after the 75th minute of matches and conceding just six - of which three were against Premier League sides in the shape of Aston Villa and Stoke and one the most unfortunate of own goals by Louis Thompson in the FA Cup first-round defeat to Macclesfield.
McCormack is confident that the Robins’ ability to play hard from first whistle to last and then recover quickly in preparation for another game, gives the squad a foundation from which to launch themselves at elevation to the Championship.
“How we train is geared up for this time of the year - Christmastime, January and February - if you look at most teams, when they win leagues or get promoted, these three months are the most important,” he said.
“You have a lot of games and a lot of games called off and that causes a backlog of games to catch up on Saturday-Tuesday. There fitness proves to be the case for us, that’s the most important thing for us and that’s what gets us really punishing teams in the last 20 minutes.
“We score a lot of goals in the last 20 minutes. When we go to places teams come at us for the first 20 or 25 minutes but we’ve proved we can handle quite a lot of pressure. When our fitness steps in and comes to the front we play our natural football.
“We’re all good players, we’ve all got natural quality, and when we’re able to do that in the last 20 minutes it plays a massive part in any season.”
It’s not only the manager’s methods that inspire Town, according to McCormack, it’s also what some would perceive to be his madness.
Di Canio places great significance on the way his squad trains, and even the most consistent players could risk losing their spot in his starting XI if they lose focus during the week. And with such a deep pool of talent to choose from, the players know they cannot ease up in or away from competitive action at any point.
“We said at the start of the year, we looked at the squad and we’re all very privileged to be in a squad of this quality. We’re continuing to push each other every single day in training. There are lads on the bench who should be playing, there are lads itching to get back into the team and are pushing very hard,” said McCormack.
“The manager doesn’t allow any sulking or anybody to let their head down one bit, and if you do that you’re out of the squad and you’re not allowed to train with the squad any more.
“We’ve got 18 or 20 people here pushing every single person, and when you have that with the quality everybody’s got, it brings the best out of everyone."