Kevin MacDonald: The calm after the Paolo Di Canio storm

By Caroline ChapmanBBC West Sport
Kevin MacDonald

Times are changing at Swindon Town.

Gone are the days of post-match rants, comparisons to chihuahuas and "management by hand grenade" under Paolo Di Canio. That ship has sailed to Wearside.

Now leading Swindon's League One play-off charge is former Aston Villa coach Kevin MacDonald - a softly spoken, more unassuming character.

The 52-year-old Scotsman, however, will have you believe otherwise.

"If you ask anyone I've worked with in the past 20 years they would say the opposite," MacDonald told BBC West Sport.

"Previously I have been very aggressive, ranting and raving on the touchline, but in the environment I'm in I feel being studious is better for me.

"I can get irate like the best of people but the way I'm feeling at the moment I'm quite comfortable in what I'm doing."

You can understand why the County Ground faithful may have needed time to adjust to their seemingly placid new leader, given the rollercoaster to which they had become accustomed.

In 21 months, Di Canio led them to promotion as League Two champions, giant-killing cup wins over Wigan and Stoke, and to Wembley, in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final.

But he walked away in February, citing drama behind the scenes - the final straw being the sale of star winger Matt Ritchie to promotion rivals Bournemouth.

The club were in automatic promotion contention at the time, but also found themselves between owners, under a transfer embargo and facing a life without both Ritchie and Di Canio.

MacDonald stepped in and remained unfazed by the challenge ahead: "I don't know the gentleman," he says of now Sunderland manager Di Canio.

"He was successful for the club but I believe in myself because over the years I've managed to win things as well.

"It's not necessarily the sort of things Paolo Di Canio did but you can only win what competitions you've been in - whether it be reserve leagues, cup competitions etc.

"I came in trying to do my own thing, the way I want to do things, and you have to try and do it bit by bit."

Like Di Canio, MacDonald had never held a permanent managerial position before his appointment at Swindon, but his CV is not to be sniffed at.

A former midfielder, MacDonald spent his playing days at Leicester, Coventry, Walsall and, most notably, Liverpool - where he was part of the double-winning side of 1986.

Archive - MacDonald appointed Swindon manager

During his 17 years as a coach at Villa, by his own admission, he worked with some of the best - Martin O'Neill, John Gregory and Brian Little, and also helped nurture promising Premier League youngsters including Gareth Barry.

MacDonald got a taste for management during a caretaker spell in charge following O'Neill's departure in 2010. He won two of his seven games at the helm before the arrival of Gerard Houllier.

He left Villa 11 months ago following the arrival of new boss Paul Lambert, and felt it was time to take centre stage.

"I've always thought of myself as a coach. I'd been approached before for manager's jobs but it wasn't the right time," he said. "Working with Premier League players was something that made you want to stay there.

"Having been at a major club for 17 years it was a big wrench to leave. But the time was right and it was time to move on.

"I was then twiddling my thumbs and causing people loads of problems trying to talk to them all the time because I didn't have a job for eight months.

"It was important for me to try and get back in to football and Swindon was something I couldn't not think about."

MacDonald beat former Arsenal striker-turned-TV personality Ian Wright to the Town job - perhaps a signal the board wanted a calmer aura around the County Ground.

It was certainly a step down in the league hierarchy for MacDonald, but the expectations were huge, as Swindon fans hoped for a continuation of Di Canio's success.

Results have wavered - they have won four, lost five and drawn three - no thanks to an extensive injury list and a transfer embargo hanging over them until March.

Automatic promotion slipped from their grasp, but MacDonald is realistic about their situation: "Everyone at the lower level thinks their club should be higher.

"We have to look at this as a work in progress. There is no quick fix.

"Everyone wants straight promotion and we'd be lying if we said we'd rather go through the play-offs.

"It hasn't happened but the main thing is we've stayed in the play-offs and in some ways getting promotion that way is the glory bit."

And MacDonald seems genuinely thrilled about the prospect of leading out his team in the semi-finals against Brentford and, perhaps, a Wembley final.

"I'm very proud. I'm proud of what the players have done and what the club has done to stay where they are," he added.

"I'm excited to think I might be able to influence them to get promotion. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen."

If a Championship place is secured for Swindon, it will go some way to proving MacDonald's credentials.

Does he think he can win over any doubting supporters?

"You'll have to ask the fans," he concluded. "I've just got to try and make more right decisions than wrong ones."