Swindon’s aimless hoofing got what it deserved as they slumped to a second abject home defeat, writes Ben Beaumont.
Oh dear. Truly, this was a game with nothing to write home about. And I mean nothing. A gaping chasm of emptiness, filled only with Archibald-Henville lumping yet another aimless hack towards the oversized cartoon heads of the Colchester centre backs. A huge void, bereft of meaning, or anything memorable. Oh woe. How do I file a match report about such endless nothingness?
I could start with a small confession – I’ve been on holiday for the last three weeks, so I’ve got some catching up to do on all things Swindon. Before I left, Town had notched up two truly awful defeats against Orient and Preston. So you can imagine my excitement to see a team transformed, full of beans and eager beavering after four straight wins.
A bit of this enthusiasm was tempered with the announcement of the teams. Now, I am an unashamed Ferry-fan. Naturally, I love his stupid-haired, Smiths-loving, bonkers Scottish ways, but I also think he knows which side of a football his bread is buttered on. Or something. To see Navarro in his place was a bit, well, depressing. I took it as a sign – one of those giant width-of-the motorway signs that says: “Sorry lads, Swindon aren’t going to play much football tonight.”
Indeed, it didn’t really matter who was playing in midfield, as Town’s Big Idea for most of the first half was to kick it hard, high and long, as close as possible to the upgraded Stratton Bank scoreboard. (No-one told me it now displays the minutes played! This is groundbreaking stuff – it’s like we’ve finally entered the 1990s or something. For years, I relied on that Deacon’s clock and my Dad’s fastidious timekeeping, but no more. What a revelation.)
Back to the game. If I didn’t know better, the haphazard hoofing appeared to be a deliberate tactic. Or maybe it was just an amusing bet between Foderingham and Archibald-Henville. Incredibly, on one occasion, it nearly worked. From an early pitch-length woomph from the back, the ever-bustling Williams turned beautifully only to plonk his shot straight into the keeper’s midriff. That, almost inevitably, was as good as it got. It was all downhill from here. Only it was also uphill – a mighty uphill struggle just to stay awake.
Colchester were ‘busy’ and ‘well organised’, meaningless adjectives that tend to get used when your team is mediocre and the game so dire that you start looking for positives elsewhere. Their number 22, Anthony Wordsworth, did have a humdinger of a long-ranger that was either deflected or tipped over the bar. Their number 15 Marcus Bean was industrious, and Jabo Ibehre looked strong and awkward to play against. But they weren’t exactly threatening to carve us apart. They were the very definition of average.
The rest of the half meandered without purpose to its ultimately meaningless conclusion. De Vita and Ritchie did some kind-of-pretty things. Di Canio slumped in his seat. The chap behind me started snoring. When Navarro kicked the ball straight to a Colchester player to end a promising move, I wondered if he was just trying to prove we were all still alive.
We all agreed that the second half couldn’t possibly be worse. Di Canio would bring on Ferry, and maybe Bostock too, and all would be right with the world. We’d get the ball down, pass-and-move, dink-and-jink, triangles-and-lollipops, and the goals would flow. After all, we’re a second half team, aren’t we?
Somehow, Town got worse. I scarcely thought it possible. This wasn’t football. This was anti-ball. This was no-ball. This was air-ball. At some stage, Collins was brought on for Benson, but it hardly mattered. Everyone was so anonymous, it could have been anyone for anyone. They were just 11 little red-shirted boys hoofing and hacking and running around and around and around without the ball. Ferry came on for Navarro, and my heart rose briefly from its slumber. But it soon became clear that changing this particular game was well beyond my silly-haired Scottish hero.
There were some kind-of, sort-of moments for the Town. Ritchie deep-crossed for De Vita to set up a half-chance for Collins. Williams poked over after some good work from De Vita. And, of course, there was the obligatory scuffed shot from Ritchie which he dragged well wide.
And just as my brain’s football cliché generator was cranking into gear and telling me ‘this has got 0-0 written all over it’, Colchester scored. Inevitably, it was former Town full-back Michael Rose, who somehow sneaked in a low free kick inside Foderingham’s near post. Rose was pleased – and why not? He’d been the recipient of some half-hearted booing for the first half hour, before everyone fell asleep. At least the goal woke up the Town End, who spent the next ten minutes attempting to name people who had allegedly slept with Rose’s wife.
You might have thought that the goal spurred Town into some kind of action. That maybe one of them would realise that this is a life worth living, that you’re a long time dead, that life’s too short to waste time skewing crosses into the Brunel Centre. Alas, you’d be wrong.
The game drifted out of existence, and it was a slow and painful death. There were some corners. There was some timewasting from Colchester. There was another dragged shot from Ritchie. Archibald-Henville nearly gifted them a second. The Stratton Bank clock ticked down. Eventually, time stopped. It was finally over.