Colchester United 0 Swindon 1: The top two firmly within sights
We welcome new TheWashbag contributor Lee Clark, who traveled to Essex to watch Swindon Town move within two points of the League One leaders with a deserved victory over struggling Colchester United.
Swindon came into the game with a threadbare side after illness and injuries swept through the squad, but were comfortable in a game which was settled when James Collins finished powerfully from a tight angle early in the second half.
On a tricky pitch with heavy snow, sleet and rain all falling before the game, Swindon fans could be forgiven for fearing the worst on a pitch that was covered in sand in places. While it wasn’t Crawley-esque, it was unlikely to suit Town’s slick passing style. Both teams struggled to adapt to the conditions early on, with neither team dominating possession and the greatest opportunity for both teams were a couple of corners.
Swindon started to get on top after ten minutes, and the first chance came not long after. A corner was only half-cleared by Colchester when the ball was whipped in towards Darren Ward’s head. The centre-half could only head wide while unmarked. It was an all too familiar sight for Swindon fans, who felt as though chances like that weren’t taken at Leyton Orient; and if they were spurned again two points would be dropped at the end of the night.
While Swindon were on top, the next chance came to Colchester. A free kick half way through the Town half was met by a a U’s player who headed it on to Freddie Sears who forced a fantastic save from Swindon keeper Wes Foderingham. That save drew a standing ovation from many of the Town faithful, as the shot had a fair bit of power behind it and many goalkeepers would have struggled to have held at the first attempt.
Chances were coming thick and fast for both teams. Raffaele De Vita had a volley cleared off the line from a Gary Roberts corner; Tommy Miller’s flicked header was inches from Andy Williams’ boot; and Wes Foderingham made an even better save than before, diving to save a curling effort that was on the verge of nestling in the top corner. Both teams went into the half time interval feeling they maybe could have been in front, although Swindon had shaded the first 45.
Swindon made a substitution at half time as James Collins replaced Raffaele De Vita who had a largely ineffective first half. Adam Rooney moved to the left wing to the frustration of many Town fans who felt William’s pace would be more harmful to the Colchester defence. However, the substitution seemed to have made a positive improvement to Town’s performance as they started to really dominate the second half.
The breakthrough for Swindon came around ten minutes after half time. Gary Roberts found some space on the right hand side before cutting inside, and just as it looked as if he was about to shoot he turned the ball inside to James Collins who rifled under the keeper in front of the ecstatic Swindon fans. Collins then ran over to manager Paolo Di Canio and made a gesture in humour towards him who had been given the striker stick for a misplaced pass moments before.
The goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Colchester. Swindon continued to dominate and create plenty of clear cut chances. Simon Ferry had replaced Alan Navarro who looked a little tired after his first football in four months. Ferry began spraying passes around, and almost doubled the Town lead with a driven cross that was just yards from ending up in the back of the net. Ferry continued the dominance of the midfield from recent weeks which may just result in Gordon Strachan taking a look at him potentially for a Scotland call-up.
As Adam Rooney picked up a knock in the last ten minutes, Alan McCormack came on in left midfield to appear in his twelfth different position this season. There were rumours going around that ten minutes in McCormack had to leave the substitute bench to return to the coach as the stomach bug sweeping through the team had got the better of him. It was evident McCormack wasn’t quite right- he was struggling to keep up with the pace of the game. However, his passing and crossing was still fantastic and gave Gary Roberts the chance to kill off Colchester but his header was brilliantly saved by Colchester keeper Walker (not Ian!).
As the Swindon fans became colder and colder in the stand behind the goal Swindon were attacking, the performance was getting better and better. Only one team was likely to score. Swindon finally looked creative and dominant from corners, and Aden Flint saw a header saved smartly from the Colchester goalkeeper. Swindon fans unusually faced no late nerves whatsoever, as the four minutes of added time were spent largely in the Colchester quadrant for corners. The U’s threatened little throughout the second half and the referee’s final whistle ensured Town fans went home happy after a good performance in tricky conditions for both players and fans.
The win means Swindon have the opportunity to go top on Saturday for the first time this season with a win over bottom side Hartlepool, if both Doncaster and Tranmere fail to win. It was a very pleasing result for the 337 travelling Robins who had suffered bad news after bad news in recent days. The major questions over the future of the club are still to be answered, but on the pitch, everything seems to be quite alright.