Twelve things we’ve learnt at the County Ground in 2012

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Hasn’t 2012 flown by quickly..!? Ron Smith recalls twelve things that we’ve learnt supporting Swindon Town this year…

1. I should attend less games….

Various commitments have meant I’ve been unable to maintain my full quota of games at the County Ground in 2012.

Working late ensured I couldn’t see Town bounce back from defeat at O#*ord with a 4-0 win over Dagenham & Redbridge. My father in-law’s 60th birthday gave reason to boycott Franchise FC’s visit, but miss a 1-0 win. A bout of the norovirus – which luckily unleashed itself just prior to departing for the County Ground – kept me away from a 4-0 win over AFC Bournemouth. And finally, an office Christmas Party meant I missed the emphatic 5-0 routing of Tranmere Rovers.

I promise to burn my season ticket so you all can enjoy guaranteed home victories in 2013…

2. Paolo likes shopping…

“I like shopping, maybe I have become a woman” were the very true words of Paolo Di Canio earlier this year.

2012 has been a revolving door at the County Ground with 25 players joining on permanent or loan deals and 25 departing.

Many of Di Canio’s original signings including Mattia Lanzano, Lander Gabilondo, Alan Connell, Jonathan Smith, Lukas Magera, Medhi Kerrouche, Alberto Commazi, Lee Cox, Alessandro Cibbocchi, Etienne Esajas, Oliver Risser, Luke Rooney and Paul Benson and haven’t even lasted until the end of the 2011/12 season or have fallen out of favour.

Buy the t-shirt at our shop...

Buy the t-shirt at our shop…

3. An uninjured goalkeeper can be substituted…

The goalkeeping position is no longer exempt from suffering the indignation of a first half substitution, as Wes Foderingham found out at Preston.

Paolo’s decision shook the football world, with the story going national and international and FIFA double checking the Laws of the Game to ensure that cheat Di Canio hadn’t flouted them.

The whole episode again proved the media’s fascination with Di Canio, who are always eager to publish those ‘Nazi Salute’ pictures and reflections on past Paolo ‘detonations’ at every opportunity.

4. The new Wembley Stadium remains a soulless dump until we win there…

Just reward for success in the cups was a run to the final of the JPT to meet Chesterfield at Wembley. 30,000 Swindon fans made the trip only to for the afternoon to unravel in Chesterfield’s favour with a 0-2 defeat, a second successive loss at the new Wembley.

With the pre-match PA drowning out the chanting and soon enough another limp performance failed to ignite the several thousand day trippers, Wembley will remain a soulless dump until we win there.

5. STFC requires a warzone diplomat to control Di Canio

Andrew Black’s decision to replace the much-liked Jeremy Wray with Sir William Patey in October took many by surprise. But this boardroom reshuffle also highlighted the tensions behind the scenes, requiring the expertise of a former British Ambassador to Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan wearing a fetching hat to defuse the situation.

Sir William Patey

6. The world didn’t end on 21st December 2012…

…however we now know what Swindon are really capable of and that Tranmere Rovers probably aren’t going to win League One.

7. “Paolo Di Canio he’s bought a new coat”…

The 20th October and a 1-1 draw with Scunthorpe will live long in our memories for the appearance of Paolo Di Canio sporting a bright red jacket. Gone was the usual green jacket sparking accusations the change in matchday attire was soley responsible for a third successive winless game as hosts.

8. Paolo Di Canio doesn’t like transfer embargoes…

After the win at Bury in early October, Di Canio let slip of his frustrations of being restricted in the transfer market for the first time as Town had been placed under an embargo a few weeks earlier following the Troy Archibald-Henville and James Collins tribunal ruling.

Cue a month of angry and passionate press conferences from Paolo openly criticising the club for their failure to quickly resolve the funding issues as injuries and suspensions mounted. In the end it took an early £500,000 cash injection from Andrew Black to secure the lifting of the embargo, but more money will be needed for Paolo’s bargain hunting in the January sales.

9. We become quite good in the cups against Premier League opponents…

First up was Wigan Athletic who were dispatched in the FA Cup thanks to a fortunate goal from Paul Benson on his home debut…

In late August, it was a breathtaking evening listening to the League Cup Second Round tie with Stoke City unfold on the radio, which was probably finest performance under Di Canio and probably for many years…

Then, Town nearly took Aston Villa to extra time after a brace from the later over-hyped Miles Storey equalised in this League Cup Fourth Round tie.

10. Nobody is safe…

Paul Caddis, a stalwart of 2011/12 and forever bombing up the right wing, couldn’t make it past pre-season and was sent packing to Birmingham City on-loan and expected to make the deal permanent.

The Scot’s departure was the latest in a series of swift changes in personnel at the County Ground and proved nobody is safe, as Alex Cooke explained in the article ‘Paolo Di Canio’s Uncertainty Principle’ back in September, which gets my nod for TheWashbag blog of 2012.

Paul Caddis in the stands

11. Paolo wants to be banned…

After being sent to the stands against Macclesfield, Di Canio took a swipe at the incompetent FA after the 3-0 victory over Crawley.

“Not ironically, I want to thank the Football Association for giving me the opportunity to watch the game from the stands,” he told BBC Wiltshire. I give them permission to ban me for the rest of the season. We will win the league anyway.”

Buy the ‘Ban Me’ t-shirt!

12. We Are The Champions!

Swindon Town have only won three Football League titles and I’m lucky that all three have been during my lifetime.

We all expected promotion from League Two, but I always knew the championship was ours to lose.

The 5-0 drubbing of Port Vale at the County Ground was the perfect way to secure the title, re-live the celebrations…

A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OUR READERS!!!

Images from swindon-town-fc.co.uk

Simon Ferry – Swindon’s missing link

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He can play 50 passes in less than 90 minutes and knits defence and attack but lately illness has deprived Town of Simon Ferry in full flow, Alex Cooke looks at what we have been missing.

“Less energy, more quality”. That was Paolo Di Canio’s opinion of what Simon Ferry brought from the bench to Swindon versus Shrewsbury on Tuesday.  It might sound a strange view to take of a player who most fans would pick for not only for his excellence, but one who also exuding energy and enthusiasm in every performance. However, it is an idea which is backed up by the stats.

A look at his performances against Wigan and Leicester show that Ferry passes with both efficiency and accuracy.

During the 90 minutes (plus injury time) against Wigan he completed 91% of the passes he attempted. That is clearly an impressive number, especially as it wasn’t earned through a few tapped short exchanges with Jon Smith; he actually attempted 25 passes, all around pitch.

Against Leicester, he managed to complete an even more remarkable 90% of his passes over 81 minutes versus the Championship team, failing to complete just five out of 50. For an international comparison Xavi’s of Barcelona completes on average of 90% of his passes, but then he has been known to make 100 passes in just 45 minutes.

While Ferry’s passing is often unspectacular, it is like him; swift, precise and short. He also has the awareness and technique to play the ball under pressure, giving and receiving passes while marked and spin in little space. Other Swindon players might dawdle, shifting the ball to their preferred foot; Ferry links the play almost instantaneously.

So while it is Matt Ritchie who gives Swindon creativity and penetration in the wide positions and Raffa De Vita shuttles up and down the flank, it is Ferry who provides the possession, and so controls the pace of the game. He isn’t a box-to-box action man or even playmaker, more of a prompter.

He’s also tactically aware. During the first twenty minutes of a game, Ferry will often sit deeper – level with Jon Smith – offering ‘false pressing’ of the opposition. During this time he, and the rest of the midfield, doesn’t seek to win the ball high up the field, merely to jockey, to harass and to block – proof of which again comes from the FA Cup tie against Wigan when he made just three passes, 12% of his total, inside the opening 20 minutes of the match.

It is only when his manager removes the defensive shackles that Ferry starts to show his influence, pressing for real, and accelerating into space, feeding the vertical attacking thrusts of Ritchie, Paul Caddis and Luke Rooney with passes, as well as simply keeping,  and circulating the ball.

As the game unfolds, he has the intelligence and flexibility to alter his role either to become the lead point on a diamond, or to remain square.  For, in Town’s 442, with its inverted wingers, Ferry’s role isn’t to venture beyond the strikers, instead when attacking he holds a position inside the ‘D’ of the 18-yard-box ready to change the direction of the attack or to feed any clearances back into the forwards. It is much as Paul Scholes does now, but from a much higher starting position than the Manchester United playmaker.

What Ferry doesn’t do is hit hopeful 60-yard ‘Hollywood’ passes from front to back, or chip balls into the channels for the strikers – his passing to almost exclusively to feet. However, common perception is that he doesn’t look for longer passes doesn’t quite hold true. Against Leicester City, Ferry repeatedly sought to release Raffa De Vita on the left flank with a number of 30-yard balls. It might have been a strategy, it might have been pure opportunity – but it proves that that to go with his ‘tiki-taka’ there is also some ‘wacka’.

The Leicester match also revealed another pre-conception about Ferry’s passing that doesn’t quite hold true. Because of his position very much on the right of central midfield, and his right footedness, it is easy to presume that his passing would primarily mirror Swindon’s strength on that right flank. Instead, Ferry’s play showed greater balance between the flanks.

19 times he passed to the right flank and 12 to the left, switching the direction of the attack and 13 times feeding the advancing full-backs. Interesting for a player who likes to run forward with the ball, he also passed backwards 13 times, retaining possession with a pass to Alan McCormack four times, Wes Foderingham twice and Joe Devera  just the once. Also interestingly, it was the two wingers who most often received the ball, Ritchie 11 times and De Vita/Gabilondo eight times. In 30 forward passes, Alan Connell came short to take five passes but in his nine sideways balls, only twice did he aim for his fellow central midfielder, Oliver Risser.

But there is a gap in Ferry’s game – regaining the ball. During the Wigan game, Ferry won just one tackle and was dispossessed three times. He also headed the ball just three times, twice finding a teammate.  Instead he hustles and harries with superb patience, energy and positional discipline.

There often seems to be a short piece of elastic between him and Jon Smith as they shuffle from one side of the pitch to the other perfectly in line, presenting a formidable barrier to any attack and provide an excellent screen to the back four. It is the kind of discipline that comes only with understanding, training ground drilling and excellent concentration.

But Jon Smith isn’t a ball-winner either. Instead he tends to crash into his opponents with the leggy grace of a crane-fly hitting a window. And the stats bear this out too as in the same Wigan game, he won and lost the same number of tackles – two.  He also gave away two freekicks, but he did make two interceptions. Key though is his pass completion stats – 93%. Which looks better than Ferry’s percentage but with only 15 attempted, and the majority being more conservative, more ‘square’ passes, he isn’t as attacking as his midfield partner.  Instead he forms the rear point of the midfield diamond when Town attack.

But any look at a player’s statistics can’t ignore the opposition, and the Wigan game is the exception not the rule – it was open, clean and played on the floor, not in the air. So while Smith won all of his headers, he hardly faced the endless tossed-up balls that Macclesfield or to a lesser extent the physical tie that Leicester offered.

For these games, Canio clearly acknowledged Smith’s lack of power, aerial ability and perhaps even positional discipline, preferring the bulkier Oliver Risser. Plenty has already been written and said about Risser’s strengths, and weaknesses, but his influence and input into the side is clearly growing.

Against a hulking Macclesfield side Di Canio clearly selected the Namibian for his aerial ability to shield the relatively small backline of Alan McCormack and Joe Devera, winning five or six headers in a row during the second half. Similarly away at Rotherham, again it was Risser who was chosen to pick up Alex Revel at set-pieces, instead of either of the centre backs. Also against Leicester, Risser forced one of the better chances leaping to hit in a near-post header reminiscent of the flick-on he won leading to Aden Flint scoring against Huddersfield.

Whatever the changes Di Canio makes to Ferry’s partner, it is telling that the Scot has almost always played when he has been available – even when ill. Because while Smith and Risser might be used in certain games, in certain roles  – and Lee Cox clearly offers a robust presence allied with vision – Simon Ferry can always adapt to any role, and the one change that is never required is to substitute him.

Vic Morgan Blog: A day of pride…

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BBC Devon’s Vic Morgan continues his weekly blog only here on The Washbag.

What a day… Saturday January the 7th 2012, will go down as one of the great days of Swindon Town’s recent history.

Wigan Athletic came to the County Ground as favourites. They’re a Premier League team, and should get past a side from League Two.

That was reinforced when they went in front. Aden Flint conceding a penalty. The original spot kick struck an upright, but the rebound was put in…so 1-0 to the big boys.

Should be plain sailing from then on shouldn’t it…?

From then on, the Town were superb. An equaliser from Alan Connell, and a winner from Paul Benson. Absolutely wonderful.

No Town fan could have felt anything but the greatest of pride for their team, and manager Paolo Di Canio described it as the greatest day in his career…quite something from someone who was one of the Premier League’s best.

It was fantastic to see the County Ground rocking.

The day for me was ended in the best possible way with Athletic manager Roberto Martinez being so gracious in defeat…a true gent and a credit to the sport.

It also turned out to be my last ever Swindon Town commentary, although I didn’t know that at the time…quite a way to go out.

As for the next round.. ? A decent enough draw to be honest. A trip to either Forest or Leicester, a game which gives us a chance and we’ll again have a great following.

Yes it was FANTASTIC day……

OFF TO BARNET….

Another cup competition on Tuesday then…

The first leg of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Underhill. Great atmosphere before the game in the chip shops and pubs…and a feeling of confidence.

The game turned out to be okay, and a header from Flint set us on our way.

I think tiredness caught up with us, and the tie is now level going to the County Ground on February the 7th.

Most of the ground was populated by Swindon fans, and they created a great noise in the ground. Hopefully they’ll do the same at the Dom Valley on Saturday.

Alan McCormack picked up another booking and now misses the next two games.

That will be a blow, because Alan has been immense at the heart of the Town defence. The impact he’s had alongside Aden Flint has been tremendous, and Alan’s been one of the stars of the season.

TOUCHLINE BAN…

Paolo has been banned from the touchline for the game in South Yorkshire at the weekend, a small price to pay for that glorious moment at Northampton on New Years Eve. It was one which Swindon fans will remember forever…one of the most incredible exhibitions of joy at his team winning a game I’ve ever seen.

And so to Rotherham, and Swindon’s first visit to the Don Valley.. Let’s hope its memorable, and the Town take three more points in their quest for promotion.

It’s turning out to be a great season, and my Late Show on BBC Radio Devon is full of texts and emails wishing Swindon well….

Keep it loud, keep it proud, keep it SWINDON

Vic

FA Cup ‘Shock’ Report – Swindon 2 Wigan 1: ‘Nuff Said…

Swindon Town v Wigan Athletic - Paul Benson celebrates

Swindon Town are into the FA Cup fourth round thanks to a magnificent 2-1 victory over Wigan Athletic….we’ve not had the opportunity to celebrate that achievement in a while writes Ron Smith.

It’s been fifteen long years since our previous run beyond round three. Town are rewarded with a trip the East Midlands; thanks to goals from Alan Connell and Paul Benson, this after Callum McManaman pounced to shoot following a wayward Wigan penalty.

The result reverberated around with commentators defining this as the shock and upset of the round. It was a shock that Wigan who are some 53 positions above their Wiltshire opponents couldn’t progress. The thousands inside the County Ground witnessed a truly deserved Town victory, which translated the professionalism and desire of their manager into the performance on the pitch.

Unlike Wigan who made nine changes from a midweek defeat by Sunderland, Paolo Di Canio kept faith with an unchanged XI. The familiarity between players was always going to work in Town’s favour, yet the strength in depth and nous of a top flight team should normally be enough to dispatch their League Two hosts.

It all started off well enough for Wigan. Swindon went into the match knowing they’ll be up against a side who have a habit for retaining the ball well, so sat back too much and too easily surrendered possession. Wigan were more than happy be patient, playing it around short at the back before launching balls over the midfield to Di Santo and into the channels, however they didn’t seize the early advantage as they failed to create any notable chances with Hendry Thomas contributing an ineffective long range effort over the bar. Paolo got what he wanted pre-match, as Town held out for the opening 20 minutes.

Without much of the ball, Town had to rely on a wayward ball forward by Adrian Lopez to snatch an opening shot on goal, but Ronan Murray’s aim was off as his shot went straight to Al-Habsi’s chest. Then with nearly half of the opening period gone Paul Caddis’ cross receives a fortunate deflection but agonisingly flies inches wide of the post.

It would take Swindon time to get wise to the source of Wigan’s control, soon starting to press and hassle the Wigan ‘keeper and backline even harder, but before Town could think about grabbing the lead they needed to pick themselves up after falling behind.

Wigan’s goal was handed to them on a plate. With the game settling down for both sides, Callum McManaman was evading the challenge of Aden Flint, only to turn inside and for the Town defender to mis-time his challenge and send the youngster tumbling. Ben Watson took the resulting penalty kick, slipping, which sent his strike to hit the bottom of the upright, McManaman was quickest to react – seemingly because he had encroached inside the penalty area – to fight off Ritchie and pounce to fire past Wes Foderingham with 33 mins on the clock.

Despite being a goal behind, Town were unmoved as they persisted to assert themselves in the lead up to the equaliser. With a great spell of attacking pressure Matt Ritchie’s shot from outside the area expertly tipped past the post by Al-Habsi. Then, with five minutes to go before the break, Town secured the leveler at the perfect time.

With Swindon’s late half dominance continuing Ritchie was again involved as he sends over a wonderful floated cross, that was met by the rising and poorly marked Alan Connell. The former Grimsby man glanced his backward header past a hapless Al-Habsi to make it 1-1. As Connell reeled off in celebration towards the DRS his three goals in as many games perhaps may ensure Town have found the consistent striker we’ve been lacking all campaign.

Unlike their early advantage, Wigan were not allowed to control the game again. Just before half time Ritchie, Ferry, Connell and Murray combined with some neat one touch football to surge through the centre and send the on loan Ipswich striker through, but strike narrowly over Al-Habsi’s head.

Town cemented their dominance at the break with the introduction of Paul Benson for Murray. The former Charlton striker again made the difference and showed tantalising glimpses of what is install when back up to full match fitness.  The change helped to restrict Wigan as they looked more at the emerging Swindon attacking threat which sought to sit deep, but press forward and counter in numbers.

The pace of the second half came at a price, with Connell lagging, Di Canio played a masterstroke in bringing on Lukas Magera and giving him the role which would eventually ensure Town would finish the game the winning side. The Czech striker, was allowed to drop deep, support the midfield and provide the link up play with half time substitute Paul Benson.

The pressure paid off with fourteen minutes remaining when Matt Ritchie unleashed a drive from range only for his strike to be caught by Paul Benson. The deflection understandably caught out the Wigan ‘keeper who was already diving to his left. Post match Wigan boss Roberto Martinez complained Benson was offside when he deflected the ball past Al-Habsi and that his side missed out to a ‘lucky’ Swindon side. You can’t argue with the former, yes Benson was offside, but if this would’ve been disallowed we were in the ascendency and the winner was always heading in our direction. In terms of the ‘lucky’ comment, Wigan were fortunate their opener wasn’t disallowed for encroachment…

With time running out Wigan continued their patient approach continued, which doesn’t fit trying to find the equaliser in the final moments of a cup tie. When they pressed forward their chances were cut out down a resolute Swindon who remained professional and disciplined right up to the final whistle.

As Swindon celebrated a fantastic and deserved 2-1 victory the result was a shock to those not in attendance, but for the 13,238 supporters inside the County Ground it wasn’t a shock as Town fully deserved to progress to the fourth round.

The Lactics arrived and masqueraded as a top flight side. In the end the only element of the Premier League about Wigan was the badge on their shirt sleeves - a probable hastily applied addition bought from their owner’s shop before the match. While there were many changes in Martinez’ side, who later admitted he’d wished eleven were made – wouldn’t you if you knew you were to get beaten anyway – this 2011/12 campaign may finally be the one where they fail to avoid the drop. If there was one thing everyone learned from this result, Swindon are masquerading as a Championship side in League Two.

Looking ahead, while Paolo Di Canio didn’t get his wish of a trip to Old Trafford in the fourth round,  his Swindon side are certainly capable of another ‘upset’ against Forest or Leicester. Some of the post draw reaction uttered groans of disappointment that we hadn’t been drawn a ‘big’ team, supposedly to allow the Town fan the chance to watch the side they really support… Why complain? Any draw is a fantastic draw for Swindon…the reason why…because we’re in it and there’s a chance to progress to the next round!

Your Man of the Match: Matt Ritchie with 29% of your vote

Swindon v Wigan Athletic: Man of the Match Vote

A fantastic 2-1 victory for Swindon Town in the FA Cup 3rd Round this afternoon.

Callum Kennedy took the sponsor’s man of the match vote. Do you agree?

Vote below. The winner will be announced in our match report.

FA Cup 3rd Round Preview: Swindon vs Wigan Athletic

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This Saturday afternoon Swindon Town welcome Premier League opposition to the County Ground in the FA Cup 3rd Round tie with Wigan Athletic.

The last time we entertained a Premier League team at the County Ground in the FA Cup was a visit by Coventry City in a 3rd Round tie in January 2001 – which we lost 2-0.

Speaking of last times… Swindon Town have not beaten top flight opposition in the FA Cup since 1988. After a 0-0 draw with Norwich City at the County Ground in the 3rd Round, we beat the Canaries 2-0 at Carrow Road thanks to a Dave Bamber double.

Form… Town come into the game thanks to double wins against Northampton Town and AFC Wimbledon in League Two.

Following a Carling Cup 2nd Round defeat on 30th August, Town have gone five cup ties unbeaten in FA Cup and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Wigan travel to SN1 on the back of a 4-1 reverse at home to a resurgent Sunderland on Tuesday evening, ensuring the Lactics are without a win in five games.

Swindon-Town-FC.co.uk Head-to-Head… The sides have never met in the FA Cup and in the ten Football League matches between the sides, Swindon have won 3 games, drawn 4 and defeated on 3 occasions, scoring 13 and conceding 13.

Wigan have never defeated Swindon at the County Ground in five visits.

The last meeting was a 2-1 victory over top of the Division Two table Wigan at the County Ground for Andy King’s Town in January 2003.

The most memorable games between the two sides came in the Division Three Play-Off Semi Finals in 1987. After a 3-2 victory at Springfield Park in the first leg, Town secured a goalless draw to send us to that epic final with Gillingham. Videos of both games with Wigan are at the bottom of this article.

Swindon Total FA Cup Record… Swindon Town have played 333 matches in the FA Cup, winning 166, drawing 53 and defeated on 114 occasions.

In those 333 matches 653 goals have been scored and 466 conceded.

Four of our biggest ever victories have come in the FA Cup including; 10-1 over Farnham United Breweries in November 1925, 9-0 over Maidenhead United in 1890, 9-0 over Poole in 1903 and another 9-0 against Whiteheads in 1902.

Swindon’s best performance in the FA Cup were semi-final appearances in 1910 and 1912.

In modern times, Town have made the Quarter Final on two occasions in 1923/24 and 1969/70.

Since that Quarter Final in 1969/70, Swindon have been defeated in the 1st Round five times, 2nd Round five times, 3rd Round sixteen times, 4th Round thirteen times and twice in the 5th Round in 1991/92 and 1995/96.

Swindon have not made it past the 3rd Round since a 5th Round tie with Southampton and eventual replay defeat in 1995/96 as a Division Two side.

Since that run to the 5th Round, Town have been knocked out in the 3rd Round by Everton, Stevenage, Barnsley, Charlton Athletic, Coventry City, Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Barnet and Fulham, which was our last appearance at this stage back in January 2010.

My prediction… With a busy January schedule the last result we want on Saturday is a draw and a midweek trip to Lancashire to visit one of the Premier League’s less glamorous stadiums. Whether we’ll win will depend on Roberto Martinez’ squad and how seriously the relegation threatened club will be treating the competition, but we’re getting stronger and stronger as the season develops so my rather optimistic prediction is a 3-1 Swindon victory.

Here are some videos of that 1987 Play-Off tie with Wigan….

Second leg at the County Ground

Vic Morgan Blog: December Player of the Month Result and More…

Vic Morgan

BBC Wiltshire commentator Vic Morgan continues his weekly blog only here on The Washbag.

First and foremost, a Happy New Year. We say goodbye to 2011, and hello to 2012, an Olympic year we hope in many respects.

Northampton saw us see out the old year in style…

Not the greatest of games, but possibly one of the greatest endings.

Trailing to a first half penalty, it looked like the stumble on Boxing Day at Torquay, may turn out to be a bit of a bigger fall at the Sixfields.

However Alan Connell levelled it with a great finish, and Alan McCormack scored a brilliant late winner to send us into the new year in great heart.

It was one of those moments that those who were there probably won’t forget. Alan’s post match comments were superb… “I looked up and saw a crazed man in a green jacket and bulging veins on his forehead running towards me.”

Yes it was Paolo Di Canio joining in the celebrations. It was fantastic, and one of the highlights of the season.

So to the County Ground, and a brand new twelve months of football.

Bit of a struggle in the first half against AFC Wimbledon, but the second forty five minutes brought goals from Captain Marvel, Paul Caddis, and another from Alan Connell.

New signing Paul Benson might have had a hat trick on his debut for the club, and I’m sure we’ll see great things from Paul when he’s got more games under his belt. Fine win, and 4th place in the league, yes a great start to 2012.

Of course it’s always a time to look back and reflect. Suffice it to say, let’s move on to 2012 and get out of League Two.

Probably best to keep 2011 in the drawer, and never speak of it again…except the last three months of it obviously.

So to our DECEMBER player of the month…. There have been several candidates for the honour.

Liam Ridealgh played a great part in the Town’s rise up the league, before departing back to Huddersfield, and then on to Chesterfield. Aden Flint, has again looked as solid as a rock at the back, and the midfield has looked pretty good too.

But this is out the vote has gone…

In third place with 20% of the vote, is ALAN MCCORMACK, who’s looked better and better in that centre back role…

In second place with 29%, is the November’s winner PAUL CADDIS, who’s still in excellent form…

But the winner with 31%, is WES FODERINGHAM, soon to be a Town player for good, which is great news after impressing on his loan spell from Palace.

I guess you can compare Wes to Frazer Digby in many respects. A young keeper who came for a while, but then stayed at the County Ground. Let’s hope that it has a similar ending, with Wes helping Swindon climb through the leagues.

Now the goal of 2011, as voted for by readers of TheWashbag.com…..

It came against Gillingham at the County Ground in the league, and it was the screamer from Matt Ritchie which set Swindon on their way. That goal polled a massive 56%, so pretty popular then I guess.

Congratulations to Matt and Wes, many awards to come for both I’m sure….

THE FA CUP AND THE MAGIC OF……

While the league is the priority, there are two great games coming up in the next few days.

On Saturday we welcome Wigan to the County Ground in the FA Cup third round. Roberto Martinez’s men are having a torrid time in the Premier League, and won’t welcome their trip to Wiltshire. It’s going to be fantastic atmosphere, with a big capacity crowd.

I remember the play off games with Wigan back in the eighties, 2-0 down at Springfield Park, before a storming comeback to win 3-2. Then a goaless draw at home, enough to put us in the final against Gillingham…great days.

On Tuesday, I’ll be in the away end at Barnet, as the Town hope to take something from Underhill in the first leg of the JPT Area final. Should be another great night..

I’ll be a part of the BBC Wiltshire team on Saturday, and you can follow me on Twitter @swindonred.

Keep it loud, keep it proud, keep it SWINDON

Vic

Colchester 0 Swindon 1: Town progress to face Wigan Athletic

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Swindon brushed aside League One opposition for the second successive round in the FA Cup writes Richard Banyard from Swindon-Town-FC.co.uk - comfortably beating Colchester on their own patch today with a performance that had the home fans chanting for their money back.

Di Canio made three personnel changes to the side that beat Aldershot last weekend – to be honest, I was expecting him to rest more – Kerrouche and Magera returned to the attack, Raffa de Vita dropped back to a left midfield role in place of Gabilondo, and Oliver Risser was drafted into midfield instead of the ill Simon Ferry.

The Town signalled their intent from the off – almost registering the first goal without their opponents touching the ball. From the centre, the ball was picked up by Jonathan Smith, who drove forward immediately, before finding Ritchie on the right flank – his cross found Magera, whose header was low, but too close to Williams in the Colchester goal.

The opening exchanges didn’t make for particularly good viewing, and it was almost fifteen minutes in before the next attempt on goal – this time for the U’s. After a poor Swindon corner, Colchester broke away at pace – Odejayi slipped in Vincent, but the former Cheltenham player’s strike was high and wide, when he should have got it on target.

That was a rare foray into the Swindon half though – and over the next few minutes, the Town had three glorious opportunities to have taken the lead. Just a minute after Vincent’s miss, Aden Flint had gone forward for a Town freekick, and though it came to nothing, the Town defender was still up there when a cross from the right side found him on the back post. From our position at the other end of the pitch, it was difficult to see what happened next – Flint looked to have pretty much a free header, and I thought the first attempt came back off the bar, though some around me said that the keeper had made a save. In any case, came back out, and another Town player (not sure who) threw himself in for a header – I’ve no idea how the ball stayed out, but between the two of them, it looked like we really should have scored.

Two minutes later came another chance. A teasing through ball played behind the defence was meant for Ritchie, and as the Colchester keeper came out, Ritchie beat him to it – unfortunately the Town winger got too much on it, when a lighter touch would have seen him in front of goal with an empty net. Instead, Ritchie was forced to take the shot from a tight angle, and as the defence got back to cover, he could only shoot into the side netting.

Colchester were next to attack – and a dangerous shot was blocked by the head of Alan McCormack, who was again superb in defence throughout. Before the corner was taken, Paul Caddis rushed out to scream at Mehdi Kerrouche - I don’t know what for, but the Town captain was so incensed, he wasn’t back in position when the ball was back in play – Kerrouche didn’t look remotely interested in whatever Caddis had to say. The corner was safely cleared – minutes later though, di Canio replaced Kerrouche with Ronan Murray, and it appeared that not a word was said between the striker and his manager.

Other than a couple of long range efforts that didn’t trouble at all, Swindon continued to do most of the pressing – and another chance fell their way with about ten minutes of the half remaining. After Risser wasn’t awarded anything despite being fouled in midfield, de Vita cut the ball out, and ran forward with it. I thought he should have chosen a more direct route – either going for goal himself, or slipping in Ritchie to his right – instead the Italian chose to play it out to Magera in a wider position on the left side. The big Czech striker’s cross was blocked, but only cleared to the edge of the area – and for a moment, it looked like Ritchie would have a clear shot on goal – that was until a desperate challenge from a U’s defender diverted his shot away.

As the half came to a close, de Vita again was involved in another rush forward – he worked the ball out to Caddis on the wing, who took it past a defender before cutting the ball back – the eventual cross was sent out for a corner. The corner was taken short and didn’t work well – but the ball was again only cleared to Ritchie – this time his strike sailed harmlessly wide.

The half ended with one final flashpoint - a through ball at the other end had Wes Foderingham scampering out to claim the ball after some initial hesitation, as he collected it, Colchester striker Gillespie went in with very high studs – a challenge that Alan McCormack took exception to. As the Colchester player got back to his feet, McCormack pushed him back down again – after that, both players were guilty of a bit of handbags, for which the referee booked them both.

It had been a decent first half for the Town, but I was a little disappointed that we hadn’t taken the lead at this point – even more so when the home side came out all guns blazing for the second half, presumably having been given a rocket at half time. There was a bit of panic in the Town area in the opening couple of minutes, Foderingham eventually clearing with a punch…. but Colchester’s vigour quickly fizzled out, and the Town were soon back in the ascendancy.

After Caddis had struck a long range free-kick well over, Swindon came close again on fifty minutes. After taking the ball from the right wing to the left, Ritchie slipped in de Vita, and though in a good position, the Italian’s cross was blocked out for a corner. It was taken short to Ridehalgh, whose first time cross invited the keeper out… he wasn’t able to claim it though. The ball eluded everyone in the centre, and though Flint was on the back post, he obviously didn’t see it until late, and it ricocheted off his knee for a goal-kick, with the goal at his mercy.

At the other end, Colchester nearly snatched an opener – bad defending on Town’s right side allowed the U’s to get a cross in, and as two forwards both challenged for the ball, Gillespie got their first – his header looping onto the top of the net from what was a good position – if Odejayi hadn’t jumped with him, he might have converted.

Minutes later, Swindon came very close again to breaking the deadlock. Picking the ball up in the centre circle, Lukas Magera slipped a wonderful through ball inside the defender for Ritchie to run on to, and as the keeper came out to close him down, the winger squared it for Ronan Murray. I really thought that Murray should have hit it first time – with the defence getting back though, he chose to cut it back onto his right foot, avoiding a sliding challenge in the process – by this time though, the keeper had recovered his position, and he was able to hold Murray’s weak shot. With so many chances having been spurned, we were beginning to wonder if it was going to be our day.

We needn’t have worried though. On the hour, Ritchie won the ball on the right side, and after not having had much luck with his balls into the area during the afternoon, this time he made a beeline for the goal, cutting inside his marker. As he reached the edge of the box, he fired a shot at goal – not sure it may have taken a deflection – but the ball flew past Williams and into the net – Ritchie celebrating with a slide in front of the 500 travelling Town fans.

Colchester almost got back on level terms immediately, but McCormack got a last ditch block in to avert the danger – from then, normal service was resumed as Swindon pushed for a second, and there was a frustrating run of crosses into the box that just eluded Town players – de Vita’s cross just too high for Magera, Ritchie’s cross just went over Murray’s head, and Magera stepped over another low Ritchie cross with an attempt at a cheeky back-heel. A little later, de Vita smashed a shot across the face that no-one connected with. All Colchester had to show for their efforts was a long range effort from Wordsworth, that went woefully high and wide.

Ronan Murray had a couple more efforts – firstly, after flicking the ball neatly over a defender, he shot well wide, then a second when he took the ball after a strong run by Caddis, but again he flicked harmlessly over. The Town were forcing plenty of corners as they looked for the second goal to wrap it up – but with the game still at 1-0, there was always the danger that Colchester might snatch an equaliser – twice they came mighty close.

With seven minutes left on the clock, di Canio made the decision to bring on Alessandro Cibocchi in place of Raffa de Vita, just as Colchester were taking a corner – something I never like to see. The ball in found Odejayi in a central position, pretty much unmarked – someone behind me said ‘goal’ as if the striker couldn’t miss…. instead though, he didn’t make a clean connection, it looked like the ball came off his shoulder as it squirmed wide. It was a bit of a let-off…. but not as big as the one that came in injury time.

As the U’s got desperate in the four minutes that were added on, a high ball in landed at the feet of Gillespie, initially with his back to goal, he was allowed to turn, and found himself in a central position with the goal at his mercy. Thankfully, the striker didn’t connect well with his shot – it was more of a toe poke than anything else – and Foderingham got down to save – the fact that the shot was Colchester’s only attempt on target throughout the entire ninety minutes a very good indication of how one-sided this contest had been.

The 1-0 victory sends Swindon into the 3rd Round to face Wigan Athletic at the County Ground on the weekend of the 7/8th January 2012 - hardly a glamour, yet a very winnable tie against Premier League opponents, as Town look to continue their impressive cup run beyond the 3rd Round for the first time since 1995/96.

Your Man of the Match: Matt Ritchie 43%