Colchester 0 Swindon 1: Town progress to face Wigan Athletic

Swindon brushed aside League One opposition for the second successive round in the FA Cup writes Richard Banyard from – 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%

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