Southend 1 Swindon 2: Barnet now await Town in JPT Area Final

Something had to give as Southend’s 17 game unbeaten run went up against Swindon’s very own 12 match unbeaten record in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Southern Area Semi-Final at Roots Hall writes Daniel Hunt.

Paolo Di Canio’s squad of battlers were the last side to defeat Southend on September 10th and they repeated the feat on Tuesday night, this time on Shrimpers territory. You cannot underestimate how important these victories over a League 2 rival could be in the long run. Town players and fans have every right to be bullish about our chances in the league and cups this season. I am incredibly proud of this set of players who have now achieved six wins and a draw in our last seven away games in all competitions.

This really was a victory for the squad overall – out of the starting eleven went Ridehalgh, De Vita, Kerrouche and Magera with the fresh legs of Cibocchi, Gabilondo, Connell and Jervis returning. That Swindon could call on quality players like Magera, Murray and Ferry from the bench was probably the difference between two top League 2 sides on the night.

The first half was a tight and cagey affair as expected. On the balance of play I’d say Southend shaded it and Swindon would have been glad to go in at the break with the scores level at 0-0. Wesley Foderingham could not keep his eighth clean sheet in Swindon colours but he made a fantastic one-handed save from Town old-boy Blair Sturrock after 23 minutes. From the resulting corner, the ball broke to ex-Chelsea youngster Anthony Grant and his cross-come-shot struck the cross bar with Foderingham in two minds what to do – a rare moment of indecision from the Crystal Palace loanee. Most good things for Southend were going through their number 4, Ryan Hall, who was very impressive on the night and was rightly given the home team’s man of the match.

Swindon were not without their chances in the first half though, the best of them falling to a sliding Matt Ritchie at the back post but he could not convert Lander Gabilondo’s teasing centre after 34 minutes. The Spaniard almost went from being provider to goalscorer just before half time but Gabilondo couldn’t reach Paul Caddis’ rasping cross to head it in. Up front, Jake Jervis was having one of those nights best exemplified when he hit a shot into the flats above the home end on 38 minutes. Alan Connell had limped off with a ‘knock’ on 26 minutes and this was the catalyst for better things to come from his replacement, Lukas Magera.

The Czech Republic international splits opinion amongst the Swindon fans I speak to but now that Magera is fit again, I think he will be an important player for Town as the season goes on. His link up play is his strength and time and time again against Southend, Magera got hold of the ball in difficult situations and distributed it wide for Swindon to attack. Later on in the game too, Magera’s hold up play was one of the reasons why Swindon were able to see out the four minutes of stoppage time so comfortably – quite simply, he’s bloody massive!

The second half was much better from the Robins and before Blair Sturrock put the Shrimpers ahead against the run of play just after the hour, Cibocchi had a free kick palmed wide by Luke Daniels and Risser had a header saved on the goal-line by the keeper on loan from West Brom. The opportunity for Sturrock to score came about through two pieces of bad luck from a Swindon perspective. Paul Caddis could only get a skimmed defensive header onto a cross which clattered into Aden Flint at the far post and it dropped kindly for Paul Sturrock’s baby boy to poke home into the corner of the net.

I was feeling very disheartened at this point but the introduction of Simon Ferry on 66 minutes breathed life into Swindon and was the start of the comeback. It looked like Simon had never been ill as he passed, shimmied and tidied everything up in midfield like he always does.

The source of the equaliser was a most unlikely one; skipper Paul Caddis received a cross field pass from Lukas Magera and promptly lashed the ball home from the edge of the 18 yard box. From where I was sat, it was definitely looked like a cross and no one could quite believe it when the ball flew in – especially not Daniels who was unmoved in the Southend goal!

A stunned Southend had to soak up a lot of pressure as Swindon went in search of the winner. Jake Jervis’ final act of a frustrating night was to completely scuff a left foot shot wide from a good opening following a mistake from Southend centre-half Bilel Mohsni. Jervis was replaced by on loan Tractor-Boy Ronan Murray on 79 minutes and two minutes later Murray was celebrating wildly with the 334 travelling Swindon fans.

Lander Gabilondo had a great second half and the cross for Murray’s goal deserved to be headed home. Murray’s headed finish was deft as he popped up amongst a crowd of bigger players to flick home. The bruise on my left shin is testament to the joyous celebrations that took place behind the goal.

This game had a proper cup tie feel about it and Swindon demonstrated good levels of fitness to see out the remaining nine minutes of normal time and four minutes of stoppage time with few scares. A remarkable achievement given (a) the venue and (b) the fact that Town were playing a top of the league side unbeaten in 17 games.

The only downsides to a wonderful evening in Essex were the harsh yellow cards for Flint and Ritchie, with the latter now suspended for Saturday’s visit to local rivals Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium. Five yellow cards in 26 starts is not a bad return for a winger that likes to get stuck in and the enforced rest may be a silver lining going into the Christmas period. With neither De Vita nor Esajas making it onto the pitch at Roots Hall, Swindon have an embarrassment of riches ready to step in and make their mark against the Gas. It should be another tight game and I don’t have many good memories of visiting the blue half of Bristol, so I’d like Di Canio’s men to put this right.

Looking further in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, Barnet over two legs now await with the victors going to Wembley to play the winners of Chesterfield vs Oldham on March 25th. The extra exposure a televised second leg will bring is very welcome for the club. The board now have a chance to set ticket prices low and pack the County Ground. I have cringed when reading comments from Town fans on Facebook and Twitter about how we should ‘beat Barnet easy’ and one of my friends has already booked March 25th off work! Make no mistake, in Izale McLeod and Mark Marshall, Barnet have a couple of potential match-winners and they are clearly a resilient bunch having beaten Colchester United, Gillingham, Cheltenham and Brentford to join Swindon in the Area-Final. This Swindon Town fan is not taking anything for granted.

I just hope that this current Town side continue to do themselves justice because I get goose-pimples thinking about Paul Caddis going up to lift the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Wembley. What is more, it would be the perfect opportunity to banish memories of losing so tamely to Millwall in May 2010.

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