How James Collins made four go into three

Swindon hammered Portsmouth 5-nil thanks to James Collins, but it wasn’t just his arrival which altered the direction of the match, says Alex Cooke.

James Collins changed the game against Pompey and their 352 formation, but you knew that. What he did wasn’t hugely sophisticated – it is his natural way of playing – strong, quick, central, but the contrast with Chris Martin was obvious. Martin seems to work better as a support striker, Collins as a line leader. Where Martin orbited close to Andy Williams, dropping into the space outside Pompey’s defensive trio, Collins stayed central to devastating effect.

In the first half, when Williams rightly used his speed and trickery to run outside of the trio of centre backs Martin followed. The pair linked closely but out wide they were left isolated and their passing became more intricate and easily closed down. The way they played so closely always allowed the three Pompey defenders to stay close, always in touch, without the need to cover the full width of the pitch or to leave gaps.

While the introduction of Simon Ferry helped Town be more aggressive in midfield (if less disciplined in covering) Gary Roberts made the significant difference. His willingness to move inside off the flank and run directly towards the left-sided central defender reduced the cover that player could offer his team mates in dealing with Swindon’s forward duo. This is turn allowed Alan McCormack forward, and while McCormack looked almost pained on his left, his delivery from in front of the defensive line with his right was exemplary.

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Roberts at the bottom of the picture dragged the centre-back wider, leaving James Collins often with just one marker and no covering defender.

Collins’s first goal wasn’t due to this change though – it was a result of the same poor man-marking at corners that had seen Joe Devera twice get free in the first half (only to be let down by delivery). But the rest of the game had much to do with the three changes – Collins battled his centre-back in his trademark aggressive style, giving Williams a constant central target but also pulling the thee defender’s covering apart as they were forced to stretch across the entire pitch to deal with Roberts, Collins and Williams.

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As the ball is struck wide and crossed back in, notice Roberts rushing forward to support the attack from deep.

20130102-214418.jpgSeconds later Roberts arrives in behind Collins, adding an unmarked central threat on goal.

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