Colchester United 1-2 Swindon Town: Tactical tinkerings pays dividends
Swindon Town secured a 2-1 victory over Colchester United to move back into the League One play-off places courtesy of some tactical tinkerings by a brave Mark Cooper, showing Craig Levein how to get the strikerless 4-6-0 formation to work. Writes Scott Keith.
If you’re going to go to Colchester’s new ground, the Weston Homes Community Stadium, it’s important you are entertained in as many ways as possible. Stuck on the edge of the town with no apparent amenities nearby bar a service station and a “stadium out of the box” feel (it does bear a remarkable resemblance to Chesterfield’s new ground) it’s a venue that is lacking.
So Mark Cooper not only obliged in providing a win, but an exciting game of “Guess the Formation”, which you could play not only between two and three pm, once the team line up was revealed, but for a reasonable part of the first half.
In the end, it was the return of Wes Foderingham in goal, the usual defence at the moment of Nathan Byrne, Darren Ward, Grant Hall and Jay McEveley. Ryan Harley was brought in, and played with Yaser Kasim and Louis Thompson. Then it got more complicated. The two wide strikers Nicky Ajose and Dany N’Guessan started right out on their respective touchlines, leaving a giant crescent like space which Massimo Luongo could move into.
Colchester had a few forays forward before we got the first idea of how, whatever exactly they were, the new 4-6-0 tactics might work. Nicky Ajose was sprung from deep and shot over after being able to run with the ball for a good 25 yards and Town were reasonably happy to stand off and let Colchester have the ball up to halfway.
“Do your worst with the ball” was the message to the home team. Largely they obliged.
After Harley, who did very well in keeping possession throughout, shot wide, the opening goal arrived. Luongo’s 20-yard shot was weakly tipped away by hulking goalkeeper Sam Walker, and as per paragraph four of the unwritten striker’s handbook “Good forwards are there to follow up”. Ajose thumped it in and made it 1-0.
One of the few advantages Colchester did have was height for free-kicks and corners, an area where the absent Nile Ranger was missed defensively and offensively. Thompson was impressively acrobatic as he twisted mid air to clear Craig Eastmond’s header from one corner off the line, meaning a 1-0 lead at the break.
A second goal arrived within two minutes of kick-off. More keeping possession, and Harley’s low cross was finished off by Dany N’Guessan at the far post.
At this point, the otherwise inert home support moved their volume up to grumble. Colchester lumped it forward with big striker Jabo Ibehre adding his muscle up front. Town waited and picked them off – with frequently one good ball forward enough to scare them. Walker came out to head one of those away, and from a minimum 35 yards Luongo attempted the first-time lob, which bounced off the angle of post and bar. When Ajose finished off N’Guessan’s cross after play continued, he was given offside. Not certain about that.
Needless drama arrived with 11 minutes to go. Defender Magnus Okuonghae stayed up front for Colchester, and scored completely unmarked, with a header from a right wing cross as whatever plans they had became lump it up front towards the big men. Hall and Ward mostly dealt with the the threat.
But by most standards, the closing stages weren’t that tense. Alex Pritchard, who dropped to the bench, should have got a third as he was clean through, and then couldn’t quite decide the most flamboyant way to beat the keeper. Caught almost between some Pele style dummy where he let the ball run and just hitting it, he attempted a first time chip that spooned wide.
One final word for Colchester central defender Cian Bolger, who managed, within 30 seconds, a miscued header, a clearance from it that went straight up in the air, followed by him mis-controlling the ball as it came down, and then, to finish with style, conceding a foul for a free-kick.
While Colchester weren’t up to much, the unorthodox 4-6-0 system put together by Mark Cooper and Luke Williams exploited their weakness and made for a very enjoyable away day at one of the least inspiring venues in the league.