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Matches of Yesteryear - Swindon v U's 23/8/08
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 7th Mar 2020 11:52

Another very busy week at work, so apologies this is a little later than usual. For once I look out on a Saturday with bright skies and the sun even occasionally peeking out – will it be shining on John McGreal and the U’s by 5pm though? It’s at times like this I need the sage words of Doris Day (and latterly Wivenhoe resident Captain Sensible) “Happy talk – keep talkin’ happy talk”.

Swindon Town v Colchester United

Saturday 23rd August 2008

Coca-Cola League 1 (Tier 3)

Attendance 7,031

Match #47 of the Matches of Yesteryear series, and it’s yet another of my birthday football trips, making the relatively short journey over to the County Ground to watch the U’s take on Swindon Town (third visit in the series). Match #46 covered a trip to London Road in our 1997/98 season getting promoted to Division 3, and ten years later we’re at the start of our first campaign after relegation to Division 3. Swindon has never been a particularly popular trip for me, it may be easy to get to, but we seldom win, it’s not a nice place, and I find their supporters boorish at best. But, on the flip side, I was once tolerated entering their home fans only County Ground Hotel (in my U’s shirt) to gather lots of signatures for our new stadium petition, so I’ll happily give them credit for that.

We’d had a baptism of fire in our opening match back in Division 3, losing heavily 4-2 at Hartlepool (and with just 12 minutes to go, it was 4-0), followed by a spirited if somewhat deflating 0-0 draw for our first competitive match at the new Community Stadium. This left George Williams and the U’s in the relegation zone, and whilst league tables mean very little this early in a season, we all desperately needed to something to steady the ship and pull away from immediate danger. Swindon, under Maurice Malpas, had made a slightly better start, beating Tranmere 3-1 at home on the first day before losing 0-2 at local rivals Cheltenham.

This was a busy weekend, not least my birthday weekend, but we’d also had friends over on the Friday night, so by Saturday lunchtime there was still some latent fragility lingering. I drove over to the game with my two boys, and I’m pretty sure this was Alfie’s first ever football trip. Sam, by then, had already been dragged to enough matches to make him almost a seasoned veteran. We parked up down one of the side streets near the ground and headed for a quick drink at the Merlin before kick-off. Always a popular destination for home and away fans alike, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen any problems whilst I’ve been there.

Alfie’s football experience begins…

The U’s lined up:

1….Dean Gerken

2….John White

6….Paul Reid

16..Matt Heath

3….Matt Lockwood

11..Mark Yeates

10..Kem Izzet (Dean Hammond 76’)

4….Johnnie Jackson

27..Anthony Wordsworth

9….Clive Platt

24..Scott Vernon (Akanni-Sunday Wasiu 85’)

As you can tell from the programme front cover, there was much focus on Johnnie Jackson leading up to this game. Jacko had made his football league debut for Swindon whilst on loan from Spurs, and had made a very good impression on the Robins during his stay, helped immensely by scoring on his debut with a well-struck free-kick against Northampton. As we all know, his next loan spell after that was with the U’s, again making a very positive impression – so much so that when the opportunity came, we signed him in 2006. However, for me I was more interested in seeing Nigerian Akanni-Sunday Wasiu. Some of you will have met my mate Jon, we usually get together for U’s matches at least once or twice a season, and he’s definitely got the U’s bug now. However, when he isn’t following the U’s, or on those rare occasions when he can get to the Emirates, he also follows St Albans City. He had told me all about Wasiu, who had made a huge impression on him in the relatively short spell he was at St Albans and was genuinely chuffed when he learned that we had taken him on loan.

Pre-match drinks and hotdogs for the boys out of the way, we took our seats in a reasonably well-filled stadium, and amongst what must have been nearly 400 U’s fans. It was a beautiful day and in the middle of the school holidays, which had clearly helped persuade more than usual to make the trip over from Essex.

Sam and Alfie ready for kick-off

The match itself was an absolute cracker, if you were a U’s fan that is. Right from the outset we were pressing Swindon hard, keeping them penned in their own half for long periods, and really controlling the game. We were helped by a very poor showing from Swindon Town, described by the Gazette quite rightly as “…lethargic”. With just over half an hour gone, it came as no surprise when a long free-kick from Gerken, launched from midway in our own half, was steered expertly by Platt into the path of Jackson (the prodigal son, who else), who made no mistake from 20 yards, drilling his left foot shot into the bottom corner. The away end erupted, even my boys joining in!

But we weren’t done yet, and continued to harry and harass the Robins for the rest of the half. Bang on half-time the excellent U’s received their reward, with Jackson this time turning provider. There was, it has to be said, a degree of good fortune in our second goal, with Jackson almost reverse passing towards the penalty area whilst running back towards midfield, but the Swindon defender made a complete horse’s @rse of what should have been an easy clearance, and a grateful Scott Vernon nipped in to lift the ball over the advancing goalkeeper. 2-0 at half-time, we were all in fine voice, so time for a half-time hotdog.

It’s bigger than his head…

We were of course in dreamland – we’d all hoped for a decent performance to get our season going, but I suspect most have seen too many fruitless trips to Swindon over the years to expect too much. The big question now was could we hold on, or whisper it, even go further. I was firmly expecting us to carry on in the same vein second half – Swindon had been as poor as we had been excellent, and there would surely be no other outcome if it continued the same into the second half. However, Malpas had other ideas, and made a double substitution for the second half, bringing on Mark Marshall and Craig Easton. This clearly made a difference, and it was a much closer contest in the early stages of the second half, even if the U’s still looked comfortable.

Then came the moment of controversy – well two moments I suppose. First off, Gerken, under pressure from a Swindon player, appeared to fumble a deep cross into the box with a full-blooded clearance from one of our defenders rebounding off a Swindon attacker and into the empty net. Fortunately, referee Clive Penton had spotted (and the replay sort of corroborates him) that Gerken had been impeded and the goal disallowed. However, perhaps to make up for what the Swindon players vehemently protested had been a good goal, he made amends by then gifting them a very soft penalty, when Matt Heath was adjudged to have handled in the box, and the penalty was despatched by Simon Cox. Just over 20 minutes to go, could the U’s hold on?

In truth, though I don’t remember too much of the detail, we easily held on. Despite the boost of getting a goal back, Swindon were still rather poor, and the U’s in all honesty always looked the more likely to score again. We had our own very good shout for a penalty denied, when Ifil clearly handled whilst on the ground as Vernon was preparing to round him and slam home another goal, but still were comfortably in control. So much so, that with five minutes to go George decided to give Akanni-Sunday Wasiu a run out, taking off Scotty too hotty Vernon. Wasiu repaid that confidence in him four minutes later, racing through the middle from a delightful through ball on what looked like a one on one with the goalkeeper. In all honesty, the goalkeeper should have got to the ball first, but instead had a mare and let his foot slide over the oncoming ball, to allow Wasiu the easiest of tap-ins for his first U’s goal, and we went ballistic! There was no way back for Swindon after that.

Swindon Town 1 (Simon Cox 67’p) Colchester United 3 (Johnnie Jackson 32’, Scott Vernon 45’, Akanni-Sunday Wasiu 89’)

Despite his early promise, Wasiu never really established himself at the U’s, clearly the step up from non-league had been a bit too far. We sent him out on loan to Luton the following January (Hatters manager Mick Harford had also been keen to sign him apparently), but that didn’t work out either, and at the end of this season he drifted out of English football – I think he’s still playing, currently at Terengganu FC II in Malaysia according to Wikipedia.

Struggling to adapt to life back in Division 3, this was Geraint Williams’ only league victory of the season, and was sacked in September. He was eventually replaced by Paul Lambert in October, and although Lambert’s arrival had a positive impact on the pitch, it was very much less so off the pitch.

First trip for Alfie, and first victory too. For Sam, it was same old same old, and in all our times travelling to watch the U’s together, he has still never seen us lose!

The match highlights are still on YouTube, so sit back and enjoy…

Up the U’s

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promocodelive added 09:01 - Jun 7
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Letters from Wiltshire #09 by wessex_exile
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