GIVEN everything that has been thrown at this Swindon Town squad over the past fortnight it is remarkable that they are still standing, let alone becoming serious contenders for automatic promotion from League One.
From rumours of administration to the uncertainty surrounding their manager, postponed matches and unsuitable surfaces, the past two weeks have been amongst the most uncomfortable a professional footballer could be faced with.
Yet somehow, through it all, they’ve raised themselves to within two points of the top two. Quite incredible.
James Collins weaved his magic off the bench once again, coming on as a half-time substitute to bag the only goal of the game and his 14th of the season as the Robins put in the kind of performance that lets the fans know they really understand what pulling on that shirt really means.
The Weston Homes Community Stadium pitch adopted an unwanted character trait from each of the playing surfaces of Town’s previous three destinations – the dampness of Dean Court, the mud of the Matchroom Stadium and the bubbliness of the Broadfield.
Both teams did well to put together any kind of meaningful, passing football as the ball at random times decided to skid on or stick suddenly in the turf.
With a 15-man squad, several of which were still struggling with a virus, Town had their work cut out against a Colchester outfit who had won each of their last two games. But they were impressive in their perseverance and fully deserved the three points.
After 10 minutes of utter tedium, the game finally found a spark in the 11th minute. Gary Roberts released Andy Williams down the right and the striker crossed neatly for Darren Ward, but the Town defender could only nod a free header wide of Colchester goalkeeper Sam Walker’s right-hand post.
Another 10-minute wait followed before the crowd, who must have begun to feel they were guinea pigs in an impromptu cryogenics experiment, were woken from their slumber.
It came courtesy of John White, whose neat snapshot on the spin from Jabo Ibehre’s knockdown required and excellent save from Wes Foderingham in the Swindon goal.
Slowly the game was gathering pace. In the 22nd minute, Roberts floated a corner to the back post and Adam Rooney’s sliding effort was only prevented from finding the back of the net by Brian Wilson on the goalline.
Sixty seconds later the Robins came within inches of taking the lead once again, and again Rooney was at the heart of it. Tommy Miller crossed from the left, Ward headed across goal and the Irishman could not direct the ball goalwards at the back post.
After a sustained period of Swindon pressure, Colchester finally found the release valve with the half-hour mark approaching. Connor Clifford found space on the edge of the box to wrap his right foot around a gentle curler which Foderingham somewhat spectacularly pawed out for a corner.
With seconds remaining of the first period, Josh Thompson should have hit the target when Clifford found him with a corner from the right, while Rooney was denied by a flying save from Walker at the other end as the half came to a frantic climax.
Colchester came out quickly after the break, and Jay McEveley did well to nod Ibehre’s cross off the forehead of Gavin Massey with the goal gaping, before Town’s super-sub struck in the 53rd minute.
It was made by the devilishly tricky Roberts, who weaved from the right to the edge of the area to play a neat reverse pass to Collins. The frontman barely needed a sighter, taking the ball into his stride and thrashing it beyond Walker.
Despite the state of the pitch and the falling rain all conspiring to try to stop them, Swindon still tried to play their football. On the odd occasion that they managed to do just that, they looked increasingly threatening.
In the 64th minute Roberts, in one of his best performances in a red shirt, dinked inside and teed up Miller who tested Walker from 18 yards before six minutes later the U’s stopper did well to deny Williams after he was sent clear by Collins.
As Colchester pushed for an equaliser, so Town found space to exploit at the other end of the pitch. Simon Ferry found Roberts whose goalbound effort was deflected behind and two corners later Aden Flint nodded over after Rooney had headed Miller’s cross onto the penalty spot.
Foderingham did well to keep Swindon in front with nine minutes remaining, showing cat-like reflexes to hold Ibehre’s deflected effort.
From then on in, despite Colchester searching desperately for a leveller, the majority of the game was played in the hosts’ half. Both Roberts and Flint saw headers saved by the impressive Walker. And in the end, in spite of it all, the Swindon fans went home smiling yet again.