SWINDON Town played out a goalless draw against Colchester United on a stormy night at the County Ground, writes Adrian Smith.
The visitors had played the last 21 minutes with 10 men after Sanchez Watt was shown a red card for an aggressive reaction to being penalised for a foul but Town were unable to take advantage of their numerical supremacy.
The match had been in doubt due to the heavy rain and strong winds but passed a late pitch inspection.
Colchester United kicked off playing with the fierce wind blowing down the pitch towards the Stratton Bank on a stormy Valentine's night.
Swindon made a bright start with attacks down both wings through Byrne and Pritchard but it was the visitors who had the first shot of the night when they were awarded a free kick 20 yards from goal but their captain Brian Wilson shot high over the bar.
Both sides were understandably keeping the ball on the deck most of the time with the swirling wind and Nathan Byrne nearly used it to good effect with a wicked curling cross in the 17th minute which evaded all the players in the area and only just wide of the far upright.
Colchester were surprisingly playing with just one player up front despite playing with the wind which allowed Town to push them back down the pitch and the Robins were looking confident in attack down both wings.
Alex Pritchard fired in a powerful shot in the 21st minute which the visiting keeper Sam Walker did well to parry at the expense of a corner and when that was taken by Pritchard, a Colchester defender almost slotted the ball into his own net but instead it went wide of the post for the second corner of the match.
Dany N’Guessan almost capitalised on a weak clearance by the visiting keeper when the ball was played out to him on the left edge of the goal area but his low shot was gathered easily by the keeper.
Nathan Byrne carved out a great chance for Town in the 28th minute with a tricky run down the left wing before firing a low cross which was deflected at Walker who could only parry the ball but it went behind Pritchard who was poised for a shot.
Sanchez Watt was shown a yellow card in the 32nd minute for scything Nathan Thompson on the right wing as he was about to launch an attack but the inswinging cross from Pritchard’s free kick was cleared.
Colchester had their first corner of the night in the 39th minute after a brief period of attacking but the Town defence cleared the danger. Shortly afterwards Troy Archibald-Henville did well to clear a tricky cross into the penalty area at the expense of another corner but again the Robins defence stood firm and Luongo charged out of defence with the ball.
Nathan Thompson put in a tremendous sprint down the right wing to cross into the box but the ball only just evaded Michael Smith and a defender was on hand to put the ball out for a corner.
Nile Ranger pulled up alarmingly in the 42nd minute after charging through the middle of the Colchester defence and he left the field walking very slowly and went straight down the tunnel. There was no sign of a substitute being ready so play continued with Town down to 10 men until Jacob Murphy made his home debut just before the match entered one minute of added time and there was no other action to report before the half ended.
Town kicked off the second half with driving rain behind their backs and were straight on the attack with Luongo placing the defence under pressure but the keeper took control of the ball.
Dany N’Guessan set Pritchard up with a chance early in the half when he laid the ball off to the Town midfielder but he was crowded out by the defence.
The visitors had a corner in the 53rd minute after Archibald-Henville cut out a cross but the ball was cleared by the Town defence.
Town’s best move of the match so far saw Luongo send a ball to the right wing for Smith to chase and he sprinted forward before sending a low cross intended for Pritchard but the defence put the ball out for a corner in the 55th minute.
Town were guilty of overplaying on the edge of the box choosing to keep passing the ball instead of trying a shot and eventually Thompson sent in a speculative cross which evaded the Town forwards in the 61st minute.
Jacob Murphy popped up in midfield to launch an attack which led to a corner when Pritchard’s reverse shot struck a defender but the resulting cross was again cleared.
Freddie Sears replaced Vose in the 65th minute and shortly afterwards Town were awarded a free kick when Nathan Thompson was fouled in midfield and that led to a corner for Town which led to nothing.
The referee D Sheldrake was forced to show a straight red card to Sanchez Watt for his aggressive response to being penalised for fouling Louis Thompson in the 69th minute. Watt had earlier been cautioned for a foul so could have few complaints about the sending off although there seemed no obvious reason for his response to the foul.
Colchester made two substitutions with Gilbey and Massey replacing Morrison and Eastman in the 76th minute.
Town almost belatedly made good use of the conditions when Luongo’s shot got stuck in the mud which almost deceived the keeper but he managed to change direction and gather the ball.
N’Guessan was replaced in the 86th minute by Tijane Reis as Mark Cooper elected to try and break the deadlock with Colchester’s 10 men putting up stern defence
Town were given a gift wrapped opportunity when Sears tripped Luongo and was shown a yellow card but Pritchard’s free kick went over the bar and the chance was wasted.
Nathan Byrne was also guilty of wasting a good chance when he volleyed over from the edge of the area with the goal at his mercy as the match entered the 90th minute.
Town continued to attack for the five minutes of added time and although they had a couple of long range shots and a corner,the visiting keeper was not seriously troubled and so the match finished goalless.
Mark Cooper’s team now move onto 45 points from 31 games and now their attention turns to the JPT Semi Final second leg on Monday 17th against Peterborough United.
Town starting XI: Foderingham, Thompson N, Ward (C), Archibald-Henville, Byrne, Thompson L, Luongo, Pritchard, N'Guessan, Smith, Ranger
Subs: Belford, Branco, Reckord, Murphy, Cox, Reis, Gladwin