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Matches of Yesteryear - U's v Swans 3/4/01
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 4th Apr 2020 13:14

Good afternoon everyone, North Wilts calling. We’ve all no doubt heard (and used) variations of the expression “[i]strange times we’re going through[/i]” during this crisis. They certainly are, and without a doubt the term crisis is apt, with deaths and positive tests seemingly rising almost exponentially at the moment. But we’ll get through this, and when we do, I firmly believe as a society we’ll be better for it. We’ll be a society better connected to our family, friends and neighbours, and more caring for those that need support. More so, we'll be a society in tune with the concept that we don’t have to burn fossil fuels to conduct business, we do have the technology available to avoid it, we’ll all be pretty adept at using it, and will all be far more comfortable with using it. It's an ill wind...

[b]Colchester United v Swansea City

Saturday 3rd April 2001

Nationwide League Division 2 (Tier 3)

Attendance 2,886[/b]

Match #52 of the series, and by a spooky coincidence the random match selector has picked a game almost on this day, as we go back exactly 19 years and one day to a home fixture against Swansea City. Of course it shouldn’t have been, as the game should have been our New Year’s Day fixture, but was postponed back then because of frost. As were two other successive home games during that period, meaning after our 3-2 home victory over lowly Oxford United on December 22nd, our next home match wasn’t until Millwall visited on February 6th (and they won).

The U’s were managed by Steve Whitton, in his first full season in charge, and we were coming to the end of our third consecutive season back in the 3rd tier of professional football. A decent run leading up to Christmas had raised my hopes of making the play-offs. However, those hopes were cruelly dashed by a massive reality check on Boxing Day when Millwall destroyed us 6-1 at the New Den (and they scored all seven goals too). This was followed by a simply dreadful January, February and early March, winning just twice in 11 matches. Thereafter, my focus was for the U’s to get mathematically safe first and foremost, and then worry about consolidating our position mid-table – going into this game we were 14th on 48pts.

U’s legend Kemi Izzet had only recently arrived at Layer Road, on a one-month loan from Charlton Athletic. Apart from knowing he was the younger brother of well-known Leicester player Muzzy Izzet, I confess I didn’t know much about him at the time. But, he had apparently made a decent impression for his loan debut, coming on for an injured Joey Keith in the first half of our 3-1 home victory over Luton Town the previous Saturday, so I was looking forward to seeing what he was made of.

This is another midweek match that I’m struggling to recall why I found myself at Layer Rd, particularly as at the time I was supposedly managing our large team up on the M6 Toll (we knew it then as the Birmingham Northern Relief Road). If I had access to my work diaries, which are currently on a shelf in my office, I might have more of a clue, but unfortunately I don’t and I’m sure you all know the reason why. However, my calendar for that year says simply “[i]Wick Court[/i]” for all of the week, and whilst I can’t for the life of me remember either the site or where on earth it was, it must have been somewhere reasonably close enough to Essex for me to make an evening journey over for the match?

The U’s line-up that night was:

29..Andy Woodman

7….Karl Duguid

4….Gavin Johnson

6….Simon Clark

19..Alan White

26..Scott Fitzgerald

20..Micky Stockwell

18..Aaron Skelton (Joe Dunne 82’)

24..Kem Izzet

28..Barry Conlon (Dean Morgan 89’)

9….Scott McGleish (Steve McGavin 87’)

Swansea City, under manager John Hollins, were really struggling at the wrong end of the table, 15pts from safety even then, and only kept of the bottom by an even more woeful Oxford United. John Hollins, as a player, was a very talented midfielder/ full-back, who distinguished himself with a long and successful career at Chelsea (mainly), QPR and Arsenal, making a combined record total of 714 top-flight appearances. With a career that emphatic, he really should have had more than just one solitary England cap on his CV. Inevitably, his first taste of management came at Chelsea, initially as coach in 1985, and then taking over the manager role after John Neal’s retirement. He eventually arrived at Swansea City in 1998, after very briefly rekindling his playing career at Cobh Rangers (one appearance), and had definitely established himself as a fans favourite.

Having established I really have no recollection why I was at Layer Rd, it will come as no surprise that I similarly have very little recollection of the actual match details. I know I was Barside with my brother-in-law, so I presume that means we had a drink in the Drury beforehand. Even without the benefit of online soccer stats, I do remember is was a fairly sparsely populated Layer Rd that night, and at under 3k, I wasn’t wrong.

Piecing together what I can remember and what I can find online, Kemi Izzet started very brightly, and was already showing those terrier-like midfield attributes that we would grow to love. On 20 minutes, Swans veteran goalkeeper Roger Freestone kept out a decent effort from Izzet, only for Barry Conlon to power home a header as a result. Not much else to report from a tense reasonably close first half, so the U’s went in 1-0 up at half-time.

Although possibly already beyond any chance of avoiding relegation, the Swans came out for the second half as if their lives depended on it. Andy Woodman was called upon to save several clear-cut chances for Swansea during the opening period of the second half, and twice they also rattled crossbar with Woodman beaten, including a great strike from Venezuelan Giovanni Savarese just after the hour, on loan at the time from that powerhouse of world football, San Jose Earthquakes.

The pressure wasn’t doing much for my nerves – we still after all needed a few points to be absolutely certain of safety – so imagine my relief when Scott McGleish, breaking clear from the almost constant Swansea City pressure, rounded Freestone a minute later to put the U’s 2-0 up. Relief and high-fives all round, and that really took the sting out of the pressure from a now deflated and dispirited Swansea City. Joe Dunne came on with less than ten minutes to go, to further bolster a tenacious midfield already benefiting from Izzet’s presence, and we looked to be cruising to a comfortable 2-0 victory.

However, Freestone had other ideas, and following a howler gifting the ball to super Scotty, McGleish picked out Barry Conlon in the box for an easy tap in and his second goal. That was that for Swansea City, and with substitutions for man-of-the-match Scott McGleish and his strike partner Barry Conlon virtually straight after, the U’s comfortably held on to win 3-0.

[b]Colchester United 3 (Barry Conlon 20’, 86’; Scott McGleish 64’) Swansea City 0[/b]

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that for this season, 52 points was going to guarantee safety, so despite this thumping victory over relegation-doomed Swansea City, we still weren’t quite there – one more point was needed. That duly arrived a fortnight later, in a bruising 2-2 draw at home to Posh, with new boy Izzet getting one of the goals, and we went on to finish 17th on 58pts. Not exactly a rip-roaring success, but a marginal improvement on our previous season finishing 18th on 52pts, so there was always that as a positive.

Swansea weren’t so fortunate and were inevitably relegated on just 37pts – very poor indeed, but considerably better than Oxford United, who could only manage a paltry 27pts, and they were joined in relegation by Luton Town and Bristol Rovers. As a south west based exile, all four were teams normally on my radar for an away day, so I wasn’t too chuffed. Hollins was sacked as a result of this relegation, and moved to Rochdale for the 2001/02 season, taking them to the play-offs – after haggling over his new contract following that success, he was notoriously sacked by fax in the summer.

This was technically the final appearance of Kemi Izzet for his first spell at Colchester United, but when his loan period expired a week or so later, we snapped him up on a free transfer, and he went on to make 471 appearances for the U’s in a career that spanned 13 seasons!

[b]A true U’s legend[/b]

Up the U’s

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Letters from Wiltshire #16 by wessex_exile
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