JAMES Collins gave Swindon Town fans with sore heads and bleary eyes the perfect new year hangover cure with four second-half goals as the Robins hammered Portsmouth at the County Ground.
The striker, who had not scored since the 4-1 win over Yeovil on November 17, came off the bench on the hour and proceeded to totally turn a match which, until then, had seen struggling Pompey frustrate Paolo Di Canio’s promotion-chasing hosts.
But once Collins found a way through with his first touch Town were utterly rampant, as they registered their second successive 5-0 victory and their first against Portsmouth at the County Ground since 1993.
Collins managed two goals within seven minutes of his introduction, a hat-trick in 12 and added a fourth just 23 minutes after jumping off the bench. And for good measure he also set up Danny Hollands for the Robins’ third.
It was ludicrous and totally absorbing in equal measure. Swindon’s football-going public could get used to this. It was the happiest of happy new years.
Andy Williams had the Robins’ first chance of the game in the fifth minute. When Adam Webster misjudged Alan McCormack’s floated diagonal pass, Williams was given the space to bear down on the Pompey goal but saw Simon Eastwood keep out his shot.
From the resulting corner, Joe Devera’s header was blocked en route to the back of the net, and Town were well and truly in control right from the off.
Portsmouth threatened on occasion, with Liam Walker testing Wes Foderingham, but Swindon were soon back on the offensive and Eastwood had to be alert to deny Williams after the striker wriggled free of his marker to shoot from 18 yards.
Mustapha Dumbaya almost got his 2013 off to the most fortunate start when his cross caused Foderingham to backtrack and tip the ball over the crossbar in the 17th minute but again Town rallied and Williams drilled wide from range.
The former Yeovil man was at the heart of every attack of note that the home side had in the opening quarter of the game and Eastwood had to be alert to keep out his dainty flick from Nathan Thompson’s right-wing cross.
Pompey’s first free-flowing move of the game, in the 30th minute, almost saw the visitors edge in front. Walker picked out Jon Harley, the full-back squared for Darel Russell and his drive seemed destined for the bottom corner, only for Devera to prevent the ball reaching the target.
Williams’ deflected header glided inches past Eastwood’s right-hand post two minutes later, as Town worked hard without being able to reach top gear on a slippy playing surface that wasn’t conducive to their fast, passing brand of football.
And as the game limped towards half-time it appeared Swindon were struggling to rediscover the swagger with which they ended 2012.
Pompey came out of the traps well in the second period and struck the woodwork in the 48th minute, when Williamson curled a free-kick onto the top of the crossbar from 18 yards out, while Town continued to find it hard to establish any kind of momentum.
Di Canio threw on Simon Ferry, Gary Roberts and Collins in an effort to change the game and the latter did exactly that within seconds of his introduction.
Ritchie floated in a corner from the right in the 60th minute and Collins ran from the substitutes’ bench, into the penalty area, into the six-yard box and nodded beyond Eastwood.
It was the striker’s ninth goal of the campaign, and his first since mid-November. Six minutes later, Collins pushed into double figures.
With his second touch of the game the former Shrewsbury man controlled Hollands’ drive across the box and with his third slotted beneath Eastwood.
In the 67th minute Collins almost completed the most remarkable of hat-tricks. Straining his neck to reach Roberts back-post free-kick t head over and beyond Eastwood, only to watch the ball bounce off the top of the crossbar and out of play.
As hard as they tried, Pompey couldn’t keep the forward quiet and in the 69th minute he was integral in Town’s third.
Bringing down Roberts’ cross neatly on his chest, Collins had the wherewithal to look up and pick out Hollands with a first-time cut-back that left his teammate with the simple task of side-footing home.
Not content with scoring two and setting up another, Collins decided he wanted more in the 73rd minute. Finding the space in the area to connect to Ritchie’s delicate cross, the striker headed beyond Eastwood.
Portsmouth, unsurprisingly dispirited by the 13-minute drubbing, had a couple of sights of goal through Williamson and Russell, but Foderingham wasn’t tested and with seven minutes left Town fired home a fifth.
McCormack was offered the freedom of Swindon to deliver from the left and no Pompey player tracked Collins’ run as he ghosted in behind Harley to nod home.
Di Canio playfully wrestled the matchball from Collins’ grasp at the final whistle, but the striker was having none of it. This was his day, and what a day it was.
“In the first half it was predictable to be under pressure because they had two games in the last days, and rhythm in their legs,” said the Town boss after the game.
“We should do better and I told my players I am very angry and very proud. We went out and scored five but it should be seven or eight, but they were amazing.”
Of Collins’ haul, Di Canio said: “All four goals were amazing, and for a typical number nine, at the moment he is the most positive change, but I was lucky and thanks to him.
“It is not an accident and it didn’t happen often in the past. The players they are crucial and they feel a very good atmosphere.
“They confirm I read well my players, and today was amazing.”