‘WHAT’S it like to lose a game?” sang the Swindon supporters.
They meant it as a taunt, but it was also a back-handed compliment.
This certainly wasn’t the Town who have gone unbeaten in 42 League I matches.
Sure, manager Lee Clark made seven changes to the side which had started the home draw with Walsall seven says previously.
But the men who came in – Nick Colgan, Gary Naysmith, Jamie McCombe, Antony Kay, Donal McDermott, Anton Robinson and Alan Lee – certainly weren’t rookies, and the starting XI was certainly strong enough to have pushed Paolo Di Canio’s side harder.
It started well enough, with Town withstanding Swindon’s early pressure before going in front in the 22nd minute courtesy of Lee Novak’s slick finish.
The Geordie ace made space and drilled home his 11th goal of the season with a precise low shot to end a move which had begun with interplay between centre-backs Kay and McCombe and continued with Calum Woods finding Lee, who lofted the ball forward to the edge of the area.
But two goals in five minutes from impressive centre-back Aden Flint and Italian striker Raffaele De Vita gave the hosts the half-time advantage.
And after pushing for a leveller, Town were caught on the counter-attack in the 76th minute, when Algerian frontman Mehdi Kerrouche, freshly introduced from the bench, finished off a fluent three-man move.
Simon Ferry’s 88th-minute strike rubbed salt in the wounds and highlighted Town’s defensive deficiencies as they suffered another 90 minutes of woe in Wiltshire (it was their third straight defeat at this venue).
The former Celtic man was given too much time and room to thump the ball home after his initial strike was well parried by Colgan, who could do little about any of the goals as he made only his third Town appearance.
Town also appeared slow to react when De Vita put Swindon in front in the 39th minute, with Ferry able to get to the byline and pull the ball back for a rising shot into the roof of the net.
The equaliser had arrived after Town conceded one of 18 free-kicks, a figure which troubled boss Clark.
Gary Roberts was cautioned for his foul on Paul Caddis on the Swindon right, and when Matt Ritchie’s delivery was flicked on, former Alfreton defender Flint arrived at the far post to power home a header.
The leveller put a real spring into Swindon’s step.
But as they celebrated De Vita’s strike, the home fans could have been quickly silenced when Lee flicked on Colgan’s booming kick to Novak, who lashed in a volley which Wes Foderingham, the keeper on loan from Crystal Palace, did well to tip over.
Kay headed over from the resultant corner taken by Roberts, and Town continued to press after the break, when Scott Arfield added zip to the attack after coming on in place of McDermott.
It was the former Falkirk man who picked up possession after a great tackle by Robinson on Ritchie and played in Lee, who advanced into the area and drilled in a strong shot which Foderingham pushed wide.
Town, with former Swindon man Danny Ward given a rousing ovation by the home fans on his introduction for Roberts, were bossing possession, but were caught when Ferry darted through the middle and slipped the ball out to French substitute Etienne Esajas, whose cross was turned in by Swindon top scorer Kerrouche for his eighth goal of the season.
Arfield whistled a shot over in the 80th minute before the tie was put beyond reach when Ferry fired in at the second attempt to seal Swindon’s place in the second round.
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