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Aston Villa end Swindon's fairytale Storey
SWINDON Town’s fabulous run in this season’s Capital One Cup may have come to an end but they refused to go down quietly.
While in the brief moments that counted Aston Villa showed the furious acceleration, deft touch and almost prophetic vision, Town were resolute, defiant and on occasion equally as delightful to watch.
Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor fired the visitors into a two-goal lead before the break, and the tie looked dead and buried.
But in the final 15 minutes Swindon staged a remarkable recovery, spearheaded by the youngest player on the pitch in Miles Storey.
The former Coventry City youth-team player scored twice in four minutes, the first from an ugly bundle, the second from an exquisite flick to briefly lift the County Ground roof somewhere near the stratosphere.
In the end, however, it was the Villa fans – without a roof on the Stratton Bank – who had the last laugh as Benteke popped up to notch a winner at the death.
Villa enjoyed the opening sight of goal inside the first two minutes.
Agbonlahor beat Joe Devera with ominous ease down the left and crossed to the back post, where Benteke headed meekly at Wes Foderingham.
However, Swindon were quickly into their stride and created their first chance of note in the ninth minute.
Matt Ritchie cleverly won possession down the right and thread through James Collins but, with Gary Roberts screaming for the ball unmarked on the edge of the box, the former Villa youth-teamer hesitated and squandered the opportunity.
Barry Bannan shot wide at the other end as Villa looked threatening with the ball at feet going forwards, while the Scottish international’s lofted free-kick was flicked into the arms of Foderingham by Stephen Ireland.
While the visitors always looked potent on the break, Swindon were holding their own.
Drawn like bees to a honeypot whenever an opponent was lucky enough to find the ball at their feet, Tommy Miller and Simon Ferry snuffed out the danger for a tricky first 20 minutes as both teams settled into the contest.
Collins should have teed up the onrushing Ritchie rather than firing wide of Shay Given’s left-hand post from the edge of the area but, against the club where he learnt his trade, the 21-year-old could not be faulted for effort and endeavour.
With 26 minutes on the clock the Robins almost turned that sort of hard work into a reward of substance.
Benson appeared to handle on the turn in the box but referee Stuart Attwell allowed play to go on.
The striker beat Given with his low strike only for Matthew Lowton to clear off the line, and neither Ferry nor Devera could bundle home the rebound.
Minutes later Town were behind.
Again Villa’s source of danger came down the left, as Ireland beat Devera to cross and McCormack and McEveley left the clearance to one another only to stand in shock as Benteke dived in to head beyond Foderingham.
Swindon retaliated with a period of possession that dazzled, switching play from left to right and angling their runs to cause their guests untold problems.
But no killer touch was forthcoming and Villa were able to take advantage once again five minutes before the break.
Again it came from the left, where the Town defence were unable to cope with the rapid acceleration of Agbonlahor and Ireland.
This time it was the former who made the most of his speed, darting inside onto his right foot to fire an bullet-like drive that left Foderingham with no chance.
Swindon seemed sapped of the zest with which they played most of the first period and the Robins had Foderingham to thank for keeping his team in the game moments before the break, as the goalkeeper leapt to his left to get a paw to Andreas Weimann’s volley.
Whatever was said in the home dressing room at half-time, however, stung the life back into the home team.
Benson only just failed to connect onto Ferry’s low cross in the early moments before Roberts headed Collins’ cross over.
Ritchie’s free-kick was cleared off the toes of Roberts in the 54th minute, while the resulting corner saw McCormack’s looping header easily claimed by Given.
Ritchie was again the creator in the 64th minute, making the tradition switch inside onto his left foot to deliver a curling cross to the back post where Roberts headed wide and Town continued to press hard in pursuit of a route back into the game.
McEveley fed through Collins but the forward could not find a finish – a familiar tale on a frustrating evening for the home side.
At the other end, Benteke saw his low drive saved by Foderingham and it seemed as though the Swindon storm was abating.
But Di Canio threw on Raffa De Vita and Storey and between them the pair acted as the lightning strike the Robins needed to violently spark an astonishing comeback.
With 78 minutes on the clock De Vita darted to the byline and scrambled a pass across goal, Storey nipped in front of his marker and bundled the ball beyond Given.
If that was a special moment for the 18-year-old, three minutes later he leapfrogged into dreamworld.
Another of Di Canio’s substitutes, Andy Williams, set up Swindon’s astonishing leveller, volleying low into the six-yard box, and Storey produced a flick with his instep that was as ridiculous as it was sublime to beat Given.
Town were stuck between holding out for extra time and searching for a winner.
In the end they managed neither.
Benteke found space 10 yards from goal to curl into the bottom left-hand corner moments after Andrea Weimann had hit the post to inflict cruel heart-break on the Robins.
They may have fallen at the last, but they deserved the heroes’ adulation they received at the end of the match.
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