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Oxford stun Swindon with late winner
SWINDON Town will not be enjoying a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy adventure in 2012/13, as the Robins slipped to first-round defeat to the old enemy at the Kassam Stadium last night.
Town manager Paolo Di Canio had earmarked the competition as Swindon’s only reasonable chance of knock-out silverware this term – and the Italian was desperate to avenge last season’s Wembley heartbreak at the hands of Chesterfield.
However, for the third time in the Italian’s regime, Di Canio was left to see Swindon’s noisy, yellow neighbours from 30 miles down the A420 celebrating at the final whistle - as Alfie Potter’s late strike was enough to hand them a place in round two.
It was by no means a poor performance from Town, who lacked the necessary finish in the final third but otherwise worked hard throughout and were unlucky not to at least have the chance to progress via a penalty shoot-out.
Giles Coke fired over early on when one-on-one with Ryan Clarke, Darren Ward headed over and Adam Rooney volleyed wide at the back post in the first half, while John Bostock tested Clarke after half-time.
But it was Oxford’s night, as it has been now on the last four occasions these two sides have met, and Town have one less cup to concentrate on for the remainder of the campaign.
After a tentative start to the clash, Swindon opened up their hosts for the first time in the eighth minute.
Coke, bursting from midfield, exchanged a neat one-two with Paul Benson 30 yards from goal and galloped into the area. With just Clarke to beat, the Sheffield Wednesday loanee should have done better than fire wildly over the crossbar and into the home fans.
At the other end, Town enjoyed a let-off when Tom Craddock was unable to latch onto Jake Forster-Caskey’s pass when well set inside the penalty area but neither side were settling into any kind of early rhythm.
For every free-flowing passage of play there was an aimless long ball or a misplaced path, from each side, and the footballing purists inside the Kassam Stadium would have been quickly developing migraines with every passing minute.
Occasionally Swindon found their feet, and in the 20th minute Raffa De Vita dinked inside onto his right foot to send a deflected shot narrowly wide of the left-hand post before Darren Ward nodded Coke’s free-kick over the crossbar from six yards out six minutes later.
And as seconds ticked by the visitors found themselves constantly revisiting opposing territory.
Rooney volleyed over at the back post after Joe Devera’s cross had been nodded back across goal by De Vita, while De Vita’s powerhouse drive from the edge of the box knocked U’s captain Jake Wright flat out as he deflected it to safety.
Oxford looked dangerous in isolated moments as well, and only a last-gasp tackle from Federico Bessone – who introduced himself to the Town faithful with an impressive display of confidence, composure, strength and skill in the first half – prevented Jon-Paul Pittman from cantering in on goal after Alan McCormack had missed his clearance.
As a yellow flare exploded in the segregated zone between Oxford and Swindon fans, so action on the pitch began to fire up.
Coke’s goalbound strike was blocked by an Oxford defender en route to goal while Adam Chapman sent a dipping free-kick marginally over the bar at the other end as Wes Foderingham, retained in goal despite the episode at Deepdale on Sunday, scrambled across to his right.
Michael Raynes was booked for a shove on Williams, which ended the Town man’s barnstorming run 25 yards from goal, with two minutes left until the break and from the resulting free-kick Simon Ferry saw his volley blocked for a corner.
The temperature, on and off the pitch, was building as half-time approached and the interval did little to douse the flames.
Minutes into the second period Raynes should have done better than loop a header into Foderingham’s grasp at the back post, while Clarke at the other end would have been relieved to hold on to De Vita’s effort after Coke’s free-kick broke his way.
As another flare went off, this time on the segregation matting between the two sets of fans, the atmosphere cranked up a notch.
Pittman blazed wide from the edge of the box after a rapid Oxford counter-attack suddenly stalled while, at the end of a brilliant run from within his own half, Williams took one too many touches and could not find the shot to beat Clarke.
With 18 minutes remaining John Bostock, on in place of Benson, drove wide from 20 yards and the on-loan Tottenham man went closer 60 seconds later when he fired straight at Clarke from just outside the area.
Having soaked up 15 minutes of concerted Town pressure, Oxford forced themselves back on the game.
Forster-Caskey’s fizzing long-range free-kick was pushed over the crossbar and, though Coke dragged a shot wide from distance with quarter-of-an-hour remaining, the hosts were still pushing their guests all the way.
And with less than three minutes remaining the men in yellow stole the advantage.
Aden Flint and Ward collided attempting to clear inside their own half, the ball broke kindly to Constable and he had time to pick out Potter unmarked in the centre. The substitute slotted beneath Foderingham and there was no way back for Swindon.