SWINDON Town progressed to the Southern Area Final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy after beating Stevenage 3-1 on penalties, writes Adrian Smith.
Young Town keeper Tyrell Belford was the hero of the hour saving two penalties in the penalty shootout after the teams finished one goal apiece in normal time. Nicky Ajose had put Town ahead in the first half only for Stevenage to snatch a late equaliser in the second half.
Swindon’s penalties were scored by Pritchard, Elgabas and Kasim while Zoko was the only penalty scorer for Stevenage so Mark Cooper’s men now look forward to the Southern Area Final to be played over two legs against Peterborough.
Swindon lined up at the start of the match with Tyrell Belford in goal and Jack Barthram in defence among the changes made by Mark Cooper for this JPT Southern Area semi final played under the County Ground floodlights.
Swindon kicked off playing towards the Town End but it was Stevenage who had the first attack on goal though Michael Doughty’s shot was high and wide.
There was drama in the 5th minute when Ward’s header struck the crossbar and the ball bounced down on the line before Ajose headed wide after appearing to be pushed in the back by a defender on the goal line but no penalty was awarded. The match had to be stopped because one of the support post's holding the goalnet had been knocked over during the attack and so the momentum was lost.
Swindon’s next threat on goal in the 10th minute saw McEveley send a free kick to Ryan Mason 20 yards from goal and although he shot cleanly through the defence, the visiting keeper Chris Day smothered the ball on the ground.
Five minutes later Mason was fouled on the left wing just outside the penalty area and the ball eventually reached McEveley who cut inside to fire a powerful shot just wide of the right hand upright.
Swindon took a deserved lead in the 23rd minute when Nicky Ajose deftly diverted a shot by Harley to wrong foot the goalkeeper who went to his right but the ball struck the opposite post and nestled in the back of the net. The goal was Ajose's 9th of the season, one ahead of Dany N’Guessan.
Stevenage threatened briefly through a header by Filipe Morais which went wide and at the other end a deflected shot saw Swindon’s 5th corner of the match which was cleared. Shortly afterwards N’Guessan was yellow carded in the 38th minute for tumbling under minimal pressure from a Stevenage defender after knocking the ball past him.
The visitors attacked strongly and were denied by a good last ditch interception from Hall on the edge of the 6 yard box to snuff out a chance for Zoko.
Swindon were awarded a free kick just as the match entered the two minutes of added time and when the ball was cleared, McEveley earned Town a corner which led to a brief goalmouth scramble before the ball was cleared.
Stevenage had a corner just before the half time whistle but were unable to trouble Belford in the Town goal before the half time whistle.
Swindon started the second half brightly with Luongo charging down the wing before passing to Pritchard but he lost possession. Shortly afterwards Simon Heslop saw yellow for fouling Pritchard near the halfway line but Swindon lost the ball almost straight from the resulting kick.
Morais sent a header in Belford’s direction when the visitors counterattacked but the Town keeper was able to gather the ball at the second attempt.
Barthram was shown a yellow card for a late challenge in the 57th minute but the resulting cross was easily cleared by the Town defence.
Dean Parrett was replaced by Lucas Akins in the 59th minute shortly before a good Town attack which saw Pritchard trick his way down the right wing before crossing straight into the arms of Chris Day.
Alex Pritchard was unlucky to strike the crossbar with a 20 yard effort after latching onto a pass by Luongo in the 65th minute and Ajose followed up with a powerful strike shortly afterwards which was well saved by Day.
Ben Gladwin made his debut replacing Luongo and Yaser Kasim replaced Ryan Mason in the 67th minute.
Alex Pritchard strengthened his case for Man of the Match with a good curling effort from the diagonal of the penalty area but the ball went narrowly wide of the upright past the goalkeeper’s despairing dive.
Bruno Andrade replaced Hartley for the visitors which led to some strong attacking play and Town were indebted to Bedford for fisting away a powerful shot from Heslop in the 78th minute.
Andrade seemed to be making a difference for the visitors adding some pace and he was instrumental in earning the corner which led to Stevenage equalising through a header by Francis Zoko in the 81st minute.
N’Guessan was replaced by Elgabas as the match entered the 84th minute but the goal had given extra momentum to the visitors who pressed forward in numbers.
There was a break in play while a Doughty received treatment and he was eventually replaced by Wedgbury as the match entered 4 minutes of added time.
Swindon had appeals for a penalty turned down when the ball appeared to strike a defender’s hand and the last action of the match saw Ajose curl a shot just wide of the far upright just before the referee ended the match.
Both managers then had the dilemma of who would take penalties to decide which team would face Peterborough in the Southern Area Final.
Darren Ward won the toss to ensure that the penalties would be taken at the Town End.
Penalties/Scores (Swindon 1st):
12 Zoko (Stevenage) Scored 0-1
11 Pritchard (Swindon) Scored 1-1
15 Freeman (Stevenage) Saved by Belford 1-1
34 Elgabas (Swindon) Scored 2-1
4 Chorley (Stevenage) Missed – ball over crossbar 2-1
15 Kasim (Swindon) Scored 3-1
7 Morais (Stevenage) Saved by Belford
Swindon Win 3-1 on penalties.