SWINDON Town sealed victory with a late goal from Nile Ranger after Nicky Ajose had equalised twice against neighbours Bristol City in a fantastic West Country derby at the County Ground, writes Adrian Smith.
The game was arguably one of the best derbies between the two teams in living memory on an afternoon where City took the lead through Aden Flint but it was Nile Ranger from Mark Cooper’s new generation of players who thumped a deserved winning goal late in the second half.
Swindon kicked off in the first league clash between the two teams for 8 years and there was a 2nd minute yellow card for Scott Wagstaff for a late challenge on Louis Thompson who was able to rejoin play after treatment on the sidelines.
The first shot on goal came in the 6th minute from Marlon Pack with a rising volley which flew over the crossbar with Wes Foderingham on hand.
City took the lead through Aden Flint in the 9th minute when he headed home unchallenged from a Marlon Pack corner and the goal was awarded despite Foderingham’s claims that he had been fouled.
Swindon responded brightly but a good attack was halted with the assistant referee flagging for handball against Ranger.
The home side had a good sustained period of possession without being able to get a shot anywhere near goal until Louis Thompson tried his luck in the 17th minute from the edge of the area but his weak effort went wide. However Town grabbed the equaliser in the 19th minute after a break down the right wing and Nicky Ajose fired home with an angled shot from the right hand side of the penalty area and the County Ground erupted in celebration. The goal was his first in Town colours and he celebrated wildly in front of the Don Rogers Stand.
The volume was turned up a minute later when Dany N’Guessan rocketed a blockbuster shot against the crossbar from 20 yards with City keeper Fielding flapping at fresh air.
City were being pegged back in their own half as Town passed the ball around but there was some respite when Flint hoofed the ball down the pitch for Baldock to chase.
Scott Wagstaff went down theatrically in the 27th minute under the faintest of challenges from Grant Hall but the referee ignored his claims much to the disgust of visiting manager Sean O’Driscoll.
There was a scare for Town in the 30th minute from a corner as the ball pinged around the penalty area until Hall cleared downfield.
Louis Thompson drew good applause for a solo run into the City area where he flicked the ball over the defence but just ran out of space and time to fire in a shot.
A rare mistake in defence saw Foderingham let the ball slip under his feet from a backpass for a corner but the Town keeper made amends by catching the resulting cross.
City went ahead against the run of play when in the 35th minute when Jay Emmanuel-Thomas shrugged off two weak challenges to fire in a powerful shot to the right of Foderingham.
Shortly afterwards Town were awarded a freekick on the right wing when Ajose was bodychecked but the City defence headed clear.
Emmanuel-Thomas was given plenty of time from a corner to fire a shot with no challenge from the defence but luckily his effort went high and wide.
Swindon scored a deserved equaliser in the 43rd minute when Luongo crossed into the penalty area for Ajose to score his second of the afternoon from close range and again the noise erupted around the County Ground.
City were rocking and Ajose went close shortly afterwards when his weak shot was only parried by Fielding but there was no-one on hand to touch home and the ball went out for a corner.
Nile Ranger tried his luck on the stroke of half time from 18 yards but his effort was deflected for a corner which was cleared.
The last action of the half was a free-kick for a foul on Ranger but the ball was deflected behind as the referee Anthony Taylor blew for half time to end a highly entertaining first half and even the half time announcer was breathless.
Swindon started the second half brightly and almost took the lead for the first time in the match when N’Guessan fired across goal after a pass from Luongo but his shot went agonisingly wide of the upright.
City’s Jim O’Connor left the field on a stretcher in the 51st minute after going down in the centre circle off the ball and was replaced by Greg Cunningham.
Dany N’Guessan had the ball in the net in the 55th minute but the referee had blown up for a foul by the Town forward in the build up.
The referee angered McEveley and the Town fans by awarding a free-kick when the Town number 14 and Pack collided but the resulting free-kick was cleared. The referee raised the Town fans’ ire shortly afterwards when he penalised Luongo for a tame looking challenge and showed a yellow card to the Australian.
City’s goalkeeper made a hash from a Flint backpass and was nearly punished when N’Guessan tried to close him down but the ball was cleared for a throw-in.
The Town defence were placed under heavy pressure as shots from Bryan and Emmanuel-Thomas pinged around the penalty area but eventually calm was restored as Kasim carried the ball out of defence. Swindon were pushing the City defence back up the pitch but the visitors were looking dangerous on the counterattack as the half wore on.
Sam Baldock went close to touching home from close range from a powerful cross by Bryan but fortunately for Town, he missed the ball with the goal at his mercy. Ajose had two opportunities in the space of two minutes with shots on goal but he was off target both times and he wasted a golden opportunity in the 73rd when he was put clean through on goal but his shot was easily gathered by Fielding.
Both sides were visibly tiring as some mistakes crept in and Mark Cooper appeared agitated on the touchline as he pondered a decision on a Town substitution.
N’Guessan fired in a shot from outside the area in the 79th minute after outmuscling a defender but Fielding gathered his effort cleanly.
Aden Flint collected a yellow card for a cynical challenge on Ajose in the 82nd minute as City fought to try and secure at least a point from this lively match and the former Town player was possibly lucky not to see red for the reckless nature of the tackle.
Swindon won a corner in the 84th minute when a cross by Luoungo was headed behind by Flint under pressure from Ranger but the resulting cross went harmlessly out of play.
N'Guessan was looking most likely to break the deadlock with some tricky play but Nile Ranger scored a stunning 3rd for Town with a smart turn and shot from close range following a corner in the 88th minute. The atmosphere erupted around the County Ground to a fever pitch as Town took a deserved lead for the first time in the game.
Nicky Ajose was announced as ‘Man of the Match’ in the resulting pandemonium which was well received by the majority of the 11598 crowd. The away supporters were stunned into silence after seeing their team pegged back by Mark Cooper’s Swindon who refused to buckle.
Marlon Harewood gave Town a massive scare when his powerful shot from the edge of the area struck the crossbar and rebounded to safety with Foderingham well beaten.
Swindon’s first ever Egyptian player Mohammed Elgabas made his Town debut replacing N’Guessan deep in the 5 minutes of added time and he left the field to rapturous applause.
Elgabas had very little time to make an impact before the final whistle was blown to end what was arguably one of the best West Country derbies seen for many years at the County Ground with Bristol City having played their full part.
Swindon Town: Foderingham; Thompson N, Hall, Ward (C ), McEveley; Kasim, Thompson L, Luongo; Ajose, Ranger, N’Guessan
Substitutes: Belford, Barthram, Walsh, Storey, Branco, Wood, Elgabas