The Hatters’ first Saturday away-jaunt for four weeks saw them back in League Two action to notch up a 13th straight win in all competitions, as they thrillingly prevailed, after twice coming from behind, in a six-goal feast at Swindon.
All four of County’s goals arrived after the break – at which the Hatters had gone in one-down – with Will Collar converting a penalty, ahead of a Kyle Wootton equalising header, a first league goal as a Hatter for Odin Bailey, and a late strike by substitute Callum Camps, to maintain a five-point lead at the top of the table.
The Hatters took to the field on a pleasantly fair Wiltshire afternoon, and with a starting line-up unchanged from that for their most recent league match, at home to Tranmere, a fortnight earlier. County’s bench, however, featured three changes – including a return from injury for Ibou Touray, following a seven-week absence.
A promising County move in the first minute led to the contest’s inaugural chance, but leading scorer Tanto Olaofe, from 12 yards out, ended it with a shot that veered wide of the right post.
The hosts, smarting from a 7-4 FA Cup reverse against National League Aldershot, by way of their last performance on home turf, the previous weekend, created a first opportunity two minutes later. They were on target with it, too, as Remeao Hutton fired towards goal from distance – but Ben Hinchliffe dived to catch the effort cleanly at mid-height.
Hinchliffe’s opposite Number One, Murphy Mahoney, was in action shortly afterwards – parrying an Oalofe shot in front of the right post, after the striker had raced through on goal, and subsequently tipping around the same upright a well-struck attempt from Antoni Sarcevic.
The consequential corner, taken by Bailey, saw the Hatters go closer still – with Ethan Pye striking the near post, after Swindon had failed to clear. And, a couple of minutes later, Pye’s fellow left-sided defender, Fraser Horsfall, connected with a Sarcevic free-kick to volley over.
A free-kick at the other end, around the 20-minute mark, saw Tom Brewitt’s header clear the crossbar, after he had connected with Dan Kemp’s delivery from the right. But 10 minutes later, Kemp tried his luck more directly – and it paid dividends, as his shot from outside the area took a double-deflection off Ryan Croasdale and Macauley Southam-Hales, before looping over Hinchliffe and into the net to put Swindon ahead.
That strike drew Kemp level with Jake Young as the hosts’ top marksman in all competitions, and Young quickly set about trying to get his nose back in front on the Swindon scoring chart – going close with an angled shot from the left that fizzed narrowly shy of the far post.
A half that looked to have started brightly for the Hatters neared its end on a further note of concern, as Sarcevic fell awkwardly and had to be replaced by Touray – although Southam-Hales’s lung-busting run down the right in added time offered rather more hope, as the right-back found Wootton, whose close-range touch was kept out by Mahoney.
HALF-TIME: Swindon 1 (Kemp, 31), County 0.
Half a dozen minutes into the second half, Mahoney and Southam-Hales featured in another scenario of note – albeit with greater significance, as the goalkeeper halted the Welshman’s foray into the box, Referee Purkiss pointed to the spot, and Collar stepped up to convert the penalty for his fourth goal of the campaign.
The hosts looked to regain their advantage, when Kemp’s delivery from the left by-line past Hinchliffe found debutant Williams Kokolo with the goal at his mercy – only for the defender to poke the ball beyond the far post. And more wizardry on the right from Southam-Hales led to him picking out Wootton, who glanced wide.
On the hour, Swindon again had the lead, as Young, fed by Saidou Khan from the left, fired low on the turn past Hinchliffe for his 12th goal in all competitions. And the hosts went close to extending it when Kemp’s free-kick spun off the County wall and just cleared the bar.
But the Hatters were back on level terms within eight minutes, as Touray floated a cross from the left for Wootton to head in. And four minutes after that – following another point-blank stop by Mahoney to deny Olaofe – they were ahead for the first time, after Wootton’s pass to Bailey on the edge of the area was thundered into the top-right corner by the Salford loanee.
A triple-substitution seven minutes from time saw Camps, Paddy Madden and Nick Powell introduced – with Camps, five minutes later, putting a fine finishing touch to County’s performance, as he ran on to Croasdale’s pass out of the ‘D’ and slotted past Mahoney from the left.
FULL-TIME: Swindon 2 (Kemp, 31; Young, 60), County 4 (Collar (penalty), 52; Wootton, 68; Bailey, 72; Camps, 88).
Team (4-1-2-1-2): Hinchliffe; Southam-Hales, Wright, Horsfall, Pye; Croasdale (Capt.); Collar (Knoyle, 90 + 3), Bailey (Powell, 83); Sarcevic (Touray, 42); Olaofe (Camps, 83), Wootton (Madden, 83).
Unused Subs: Smith, Byrne.
Booked: Sarcevic, Wootton.
Attendance: 8,475 (770 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.