County’s first match at Swindon – and, indeed, anywhere in Wiltshire – for 13 years saw them claim a single-goal win against hosts who had to play virtually the entire game with 10 men following Jacob Wakeling’s first-minute dismissal.
Captain Paddy Madden saw his resulting penalty saved, and the Hatters were then held at bay for nearly 80 minutes before Ryan Croasdale breached Swindon’s defence for a precious three points that saw them move back up to fifth place and within four points of the automatic promotion positions – as well as enjoying a first victory at the County Ground in nearly two decades.
The Hatters took to the field on a bright and breezy afternoon to mark the final day ahead of British Summer Time, and showing three changes from their starting line-up at Edgeley Park against Mansfield a week previously. Connor Evans, following his recall from a loan spell at Notts County the previous day, Callum Camps and Ryan Rydel were the players brought in – replacing the injured Will Collar and Antoni Sarcevic, as well as Myles Hippolyte who was on international duty with Grenada.
The game got off to a sensational start when, after 44 seconds, Wakeling was shown his straight red card, as well as conceding a spot-kick, for bringing down Kyle Knoyle in the box, after the one-time ‘Robin’ had been played in from the left by Evans.
Precisely one minute later, Madden – who himself had received his marching orders in the reverse-fixture at EP during late August – struck the penalty, but home goalkeeper, Sol Brynn, guessed correctly by diving to his right and smothering the ball. And almost immediately afterwards at the other end, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy went to ground in the County area – only to find himself booked for diving.
The pace of this frenetic early activity naturally eased before Kyle Wootton, with 10 minutes on the clock, connected with an Akil Wright cross from the right to head narrowly over. Camps and Evans then struck shots that, respectively, flew wide of the right post and cleared the crossbar.
The remainder of the half saw the Hatters enjoy possession, but without ultimately creating chances as they struggled to make their numerical advantage count. And in added time, they lost the services of Neill Byrne, as the central defender limped off – to be replaced by Joe Lewis.
HALF-TIME: Swindon 0, County 0.
The hosts replaced their skipper and in-form striker, Charlie Austin, with defender Marcel Lavinier upon the resumption, as they looked further to strengthen their resistance effort. And their area was duly packed when Croasdale struck County’s inaugural second-half attempt on goal, which found its way from the edge of the box into the arms of Brynn.
Otherwise, the period from the re-start up to and around the hour was notable for a flurry of bookings, as, within 17 minutes, three Hatters and two Swindon players, together with home manager Jody Morris, all had yellow cards brandished in their direction.
The Hatters introduced Aaron Rowe and Jack Stretton to pep up their attack with 25 minutes remaining, although the next shots of note came courtesy of players in deeper positions – as Croasdale saw another effort held by Brynn, and former Swindon loanee Chris Hussey fired across goal and beyond the far post from the left.
Then, with 11 minutes to go, County finally made the crucial breakthrough – as Lewis initiated a counter-attack following a Swindon free-kick, and found Rydel whose low cross from the left was converted by Croasdale for his first goal of the campaign.
The Hatters saw out the rest of the match without undue ceremony, and, with two higher-placed promotion rivals losing, they could consider themselves winners in more ways than one as they narrowed the gap on the top three.
FULL-TIME: Swindon 0, County 1 (Croasdale, 79).
Team (3-5-2): Hinchliffe; Wright (Rowe, 65), Byrne (Lewis, 45 + 1), Hussey; Knoyle, Evans (Stretton, 65), Croasdale, Camps, Rydel; Wootton, Madden (Capt.) (Davenport, 90).
Unused Subs: Jones, R. Johnson, Olaofe.
Booked: Rydel, Lewis, Knoyle, Evans, Wootton.
Attendance: 9,446 (712 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.