Cheltenham Town 5 Swindon Town 0
Even the most optimistic of supporter wouldn’t have expected out-of-form Cheltenham Town to overcome League One local rivals Swindon in the first round of the FA Cup; yet Mark Yates’ men defied all odds by not just defeating the Wiltshire Robins, but demolishing them.
Electing to match Swindon’s 3-5-2 formation, Yates’ decision to recall Raffaele De Vita and Paul Black to his starting eleven appeared sensible though clearly defensive, as the visitors dominated the early exchanges, squandering chances to take the lead.
Unlike the away side, who approached the game with something of a swagger, the Robins were professional from the first minute to the last, as from the 10th minute onwards; only one team was ever going to win.
From yet another dangerous Trevor Carson goal kick, Byron Harrison showed pleasing industry to capitalise on ‘keeper Wes Foderingham’s dubious handling to give the Robins the lead, as belief began to manifest amongst players and supporters alike.
This newfound faith was fortified minutes later, as thoroughly excellent referee Carl Boyeson quite reasonably sent off Swindon captain Nathan Thompson for hauling down Terry Gornell.
From here on in, Yates’ men pleasingly seized the initiative, as the combination of grit, composure and flare provided by Jason Taylor, Matt Richards and De Vita proved the perfect midfield concoction, while his defence stood strong.
At last, Gornell and Harrison appear to be demonstrating a coherent partnership, as the former did well to poke home before half-time, before the latter proved utterly clinical in converting a cross from the impressive Craig Braham-Barrett after the interval.
Graced by an almost revelatory brand of free-flowing, exciting football that supporters have been crying out for, Whaddon Road was rocking. Apathy appeared conquered, as the visitor’s defending was reduced to that akin to one of the competition’s non-league minnows.
With De Vita running the show, a fourth was inevitable, as Richards’ sensational volley - a dose of cup magic in itself - brought the home crowd to its feet.
By now, Cheltenham supporters were pinching themselves, as the effort and commitment from every single red-and-white shirted player was unrelenting and the end-product poetry in motion.
The might of the display was epitomised by the performance of Yates’ defenders, who were nothing short of imperious; while the determination and industry of wing-backs Braham-Barrett and Lee Vaughan made Swindon look like the League Two team.
No sooner as the cry for a fifth came from the stands, Harrison delivered, seizing on more calamitous defending to secure his first professional hat-trick. It was very much a case of high-fives all round, as the Cheltenham players, staff and fans were euphoric upon the full-time whistle.
Not only do Cheltenham Town now boast the bragging rights against their local rivals, they more importantly net £18,000 in prize money as well as a coveted second round place.
The Robins’ game plan was executed perfectly, as Swindon, who enjoyed 59% of the possession, were denied by a brave yet disciplined defensive effort.
Even more pleasingly, Yates’ men were superbly clinical, treating their supporters to a victory that proved wholly exciting and convincing. Moreover, the nature of the performance will provide the Robins, and particularly Harrison with an invaluable confidence boost.
The key for Cheltenham Town is to use the performance as a precedent for their upcoming League games. Should they be able to reproduce the levels of effort and ability demonstrated against Swindon, we could be in for a highly successful season.
Regardless of future results, however, November 8th 2014 will live long in the memories of supporters, with the Robins’ magnificent local-derby ‘Cupset’ one to savour.
Out of 10
Trevor Carson - 8 - Solid in goal and captained his team well.
Troy Brown - 8 - A significantly improved defensive performance.
Steve Elliott - 8 - An exceptional display from the veteran.
Paul Black - 8 - Made a very good case to start more regularly.
Lee Vaughan - 8 - Played with immense determination and skill.
Raffaele De Vita - 8 - Ran the show in midfield and was very unlucky not to score.
Matt Richards - 8 - A fluent display, capped off with a first-rate goal.
Jason Taylor - 8 - A typically hardworking, dogged showing from the northerner.
Craig Braham-Barrett - 8 - Produced a fantastic performance, both defensively and going forward.
Terry Gornell - 8 - Worked tirelessly, and took his goal well.
Byron Harrison - 9 - Scored a well-deserved hat-trick that should really boost his confidence.
John Marquis - 7 - Squandered an excellent one-on-one opportunity to score.
Joe Hanks - Not on long enough to rate.
Zack Kotwica - Not on long enough to rate.