Tuesday 22nd August, 2006
Swindon Town 2 Brentford 2 (After Extra Time. Full Time 2 – 2. Brentford win 4 - 3 on penalties)
Swindon’s County Ground is only thirty miles from Stuart Nelson’s birthplace in Stroud and a mere fifteen from his first club at Cirencester Town, but last night it was a home from home as he first made a flying save to his right to deny Ashan Holgate before scampering up to Brentford’s fifth and deciding penalty and slamming it low to his opposite number Phil Smith’s right to put the West London League One side through to the second round of this season’s Carling Cup at the expense of their brave lower division hosts.
Two and a half hours earlier Nelson had accidentally clattered his captain Kevin O’Connor in rushing out to claim a long ball only seconds into the match. After lengthy treatment O’Connor continued at right back and inspired his team to an early two goal lead secured by two former Swindon players. In the eighth minute centre half Matt Heywood strode forward for a corner to derisive cries of “Who are ya!” from the fans he made 200 appearances in front of between 2001 and 2005. The 6 foot 3 inch loanee from Bristol City immediately silenced them by flicking the flag kick beyond the far post where left back Sam Tillen looped a header over the keeper for the opener.
On twenty-four minutes the move of the night saw O’Connor exchange passes with right winger Paul Brooker before cutting the ball back perfectly for striker Joe Kuffour, loaned to the Wiltshire club from Arsenal five years ago, to sidefoot home from six yards. Heywood was winning all Brentford’s attacking set pieces and it looked only a matter of time before the Bees put the tie out of Swindon’s reach, but instead seven minutes before half-time the home side came back into the game as a right wing corner swerved in over Nelson’s attempted punch and appeared to be bundled into the net by Swindon midfielder Andy Nicholas.
Picture of Nelson's Column at sunset via Image Zen's Flickr stream.
The highly impressive O’Connor complained at half-time of feeling dizzy and sick and was replaced by 18 year old Karleigh Osborn who caught manager Leroy Rosenior’s eye, particularly with his buccaneering forward runs. He was also impressive in the air as the visitors lost some of their cohesion in the captain’s absence and Swindon, roared on by the majority of a 5,582 crowd, sensed a comeback. With eighteen minutes left, however, Osborn could clear yet another cross only to the feet of former Bees’ Welsh international midfielder Paul Evans who set himself before smacking a peach of a thirty yard curler beyond the powerless Nelson. Kuffour almost netted a winner with a couple of cheeky long range efforts and Osborn nearly won it in injury time with a great run and shot, but Swindon held firm and only narrowly missed out on a deciding strike themselves.
As extra-time began Swindon manager Dennis Wise, who hopes soon to add Paul Ince to his squad, and assistant Gus Poyet spurred the home side on to a renewed charge led by Royce Brownlie who broke Barnet hearts with a spectacular late winner a couple of weeks ago. Playing in a numberless spare shirt after an earlier incident the Australian striker went close with two chances before Brentford’s own Aussie, stopper Adam Griffiths, made up for some earlier errors by heading the ball out of danger with ‘keeper Nelson stranded.
As both sides tired from a long night of positive, attacking football the drama subsided until the final moments of the extra period. John Mousinho couldn’t capitalise on a Brentford free kick inches outside the Swindon box and the home side broke down the left. In the play that followed Brownlie became the tenth player, virtually one for each foul in the match, to be yellow carded. David Beckham and Wayne Rooney can tell you what happens if you applaud a referee in those circumstances and Mr I G Williamson, having only moments before welcomed Brownlie back on to the pitch in a mint condition shirt, sent him straight back to the changing rooms with it.
And so to penalties. Tillen put Brentford’s first wide, but manager Rosenior was still confident that recent spot kick practice would prove invaluable and, after playmaker Thomas Pinault scored, Swindon substitute Curtis Weston executed a perfect oval ball style conversion and Paul Brooker levelled matters. It was unfortunate that Holgate, a converted young striker who had been immense in the centre of midfield, should be the Swindon player to suffer from Nelson’s dynamic save, but Heywood pressed home the advantage before the Brentford keeper, the only player not to have taken a penalty in training, seized his rare opportunity to be the goalscoring hero.