SWINDON Town were dealt an FA Cup spanking by lower league opposition for the second time in as many seasons as Cheltenham Town routed their abysmal guests at Whaddon Road.
Sloppy and careless at the back, mundane in midfield and nigh-on impotent up front, Town were barely recognisable from the side which produced such a cool, clinical and tactically astute performance to beat Preston North End in League One on Tuesday night.
Byron Harrison put Cheltenham in front before Nathan Thompson received a dubious red card in the 20th minute. Terry Gornell then doubled the hosts’ lead and, after the break, Harrison and Matt Richards rubbed salt in Town’s gaping wound before Harrison completed his hat-trick and Swindon’s embarrassment with a ridiculously easy fifth six minutes from time.
Swindon looked to be in total control of the match from the first whistle but managed to fall behind in shambolic style in the 10th minute.
A long ball out of the Cheltenham defence was allowed to bounce by the Town backline and Harrison beat Wes Foderingham in the air to leave himself with the simplest of two-yard tap-ins.
The afternoon went from bad to worse in the 20th minute, when Thompson was sent off by referee Carl Boyeson for denying Gornell a clear goalscoring opportunity – though, with the tussle between the players coming some 40 yards from goal, with the Cheltenham player running at a diagonal towards the corner flag and defenders close behind, the clarity of the opportunity was somewhat blurred.
Regardless, Swindon did themselves no favours for the remainder of the half. With Cooper tinkering with the make-up of his remaining 10 players every five minutes, the visitors couldn’t establish a rhythm and, while they maintained the majority of possession, they were insipid and limp up front.
The League Two side had done their research and long balls down the channels were causing Town’s unstable defence to sway about like drunks on a boat.
Gornell bagged the second for Cheltenham. Gifted the freedom of the Swindon penalty area, he was unmarked at the near post to slide home Steve Elliott’s header across goal in the 36th minute. And it all felt horribly like the experience at Macclesfield 12 months previously.
Raffa De Vita, playing against his former employers, cannoned a strike off the crossbar in the 41st minute after skating past Jack Stephens with ease and Town needed half-time, if anything to allow their red-faced embarrassment to die down.
Any forlorn hopes that the performance might improve after the break were shattered within seven minutes of the second half. Craig Braham-Barrett ghosted past Stephens like he wasn’t there and was able to play a simple pass to Harrison, who could score Cheltenham’s third goal from a yard out.
Swindon almost clawed a goal back in the 64th minute, when Byrne cut infield to fire a fizzing left-footed drive against the frame of the hosts’ goal, but soon enough they were four down.
This time there was an element of quality about the goal. Richards produced a gorgeous first-time volley from the edge of the box to give Foderingham no chance. Town fans left in their droves. Embarrassed, probably.
The fifth came in the 86th minute – and it was back to dodgy defending. Raphael Branco tried to chest the ball back to Foderingham, didn’t get enough on it and allowed Harrison to nip in, around the Swindon keeper and tap home.