RONAN Murray’s first goal for Swindon put the Robins one step closer to Wembley following a 2-1 victory over Southend in the area semi-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tonight.
After a dour first half the home side deservedly took the lead when former Town striker Blair Sturrock fired home midway through the second half.
But the game was turned on it’s head soon after when skipper Paul Caddis equalised with his first goal of the season before Murray headed Town into the area final nine minutes from time.
The game certainly made for an intriguing contest with both sides in great form at the moment. Town travelled to Roots Hall unbeaten in 12 while Southend were without defeat since losing at the County Ground in early September.
With the match Town’s second in just four days, Paolo Di Canio opted to make four changes to the side that beat Colchester in the second round of the FA Cup.
Jake Jervis and Alan Connell came in for Mehdi Kerrouche and Lukas Magera respectively while Alessandro Cibocchi replaced Liam Ridehalgh at left back and Lander Gabilondo started on the left wing.
The first 15 minutes of the encounter were instantly forgettable with neither side looking in any danger of threatening either goal.
But the game finally sparked into life in the 24th minute when Wes Foderingham superbly denied the home side from taking the lead when Sturrock hit a fine volley that the Town keeper was equal to, punching the ball over the bar.
Southend were then denied by the woodwork from the resulting corner when Anthony Grant smashed an effort against the crossbar.
Town, meanwhile, were struggling to get into the game with players often losing possession in the final third.
But they should have been ahead with their first real opportunity just after the half hour when Jon Smith spotted Gabilondo in acres of space on the left and the winger raced into the box before playing an inviting cross for Matt Ritchie, who somehow shot wide from close range.
However, the home side always looked dangerous and Town had Aden Flint to thank for preventing Southend from getting a shot on target when the big defender threw his body in the way of Luke Prosser’s close-range effort.
Swindon have developed into something of a second-half side though in recent weeks and so it proved once again as they came out more determined after the break.
And they had a good chance just before the hour when Caddis swung in a corner that Ritchie headed back into the dangerzone but home keeper Luke Daniels plucked the ball from the air with Jervis lurking.
Town’s hopes of progressing were dealt a blow when Southend opened the scoring in the 63rd minute. Sean Clohessy delivered a dangerous cross into the area and the ball struck Flint and Prosser pounced to stab a pass to Sturrock, who made no mistake from close range.
The goal knocked Swindon for six and for the next few minutes they found themselves on the back foot.
But they were level just six minutes later with a goal that came quite literally from nothing. Magera sprayed a pass out wide to Caddis, who raced to the edge of the area and, spotting a gap in the home defence, he launched a fine drive into the back of the net with Daniels rooted to the spot.
That goal opened the game up completely with play swinging from one end of the pitch to the other and Foderingham had to be alert to hold a well-struck effort from distance by Sean Clohessy.
But just as the game looks to be heading to penalties, Town sealed victory when Gabilondo, who had really come into his own in the second half, picked up a deep Ritchie corner before floating the ball into the area where substitute Murray rose to plant a header into the back of the Southend net.
Town will play Barnet in a two-legged area final after Lawrie Sanchez’s side beat Brentford on penalties last night.