AN impressive Swindon Town saw their Capital One Cup hopes cruelly ended in extra-time against Brighton and Hove Albion.
The Championship visitors took the lead in the opening 10 minutes, against the run of play, with a wonder strike from Rohan Ince.
However, Town were playing some simply stunning football and got a well-deserved leveller in the first minute of the second half when Massimo Luongo threaded through Louis Thompson to slot the ball home.
With neither side able to find a winner in the 90 minutes, Town’s hopes in extra-time were dealt a severe blow when George Barker was helped from the pitch with a shoulder injury after Town boss Mark Cooper had used all his substitutes.
Brighton wasted little time in taking full advantage as Adrian Colunga and then a Caskey penalty put the hosts 3-1 up.
However, Yaser Kasim, who again shone in the Town midfield, gave his side a lifeline eight minutes from time when he waltzed through the Brighton defence to set up a tense final few minutes, which then saw Nathan Thompson sent off and Caskey bag his second spot kick of the night.
Cooper made one change to the starting XI that beat Crewe 2-0 at the weekend with fit-again Luongo restored to the team.
With the Australian midfielder back, Ben Gladwin dropped to the bench to facilitate Luongo’s return, while the club are still awaiting news on whether Josh Lelan will be returning after his work experience deal came to an end at the weekend.
And Luongo put in a stunning display for Swindon before he was withdrawn 13 minutes from time in favour of the former Marlow Town midfielder Gladwin.
Town also had three former Brighton players in their squad in Kasim, Raphael Branco and Barker.
The Seagulls were able to field their new Spanish striker Colunga after his international clearance came through following his move from Getafe, while Brighton’s former Swindon skipper Gordon Greer was rested by Sami Hyypia.
Having both seen off League Two opposition to reach this stage, Swindon knew they had a tough test in front of them with the Championship outfit beginning to find some form.
Both sides have also developed a reputation of passing football and when the last time the two teams met in the league cup in August 2012, Town ran out 3-0 winners on Andy Williams’ birthday and Robins’ debut.
And it was the hosts who made a confident start to this cup tie with their natural game coming to the fore.
With crisp passes and holding on to possession, it was an opening 45 minutes for Town that was near perfect.
But the whole period was ruined by a Brighton wonder goal. Colunga, on his Brighton bow, found Rohan Ince on the angle of the Swindon box and the midfielder struck the ball with the outside of his right foot and it flew beyond Wes Foderingham.
After that strike, Cooper’s men piled forward searching for an equaliser, and how close they came.
Michael Smith, Brad Smith and Andy Williams all had chances, but the impressive Lewis Dunk was proving to a thorn in Swindon’s side with his timely blocks and tackles.
And Dunk’s keeper Casper Ankergren was thankful to have the 22-year-old in the side when Nathan Byrne charged forward and let rip with a shot that had the Brighton stopper beaten all ends up.
However, the defender managed to get his foot in the way and the ball deflected behind 13 minutes before the interval.
Swindon continued to pressure for the remainder of the first period but they could not find a way through to levelling matters by half-time.
But they wasted little time in the second period to equalise – 32 seconds to be precise.
Luongo threaded a lovely ball for Louis Thompson to run on to and he calmly slotted the ball beyond Ankergren.
Michael Smith then came close to putting the hosts into the lead two minutes later, but his strike went inches wide.
The visitors then began to wake up and it was Dunk who came close to restoring the Brighton lead when he got on the end of Jake Caskey’s corner, but his header was tipped on to the bar by Wes Foderingham.
The game became more even from then on, but it was Town who came the closest to finding the net next.
A delightful little pass from Luongo found Michael Smith in space on the edge of the Brighton box, but his shot went horribly over.
Then it was Louis Thompson’s turn to send a shot well over the bar after some more good work from their Australian international midfielder.
Town continued to press the Brighton goal in search of a winner and a place in the third round of the competition.
And while the majority of their build up was excellent, at times their finishing was leaving a lot to be desired.
With neither side able to find a winner in 90 minutes, the tie went into extra time.
Town’s cause was not helped within two minutes of the start when Barker, who had hurt his shoulder late in normal time, went down again clutching his left arm and could play no further part.
And given that Cooper had used all his substitutes, Swindon had to play the majority of the extra-time with only 10 men.
It didn’t take long for the visitors to take full advantage of the extra man as Adam Chicksen played the ball across the face of the Town goal for Colunga to tap home with 96 minutes on the clock.
And the night got even worse four minutes later when Jordan Turnbull sent Colunga sprawling in the area and Caskey dispatched the resulting penalty.
But Kasim gave his side a lifeline on 112 minutes when he waltzed through the Brighton defence and drilled the ball past Ankergren, only for Nathan Thompson to bring down Caskey and get himself sent off as the Brighton man fired home the resulting spot-kick and put a dagger through Town hearts.