SWINDON Town lost 2-1 to Carlisle United as fans returned to the County Ground in full for the first time since March 2020.

In Swindon’s first home game of the League Two campaign, Joe Riley put a downer on the party atmosphere early on with a superb opener before Romoney Crichlow equalised on the half-hour mark.

But it was not to be Swindon’s day in front of almost 9,500 as Tristan Abrahams slammed home the winner just before half-time. To make matters worse for Town, Kaine Kesler-Hayden was sent off in the dying moments for a second yellow card.

Ben Garner made two changes to the side that beat Scunthorpe United 3-1 on the opening day of the League Two season, with Crichlow replacing Mathieu Baudry at the heart of defence and Louis Reed coming in for Ellis Iandolo in midfield.

Baudry picked up a hamstring injury during the midweek defeat to Cambridge United in the League Cup, hence his omission from the match-day squad.

For Carlisle, the Cumbrians were without star summer signing Zach Clough, also courtesy of a hamstring injury.

The County Ground was in jubilant mood for the opening 10 minutes or so before Carlisle almost spoiled the party in the seventh minute. Jon Mellish kept a seemingly-lost cause alive before pulling it back to Tristin Abrahams by the penalty spot.

The Carlisle striker leathered a low, left-footed volley goalwards, only for Jojo Wollacott to brilliantly stick out a left palm and turn the ball away. But in the 14th minute, the party was put on ice as, for the second time in two league games, Town went behind first via a superb strike from Riley.

A long throw was half cleared, and the Carlisle midfielder simply ran onto the ball and volleyed it venomously first time into the bottom left corner past a helpless Wollacott.

Following two hairy moments defensively for Crichlow where he could have conceded a pair of penalties on another day, the on-loan Huddersfield Town defender helped Swindon pull level after half an hour.

From a foul on Jack Payne by Brennan Dickenson, Louis Reed curled a free-kick onto the head of Dion Conroy who nodded it back across goal for Crichlow to dive and tap in at the back post.

Carlisle tried to hit back straight away as Riley whipped a low cross into the middle that Jon Mellish reached. The striker took a touch out in front of him as he prepared to shoot, but the eventual effort was extremely tame and Wollacott gathered.

In a tit-for-tat first half, Town were next to go close. Swindon wanted a free-kick after Payne was clattered into in midfield, but the referee waved play on as Ben Gladwin skipped past two tackles.

His left-footed shot was decent, but Norman dealt with it well enough before the defence cleared up.

And moments before half-time, the curse of the long throw struck again for Town. Riley hurled in another monster throw that was flicked on and turned goalwards by Mellish.

Wollacott somehow kept out the first effort, but Abrahams was on hand to slam home from two yards and put the visitors in front going into half-time.

Following a handful of long throw-ins by Carlisle, Town had a couple of half chances to draw level shortly after the restart. Kesler-Hayden sliced a shot into the newly-named Alan McLoughlin stand before Tyreece Simpson saw a long-range effort deflected into the grateful arms of Magnus Norman moments later.

With the game settling into more of a pattern midway through the second half as Carlisle appeared happy to settle for what they had, Town struggled to create many chances of note.

Callum Guy set his sights for Carlisle with 15 minutes to play, but his long-range effort sailed well over and into the sea of red seats behind the goal.

Town went close to equalising with 10 minutes to play after McKirdy won the ball back and fed in Payne down the right side of the box.

Payne could, and probably should, have slipped it across for Simpson to tap home, but instead he tried to go alone and sliced his shot into the fans.

Town substitute Harry Parsons drew a save from the visiting stopper late on from outside the box before the hosts went closest to equalising in the 87th minute via McKirdy.

Reed slipped Kesler-Hayden in down the right. The defender chipped the ball over Norman and across goal, but McKirdy could only hit the side netting from an extremely tight angle.

To rub salt into the wounds for the hosts, Kesler-Hayden was shown a second yellow card in the dying moments for bringing down Carlisle substitute, Manasse Mampala.

STFC starting XI: Wollacott, Kesler-Hayden, Conroy (c), Crichlow, Hunt, Grant, Reed, Payne, Gladwin, McKirdy, Simpson.

Substitutes: Odimayo, Ward, Iandolo, East, Aguiar, Parsons, Dabre.

CUFC starting XI: Norman, Tanner, Armer, McDonald, Riley, Guy (c), Alessandra, Dickenson, Mellish, Abrahams, Whelan.

Substitutes: Jensen, Charters, Feeney, Mampala, Toure, Bell, Fishburn.