WHEN the draw for the FA Cup second round was made back on November 6, Swindon Town’s scheduled trip to League Two rivals Stevenage was far from a tie to whet the appetite, but one that felt eminently winnable.

Just a day earlier, Town had emphatically swept aside the potential banana skin of in-form non-league opponents Dartford 5-1 to secure their fourth victory on the bounce.

Fast forward three and half weeks and despite Swindon’s form having dipped slightly following back-to-back defeats in the league, thoughts on the respective coaches of the Town squad and staff and their supporters travelling to the Lamex Stadium cannot have greatly differed from their original reaction.

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Luke Norris cannot contain his agony after missing a gilt-edged second half chance for the visitors

David Flitcroft’s side were heading to Hertfordshire hunting a 10th victory from 14 away games this season and standing in their way were a Stevenage side who had collected just two of the last 18 available points in the league.

Spots in the hat for the third round are hard to come by for sides in the fourth tier – and even tougher for Swindon in recent years, with their victory over the Darts a first for the club in the FA Cup in the last six seasons.

That is what makes what unfolded at the Lamex Stadium all the more disappointing as Town turned in one of their most lacklustre performances of the campaign.

It is true that they deserve a modicum of credit for bravely battling back to level the scores in the first half after finding themselves two goals in arrears - but that was the moment to kick on and truly stamp the life out of Stevenage.

Instead, the subsequent sucker-punch from Darren Sarll’s hosts just before half-time knocked the stuffing out of Swindon and they folded all too easily after the break.

Amine Linganzi’s header and a superb strike from Matt Taylor direct from a corner hauled the visitors back into the game after a goal each from Alex Samuel and Matt Godden had put the home side in control inside the opening 25 minutes.

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Ben Purkiss flies into a tackle

Town needed to get to the break all-square as it would be Stevenage who would tread back to the changing rooms with plenty of soul-searching to do. Instead Flitcroft’s side were caught out when Tom Pett restored the home side’s lead in stoppage time.

Swindon tried to push forward after the break in an effort to mount another fightback but more and more errors began to creep into their play and a second-half double from Stevenage substitute Danny Newton finally killed them off.

Flitcroft made four changes to the side beaten 1-0 at home by Newport County in the league the previous weekend, with the most high profile of those coming in goal.

Lawrence Vigouroux returned between the sticks for the first time since September 30, reclaiming his place from Reice Charles-Cook after a 12-match absence.

Linganzi recovered from injury to come into the heart of midfield, with Kellan Gordon and Kaiyne Woolery named in Swindon’s front three.

Ellis Iandolo and Harry Smith dropped to the bench alongside Charles-Cook, with loanee Keshi Anderson unable to take his place in the matchday squad after failing to win clearance to play from parent club Crystal Palace.

Town were the first to threaten as they looked to cause the Stevenage back-line problems with their pace and a good ball from Paul Mullin sent Woolery into the box on the left. He was able to get to the ball ahead of onrushing keeper Joe Fryer but then could not quite pick out a team-mate.

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Town fall behind just before half-time as Tom Pett strikes Stevenage's third

Mullin then got on the end of a fine low cross from Taylor but saw his effort deflected out for a corner.

Stevenage then upped the ante and Luke Wilkinson met a cross from the right from Chris Whelpdale but sent his header straight at Vigouroux before Godden then met a nice cutback from Pett but Matt Preston got in the way to block it behind.

Vigouroux then clawed away another Wilkinson header before only a goalline clearance prevented the hosts from getting their noses in front as Whelpdale picked out Godden with low ball, but a flurry of Town bodies ushered the ball over the bar.

Stevenage did not have to wait much longer for the opening goal, though, as Whelpdale’s subsequent corner was headed back across goal by Wilkinson and Samuel was on hand to nod in at the back post after 18 minutes.

Town were then caught on the counter as the hosts doubled their lead just five minutes later. Swindon coughed up possession on the edge of the Stevenage box and the home side broke, with Godden threaded into acres of space in the visitors’ half to race forward and beat Vigouroux as he rushed from his line.

Despite the setbacks, Swindon raised their game and hauled themselves back into the contest just after the half-hour mark when Linganzi cut the deficit, sending a powerful header onto the bar and down over the line from a Taylor free-kick from the right.

James Dunne then stung the palms of Fryer with a rasping drive from the edge of the box before Joe Martin bundled behind his own goal just as Gordon looked to pounce on a fine low ball from Taylor.

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Matty Taylor is mobbed after scoring Town's equaliser from a corner

That was the catalyst for Swindon restoring parity on the scoreboard, though, as Taylor’s devilish whipped corner from the right bamboozled Fryer and nestled into the far corner of the net.

After a brilliant fightback, the visitors were stung again in first-half stoppage time when Stevenage reclaimed the lead. Godden met a cross into the box and the dropping ball fell perfectly to Pett, who chested down and rifled home from the edge of the box.

Town looked to be positive after the restart and good work from Luke Norris, who replaced Woolery at the break, saw him win the ball back deep in the Stevenage half, allowing John Goddard to feed Mullin, who shot just wide.

The second period was always unlikely to match the frenetic nature of the first and play quietened down for a period, although that all changed midway through the half.

A late challenge from Martin sent Mullin crashing into the Stevenage dugout and the players then descended on the touchline. Staff and players squared up and the result was that referee Nicholas Kinseley sent Stevenage boss Sarll and Town assistant manager Ben Futcher from the touchline.

Taylor continued to be a dangerous outlet for Town and another free-kick was met by Preston, with Fryer tipping over the bar.

However, Swindon’s challenge then got a lot stiffer as the home side restored their two-goal cushion with 18 minutes to play when substitute Newton planted a header home from Godden’s dinked ball.

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Town skipper Olly Lancashire gets to grips with Stevenage's Matt Godden

Town missed a glorious chance to cut the deficit instantly when Norris climbed highest to meet a good ball in from Ben Purkiss but could only plant his header wide.

With Swindon flooding forward, they were always likely to leave themselves open at the back and Stevenage killed the game off with a fifth goal in the closing stages when Newton drove towards goal, skipped past Vigouroux and planted the ball into the net.