CITY 2 SWINDON 1
“STUART, Stuart” – the chorus boomed around Valley Parade loud and proud.
It felt like another Leeds moment or way back when to the time Gordon Watson pulled it out the bag against Barnsley.
Nothing in football beats a very late winner, even more so when a few minutes earlier City had been trailing.
No wonder players and fans savoured the delicious moment at the final whistle. Not to mention the manager.
“You’re asking the wrong man, pal” was Stuart McCall’s grinning response to a reporter’s question about the importance of staying calm in the closing stages.
McCall had celebrated with as much delirium as any of the 17,000 losing it in the stands.
He made no apology for it and once again illustrated, as if we ever need reminding, his special bond with the club.
In that instance, he was just another fan lapping up three points that had looked beyond their grasp.
When emotions had calmed down, there was also the realisation of how significant this comeback win had been in a play-off race where the tension ratchets up with each passing week.
Southend and Bolton were experiencing similar emotions – Phil Brown’s Shrimpers had dug just as deep to turn it round from two down against Walsall.
Meanwhile Scunthorpe, next week’s opponents in a genuine League One super Sunday, were sinking again. They were on the other side of the coin, an early lead wiped out and an Oxford winner conceded at the exact time when Charlie Wyke was blowing the roof off Valley Parade.
The highs and lows of this developing drama to the finish line encapsulated in one mad-cap minute.
Make no mistake, City fully deserved to win this. Forget the timing of the goals, they had been on top for 95 per cent of the afternoon without finding a way past Swindon’s inspired keeper Lawrence Vigouroux.
Dropped in midweek by head coach Luke Williams who had questioned his attitude for their relegation fight, Vigouroux responded with a one-man show to hold the Bantams at bay for so long.
The fact that he so nearly saw it through – and Williams felt Swindon need to sharpen up on their time-wasting tactics – was down to his personal elasticity and some frustrating home slackness in front of goal.
Wyke should be spared from that charge; even before his late double strike, he had enjoyed a proper centre forward’s afternoon with his strength and power constantly buffeting the Swindon backline.
There had also been the customary rattling of the woodwork as a first-half header pinged back off the post for the second week running.
Mark Marshall set up that chance as he would with both goals and was generally a joy to watch from first minute to 91st when he would claim that second assist.
Yes, he would still go with the wrong option at times and try a shot when maybe it would have been better to lift his head and look for a better-placed team-mate.
But he generated a buzz every time the ball came in his direction and had his markers wondering which way he would go next. The standard of crossing was top-notch as well.
McCall admits it is rare to see a genuinely two-footed player in the game these days, especially in the third tier. He joked that Marshall can shoot equally badly from either side!
But what a weapon to have in a team whose versatility is so important to McCall’s approach.
The manager tries to keep opponents guessing with his willingness to switch systems and formations – City began Saturday with three at the back for a change. With Marshall equally at home on the left and right, he buys right into that fluidity.
For all the chatter about Filipe Morais and his current Bolton exploits, City fans should not take him for granted. Rivals certainly don’t and he is regularly picked out as the biggest danger.
And yet for so long, it appeared that home draw number 13 was on the cards – or even worse once Nicky Ajose pounced on a slick counter-attack.
Valley Parade had seemingly settled in for a familiar tale of territorial domination with nothing to show for it.
Rory McArdle nodded over a great chance two minutes in – one of several the centre half had in a set-piece duel with Vigouroux – and Swindon’s goal began its charmed life.
Another close-range attempt hit the keeper in the chest, Wyke hit the woodwork, City continued to hit a brick wall.
The second half continued in the same vein. Again McArdle met Tony McMahon’s corner; again his header met a leaping denial from Vigouroux.
Alex Jones and Billy Clarke were summoned from the bench in another reshuffle. Both were to have a major say in what would follow.
But it was Swindon who amazingly struck the first blow with a fast four-pass break from one end to the other, ending with Jonathan Obika sliding in Ajose to beat Colin Doyle.
Suddenly that first league home defeat for over a year beckoned. Like the last one against Colchester, it was against a side firmly embroiled in the relegation dogfight.
City’s credentials were on the line – and how they responded. Crowd and team alike rose to the challenge as the volume increased and the home play found an extra degree of sharpness.
With 85 minutes on the scoreboard, Marshall charged right and whipped in a cross that could have been radio-controlled by its target. Wyke gleefully accepted with a booming header.
Romain Vincelot sprinted into the net to grab the ball and led a 50-yard dash back to the restart. City were not going to settle for a point.
The pressure reached fever pitch as the game entered four added minutes.
Clarke showed bravery on halfway to risk a boot in the face from Rohan Ince before feeding Marshall, now galavanting wide left.
His low ball into the mixer was met by a scrum of bodies, Vigouroux, Jones and Swindon defender Nathan Thompson who was trying to drag the shirt off the City substitute.
But Jones kept his prone body in the way of the ball to allow it to squirm free. Wyke, treating it with all the tension of a Sunday morning kick-about in the park, applied a little drag-back before slotting into the empty net.
Bantam bedlam ensued. What a way to pump fresh momentum into the promotion push.