HANDS were cupped to ears as if inviting more of the scorn that has dogged his time at Valley Parade.

But on this occasion there were only cheers rather than jeers from a delirious Kop.

How Hope Akpan must have enjoyed that moment as he milked his goal that broke the Swindon deadlock.

His departure from the stage 13 minutes later was accompanied by an equally rapturous reception by a City faithful on their feet.

And everyone of them will have been thinking, “why haven’t we seen more of that before?”

Gary Bowyer’s pre-match comment that Akpan takes some stopping when he gets forward was met with predictable sarcasm and scorn.

Apart from those in the away end at Burton last season, City fans have not seen the former Championship midfielder attacking the opposing box with intent.

Bowyer, Akpan’s third City boss, recently sat him down and laid it on the line. A player with the physicality to boss this level must start stepping up.

A goalscoring return against Man City’s academy in the Trophy caused few ripples. But his boss had noticed the difference.

Coming off the bench for the unfortunate Matty Palmer at Scunthorpe, Akpan went up a notch again.

Against Swindon, he delivered his most convincing home performance by far.

Having revived the fortunes of Richard O’Donnell and Anthony O’Connor, Bowyer is now looking to work his magic on Akpan.

If he can sustain this form – and Akpan’s eye-catching effort against former club Burton was not backed up last season – then City can ride the expected lengthy absence of Palmer.

Bowyer has talked about the depth in the squad he has assembled since City made the drop. Saturday was proof that they can walk the walk.

With no James Vaughan either and Ben Richards-Everton still absent at the back, he came up with a game plan that inflicted a first away loss on a decent Swindon side you’d expect to be in the promotion mix.

Significantly, it was also the first time that City have beaten an opponent who started the day above them in the table.

What will encourage their manager so much is that several of the stand-out performances came from those who had only made bit-part contributions previously.

There was Zeli Ismail buzzing in and out on the wing, tempting and teasing defenders especially in a first half when his every touch spelt danger for Swindon.

And then Shay McCartan coming off the bench and desperate to get his season up and running with a first City goal since February 2018.

Greg Abbott was in temporary charge that day against Bury in the wake of Stuart McCall’s shock exit. Since then, Simon Grayson, Michael Collins and David Hopkin have all come and gone with the Irishman almost a forgotten figure.

Now back from his confidence-restoring year lifting the title with Lincoln, McCartan will hope his thudding winner is the start of big things to come.

There was so much for the City faithful to enjoy. After a season of fits and starts, lively spells followed by flat ones, this was a real start-to-finish showing.

Everywhere you looked was a home player on their game.

On a day that paid tribute to the late Peter Downsborough, the other common link between City and Swindon was virtually forgotten.

With a foot in both camps, Eoin Doyle wisely took the most neutral stance by steering clear of Valley Parade.

City are reluctant to discuss whether any recall clause exists in his season-long loan. But Bowyer dropped the odd hint in the build-up and it would be a major surprise if his parent club did not have some kind of security in the deal.

All will no doubt become clear in January – but maybe City’s biggest business then should be trying to sort out Callum Cooke long term.

The on-loan Peterborough man has given the midfield a rudder that had been lacking in the early weeks.

His influence on Saturday’s proceedings was total, driving upfield with intent, tracking back to defuse danger around his own box.

City certainly can’t afford to lose him – and imagine the boost a longer-term agreement would provide heading into the business end of what we hope will shape up to be a successful campaign.

With no Vaughan, Bowyer went with the extra midfielder rather than a second striker.

Harry Pritchard was the most advanced behind Clayton Donaldson, who got the ball to stick up there with great effect.

Ismail and Dylan Connolly operated on both sides while Cooke and Akpan alternated between tidying up and foraging forward.

Playing at a high tempo to stop Swindon from settling into their natural passing game, City looked to put their extra attacking work on the training ground into practice in a one-sided first half.

Ismail hit the foot of the post and other promising chances went close but the half-time deadlock did not tell the story.

The assistant’s flag cut short Donaldson’s celebrations when they did get the ball in the net before the opener arrived after 69 minutes.

Donaldson was at the heart of it again with a fierce cross-shot that Swindon keeper Luke McCormick could only parry – and there was Akpan following up to nod in the rebound and spark the celebrations of joy and relief.

Instead, that sparked Swindon into fierce resistance. Winger Lloyd Isgrove sent a warning shot over the bar but the message went unheeded.

Paudie O’Connor slipped as Kaiyne Woolery crossed low and Jerry Yates was afforded too much time to turn and shoot beyond Richard O’Donnell.

But City’s ability to ride the blows has become apparent in recent weeks and once more they climbed off the floor and quickly cleared heads.

It took them just five minutes before Connor Wood, again such a willing worker on the left, teed up McCartan to beat McCormick from 20 yards.

There was one more scare for the home side when Yates headed into the ground and over from another Woolery delivery when it looked easier to score.

But that didn’t spoil a feelgood afternoon for players and fans. The bar has now been raised for both team and certain individuals.