Mark Perrow reports from the County Ground
Nile Ranger’s late winner ultimately settled a strikingly open contest in Wiltshire in favour of the home side.
The former Newcastle United striker turned sharply in the box to deliver an unstoppable shot high into the net three minutes from time.
Pantomime villain Aden Flint predictably had his say on his return to the County Ground as early as the ninth minute, as he headed his first City goal in off the post from a Marlon Pack corner.
The first of two leads for the visitors last just ten minutes, as Nicky Ajose equalised with a smart finish, only for Jay Emmanuel-Thomas to leave the hosts trailing again ten minutes before the interval.
But Ajose slid in to convert his second equaliser before City could reach half-time salvation.
The second half continued in the same chance-filled vain, but Ranger was to be the hero and heap more misery on over 2,500 travelling fans.
There was still time for Brendan Moloney to squander a glorious chance to salvage a point in stoppage time, but his shot rattled against the underside of the bar and stayed out as Swindon held on for victory.
Sean O’Driscoll made one change in personnel to his side held to a 1-1 draw by Shrewsbury Town in midweek, but made a collection of subtle tweaks as a result.
Moloney’s recall at the expense of Joe Bryan saw City switch to a back three, with Moloney and Nicky Shorey operating as wing backs.
Historically a feisty encounter, Scott Wagstaff subscribed to the ‘derby’ mentality with a crunching early challenge on Louis Thompson, putting the former Charlton Athletic man in the book within three minutes.
But Flint, the subject of all the talk in the build-up to the clubs’ first league meeting for eight seasons, would choose the most controversial location to open his City account.
The defender rose highest to head Pack’s left-wing corner against the inside of the post and untidily across the line after beating former team-mate Wes Foderingham in the Swindon goal to the cross.
The hosts, however, had impressed in the early weeks of the season, with an attractive brand of football helped by a close relationship with Tottenham Hotspur.
And it did not take long for Mark Cooper’s side to click into gear. After Thompson burst in off the left flank and dragged an immediate warning shot off target, Ajose turned Derrick Williams and fired a low shot across Frank Fielding for the equaliser.
Swindon had their tails up, and with the home crowd at their backs, Dany N’Guessan had them off their seats when he cut inside and unleashed a ferocious 20-yard drive against the crossbar.
City, sporting their new black away strip for the first time – albeit with a red-shorted twist – soon regained their composure to force Swindon back again in a lively spectacle.
Moloney’s cross from the right caught retreating midfielder Yaser Kasim by surprise, as the Swindon man watched in horror as his intervention wrongfooted Foderingham and bounced just off target.
When the resulting corner bounced inside the Town six-yard box, a sense of panic ensued among the home faithful.
And it was Emmanuel-Thomas who took advantage of some nervous defending to re-establish the visitors’ lead on 35 minutes.
With red shirts backing off, City’s top scorer skipped inside and unleashed a typically measured left-footed strike into the bottom corner at Foderingham’s near post.
Town’s attacking impetus always left the impression a one-goal deficit was far from beyond them, and Emmanuel-Thomas set about increasing it when he peeled away from his marker to let fly from Shorey’s corner, only to send his shot high into the stand.
Sure enough, the scoring was far from over, as Spurs loanee Massimo Luongo evaded a couple of challenges on the edge of the City box before dragging a left-footed cross-cum-shot towards the far post, where Ajose was lurking to slide in his second of a pulsating first half.
O’Driscoll’s response to a pulsating first half was to revert to a back four, sacrificing Williams for Bryan, only for his plans to be dealt a setback when James O’Connor collapsed at the end of a surging run five minutes later.
A completely innocuous situation culminated with the on-loan Derby County being stretchered off and replaced by Greg Cunningham as a makeshift centre-back.
By this time N’Guessan had come close to putting Swindon in front for the first time – just pulling Luongo’s pass inches wide of the far post, before the same man found the net only for the move to be pulled back for shirt pulling in the build-up.
The contest remained frighteningly open. Shorey, Bryan and Emmanuel-Thomas all got in behind Swindon but could not find a final ball, while at the other end N’Guessan blocked a Fielding clearance before the keeper made amends with an unorthodox sliding tackle inside his own penalty area.
A period of relative calm descended before Ajose, hat-trick hunting, shot straight down the throat of Fielding after more good work from Luongo.
And the striker had even better chance when he raced on to a superb through ball moments later, but shot tamely towards the bottom corner and saw his effort easily saved.
The hosts were coming on strongly in the latter stages, and duly delivered the killer blow when City could only half-clear a corner before Ranger found the net at the near post.
O’Driscoll’s side swarmed forward in search of a last-ditch equaliser, and when substitute Marlon Harewood laid the ball off for Moloney it looked forthcoming, but the defender’s 94th minute shot hit the underside of the bar and somehow stayed out.