SWIFTS boss Jody Brown praised his side after they took star-studded reigning Velocity Trophy champions Billericay all the way to a penalty shoot-out on a windswept Wednesday night on their own patch.
Heybridge played Town in this same competition in September last season at New Lodge but the resplendent stadium was virtually unrecognisable as the fruits of owner Glenn Tamplin’s investment were clearly evident.
And although the north Essex side were eventually pipped on penalties, it meant they have not lost any matches in 90 minutes in eight cup ties against Step 3 sides this campaign.
With Luke Callander suspended, Ricky Sappleton cup tied and injuries to remaining strikers Josh Fagbohun and George Smith, Swifts played Joe Gardner in an unfamiliar line-leading role.
Brown said: “Looking at their lineup and bench can be pretty daunting as they have ex-Premier League, Conference, League One and League two players and full internationals – and all still at a good age.
“But we had a plan which we worked on it the night before and the first 20 minutes were very positive.
“Joe Gardner understood his role as a kind of false No 9 very well and was outstanding on the night. And their goalkeeper made two great saves to keep them in it early on.
“When you see a side with their resources from the top of the level above – and with Football League ambitions – change their shape four times in a game in an attempt to overcome you, it’s definitely a tactical and moral victory.
“And we still need to play plenty of league games in hand to catch up in our division, so going out on penalties is probably the best possible outcome, despite our obvious desire to win.
“It was great for Kreshnic to score against the club that released him and it was great to see youngster Marley Andrews – returning from his loan deal at Stanway – give Paul Konchesky a difficult last 20 minutes.
“A draw away at Billericay is a pretty big thing these days as they’re going togo up and then probably build again for another promotion.
“But I’d have loved to have had Luke Callander, Josh Fagbohun or Ricky Sappleton to throw on because I think that would have made the game very interesting.”
Swifts broke away to take a fifth-minute lead when Joe Gardner ran on to a Kreshnic Krasniqi and he was brought down by ex-Heybridge loan keeper Jack Giddens.
Former Billerciay midfielder Krasniqi slotted home the spot kick to shock the hosts (the goal is pictured above by Nicky Hayes).
Heybridge keeper Danny Sambridge was having a predictably busy night but his side nearly went 2-0 up when Giddens palmed over a superb strike by Gardner.
Then Town winger Ricky Modeste headed over from point-blank range with Sambridge beaten for once.
Heybridge centre-backs Ryan Henshaw and Jack Cawley and full backs Guillem Ramon and Reece Conway excelled after to deal with crosses into the hosts’ talented frontline.
Sambridge made a great save from a fierce drive by Jake Robinson but was unable to prevent Robinson from scoring the equaliser on 65 minutes when he volleyed home from close range when a corner was partially cleared.
Billericay defender Rob Swaine headed just wide from close range late on before the shoot out, which saw Cawley miss Swifts’ first kick, and that was to prove decisive with Town scoring all five of their penalties.
Swifts, backed by a large away following once more, can be proud of their performance against the likely Bostik Premier champions and will now face Sunday’s FA Trophy visit to Kingstonian with renewed confidence after this excellent performance.