Robinson hails ‘special’ Lopes after attacker caps man-of-the-match performance with 95th minute winner and admits agony over decision to drop goalkeeper
Hungerford Town boss Danny Robinson hailed match-winner Fabio Lopes as “special” after the Portuguese-born attacker scored a 95th minute winner in a dramatic 3-2 victory over local rivals Swindon Supermarine.
The Crusaders were staring a third successive defeat in the face when Elis Watts lashed home an equaliser in the 88th minute and Town turned the game on its head when Lopes, who has endured a turbulent campaign on and off the pitch, capped a man-of-the-match performance with the winning goal in the fifth and final minute of added time.
Supermarine, who have been one of the form sides since Stuart Fleetwood took over at the end of September, played some good football and twice led, first through frontman Dave Sims-Burgess’ spectacular first half half-volley and then again following Levi Irving’s 70th minute diving header after Conor McDonagh had equalised from the spot.
Town have proved time and again that they are a team built on spirit and determination but Robinson was left with cause to question their character for the first time following last weekend’s 6-2 capitulation against Plymouth Parkway.
However this was the Hungerford that supporters have seen for most of the season and, after Robinson made three changes and went two up front, the Crusaders snatched a remarkable win thanks to late strikes from two of their leading attacking lights.
And Robinson could hardly hide his delight at full time as his side returned to the play-off places following a heart-stopping afternoon.
“It’s massive,” he said.
“We had a horrible week after Plymouth – a lot of soul-searching, a lot of choice words and anger. We let ourselves down.
“To go and do that was outstanding and we deserved that. We were the better side second half.
“We all know we’ve got good players here but we’ve shown we’ve got characters too. What a feeling.”
Robinson was particularly pleased for goalscorer Fabio Lopes, who has struggled to break into the XI this season following a promising initial stint at the back end of the previous campaign.
The former Oxford United forward has had to deal with a number of off-field issues but showed the almost 500 spectators inside Bulpit Lane exactly what he can do, providing a constant threat and lashing home a last minute winner.
Robinson said: “I’ve had many players come and go in my time but some of them stand out as special, and Fabio is one of them.
“He’s had a tough time outside football but he’s never once missed training and he’s always got a smile on his face.
“He’s been unlucky not to be starting but he’s waited patiently and he’s worked hard and he deserved that today.
“I’ve never been prouder of a player in all my life.”
Hungerford battled back to draw level after failing to create much in the way of first half chances and had to dig deep again when Marine restored their lead with 20 minutes remaining.
The introduction of Great Evans and a change in shape helped Town regain control of the contest and Robinson admits the impact of his frontman has left him with something of a selection headache.
“It’s hard for Great because Conor’s (McDonagh) been absolutely fantastic all season long,” he said.
“I think for the first time since he’s been here he was a bit upset that he didn’t start today.
“I get paid to make decisions and Conor’s a goalscorer, even if he hasn’t been at his best in the last couple of weeks he is lethal. We need him in the side.
“Great came on and changed the game. He’s knocking on the door and he’s got a massive part to play for us this season.”
Robinson had promised changes following last Saturday’s 6-2 thrashing at the hands of Plymouth Parkway but most supporters were probably a little surprised to see former Oxford United promotion-winning goalkeeper Ryan Clarke dropped in favour of Nick Harvey.
The 41-year-old was one of four changes, with skipper Rhys Tyler missing after breaking his ankle in training, and Robinson admitted he agonised over the decision to drop the vastly-experienced veteran.
He said: “That was the hardest decision this week.
“When Clarkey got injured and Nick came in, he didn’t do anything wrong and we did well. I think he let us down a little bit at Basingstoke with one of their goals but he’s a young goalkeeper; he’s good, he’s very good.
“If outfield players make mistakes they get punished and I just didn’t think Ryan was brilliant against Plymouth; he knows that.
“I can, hand on heart, say that was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make because Ryan’s been one of our top performers. Sometimes you have to poke a player to get even more out of them and that’s my job.
“We’ve got two very good goalkeepers here.”
Hungerford moved back into the play-off places after AFC Totton drew 1-1 with Gosport Borough and the Crusaders will be looking to build on their newfound momentum when they travel to strugglers Hayes and Yeading on Saturday, who are without a win in their last 12 matches.
And Robinson feels his side’s second half fightback could prove to be one of the most important moments in Town’s fight for a top five finish.
“I think it was the biggest half time team-talk I’ve given all season,” he said.
“You can’t stare down the barrel of three defeats, with the play-offs slipping away a little bit further.
“I read the riot act a little bit and we came out and showed what a good side we are.
“It was the biggest 50 minutes of our season and it just shows you what we can do.”