Defensive errors cost Stevenage at Bramall Lane as Sheffield United ran out worthy winners in the League One clash.
The sides went in level at the break, a powerful Mark Roberts header cancelled out Neil Collins’ opener in an evenly contested 45 minutes. Both sides had periods of control and would hope to capture it for longer periods in the second half.
Unfortunately, it was the Blades who managed to do just that. Within 10 minutes Shaun Miller had his first of the afternoon with a close range effort as he was left unopposed in the six yard box and he netted again later in the game with another simple effort.
Chris Porter put the game beyond doubt as Boro conceded fourth from a header inside the area and Gary Smith’s side must now brush themselves off and get ready to challenge AFC Bournemouth on Tuesday night.
The gaffer made two changes to his starting line-up from the game against Preston North End a week previous, handing a debut to former Crystal Palace defender Lee Hills. Returning from injury, he came in for Bondz N’Gala with Darius Charles slipping into the centre of the defence whilst Anthony Grant dropped to the bench and Oliver Risser was given the nod.
The side that killed Stevenage’s hopes of a third successive promotion in the play offs last season started on the front foot and Michael Doyle tried his luck twice from the edge of the area, both times he missed the target but it was a sign of his intentions. In contrast, the away supporters were dominating the sound waves despite a huge numerical disadvantage. In the opening ten minutes Boro’s best chance came from a free kick pumped into the area – Haber won it at the back post and Risser crossed it back in but Roberts was adjudged to have fouled his marker as he rose to meet it with his head.
George Long was forced into his first save of the game on the quarter of an hour mark after some decent work on the left wing from Tansey, he wriggled up the line and put the ball into the box but it was just too high for Haber to reach – it did however drop for Morais and he headed towards goal only to be denied by the Blades ‘keeper.
Midway through the half poor marking in the box gifted an opener to United and Collins was the man to head home. Gray made a decent challenge on the wing but the ball bobbled to the feet of Doyle. He looked up and delivered a perfect ball to the back post where Roberts had two on him, the second of which being Collins who hammered his header into the far corner.
Smith’s side were defending well but failing to break away as poor passing let them down – misplaced or lacking power they were simply being picked off by United who would then attack again. Towards the end of the half it looked brighter, three corners and a free kick within a couple of minutes showed an increase in quality but they failed to deliver any guilt edge chances.
With very little of the half remaining Arnold’s palms were stinging, but the pain would be worth keeping the ball out of the back of the net. Dunne was dispossessed in the middle of the park and the home side broke forward, Miller had space to run into and did so before striking it well but Arnold showed strong wrists.
The fourth official has his board up as Boro won a late corner in the first half. Morais placed the ball and signalled for a training ground routine, and it was well understood. Roberts timed his run to perfection and met a great ball into the box with his head, Long could do nothing about it as the captain wheeled away in celebration.
United came out of the traps well after the break and were forcing the issue on the Stevenage defence. They could have taken the lead a couple of times before they eventually did on 55 minutes, after missing a couple of close range headers. Nick Blackman crossed the ball towards the back post and it was expertly headed back into the centre of the area, not for the first time in the box there were unmarked men in the ball’s path and Miller bundled it over the line.
Sloppy defending proved to be the downfall, 70 minutes were on the clock as the home side got their third of the game and again it would be seen as preventable. The ball came in from the left hand side and was headed into the air; Roberts tried to bring it down to clear it but took too long allowing Miller to get the better of him and poke the ball over the line. The captain kicked the floor in frustration as a two-goal cushion was instated. Smith threw Grant and Patrick Agyemang into the arena with Dunne and Haber making way.
Porter compounded the misery and hammered the final nail into the Boro coffin with just a couple of minutes remaining, rising highest for a Ryan Flynn cross and heading it into the top corner.
Stevenage (4-2-3-1) Arnold; Gray, Roberts, Charles, Hills; Risser, Dunne (Grant 72); Akins, Tansey (Freeman 62), Morais; Haber (Agyemang 72)
Unused subs: Day, Comminges, N’Gala, Shroot