Stevenage were unlucky in defeat at the Lamex Stadium, as two goals in quick succession condemned Gary Smith’s side to defeat despite leading early in the second half.
There were no goals in the first half but the second 45 minutes erupted into life when Robin Shroot pounced at the far post to give Stevenage the lead.
Two goals in 5 minutes turned the game on its head, the first came from Hope Akpan who reacted first when Steve Arnold got a hand to a long range Nicky Adams effort. The Reds had the lead minutes later when former Boro man Dannie Bulman smashed an effort from distance and a deflection caught the ‘keeper off-guard and found the back of the net.
Boro rallied late on but found that they were up against a ‘keeper who wouldn’t be beaten again. Attack after attack merely produced saved after save and Stevenage couldn’t get back on level terms.
Smith named a side with two changes from last weekend’s win at Hartlepool United, with Robin Shroot retuning to the starting line up in behind Marcus Haber, and Lee Hills moving to the left side of midfield. Luke Freeman was forced onto the bench due to a minor knock, however David Gray recovered from the injury that ended his last game early. Jon Ashton and Filipe Morais remained out, and Goalkeeper Charlie Horlock has his first spot on the bench in place of the injured Chris Day.
Boro went into the game fresh from victory at Victoria Park seven days earlier, a result on the back of an upturn in form since home defeats to both Swindon Town and Preston North End. In the opposition, Smith saw a side who would be going all out for victory after a run of poor league results that were without a win in seven attempts.
It was also the first time back at the Lamex since the passing of former winger Mitchell Cole, and tributes were in place in his memory.. The players warmed up in ‘COLE 21’ shirts and a minute’s silence was observed before kick off. Of course, when 21 minutes came the crowd showed their appreciation for a player that was a huge part of the progression from non-league to where we are today. Credit must also go to the away fans, who both clapped and sang for Mitchell too. He will be remembered fondly by all at Stevenage Football Club.
As the game began, both sets of fans were in strong voice and both sides pushed for an early breakthrough. There seemed more urgency about Boro’s play, and a desire to win the ball back quickly when Crawley had possession. Shroot sent an early cross dangerously into the box and a low Tansey strike only missed the mark thanks to a deflection in a strong opening ten minutes.
The action slowed but with ten minutes of the half to go it was Tansey again who had the chance – Shroot found Gray on the right wing and he controlled the ball really well before crossing it into the box. Akins dummied and Tansey collected but another low drive was blocked in front of goal.
The game was still even after the break, until 56 minutes when out of nowhere there was an opener. Some would say you couldn’t write it, others would say the script was written, all I’ll say is well done Mr Shroot. Fresh from signing a new contract this week the midfielder was in the right place at the right time to give Gray’s cross what it deserved – a finish. The right back burst forward and played it to the former Birmingham man at the back post and he powered it home brilliantly.
It didn’t take long for the Boro bubble to burst though and Akpan pulled his side level. His goal came after some fans were calling for him to be sent for an early bath after raising his arm in a challenge with Roberts. It was just a yellow for the striker though, and when Arnold parried a low Adams strike, which had skipped across the wet surface, he was first to react to the loose and poke it home.
Unbelievably the Reds took the lead minutes Bulman, who played for the club in our non-league days, was credited with the goal. He struck the ball with some power from range but a wicked deflection left Arnold wrong-footed and it nestled into the back of the net.
Freeman came on for Hills on the left side of the midfield whilst Darius Charles replaced Miguel Comminges at left back, both players would add more to the side in terms of attack with Charles a far more attacking minded defender. With seven minutes to go Agyemang also came on, with Haber making way, one final throw of the dice.
Arnold would finish the game with his head bandaged after taking a boot to the head and a minute later Freeman tested Paul Jones with a shot form outside the box but the ‘keeper was equal to it.
Akins was next to go close, his low shot looked destined to level it but Jones again got a hand to it. Boro had a corner, the ball in was punched clear but a free kick awarded on the edge of the box after a foul on Gray. The shot was good, on target, close to the post, but again Jones made a brilliant save.
It wasn’t Stevenage’s day, and Jones could not be beaten again, the final whistle condemned Smith’s side to a home defeat.
Stevenage (4-4-2) Arnold; Comminges (Charles 74), Roberts, N’Gala, Gray; Akins, Dunne, Tansey, Hills (Freeman 74); Shroot, Haber (Agyemang 83)
Unused Subs: Horlock, Ball, Rogers, Risser