Boxing Day produced a four-goal thriller at the Lamex Stadium but after a grandstand finish it was Coventry City who took all three points.
Lucas Akins gave Stevenage a first half opener from the penalty spot after Carl Baker fouled Filipe Morais in the box; Morais was making his return from injury at the expense of Greg Tansey and looked both exciting and tricky on the wing. There were two other changes as Lee Hills and Miguel Comminges started amongst the substitutes and Darius Charles and Anthony Grant came in.
After the break the away side were in the ascendancy but were failing to convert their work into an equaliser. Stevenage were playing on the break and carved out some decent chances of their own but with little under 15 minutes remaining their resilient defence was finally breached. It may well have been offside, that’s for the replays to dispute, but in the end Richard Wood had the equaliser from close range.
Stevenage would have probably felt that a draw was a result that reflected the way the game had panned out – some brilliant attacking football in the first half was partnered with decent defending and exciting counter-attacking play in the second.
Two goals in quick succession obliterated any hoped of that point though, and it was heartbreak for Boro fans as Carl Baker and David McGoldrick both scored in the space of a minute from long range. Baker’s came first, a deflected effort, but it was a real blockbuster from McGoldrick that sealed it as the home side pushed for an equaliser.
McGoldrick, on loan at the Sky Blues from Nottingham Forest, had been on fine form this year with 16 goals before the game. One of those came against Stevenage in the reverse fixture but when put through on goal twice in the opening 5 minutes he twice squandered the chance. More than a miss though, it was a sign of how dangerous he may be throughout the afternoon.
It was another David that almost lit the touch paper though; with 10 minutes on the clock Boro’s Gray went on a surging run down the right wing. He beat one, beat two, beat a third! His touch past Blair Adams was the one to run onto close to the touch line, too close though as the linesman got in his way before finally changing direction, Gray looked confident. He cut the ball back and burst into the box before playing it with pace into the middle where Akins met it but drilled over the bar. It was a moment of real desire from the former Preston North End man.
Smith’s side pushed on well, and bar a couple of breaks from City that resulted in relatively simple saves for Arnold, they were in control. Another glorious chance opened up when Morais won a corner, his low ball into the box was hit first time by Shroot but the contact wasn’t what he’d have liked. Nevertheless it was goal wards, it was blocked to the edge of the box where Grant met it but his low drive cannoned back off Bondz N’Gala en route.
Soon after that the deadlock was broken, and Akins had it from the spot, netting his eighth goal of the year. The penalty kick was won by Morais who dribbled quite brilliantly down the left wing, he had switched sides with Akins and took on his marker with a great piece of skill before progressing into the box. Baker came flying in on the wet surface and cleaned out the winger, giving the ref no choice but to point to the spot.
With the game deep into the single minute added onto the half a long ball to McGoldrick caused N’Gala all sorts of problems. The striker’s touch pushed it beyond the centre back and put him through on goal, he hit an effort towards goal and Steve Arnold made the save but the striker went to ground in the same move. His appeals for a penalty were apparent but instead the free kick went to the ‘keeper. Once it was taken the half time whistle went and Boro had their lead intact.
After the break the game was relatively even, perhaps Coventry were creating the better chances but neither side really came close. There was plenty of desire on show, Grant won every tackle whilst Gray and Charles both enjoyed surging runs down either wing. With an hour on the clock Freeman came on for Morais, who was tiring slightly after period out injured.
Stevenage were camped back, not because of tactics from the Gaffer who was clearly urging his side to press slightly higher up the field, but just because of the way play was unfolding. Coventry came the closest they had to an equaliser on 70 minutes but found a stern ‘keeper in the goal who didn’t want to be beaten. McGoldrick received the ball on the edge of the box with his back to goal, he turned and hit a powerful effort towards goal but Arnold superbly saved it to his left with one hand.
Minutes later Arnold was beaten though, however Mark Roberts and his defence were calling for an offside flag. A corner was given after a tussle between Charle and Franck Moussa and it was curled into the middle of the area – the Boro ‘keeper rose well in a crowded box and punched it clear but only to the edge of the box where a low drilled shot came back in from John Fleck. It deflected and fell to Wood in front of goal with nobody near him and he had the simple task of knocking it over the line.
Boro almost retook the lead with minutes to go, a back post header forcing a decent save Joe Murphy and a shot from Tansey deflected wide. There was a third goal in the game a minute later, but it left the Boro fans furious. Baker hit a low shot from range which deflected into the bottom corner but the worst was yet to come.
As Smith’s side pushed for an equaliser they left themselves exposed at the back – McGoldrick picked the ball up and moved forward, he was under pressure from N’Gala and at least 30 yards out but looked up and pulled off an audacious lob which found the top right hand corner and sent the away stand into ecstasy.
Stevenage (4-1-3-2) Arnold; Gray, N’Gala, Roberts, Charles; Grant (Agyemang 83); Morais (Freeman 60), Dunne, Akins; Shroot (Tansey 67), Haber
Unused Subs: Day, Hills, Comminges, Risser
Att: 4102 (1080 away)