A four-goal victory over promotion chasing Sheffield United brought a smile back to the faces of Stevenage supporters with Dani Lopez netting a hat-trick.
It was a momentous day at the Lamex Stadium as Gary Smith’s team brushed aside the Blades with a classy performance, which will long be remembered by the Spaniard and his teammates.
His first goal came in the opening half, a quite brilliant turn put him through on goal and his finish matched.
The second calmed nerves around the ground, Gavin Mahon was the architect as a lovely dink over the defence found Lopez who calmly fired into the back of the net. His hat-trick was complete shortly, and in style too with a fabulous strike into the top corner after some good work from Anthony Grant. It is often said about Lopez, that he played in the same youth team as Fernando Torres - somewhere tonight Torres himself may be telling friends he played in the same youth team as Lopez!
Lucas Akins put the icing on the cake with a precise low shot into the bottom corner as a deserved three points were added to the tally.
The Blades were unchanged from their game with MK Dons last Saturday, whilst Gary Smith made three. Bondz N’Gala, recalled from Barnet on Wednesday, came in for Darius Charles who missed the game through suspension after his red card against Bournemouth in the week, whilst Miguel Comminges continued on the right of the defence as David Gray served the second of his two game ban for picking up 10 yellow cards this season. Luke Freeman and Sam Hoskins dropped to the bench with Dani Lopez coming into attack; Mahon returned from injury and took his place in the midfield.
It was a game that just three years ago would have been a glamorous cup-tie for the Boro, but after the recent progression it was just the 38th of a 46-match season. A fixture that would certainly be tough against a side pushing for automatic promotion, and with a run of form that has left Stevenage looking down rather than up a positive result would mean even more than usual.
Lopez, making his first start for Stevenage, saw a long range effort deflect just wide of the bottom corner with only three minutes on the clock as his side started well.
The home side were dominant but with their first attack on 23 minutes the Blades showed how half a chance could be taken advantage of. Ryan Flynn was played through on goal and one-on-one with Steve Arnold out of nowhere; he shot but the number one was well equal to it and palmed it out for a corner.
Stevenage were well and truly playing the better of the two sides, they were on the front foot and asking all the questions and should have had the lead through Haber six minutes before the interval. Akins ran well and linked up with Comminges before crossing it into the area, it fell to the Canadian striker but he slipped on the wet surface and his connection wasn’t clean.
A minute later the breakthrough was made, would you believe the Spanish wizard had a goal to be proud of. Lopez picked the ball up on the edge of the box from Comminges, his trickery and turn took his marker completely out of the equation before he fired into the bottom corner with a sublime finish – his celebration matched the emphatic strike.
Another minute passed and Lopez almost scored again; this time with something even Greg Tansey would have been proud of. 30 yards out he spotted the ‘keeper off his line and smashed it goal wards, forcing a great fingertip save out of the opposition ‘keeper.
After the break all hopes would have been that Stevenage could hold onto their lead, but Lopez can do one better than that. Akins won a corner, teaming up well with Grant on the left; it was taken short to Hills who ran well. He returned the bal before it went into the box but it was headed out, Mahon was there and took a moment before dinking it over the defence and into the path of a perfectly timed run from Lopez who side-footed it beautifully into the back of the net.
The game evened out and United had two chances to pull one back, first they were denied by a brilliant save from Arnold and moments later and the second was blocked on the line quite fortuitously.
The Lamex was about to burst into life.
Grant won the ball in midfield, took it forward, Lopez overlapped on his right and was fed in, it looked to have gone too wide but from the edge of the box he shot, and boy was it good. It flew perfectly into the top corner to complete his hat-trick in style.
Minutes later it got even better as Akins, stuck on 9 goals since the start of January, finally got his 10th of the season. Lopez was involved again, turning beautifully and playing in the eventual goal scorer on the wing. Akins controlled it and cut inside before firing across goal and into the bottom corner. He immediately ran over the Smith to celebrate, what an afternoon for Boro.
United rallied for what would surely be a consolation goal, Kitson should have scored but Arnold was too good for his shot and some long range efforts were blocked well en route.
Stevenage: Arnold; Comminges, Roberts, N’Gala, Hills; Akins (Hoskins 85), Grant, Mahon Dunne; Haber (Beleck 74), Lopez
Unused Subs: Day, Tansey, Freeman, Iro, Shroot