Ten-man Stevenage fell to defeat on a tough afternoon at the County Ground in the final away game of the season.
It was a sunny day in Swindon but that wouldn’t have picked up the spirits of Graham Westley in the first half who saw his team second best to much of the tie.
The home side deservedly led inside the first period and Aden Flint was the man with his name on the score sheet; his finish was tidy, though the Stevenage defence would hope to deal with it better if they were presented with the same situation again.
The push for an equaliser was always going to be tough against a side who knew a win would secure a play-off place; but it was made harder when Dani Lopez was given an early bath. The striker saw red for lashing out against goal scorer Flint after a clash in the box – it looked harsh on Lopez, with both parties guilty of reacting.
Gary Roberts doubled Town’s advantage ten minutes after the restart, finishing well for Swindon, whilst Flint netted a third for his side later in the half.
It was an afternoon to forget for Stevenage and their travelling fans, who will now look forward to next Saturday’s fixture with MK Dons as a chance to say goodbye to the 2012/13 season.
Miguel Comminges was named ‘Player of the Season’ in his single year with the Robins back in 2008 and he started the game at the County Ground in place of David Gray at right back. Graham Westley also recalled Chris Day between the sticks with Steve Arnold dropping to the substitutes’ bench; the ‘keeper saw his side on the wrong side of most of the possession in the opening ten minutes but was only really forced into one save, as Andy Williams sent a low header towards the bottom corner – he reacted well though and calmly held it.
Boro began to settle into the game and successive corners caused the home defence issues – it was the captain Mark Roberts who went closest when his header across goal seemed to be looping under the bar but was tipped over by Wes Foderingham. Soon after it was a set piece that led to the opener but it was Town who had it.
Akins looked unlucky to concede a free kick on the wing, and he even went into the book for his troubles. The drilled ball in was headed clear by Max Ehmer and dropped for McCormack on the edge of the box. He attempted a volley that went fortuitously wrong – it went off at a tangent and struck a teammate in the box only to bounce into the path of Flint. The central defender hit the ball cleanly and perhaps caught everyone off-guard, as it nestled into the far corner of the goal.
Stevenage were finding it difficult to retain the ball in attack and with ten minutes to go until half time Westley made a change to try and alter that. Darius Charles came on for Anthony Grant and moved into attack, changing the side to a clear 4-4-2 formation as they went in search of an equaliser.
Having two up front lasted less than a minute – Lopez was given his marching orders for an altercation with Flint. The Spanish striker got in the way of an Ehmer header that was heading goal wards; he seemed annoyed at his marker’s challenge on him in the build up and appeared to hit out against it. It didn’t seem an aggressive move from Lopez, more one of frustration, but the rashness of his reaction was evident and you could see the consequences of his actions sinking in as the red card was held aloft above his head.
After the break Boro rallied but the numerical disadvantage was hindering them and being back to a single striker it was tough to hold the ball up in attack. The hope was that the lead could be left at just one goal for as long as possible before pushing and getting the equaliser, but before long Swindon had a second.
If something could have been done about the first goal, nothing could the second. Roberts hit it spectacularly well, after holding it up on the edge of the area and creating just enough space to get a sight on goal. His emphatic finish came off the inside of the post in the top right hand corner.
The ten men of Stevenage looked tired, having to cover for a missing man takes its toll and the way in which the game had unfolded would have disappointed each and every player. Eventually they did carve out an attack, Dunne surged forward well and won a corner after clipping the ball off the heels of his follower – the referee awarded a goal kick. Signs were clear that it was a day that seemed against the Boro.
With little under twenty minutes to go Swindon had their third of the afternoon; with Flint getting his second. They had a free kick which Stevenage couldn’t get clear, each head and volley seemed to cannon off a red shirt and come back at them until it eventually fell to Flint who hammered it home into the bottom corner.
The result seemed gone but just to compound the misery of the Boro faithful there was another decision to be displeased with. A ball to the right hand side of the Swindon box teased ‘keeper Foderingham off his line but he timed it all wrong – when he eventually met the ball and handled it he was a good yard outside his area, but the referee missed it completely and play continued.
Matt Ball came on for Ehmer to make his debut in a Stevenage shirt and in the 15 minutes or so he had on the field he managed to get on the ball and show positives signs, good strength and decent control, but the game had fizzled out as a spectacle; Swindon knew a play-off place was secured and the ten men in Stevenage shirts were out of gas. Three minutes were added on for stoppages – that was just enough time for Day to pull off a wonder save when staring down the barrel of the gun with Luke Rooney baring down on him, and before long the full time whistle went.
Stevenage (4-5-1) Day; Comminges, N’Gala, Roberts, Hills (Haber 85); Akins, Dunne, Ehmer (Ball 74), Grant (Charles 35), Freeman; Lopez
Unused Subs: Arnold, Gray, Mahon, Hoskins