A second half penalty from Ben Kennedy was enough for Stevenage to take all three points at basement club Cheltenham Town this afternoon with a 1-0 win.
Home ‘keeper Trevor Carson made countless saves as Boro dominated large chunks of the first half with Lee, Beardsley, Wells, Whelpdale and Walton all going close. Cheltenham improved as the game went on but Stevenage sub Ben Kennedy won and then scored the decisive 77th minute penalty, with Carson again coming to the Robins’ rescue in the closing stages as Boro threatened to make the game more comfortable.
Graham Westley made several changes from the side that drew against Tranmere on Good Friday. In came Andy Bond at right-back – allowing Chris Whelpdale to push further forward - both Dean Parrett and Chris Beardsley returned from injury and Dave Martin and Charlie Lee stepped up from the bench. There was also a welcome return among the subs for Dave McAllister, who replaced Jon Ashton on the bench just before kick-off.
Traffic problems on the A40 meant large numbers of Stevenage fans – and the media team – were late to the game in which the visitors dominated the opening quarter of an hour. Martin saw an eighth minute shot deflect behind, Wells forced Carson into a great save at the back post from the resulting corner and Joe Hanks cleared off the line from Walton as the ball just refused to go in.
Still the chances continued to come with Lee drilling a 12th minute shot wide after good hold-up play by Beardsley and then Carson again rescuing Cheltenham, pushing a Whelpdale flick around his post for another Boro corner.
After weathering the early storm Cheltenham began to push forward and were presented with a number of good set-piece opportunities, mainly for fouls given against Stevenage. The first, on 18 minutes, was given when Day came rushing out for clearance but with Bond electing to clear at the last minute, the ‘keeper was left to clatter into Shaquille McDonald and earn himself a caution. Positionally the free-kick looked dangerous but the effort flew over the bar.
Stevenage comfortably cleared two more free-kicks after decisions given against Okimo and Walton around the half-hour, before the linesman’s offside flag thankfully ruled out a neat finish by McDonald into the far corner.
After soaking up that pressure from the hosts, Graham Westley’s men pushed forward and created a couple of decent opportunities in the closing stages of the half. Dean Parrett tried to race onto a ball forward but could only poke straight at Carson, with Martin then lofting a close-range shot over the bar after a Boro free-kick resulted in pinball in the box.
Despite racking up 10 corners to Cheltenham’s two in the first half alone and looking the more threatening, Stevenage went in level at the break.
Both teams traded great chances in the opening minutes of the second half with Craig Braham-Barrett seeing a low effort bounce off the post and Parrett firing wide after being sent on the counter by a Beardsley flick.
The end-to-end action continued with Will Packwood nodding just wide at the back-post after Martin conceded a free-kick and Carson again blocking from close-range from Beardsley after a Whelpdale throw caused chaos.
After that hectic start the game calmed down with a number of substitutions for both teams disrupting the previously fast paced action. Ben Kennedy came on for a tiring Chris Beardsley and Bruno Andrade came on just past the hour for Simon Walton, as Boro made attacking changes. Bond moved into midfield and Whelpdale went to right-back as Andrade took up position on the right flank.
Carson made yet another superb stop from Andrade after Lee had done well on the edge of the box, before the game’s turning point came on the 77th minute.
After going close moments before, Kennedy drew a strong challenge from Jack Deaman and was awarded a penalty by referee Clark. Immediately grabbing the ball the youngster waited patiently before stepping up to send Carson the wrong way into the bottom corner.
From that point onwards Cheltenham pushed forward looking for a vital equaliser, leaving them open to the counter-attack. Andrade saw a dangerous cross cleared after a good ball wide from Bond, with Roarie Deacon – limping after pulling up slightly within minutes of coming on for Deacon – then thundering a close-range shot against the post after being found in space.
Kennedy could have made the points totally secure when he was slipped through by Parrett in the dying seconds, but there was Carson yet again to deny the youngster. However after negotiating six minutes of injury time Stevenage held onto the win to claim what could prove a vital three points in the playoff race.
With only five games remaining just a single point is all that separates Stevenage in 6th from Exeter in 10th. Each and every point will be crucial, starting with next Saturday’s home game against Northampton. We need your noise and tickets can be purchased here.
Stevenage: Day, Bond, Wells, Dembele, Okimo, Whelpdale, Parrett, Walton (Andrade 65), Martin (Deacon 75), Lee, Beardsley (Kennedy 57)
Subs not used: Beasant, McAllister, Pett, Conlon
Cheltenham Town: Carson, Vaughan, Braham-Barrett, Brown, Richards, Burns, Hanks, Wynter, Packwood (Deaman 53), McDonald (Haynes 64), Manset (Harrad 78)
Subs not used: Gould, Kotwica, Sparrow, Berry
Referee: Richard Clark
Attendance: 2,858 (205 away)