Midfielder the hero as Stevenage remain unbeaten...Stevenage put in an inspired away performance against Notts County to secure all three points in a game of three penalties.
After a stalemate in the first half the home side struck the post from the spot in the second period after Lucas Akins had felled Jeff Hughes in the box.
Debutant Steve Arnold put in a fantastic performance but when a second penalty was awarded after Mark Roberts was deemed to have fouled Francois Zoko in the area there was nothing he could do and Jamal Campbell-Ryce slotted home.
Boro rallied and Marcus Haber won a penalty, the third of the second half, after a great run and shot was stopped on its way to goal by Alan Sheehan’s deliberate handball. Lucas Akins netted from the spot but the best was yet to come.
As the fourth official readied his board for added time Robin Shroot showed great strength in the box and slotted home his sixth of the seasons with a low finish to secure all three points.
The spotlight would have been on 22 year old ‘keeper Arnold early on; the summer signing came into the starting line up ahead of veteran Chris Day and just two minutes into the game he made his first save as an Alan Judge shot from range came low to his right. On ten minutes he was tested further when a corner was met by the head of Francois Zoko, like a bullet it headed goal wards but a fine save to the right kept it out.
An even first half was edged on chances by the away side, with goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski twice scurrying across his line and diving to his right to keep long range efforts out. Stevenage showed a slick passing game and patient build up was forcing errors from County. Greg Tansey tried a trademark effort and Lucas Akins showed what he could do with his left foot but on both occasions the goalie came out on top.
A negative for Boro was the forced substitution around 25 minutes; Anthony Grant, who has been so commanding in the centre of the park this season, took a knock to the head and after long treatment on the field he was replaced by James Dunne, who began the game on the bench.
The closest the Pies came to breaking the deadlock came from a poor back pass from Mark Roberts to Arnold. The ‘keeper was closed down by Enoch Showunmi and his clearance struck the striker and looped into the air; both battled to get onto the ball as it dropped down and eventually there was a hacked clearance for Boro.
As the shape of the second half was being created Akins and David Gray linked up well on the right wing, the former progressed into the box and dinked a ball to the far post beautifully – Morais was lurking but Carl Regan done extremely well to pick it off his foot and smash it clear. As County broke Hughes ran down the left and into the box, his cross rebounded back to him and Akins left a leg trailing which the Magpies player tripped over. The referee instantly pointed to the spot and Hughes brushed himself off to take the spot kick, Arnold went the right way as the ball cannoned back off the post and Boro made the clearance.
The sense of frustration amongst the home fans was making for an hostile atmosphere, it was spurring the County side on and next Campbell-Ryce had a fabulous chance. He skipped onto a through ball well and was through into the box as Arnold stormed off his line and made a great save with his right forearm.
If frustration was on the face of every County fan, it would soon be on the face of every Boro player. Gray smashed a clearance on the right wing but the follow through from his opponent caught his foot, he went down injured and play continued. County attacked and Boro cleared it only for the home side to come back a second time, Zoko ran on into the area and went over under a challenge from Roberts. The captain furiously protested his innocence and in truth, the decision looked even harsher than the first. After much delay for treatment to Gray, Campbell-Ryce took the spot kick and drilled it straight down the middle to give his side the lead.
Gray had to be replaced and Shroot came on, Dunne dropped to right back, whilst Freeman came on for Morais. Immediately he beat his defender but was hauled backwards – the referee played the advantage but Boro couldn’t force an opportunity.
The final ten minutes came quickly and Stevenage had a corner, it was blocked in front of goal and the shot that followed from Tansey was wide. County attacked and won a corner themselves, a dangerous ball into the area was headed clear to Freeman on the edge of the box and he showed some trickery before hitting the ball up to Haber. The Canadian worked hard to get some space and a sight on goal before striking it but substitute Alan Sheehan stuck out an arm and blocked it en route, the referee awarded the third penalty of the game and duly sent of the Pies number 3. Akins took the spot kick and like Campbell-Ryce opted for a firm hit down the middle, Bialkowski went left and the net bulged; 1-1 with seven minutes to go.
Time was ticking and against ten men Smith’s side smelt blood, Haber thought he had won a throw by the home side’s corner flag but the referee gave it the other way, rather than argue Boro battled and won the ball back from the restart. The striker nipped the ball over the head of the centre back and Shroot showed great strength before blasting it into the bottom corner and ripping his shirt off in celebration.
After five added minutes came to a close Boro’s unbeaten run continued and a jump to second in the league confirmed.
Stevenage (4-2-3-1) Arnold; Gray (Shroot 75), Roberts, Charles, Comminges; Grant (Dunne 27), Risser; Morais (Freeman 73), Tansey, Akins; Haber
Unused Subs: Day, Ball, Lopez, N’Gala
Att: 4,927 (176 away)