Stevenage fell to a 4-1 defeat at Bristol City this afternoon.
First half goals from Greg Cunningham and Sam Baldock were added to in the second half by two Jay Emmanuel-Thomas strikes as City took control. Francois Zoko pulled one back late on for Boro, who also rattled the woodwork twice and forced home 'keeper Elliott Parish into a string of fine saves during the 90 minutes.
Graham Westley responded to the defeat at Colchester by making five changes to his starting eleven. In came Sam Wedgbury, Jordan Burrow, Greg Tansey, David Gray and Roarie Deacon with Ben Chorley, Michael Doughty, Bruno Andrade and Simon Heslop dropping to the bench.
Having picked up all three points against Walsall on Boxing Day the hosts were keen to make it two wins in quick succession and after threatening early on through Sam Baldock and Scott Wagstaff, they opened the scoring on seven minutes.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas found Wagstaff out wide and his floated cross was headed home at the back post by Greg Cunningham.
Straight from the kick-off Boro nearly fashioned an immediate equaliser. Freeman charged down a clearance which looped up into the box – Burrow beat keeper Parish to the ball, turned out wide and played the ball to Wedgbury whose curling effort was simple for Parish to gather.
Jon Ashton headed over from a corner as Stevenage continued to press forward, with Freeman looking particularly bright in a front three with Zoko and Burrow. However 12 minutes in, City doubled their lead. Emmanuel-Thomas picked up possession on the edge of the box and burst past Ashton to the byline before crossing for Sam Baldock to slide in his 12th of the season.
Freeman called Parrish into the first of many saves when he wriggled free in the box and fired in a shot, whilst at the other end Baldock met a Cunningham cross on the volley but fired over.
Just past the half hour Parrish was again called into action, flying to his left to deny Burrow’s header from a Tansey corner.
Bristol City seemed content with their two-goal lead but remained dangerous on the counter. Bobby Reid failed to convert another Cunningham cross from the left with the same player attempting an ambitious effort from range minutes before the break which flew into the crowd.
Both sides traded half-chances at the start of the second half before Roarie Deacon forced Parish into yet another acrobatic save with a right-footed effort from distance on 55 minutes.
Three minutes later Zoko controlled inside the box, flicked the ball over his defender but could only poke wide when it looked easier to score. The Ivorian sunk to his knees in despair as another chance went begging.
City were rattled and the home faithful were voicing their frustrations, but this was as much about Boro’s improved second half showing than their side taking their foot off the gas.
Graham Westley’s men continued to push forward with sub Lucas Akins winning a corner with a run and shot on the hour which went behind off a defender. From that set piece Zoko forced Parrish into another save with a low effort that deflected off Burrow.
Luke Freeman was having a fine game and nearly pulled one back on 68 minutes when he rattled the post. Picking up a Wedgbury pass to the left flank the youngster beat two men, advanced into the box and unleashed a rocket which crashed onto the post and bounced clear. It was typical of the luck the team is having at present – magnified just seconds later at the other end when Baldock turned provider for Emmanuel-Thomas to stroke home for 3-0.
Michael Doughty came on for Greg Tansey as GW opted for a change in the middle but within minutes it was 4-0 with Emmanuel-Thomas scoring his second. The former Arsenal trainee flicked the ball past one defender and played a neat 1-2 with a team-mate before advancing and firing home a superb solo goal.
Stevenage continued to play attacking football and finally got the goal they deserved when Freeman advanced down the left and cut the ball back for Zoko to smash home left-footed.
The final 10 minutes may have been academic for the hosts but Stevenage continued to be the dominant force – Parrish twice denied Freeman and also saved from Zoko as the striker looked to score from close-range.
They also won a flurry of late corners during six minutes of added time, with Burrow hitting the bottom of the post in the game’s final chance.
Whilst 2013 finishes as it began for Boro – with a defeat – it’s hoped 2014 will bring more joy, starting with the visit of Gillingham to The Lamex on New Year’s Day.
Stevenage:Day, Gray, Ashton, Jones, Deacon, Smith (Akins 54), Tansey (Doughty 70), Wedgbury (Heslop 82), Freeman, Zoko, Burrow
Subs not used: Arnold, Chorley, Haber, Andrade
Bristol City: Parish, Williams, Flint, Baldock (Burns 85), Emmanuel-Thomas, Wagstaff (Moloney 74), Reid, Cunningham, Elliott, Gillett (Carey 87), Osborne
Subs not used: Fielding, Bryan, Wynter, Taylor
Referee: Jeremy Simpson
Attendance: 12,036 (256 away)