Stevenage fell to a fifth straight defeat as a second half Mark Duffy strike settled the clash with Scunthorpe United at Glanford Park.
On a cold evening Boro were edged by one moment of class, as Duffy netted his fifth of the season with a precise shot from the edge of the area.
Stevenage showed god signs in the first half and the scores were level at the break but the second period was a lot more difficult. The Iron pegged Gary Smith’s side back and restricted any attacking outlet and it was clear that one goal would settle the tie – and it went the way of United on 66 minutes.
Smith made two changes going into the game; aiming to bounce back from defeat on Saturday the manager handed a start to bright winger Luke Freeman and on-loan forward Steve Beleck. Lee Hills and Marcus Haber missed out, although the latter was named amongst the substitutes.
Those starting the game in the white shirt began brightly, there was positivity to their play and Beleck in particular looked a physical presence up front. He won two early corners through sheer strength and determination, and despite ingenuity from Robin Shroot and Freeman, who took both quickly and tried to make something special, an opener couldn’t be forged.
As the home side settled into a rhythm Jimmy Ryan saw a shot saved with ease by Chris Day but the first major chance fell in the lap of Shroot. The midfielder broke forward with the ball and had two defenders between him and the goal, he chopped the ball back nicely and shifted his weight onto his other foot before firing low and on target but opposition ‘keeper Ross Slocombe was equal to it. It wasn’t the best connection from the former Birmingham City man, but a sign that Boro could be dangerous in attack.
Unfortunately, that sign rarely showed again. Lucas Akins’ shot from the edge of the area was too hot to handle, but Slocombe pounced first after spilling the effort, and Freeman saw one or two crosses headed clear but the score line was fair at half time. Bar a chance for Scunthorpe’s Michael Collins, well-saved by Day, there was very little in front of goal for Brian Laws’ side.
After the break things changed, momentum shifted and Stevenage were under pressure. There was no ‘out-ball’, each time a Scunthorpe attack was stopped a new one began because possession couldn’t be secured up the field. Balls were flying into the area and corners being conceded at will. Akins showed spirit during a rare attack but after cutting in nicely his shot was all wrong, though effort and positive intentions were there in abundance.
The best chance thus far then fell to Andy Barcham; the winger rose at the back post and connected with a brilliantly curled ball but David Gray – winner of many-a-challenge on the evening – blocked it superbly. There were cries of hand ball, but they correctly fell on deaf ears and any penalty award would have taken due credit from the right back for his block.
Left back Tom Newey began to stride forward more, a key feature of the Iron’s play he overlapped nicely and threatened on the wing. On the hour mark his ball into the box won a corner and the resulting second phase saw the same man crash a header against the bar. You could sense what was coming.
Marcus Haber had since replaced Beleck in attack, he won more headers but found it just as difficult to secure possession. The next change saw the introduction of the pacey Sam Hoskins to try and aid that, Shroot made way. Three minutes later though, it was the opposition who had the opener.
Duffy’s finish was perfect, it left Day with no chance as it flew into the bottom far corner but in truth he had far too much time and space on the edge of the penalty area. The winger cut inside with one intention and executed it to perfection to turn the pressure up on Stevenage.
As time ticked away still Boro found it hard to really find their flow in attack – after United substitute James Alabi saw a header saved by Day the tide slightly turned, and perhaps the home side turned attentions to holding onto the lead, but breaking them down was never looking certain.
The fourth official had raised his board to signal two additional minutes and Greg Tansey had taken to the field for Akins when you thought just maybe Boro would get a slice of luck. Haber latched onto a through ball and strode forward, only to be fouled on the edge of the area, the kind of game-saving foul you love to see your defence make but hate to concede yourself. It gave Smith’s side a second chance from the free kick, which was deflected to Haber himself, but the Canadian striker couldn’t flick his header goal wards. Moments later Gray hit an audacious effort high and wide with what would have had to have been a blockbuster, Tansey-esque strike to earn a draw, but the referee’s whistle condemned he and his side to another defeat.
Arnold, Grant, Iro, CommingesUnused Subs:
Day, Gray, Roberts, Chorley, Charles, Shroot (Hoskins 63), Dunne, Mahon, Freeman, Akins (Tansey 77), Beleck (Haber 59) Stevenage: