Stevenage were left with a New Years’ Day hangover after being edged out by the tightest of margins at the Banks’s Stadium.
The first half was a tightly contested affair between two sides looking to start 2013 with a victory, both had chances to break the deadlock but neither could do so, at the break it was goalless.
Almost chess-like, each side took a turn. Walsall were perhaps the more attacking side in a tactical encounter and it wasn’t until late on that they got the breakthrough both teams craved so much – Jamie Paterson had it, with a long range effort that deceived ‘keeper Steve Arnold with its movement.
It means just two wins in eleven for Stevenage but attentions now turn to the trip to Crewe Alexandra on Saturday – an immediate opportunity to try and get back on track.
Gary Smith made three changes to the side that began the defeat to Coventry City, the most notable switch coming in attack. Patrick Agyemang came into the starting line-up in place of Canadian forward Marcus Haber who began the game on the bench, whilst Lee Hills was reintroduced to the XI on the left side of midfield. Miguel Comminges came into the defence. Darius Charles moved alongside Mark Roberts in the middle with Robin Shroot and Bondz N’Gala taking their places amongst the substitutes.
Just eight minutes into the game Walsall were forced into their first change. Florent Cuvelier, in for the suspended Febian Brandy, went off on a stretcher after running onto a neat Craig Westcarr through ball - it was hit clear by Comminges but the winger went down and after treatment was replaced by James Baxendale. A minute later the first chance of the game came and it was a back post header from the substitute after a nice cross into the area, it looked goal bound but Steve Arnold clawed back and not only kept it out but held onto the ball too.
Boro began to create from midfield and won their first corner of the game on 15 minutes after a nice dribble from Agyemang and a blocked shot went out of play. The ball into the box was straight from the training ground, Akins curved run to the front post very nearly met it but instead it was cleared – Boro attacked once more. James Dunne picked up the second phase and surged to the right hand side before cutting the ball back in the area – along the ground it found Darius Charles in space but his snapshot was wide of the mark.
Smith would have hoped to see his side keep the pressure on, and for a brief spell they did just that. Another attack from the right, this time at the feet of Akins, yielded another decent ball into the area. This time it was a cheeky lob to the back post that had ‘keeper Karl Darlow scrambling but Andy Butler chested it out of play. A moment later Filipe Morais strode forward with a glint in his eye and unleashed a long range thunderbolt but this time Darlow was the one getting a pat on the back as a fine dive to his right kept it out.
There was another Sadlers change before the break, left back Andy Taylor went to ground holding his leg and had to be replaced by Malvind Benning. This came after a moment of nearly-glory for Morais, he was fouled by Adam Chambers, who went into the book, but brushed himself off to take the free kick; a Beckham-esque effort was almost perfect but cannoned off the underside of the bar where it meets the post before being hacked clear by the home defence. Half time soon followed, and at the break Haber came on for Agyemang in attack.
Walsall began to play the football in the second half and were pushing Boro back, right back Ben Purkiss was getting up the wing quickly – a key part of his game – and that was the wing that was producing the best chances for the Sadlers. A Westcarr ball, driven low across goal, perhaps should have ben turned in but none of his teammates had got into the desired position.
With 20 minutes to go it was still predominantly the home side attacking, but a quick break from Akins almost produced the game’s first goal. A sneaky touch took Baxendale out of the equation before he began his surge towards goal; he cut inside and beat Purkiss before cutting back again and hitting a stinging shot that flew just wide of the post.
With time ticking away Boro finally carved out some moments in attack, Tansey coming the closest with a shot that looked on target before deflecting wide for a corner. We’ve seen him hit some screamers this season but with four minutes to go it was Walsall who had a goal from range in a bitter blow for Boro.
Jamie Paterson was the man to strike it, picking the ball up from range with space to look up. His shot moved in the air, one way and then the other, Arnold was tied up and it looped under the bar to give the Sadlers a precious lead.
Roberts, an emergency centre forward during the dying embers of the tie, very nearly poked home from close range to earn Stevenage a point as all-but Arnold were thrown forward. It was too late though, and after the three added minutes Boro were left to lick the wounds of a defeat.
Day, Rogers, Risser, N’Gala, ShrootUnused Subs:
Arnold; Gray, Roberts, Charles, Comminges; Dunne, Grant; Akins, Morais, Hills (Tansey 62); Agyemang (Haber 46) Stevenage (4-2-3-1)
3301 (207 away)Att: