Stevenage failed to recover from a poor first half showing and fell to defeat at Deepdale.
They were two down early on in the tie failed to get into gear before the break– Lee Holmes and Will Hayhurst both netted to punish the lackluster start and Gary Smith would certainly have expected better from his side.
Things did improve in the second period with Lucas Akins going the closest with a back post header but a sloppy Boro were unable to secure a second successive victory.
After such an invigorating display against Brentford four days earlier, there was just one change to Smith’s starting line-up – an enforced one at that, with the suspended James Dunne replaced by Anthony Grant. It gave the opportunity for the Sam Hoskins and Marcus Haber partnership to flourish once more, and supporters making the long journey would be hoping to see them work together as they did so well in the victory over the Bees. Someone else looking to continue their form from that night, Luke Freeman, started the game on the left wing.
It took just 6 minutes for the opener to come and as deflating as it was for Boro, the home side has it. Holmes had the ball on the edge of the area and was given far too much time without being closed down, he looked up and curled an effort across goal which left Steve Arnold standing as it nestled into the far corner.
The Whites were pushing for a second and twice came close with back post balls that only failed to produce a goal because of the attackers positioning, the defence were all at sea. A moment later they weren’t let off a third time; goal scorer Holmes crossed from right to left and Hayhurst burst into the same gap that hadn’t been attacked from the two chances previous before rifling a volley into the roof of the net. It was an uphill battle for Stevenage to take anything from the game.
Boro were camped in their own half and were clinging onto just a two goal deficit – Captain Roberts put his head on the line to block a stinging shot from John Welsh, and that came after a brilliant sliding tackle on Beavon on the edge of the box, the home side were pressing for more.
They could have had more within the first half, most efforts came from range but they were all close to the mark and it was a result of the space that they were gifted around the penalty area.
In attack, Stevenage were having no luck whatsoever – Haber, who was aerially dominant in the week, was falling foul to the referee’s whistle. When he won the ball more often than not a foul was given, and when he lost it Preston began another attack. It sustained the pressure that was on the defence and made it harder and harder to get a foothold in the game.
After the break Stevenage looked brighter, they coped slightly better in defence and were securing possession in the opposition half but there were no chances to write home about. Not against Rudd that is, but Arnold had a couple to deal with. King should have scored when Beavon danced his way into the area and pulled it back to him, but his look down to the ground suggested that the playing surface was to blame for his shot over the bar from 8 yards. Next Holmes hit a powerful effort wide of the mark, it was looking bleak for the Boro.
Boro first real effort came after three subs in 7 minutes from Smith – Lucas Akins, Steve Beleck and Robin Shroot all came on and two of them combined quickly. Shroot picked the ball up with his back to goal, turned and found Akins who held it up well, Boro’s 32 had continued his run into the box and Akins laid it back to him. The former Birmingham City man’s first touch was decent and made room for a shot which whistled just over the bar. Next it was Beleck with a chance to pull one back, but after some good work from Gray on the right the on-loan Watford man sent his header wide of the mark.
It did continue to improve in attack, Akins tested Rudd with a header that had the ‘keeper scrambling but it was the most that could be mustered to try and claw back into the game.
Day, Hills, Jeffrey, IroUnused Subs:
Arnold; Gray, Roberts, Charles, Comminges; Tansey, Grant, Mahon (Shroot 65), Freeman; Haber (Beleck 58), Hoskins (Akins 58) Stevenage (4-4-2)