Stevenage battled hard at Gigg Lane but in a tight game that could have gone either way the pendulum swung in Bury’s favour.
Steve Arnold saved a first half Steven Schumacher penalty as the sides went in goalless at the break, both had created chances to break the deadlock but neither managed to find the back of the net.
The second half was even too, the sides had little between them but both showed great desire to get the goal that would surely win it as the game edged closer to a stalemate. Bury got it.
Craig Jones had his first goal in the Football League, a counter-attack ended in smiles for the home side as a back post ball fell to the winger who smashed it into the back of the net.
Boro pushed for an equaliser as they had an opener, but instead were beaten again by another counter-attack. This time Johnson Clarke-Harris had the goal, firing low into the bottom corner, sending Bury fans ecstatic.
Steve Beleck came in for Marcus Haber, who missed the game due to a call-up to the Canada squad, whilst David Gray returned from suspension in place of Miguel Comminges at right back. Those aside, the other nine players were the same as those that started the four-goal demolition of Sheffield United three days earlier, with hat-trick hero Dani Lopez hoping to continue his form from that fixture.
The return to Gigg Lane came with mixed memories in recent seasons; the sides met in League One last season as Byron Harrison and Mark Roberts converted in a 2-1 victory – incidentally Roberts was the only survivor in this evening’s starting line-up that gained the three points in October 2011 - but a season earlier it was a different story; the Graham Westley led side were defeated by three goals on a cold Tuesday night much like this.
Four minute in Lopez had his first chance but saw a low effort hit the side-netting; it all came from a throw to N’Gala which was returned to Gray on the right, he crossed it in and Akins headed it onto the Spaniard but his effort was just wide. The home side had chances of their own, but the build up was better than the end product and Steve Arnold was relatively untroubled in the opening 15 minutes.
Bury had a glorious chance to take the lead five minutes later fro the penalty spot after Mahon was adjudged to have fouled Schumacher inside the box, Roberts clearly felt it was outside the area but the referee instantly pointed to the spot. Goalkeeper Arnold faced two penalties at Notts County on his Boro debut; one struck the post and the other the back of the net, but this time he made the save, diving perfectly to his left and pushing it out for a corner to deny Schumacher the goal.
Stevenage were playing some sloppy stuff; none more so than N’Gala on the half hour mark as he waited for the ball the bounce only for Schumacher to nip in and steal it off his toes – luckily he fired first time over the bar. Next Roberts gave the ball away on the edge of the box but managed to recover with a sliding tackle in the area.
The home side deserved a lead and next it was Jones who squandered a chance to earn it. Roberts missed a header in the six-yard box and it fell to Andy Bishop who shot from close range but was thwarted by Arnold’s palms; it fell to Jones but he fired over the bar from 8 yards to the relief of the Boro captain and ‘keeper.
Gray had the best chance at the other end but fired over when receiving possession inside the area, it was a powerful effort that would surely have beaten Trevor Carson had it hit the target.
Charles came on after the half time interval, replacing Beleck and playing in attack, something that hadn’t been seen in a while. In Haber’s absence Charles would certainly be in line for Boro’s best target man so the substitution may not have come as a surprise to all.
Stevenage looked better going forward, Lopez headed off target and Akins first time effort was wide of the mark but the key moment of note was an injury picked up by Hills. The left back has been plagued with injuries in recent years and with nobody around him went down, Comminges replaced him, but thoughts would be with him in the hope that it wasn’t too serious a set back.
The home side still looked the more likely to break the deadlock but Charles’ physical presence in attack gave Akins a chance with half an hour remaining. He held off his defender and slotted it back to the former Tranmere Rovers man but his shot was deflected and the ‘keeper saved low to the left.
Soon after, Akins had another chance but this time knocked it ide of the far post; he timed his run to perfection and was onside at a tight angle, but when trying to place his effort in the far corner he just missed the target.
The sides were level but the feel in the air was that one would get their goal and take the points, when Akins was fouled near the corner flag and Tansey had a chance to curl it in. His ball was good but somehow evaded the Boro players attacking it, Bury gained possession and broke. They flooded forward, 82 minutes were on the clock, a cross-field ball found Craig Fagan who brought it down and then crossed it to the back post, it was headed backwards to the feet of Schumacher who fired it through the crowd, Jones touched in en route to help it beat Arnold and nestle into the back of the net.
Even still, Boro pushed for an equaliser – Tansey fired just wide from range but that only allowed the chance for another counter-attack, and another goal against. Clarke-Harris held off his marker well and controlled a ball upfield brilliantly before firing into the bottom corner to kill off Stevenage.
Stevenage: Arnold; Gray, Roberts, N’Gala, Hills (Comminges 51); Dunne, Grant, Mahon, Akins; Beleck (Charles 46), Lopez (Tansey 69)
Unused Subs: Day, Freeman, Hoskins, Shroot
Att: 1,396 (44 away)