Hardworking Stevenage fell to a narrow, yet costly 1-0 defeat at Sheffield United this evening, as their battle to avoid the drop took another blow
An unfortunate own-goal from John Mousinho after only 10 minutes did the damage for Boro, who otherwise created the best of the chances against a largely blunt Blades outfit.
Graham Westley made three changes to his starting eleven with Jon Ashton, Peter Hartley and Simon Heslop all coming in. Michael Doughty dropped to the bench and both Bira Dembele and Tom Flanagan missed out through injury. Second year scholar Rohdell Gordon was named amongst the subs.
Both sides had chances in the opening periods with Lucas Akins the first to fire in an effort with five minutes on the clock. Under pressure his shot from distance went well wide but it remained an encouraging start for the visitors.
Whilst Boro had the opening shot of the game it was visiting ‘keeper Chris Day who was forced into action first, making a fine save down low after Jose Baxter – who scored twice at The Lamex for Oldham on the opening day of the season – set his sights from 20 yards on eight minutes.
Two minutes later it was 1-0 with a Boro name on the scoresheet, albeit at the wrong end of the pitch. Jamie Murphy did well down the left hand side of the box to beat Obeng and his low driven cross was turned into his own net by the sliding John Mousinho, to give the hosts the lead.
Simon Heslop looked for an immediate equaliser with an effort from 25 yards but it sailed into the Kop. The midfielder though was proving central to Boro’s play and one driving run moments later saw him go from his own half right to the edge of the box, before winning a free-kick.
Stevenage suffered a blow midway through the first half when Jon Ashton had to hobble on and be replaced by Luke Jones, with Jimmy Smith taking the skipper’s armband.
A goal to the good, Sheffield United looked comfortable in possession with Boro patiently keeping their shape and hoping to capitalise on any openings. On a couple of rare occasions when the ball did come their way, the referee intervened with both Smith and Akins penalised in the build up to decent moves for Zoko and Obeng.
As the half progressed however it was Stevenage of created chances of their own. Akins sliced an effort wide after good work by Zoko, before Boro should really have drawn level on the half hour.
Akins was again involved, flicking a throw into the box where Zoko took a stab at it, before the ball found its way out to Freeman at the back post. The winger though got the ball stuck under his feet when it looked for all the world like he’d fire home and the chance was gone, much to the frustration of the Boro faithful.
Zoko saw a shot blocked and Baxter saw a curling effort thwarted by a covering Boro defender as the two teams traded half chances in the lead-up to the half-time. But at the break it was the hosts who had the advantage.
Jo N’Guessan came on for Conor Henderson at the start of the second half and the youngster was straight into the action, playing a neat-one two with Heslop before the midfielder was hauled down.
Obeng blocked a Scougall shot and Jones then did superbly to shepherd the ball out after the same player had run the length of the half, as Boro’s defence was put to the test twice in quick succession. But approaching the hour mark it was the visitors’ forward play which was in action with a couple of excellent chances created.
First a Zoko cross from the right caused confusion in the Blades defence and Howard had to block bravely as Freeman looked to pounce from just yards out. Then from Jimmy Smith’s resulting corner, Jones met the ball at the back post but his looping header was cleared off the line.
Zoko saw a bobbling effort cause Howard some problems and Smith blazed over after good work by N’Guessan down the left, as Boro kept up the pressure, with N'Guessan looking lively up front.
A couple of United injuries and substitutions then slowed the game and really killed Boro’s momentum, however with the Blades proving extremely blunt up front and frustrating the home support it was left to Stevenage to really force the play.
With eight minutes remaining Freeman, who had switched flanks with Akins just moments before, cut inside from the right but fired straight at Howard.
Second year scholar Rohdell Gordon came on for his Stevenage debut for the final minutes and showed a couple of neat touches as Boro kept pressing into five minutes of injury time.
The Blades dropped deeper and deeper and Jones even found himself up front as Boro pushed for, but were unable to find, an equaliser, leaving relegation to League 2 a real possibility for Stevenage on Easter Monday.
Sheffield United: Howard, Brayford, Maguire, Collins, Harris (Hill 58), Flynn, Doyle, Coady, Scougall (Davies 80), Murphy, Baxter (Paynter 70)
Subs not used: Long, Porter, Freeman, Kennedy
Stevenage: Day, Obeng, Ashton (Jones 23), Mousinho, Hartley, Freeman, Smith, Heslop, Henderson (N’Guessan 46), Akins (Gordon 84), Zoko
Subs not used: Goodliffe, Wedgbury, Burrow, Doughty
Referee: Mark Brown
Attendance: 17,629 (193 away)