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26 April 2014

Freeman strikes winner in entertaining 3-2 win

Stevenage won their final Sky Bet League 1 home game of the season with an entertaining 3-2 win at The Lamex Stadium this afternoon.

Jimmy Smith gave Boro a first half lead before second half goals from Malvind Benning and Craig Westcarr turned the game on its head. Youngster Jo N’Guessan equalised for his first Boro goal before Luke Freeman struck a winner with 10 minutes remaining.

Manager Graham Westley made four changes to the side that lost on Easter Monday with Curtis Obeng and Bira Dembele returning from injury and academy product Fejiri Okenabirhie and Jo N’Guessan both starting for the first time in a Boro shirt. Fellow scholar Ryan Johnson was named among the subs.

Stevenage signalled their intent straight from the off with a driving run and cross from Freeman just evading Smith with less than 60 seconds on the clock.

Okenabirhie then nearly had a full debut to remember when he met a fourth minute Freeman cross from the left, but his header was straight at O’Donnell.

Adam Chambers tested Day with a snap-shot before Romain Sawyers should really have given Walsall the lead on 17 minutes. The striker was found in space in the box and rounded Day but saw his shot blocked. Even then the ball fell to Sam Manton but the midfielder somehow shot wide.

Westcarr was next to have an effort on goal when he found space on the edge of the box but again he failed to hit the target, curling narrowly wide of Day’s far post.

At the other end Okenabirhie continued to look lively, showing great athleticism to try and get on the end of a poor Jimmy Smith cross. Just past the 20 minute mark he collected another Smith pas, took a touch and fired a fierce shot straight down O’Donnell’s throat.

The game continued to to-and -fro before Stevenage took the lead 10 minutes before the break when Jimmy Smith arrived late into the box and showed great feet to drill home under the keeper. 1-0 to the hosts.

Jones went close with a header and Freeman saw a cross turned away after a superb run down the flank, before Lalkovic should have drawn things level on 42 minutes with a curling effort which flew wide when it looked easier to score.

Rohdell Gordon replaced Obeng at half-time but within a minute of the half the visitors drew level. Lalkovic finding Benning in space in the box and he found the back of the net, despite Day getting something on the ball. 

1-1 became 2-1 to Walsall within five minutes. Sawyers' shot from distance forced Day into a save but his parry only went as far as the advancing Westcarr who gleefully tucked home to turn the game on its head.

In a frenetic start to the half, Boro were level just two minutes later. Henderson found Smith in midfield and his superb ball inside the full-back released N’Guessan, who took a touch before firing confidently under the ‘keeper for his first Stevenage goal. 

The youngster nearly found himself through on goal again when he latched onto a header forward from Jones, but the danger was cleared before he could get another shot off.

Roarie Deacon made a welcome return from injury with 20 minutes left and the youngster was soon in on the action, leading a counter-attack down the right before cutting in and flashing a shot wide.

With 80 minutes on the clock Stevenage scored their winner, albeit with a helping hand from their opponents. Gordon’s cross-cum-shot from the left was chested back towards O’Donnell by Benning, but in nipped Freeman to gleefully fire home from close-range to put Boro ahead.

Despite late pressure from the Saddlers, Graham Westley’s men saw out the remaining 10 minutes, plus five minutes of added time, to sign off their home fixtures with a morale-boosting victory.

Stevenage: Day, Obeng (Gordon 46), Dembele, Jones, Hartley, Smith, Mousinho, Henderson, Freeman, Okenabirhie (Deacon 69), N’Guessan (Doughty 82)

Subs not used: Arnold, Burrow, Banvo, Johnson

Walsall: O’Donnell, A.Chambers (Ngoo 84), Butler, Downing, Malvind Benning, J.Chambers, Mantom, Brandy (Bakayoko 84), Sawyers,Westcarr, Lalkovic (Baxendale 77)

Subs not used: Lewis, Taylor, Featherstone, McQuikin

Referee: Graham Horwood

Attendance: 2,973 (327 away)

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