Stevenage began life back in Sky Bet League 2 with a 1-0 win over Hartlepool United in a comprehensive display at The Lamex Stadium this afternoon.
Chris Whelpdale scored the only goal of the game as Boro finally broke the deadlock in the second half, with Pools indebted to 'keeper Scott Flinders who denied the hosts on countless occasions throughout the game.
Team news saw Jon Ashton and Bira Dembele start in the full-back positions with Charlie Lee partnering Andy Bond in the middle of the park. New signings Jerome Okimo and Connor Calcutt were named amongst the subs.
In an explosive start to the game it was Boro who flooded forward straight from kick-off with Dembele appealing for early corner, denied by the referee.
With two minutes on the clock Jack Compton saw a curling effort bounce off the bar with Beasant beaten. It proved a mere momentary lapse in concentration for the hosts who continued to pile on the pressure.
Marriott fired a shot straight at Flinders, Wells saw a poked effort cleared and Lee pinged a shot wide as Boro began like the steam train manager Graham Westley referred to in his programme notes. There weren’t even 10 minutes on the clock.
After an encouraging pre-season together, Marriott and Charles were combining well up top and the latter curled an effort inches wide of Flinders’ far post on 14 minutes after Worley had won possession and Bond had found him lurking on the edge of the box.
Whelpdale and Lee both saw screamers fly past the woodwork as that opening goal remained elusive in a breathless start to the game. Marriott continued to look lively up top and seven minutes before the break both he and Dean Wells were denied by the outstanding Flinders as Pools somehow clung on. Boro were rampant and only a last ditch challenge prevent Charlie Lee from scoring from a close angle.
Almost unbelievably it remained goalless at half-time but even during the break there was entertainment with not one, but two winners in the STS Tyre Pro Challenge.
Back into the action and ten minutes into the second half Marriott found himself free in the box, but there was one-man-show Flinders again to thwart Boro.
However Stevenage finally got the breakthrough they deserved on the hour and with a goal worthy of winning any game. Much of the credit goes to Marriott, who seconds earlier had fed Charles and then remained alert to pick-up the loose ball after the visiting ‘keeper had saved that shot. The striker kept the ball alive and fed Whelpdale, who advanced along the edge of the box before finding the back of the net with a swerving effort. Cue wild celebrations around The Lamex.
Charlie Lee was having an outstanding game in the middle of the park and with 20 minutes remaining showed more neat footwork to retain possession and unleash another decent shot which flew just past the post.
The back four of Dembele, Worley, Wells and Ashton were commanding throughout, but even when chances came Hartlepool’s way, they failed to take advantage. A counter-attack from a Boro corner saw Pools players pouring forward, but there was Andy Bond with a superb tackle on the advancing Luke James. Sam Collins nodded a free header wide from a corner and then Dembele stuck his head in for an excellent defensive clearance behind to deny James a simple header at the back post with eight minutes remaining.
The noise levels around The Lamex Stadium were brilliant as the 3,023 strong crowd, minus 295 travelling fans, roared their team on throughout the final moments of the game. Marriott curled a free-kick over and sub Connor Calcutt fired wide during six minutes of injury time as Boro kept seeking that killer second.
Not even a heart-in-mouth moment when Ryan Brobbel went down in the box under a challenge from Jerome Okimo could spoil Boro’s return to winning ways, as referee Heywood waved away penalty appeals.
Stevenage’s first opening day win in nine years is a welcome relief after the agony of relegation. Without getting carried away after one game, the bright attacking display and defensive steel shown today shows plenty of promise for the season ahead.
Next up it’s Watford in the First Round of the Capital One Cup on Tuesday night – bring on the Hornets!
Stevenage: Beasant, Ashton, Worley, Wells, Dembele, Whelpdale (Okimo 82), Bond, Lee, Pett (Deacon 88), Charles (Calcutt 76), Marriott
Subs not used: Day, Johnson
Hartlepool: Flinders, Austin, Bates, Collins, Walker (Franks 75), Harewood, Miller, Compton, Parnaby (Brobbel 75), Duckworth, James
Subs not used: Dixon, Holden, Woods, Hawkins, Richards
Referee: Mr Haywood
Attendance: 3,023 (295 away)