Stevenage picked up a vital three points with a convincing 3-1 home win against Gillingham tonight.
After the visitors were reduced to 10 men after just 20 minutes, Boro took control in the first half through a Francois Zoko penalty and a goal for Darius Charles. Cody McDonald pulled one back for the Gills who improved in the second half, but a second strike for Charles on the hour ensured all three points for Stevenage in a comfortable performance.
Graham Westley named the returning John Mousinho in a back three alongside Luke Jones and Peter Hartley for this game. Skipper-for-the-night Jimmy Smith and Simon Heslop gave them protection in midfield allowing a trio of Lucas Akins, Dean Parrett and Luke Freeman to support Francois Zoko and Darius Charles up top.
Within sixty seconds a Freeman cross just evaded Parrett in the box as Boro started the better of the two sides. Indeed Akins, Hartley and Charles all had half-chances before the clock had even reached five minutes as the hosts looked to grab the early initiative.
Freeman saw one effort blocked and another go wide before Gillingham finally began to assert some pressure and venture forward. Much of their play was geared towards finding the ‘beast’ that is Adebayo Akinfenwa, however whatever they tried, Boro’s defence stood firm.
The game’s pivotal moment came just before the 20th minute. Darius Charles charged forward into the box, beating his man and reaching the byline before playing it across to Zoko, whose shot was inexplicably handled on the line by Elliot Hewitt. Stevenage were awarded a penalty, Hewitt received a straight red and Zoko stepped up to coolly slot home Boro’s opener.
Any idea that having a man advantage would make life easy for the hosts was quickly gone when Gillingham went close to an equaliser seconds after the restart. Cody McDonald found himself through on goal and went past Day, but got pushed wide and could only fire over the bar as he turned back towards the target. A let-off for Boro.
To make life worse for the Gills, Boro doubled their lead on the half hour. The goal was superbly created by Freeman, who beat his man on the left flank and advanced into the box, before looking up and picking out Charles who slotted home for 2-0. It was nothing more than Boro deserved after an excellent opening third of the game.
With Stevenage’s attacking trio constantly bombing forward and both Zoko and Charles causing havoc, the visitors were left to deal with wave after wave of Boro attack as they refused to sit back and went for a third.
Charles nearly grabbed his second with an unconventional twist and backheel in the box but Nelson saved, before the big number 9 again showed great pace and power to nearly set up a chance for Zoko.
But with no further goals it was the hosts who led 2-0 at the break.
To their credit, despite being a man down, Gillingham came out for the second half with renewed hope and controlled the opening period. Luke Jones was cautioned for a blatant foul on Dack but Parrett was there in the wall to block the resulting free-kick.
Smith saw an effort fly just wide of Day’s post before the Gills pressure finally told on 55 minutes when MacDonald was slipped through and he poked past Day to reduce the deficit.
However any hope of a dramatic comeback was quickly extinguished when Boro scored a killer third just before the hour. Freeman swung in a free-kick from the right, Hartley got a touch and there was Charles to finish for his second of the night.
Graham Westley opted for changes soon afterwards with Bruno Andrade and Michael Doughty coming on for Francois Zoko and Dean Parrett respectively. Lucas Akins moved up front.
The dangerous McDonald went close to a second of his own with 25 minutes remaining after an exquisite through-ball found the nippy striker. This time, however, Day was equal to his effort and Boro cleared.
Straight up the other end Freeman cut inside and saw his shot hit Nelson and seemingly bounce behind for a corner, although a goal-kick was given. Akins was next to have an effort, latching onto a ball behind the Gillingham defence, getting past Nelson but his shot from the angle went just wide.
Roarie Deacon came on for Mousinho with 15 minutes left before both sides traded shots against the woodwork. First Akins saw a header hit the bar from a brilliant Andrade cross before McDonald, again causing havoc in Boro’s box, saw a close-range effort hit the post and his follow-up cleared off the line by Deacon.
Stevenage saw out the remainder of the game, including four minutes of injury time, to secure a vital three points and a big confidence boost ahead of the visit this weekend by high-flying Wolves.
Stevenage: Day, Jones, Mousinho (Deacon 74), Hartley, Heslop, J.Smith, Akins, Parrett (Doughty 63), Freeman, Zoko (Andrade 63), Charles
Subs not used: Wedgbury, Burrow, A.Smith, N’Guessan
Gillingham: Nelson, Hewitt, Davies, Legge, Martin, Dack, Gregory, Hessenthaler (Fagan 72), Smith, McDonald, Akinfenwa (Harriman 46)
Subs not used: Weston, Lee, Barrett, Pigott, Baxter
Referee: Stuart Atwell