Stevenage recorded a narrow yet vital 1-0 win at home to Crewe Alexandra this evening. An early goal from Francois Zoko was enough to separate the sides and hand Boro a much needed three points in front of their own fans.
Graham Westley handed debuts to both Bira Dembélé and Curtis Obeng in this game. He also recalled Michael Doughty in midfield alongside Smith and Parrett with Freeman operating in a central position behind Zoko and Charles.
Mathias Pogba gave an early reminder that Crewe weren’t here just to make up the numbers, when he turned Dembélé and fired just wide within two minutes.
However Boro got the early goal they wanted just moments later. Doughty and Freeman linked up well in the box and the ball fell to Zoko, who turned his man brilliantly before firing low into the net to give the hosts a lead inside five minutes.
Crewe responded and forced a couple of corners but Boro’s defence was able to stand firm and clear
Just past the 10 minute mark a neat flick by Charles set Zoko free in the box again, but his pass across for Freeman was intercepted just in time and the danger was cleared.
Both Dembélé and Obeng were looking solid on their debuts as Boro continued to force their passing game on their opponents, with Smith, Doughty and Parrett all linking up well in the middle of the park.
It was Parrett who had Boro’s next effort on goal, the midfielder picking up a clearance from visiting ‘keeper Neil Etheridge and taking aim from just inside the Crewe half, but his ambitious drilled effort bounced just wide.
Growing in confidence at the back in his first game for Boro, Dembélé then showed some neat attacking play when he played a superb ball back into the box after a Stevenage attack was repelled. Jimmy Smith timed his run forward to perfection, outfoxing the advancing Railwaymen, but his volleyed effort went wrong and the chance was gone.
Whilst they were enjoying plenty of possession Boro were handed another warning of Crewe’s attacking threat on the half hour, when Chuks Aneke met a superb cross from Byron Moore with a diving header which flew just wide.
With one goal already to his name it was clear Francois Zoko was up for the game, not giving the visiting defenders a moment’s rest all half and pouncing on any loose balls. 38 minutes in and his ‘mad dog’ approach nearly bore fruit as he came close to getting on the end of one loose pass back to the ‘keeper.
The Moore-Aneke combination nearly forced an equaliser five minutes before the break. The former Boro loanee met another right-wing cross with a header that Day somehow turned onto the bar and then collected the rebound. A let-off for Stevenage.
Darius Charles then showed his strength and pace during injury time, powering past three defenders before cutting the ball back for Freeman, who was thwarted by a covering defender.
Into the second half and it was Stevenage who created the first chance when Doughty intercepted in midfield and powered forward. With Zoko and Charles providing options left and right the QPR-loanee opted to shoot himself - his effort was on target but down went Etheridge to gather.
Approaching 10 minutes into the second half and GW made his first sub of the night, replacing Dean Parrett with Filipe Morais. However if anything Stevenage seemed to take time to adjust to the change,
allowing Crewe a few minutes of decent possession. That so nearly yielded an equaliser when Pogba met a Moore cross at the back post, but whilst the ball was headed back over Day it also - fortunately for Boro - went over the bar and landed on the roof of the net.
Zoko went close to doubling the lead on the hour, latching onto a Doughty header and turning neatly, but his shot flashed just wide in one of just a handful of chances for Stevenage during the half.
At the other end a combination of Ashton and Dembele had to be at their best to deny Pogba from inside the box, with Boro defending the two corners that followed. Former Stevenage man Anthony Grant then found himself free on the edge of the box, but he was tackled superbly as he threatened to shoot.
Whilst Boro created chances to extend their lead through Luke Freeman – the first a drilled shot over the bar from a short free-kick and the second an attempted lob after good work by sub Sam Wedgbury and Zoko – the final 20 minutes really belonged to Crewe.
Again and again the Railwaymen flooded forward, with Aneke the focal point of their attack and Moore providing a threat down the right, as they looked to capitalise on home nerves. Whilst they won a number of corners though, Boro’s defence stood firm throughout with only a couple of moments giving Chris Day any real concern.
Stevenage saw out four minutes of injury time to record a priceless win in front of their own fans. Whilst they remain at the foot of the table the victory ensures they are not left adrift of their rivals and gives hope going into consecutive away trips to Bradford and Crawley which could go a long way to deciding Boro’s season.
Stevenage: Day, Obeng, Ashton, Dembele, Hartley (Akins 67), Parrett (Morais 54), Smith, Doughty (Wedgbury 77), Freeman, Zoko, Charles
Subs not used: Arnold, Jones, Burrow, Deacon
Crewe: Etheridge, Tootle, Davis, Ellis, Guthrie, Moore (Water 84), Inman, Grant (Oliver 90), Nolan, Aneke, Pogba
Subs not used: Garratt, Mellor, Dugdale
Referee: Darren Sheldrake