Stevenage fell to a narrow 1-0 home defeat to Peterborough United this afternoon at The Lamex Stadium.
A late Nicky Ajose goal secured all three points for Posh in a game where both goalkeepers were called into action with a host of smart saves.
Graham Westley recalled Darius Charles and Simon Heslop to his starting XI for this game with new signings Bira Dembele, Craig Reid and Curtis Obeng all amongst the subs.
Both teams created chances in the early stages, with the visitors looking to strike first. Assombalonga, the league’s top goal scorer, headed over a Tommy Rowe cross on two minutes before a couple of half chances came Boro’s way.
First a dangerous ball from Smith at the other end just reached Olejnik before Zoko could pounce, with Hartley then nodding a Smith corner wide.
The referee seemed keen to keep play going in the early stages, resulting in a couple of frustrating moments for the home faithful as both Freeman and Charles were seemingly fouled without free-kicks being awarded.
Good work by Boro on 17 minutes saw Heslop find Akins in plenty of space out wide. The winger advanced to the byline and cut a cross back to Charles, but his shot was gathered by the keeper before Parrett could reach it.
Chris Day was to become a key man for Boro as the game progressed and he was called into action after 20 minutes, saving from Swanson after Tommy Rowe had made progress down the left. Moments later, from a short free-kick on the right, former Boro favourite Michael Bostwick unleashed a trademark thunderbolt which Day was again equal to.
23 minutes in and Boro won a free-kick when Zoko was brought down 25 yards out in a central position. Up-stepped Luke Freeman to curl an effort beyond Olejnik’s desperate dive but also the post, as the game remained goalless.
Stevenage forged a golden opportunity to take the lead just before the half hour. Good work by Parrett won Boro a corner and when Freeman gathered the delivery at the near post and chipped over Olejnik there looked certain to be a Boro head on the ball. But Zoko swung his foot at it and took it off the advancing Charles’ head, much to the delight of the capacity away following behind the goal.
Back came Posh and when Assombalonga headed a weak effort into Day’s arms from a quick free-kick it was to signal the start of a whole host of chances for the visitors in the 10 minutes before half time.
After one quick counter the ball eventually found Assombalonga in space again, but there was Ashton to deny him with a block. Both Grant McCann and Knight-Percival saw efforts fly just wide of the post as they continued to crank up the game, with Bostwick again testing Day in the final chance of the half.
The second half began with the first had finished with Posh in the ascendancy. Ashton blocked an Assombalonga shot and then won a dangerous free-kick after a foul by Hartley. But each time Peterborough came forward, there was Boro’s defence to thwart them.
Ten minutes into the half good strength by Charles set up an opportunity for Zoko 18 yards out, but with time on his side the Ivorian blazed over. A missed chance.
Day was again called into action on 62 minutes when sub Conor Washington’s cross deflected off Hartley and looked to be sneaking inside the near post, but there was Daisy to beat the ball behind for a corner. Ashton met the resulting corner with a towering header and although Posh regained possession, Little’s hopeful effort from fully 35 yards flew over.
Stevenage regrouped and again created two golden chances to open the scoring. First a Zoko cross from the right was flicked onto Freeman at the back-post but the winger’s effort under pressure bounced just wide. Then with 17 minutes remaining, Charles burst through the Posh defence but his shot was saved by Olejnik and then poked away before Zoko could reach the loose ball.
That miss was to prove costly as Posh took the lead moments later. Full-back Mark Little had time and space to curl in a cross between Boro’s backline and Day, with Ajose nipping in to volley Peterborough into the lead.
Danny Swanson nearly doubled his side’s advantage immediately when he danced his way around three Boro defenders before forcing Day into another save – Ajose firing a follow-up effort straight at Boro’s keeper.
Zoko saw a header fly just over from close range before Boro thought they’d rescued a point with just five minutes remaining. Freeman cut in from the right and fired in an effort which Olejnik could only beat away. Charles bundled home the loose ball but up went the linesman’s flag to rescues Posh and further frustrate the home crowd.
Graham Westley threw on Craig Reid and Jordan Burrow late in the game but neither was to have much of an impact as Posh looked to see out the game. Much of the six minutes of added time was spent in the visitors’ attacking third as Darren Ferguson’s men expertly killed the game with a series of late corners.
Whilst defeat is again disappointing, Boro can at least move on immediately and look to resume winning ways when Crewe are the visitors to The Lamex Stadium on Tuesday night.
Stevenage: Day, Jones, Ashton, Hartley, Akins (Deacon 46), Heslop (Reid 86), Smith, Freeman, Parrett, Zoko (Burrow 86), Charles
Subs not used: Arnold, Dembele, Obeng, Doughty
Peterborough: Olejnik, Little, Brisley, Nugent, Knight-Percival (Washington 59), Swanson (McQuoid 86), Bostwick, McCann, Rowe, Ajose, Assombalonga (Anderson 88)
Subs not used: Day, Alcock, Baldwin, Newell