Stevenage fell to a frustrating 1-0 home defeat to Notts County this afternoon at The Lamex Stadium.
A Callum Ball goal just before half-time was enough for the Magpies who had goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski to thank for a string of fine saves throughout the 90 minutes. The Pole saved from Freeman (twice), Morais, Doughty, Zoko and Akins (twice) during the game with a number of other shots blocked by last gasp County defending as Boro laid siege to the visitors' goal.
Graham Westley kept faith with the same starting XI that won on Tuesday night with youngster Ryan Johnson included on the bench. Francois Zoko started against his former employers.
After picking up three points at home on Tuesday night it was no surprise to see Boro on top early in this one, with Freeman testing Bialkowski in the County goal within two minutes. It was a trend which was set to continue throughout the first half with the Polish ‘keeper thwarting the hosts on numerous occasions.
On five minutes Morais met a Freeman cross at the back post with a downward header which was saved, whilst minutes later a training ground move from a corner saw Morais feed Smith on the edge of the box and his curling effort was turned away.
Notts came into the game for a short while, forcing Boro back into their own half without creating too much from open play, despite the trickery of Jack Grealish. They did have a couple of opportunities from set pieces though around the 15 minute mark, but Fotheringham’s effort from 19 yards failed to clear the wall, whilst Boro were able to clear a poor free-kick from Sheehan moments later after Heslop had been cautioned for a foul.
Zoko set up Morais to win Boro a corner midway through the half with the resulting set play finding the Ivorian lurking at the back of the box, but he mishit his shot and it bounced harmlessly wide.
Boro kept up the pressure and forged a whole host of excellent chances, but were thwarted on each occasion. Heslop saw a 30-yard effort blocked, Doughty forced Bialkowski into a flying save with a curling effort and Hartley just failed to meet a fierce Morais cross, as the County goal led a charmed life.
Ten minutes before the break Akins beat his man again in the box and smashed in an effort which the visiting ‘keeper parried, with Smith the next to test the Pole with a volley from the edge of the box which was straight at him. Then Akins again showed good footwork to turn his defender before firing in a low shot which was smothered. The shots on target were mounting up for Boro but the game somehow remained goalless.
With chance after chance going begging for Boro, it was then somewhat of a surprise when the visitors broke the deadlock on a rare foray forward on 41 minutes. Jamal Campbell-Ryce saw a fierce drive tipped over by Day and from the resulting corner Ashton’s attempted clearance looped up in the air and fell kindly for sub Callum Ball to take a touch and bury the ball into the far corner. A surprising lead if there was ever one.
A goal behind, Stevenage started the second half in much the same way they’d played in the first – Zoko forcing Bialkowski into a low save after collecting a Doughty pass and turning in the box.
County were certainly looking much more positive on the ball and had a chance for a second on the hour when Ball latched onto a poor Jones header and ran into the box. His initial effort was blocked by the recovering Jones with Day turning the second effort behind for a corner.
At the other end Boro’s lack of luck in front of goal continued. Zoko beat the keeper with a header but saw the ball cleared off the line and although Freeman collected the loose ball, his shot was somehow deflected behind.
Just past the hour Darius Charles came on for Morais with Akins going out wide, as GW made a change up front.
Showunmi blazed over from close range, albeit with the aid of a Boro deflection, before there was a period of sustained possession for Stevenage. One storming run down the right by Darius saw the ball passed via Zoko and Doughty to Freeman on the left, but his shot was saved by guess who. Akins then saw a left-footed effort fly way into the North Stand as another chance went begging.
The final 20 minutes saw County sit back and look to hit Boro on the break, with Campbell-Ryce often the go-to man out wide. His trickery saw him evade several challenges on the edge of the box before slipping the ball through to Boucard in space - only a last gasp sliding challenge from skipper Jon Ashton prevented an effort on goal from the midfielder.
With 9 minutes to go Oumare Tounkara came for Simon Heslop as Boro went for it. But aside from a Jones header from a corner, which bounced wide, and another Akins shot, which was blocked, County stood firm and saw out the game to condemn Stevenage to an undeserved, yet disappointing defeat.
Stevenage: Day, Smith, Ashton, Jones, Hartley, Morais (Charles 62), Heslop (Tounkara 81), Doughty, Freeman, Akins, Zoko (Andrade 73)
Subs not used: A.Smith, Wedgbury, Burrow, Johnson
Notts: Bialkowski, Freeman, Smith, Leacock, Sheehan, Campbell-Ryce, Boucaud, Fotheringham, Grealish (Ball 38), Murray, Showunmi
Subs not used: Pilkington, Haynes, Thompson, Tempest, Hollis, Bishop
Attendance: 2,877 (515 away)