Stevenage advanced into the Fourth Round of the FA Cup with a deserved 3-2 win at Championship side Doncaster Rovers this afternoon.
After a goalless first half in which Boro created the best of the chances, the game burst into life in the second half with five goals. Francois Zoko and Peter Hartley gave Boro a two-goal lead but sub Harry Forrester got Doncaster back into the game with a smart volley with 20 minutes remaining. Darius Charles restored Boro’s two-goal in the final few minutes and despite a late fluke giving Rovers hope, Stevenage held on to record a famous win.
Graham Westley made five changes to his starting XI with Peter Hartley, Ben Chorley, Dean Parrett, Filipe Morais and Marcus Haber all recalled. Roarie Deacon, Sam Wedgbury and Jordan Burrow dropped to the bench and Greg Tansey and Simon Heslop were out of the squad entirely, but there was a welcome return for Darius Charles after a long-term injury.
After conceding early goals over the festive period it was a change to have a relatively quiet opening period with the first real effort on goal not coming until the 10th minute. Doncaster winger Mark Duffy evaded a couple of Boro challenges before forcing Chris Day into a save down low with a shot from the edge of the area.
Marcus Haber and Francois Zoko were partnering each other for the first time for Stevenage and one of many chances they forged during the game came on 14 minutes. The Canadian headed a long-ball down for Zoko, who in turn found Morais out wide. The winger took a touch, cut inside and had a shot at goal but saw his left-footed effort dragged wide of Turnbull’s near post.
Furman and Zoko traded half chances for both sides with further shots wide before Boro really began to assert themselves. Parrett and Doughty were controlling the action in the middle of the park and the back four was looking comfortable, with full-backs Jones and Hartley advancing down the flanks when possible.
Chris Brown, who had proved so effective for Doncaster in past meetings between the two sides, nodded tamely down and wide whilst at the other Ross Turnbull gathered a Luke Jones header with ease.
A dangerous cross from Cotterill was headed away by the impressive Ben Chorley just before the half hour as Boro’s defence stood firm, with the visitors’ attacking momentum continuing to create the best of the chances in the 15 minutes prior to the break.
Haber saw a header go wide, Jones should perhaps have troubled the keeper more with a back-post effort and Luke Freeman saw an improvised effort saved down low by Turnbull, before Boro’s left-winger showed great pace and power to outfox several Doncaster defenders and fire just wide.
The boos from the home faithful at half time told its own story as Stevenage impressed despite neither team making a breakthrough.
However five minutes into the second half Graham Westley’s men took the lead and it was Boro’s two front men who created and scored it. A long ball up to Haber saw the Canadian battle with Paul Quinn, who slipped, allowing Zoko to race through unchallenged and calmly slot the ball past the ‘keeper and into the back of the net.
It was the Ivorian’s 13th goal of the season and would prove particularly unlucky for Doncaster.
Morais saw a dangerous cross gathered by Turnbull with Haber looming ominously as Boro looked for a quick second, whilst six minutes after scoring his goal, Zoko nearly turned provider. The Ivorian showed superb skill to escape two defenders right on the byline and prodded the ball to Freeman whose close-range shot was saved.
Doncaster made a double-sub with Billy Paynter and Harry Forrester entering the fray as Paul Dickov made attacking changes but instead it was Stevenage who continued to push forward.
Freeman won a number of free-kicks during the half as Rovers struggled to cope with his pace and trickery. Meanwhile on the hour Haber went on the rampage down the right, driving down the line and playing the ball across only for last gasp defending to prevent the ball reaching Parrett for a tap-in.
On the rare occasions Doncaster found themselves inside Boro’s box, the defence was there to deny them with an Ashton diving block on Paynter a prime example of bodies being put on the line to protect a precious lead.
However on 64 minutes that lead was doubled and in emphatic fashion. Morais delivered an outswinging corner into the box and there was Peter Hartley to rise unchallenged to power a free-header into the back of the net to send the travelling fans into raptures.
Almost out of nowhere Doncaster got themselves back into the game with 20 minutes remaining. Skipper Ashton went to head a dangerous ball clear but saw his header loop upwards rather than away. As he challenged Paynter for the second ball, it bounced kindly for Forrester to half-volley into the far corner to hand the hosts a lifeline.
The home crowd suddenly found their voices and roared their team on as Boro had to withstand a few minutes of heavy pressure. Wedgbury, Andrade and Charles all came on as subs in the final quarter of an hour as Graham Westley opted for reinforcements
Forrester threatened again late on when he got behind Boro but his cross evaded everyone, whilst at the other end Andrade used his pace to create a couple of openings.
However with the game about to enter six minutes of additional time, Boro confirmed their win with a third. Zoko led a counter-attack from inside his own half, finding Freeman who advanced before finding the striker in space inside the box. Rather than going for a second himself he unselfishly laid the ball across for Charles to sweep home Stevenage’s third goal.
Even then the action wasn’t over – Liam Wakefield reduced the deficit for Doncaster with a late cross-cum-shot which flew over Day, whilst goalkeeper Turnbull took Doughty out 45 yards out as Boro threatened to counter again. The fact Freeman had already put the ball in the back of the net was further compounded when the lucky Turnbull was only cautioned.
As it was Boro saw out the game to complete an impressive victory and see their name put into the hat for tomorrow afternoon’s FA Cup Fourth Round Draw.
Doncaster: Turnbull, Wakefield, Stevens, Quinn, McCullough, Cotterill (Forrester 56), Syers, Furman (Paynter 56), Woods, Duffy, Brown (Bennett 73)
Subs not used: Maxted, Khumalo, De Val, Peterson
Stevenage: Day, Jones, Ashton, Chorley, Hartley, Morais (Andrade 75), Parrett (Wedgbury 75), Freeman, Zoko, Haber (Charles 78)
Subs not used: Arnold, Burrow, Akins, Smith
Referee: Scott Duncan
Attendance: 3,899 (324 away)