Stevenage fell to a narrow 1-0 defeat at Oldham Athletic this afternoon in Sky Bet League 1.
A James Wesolowski header in the 13th minute was enough for Lee Johnson’s men in a scrappy game in which Boro created the best of the chances, but finished with 10 men after a late red card for Ben Chorley.
Graham Westley made just the single change from last weekend’s starting XI at Doncaster, with Sam Wedgbury coming in for Michael Doughty who dropped to the bench. Also amongst the subs were Oumare Tounkara and young goalkeeper Adam Smith who has joined on a month’s youth loan from Leicester.
Whilst the early pressure in this one came from Oldham, courtesy of a couple of early corners and a Wesolowski shot over the bar, the first real chance fell to Boro on 8 minutes. Zoko released Haber in the right channel and the Canadian advanced before winning a corner. The home defence then stood watching as Luke Jones met Filipe Morais’ delivery at the back post but his header bounced off the post.
Moments later Haber went close to connecting to another Morais corner but mis-timed his header and the ball went wide.
After missing two glorious chances it perhaps came as no surprise, given Boro’s luck in recent weeks, when Oldham opened the scoring on 13 minutes. Mike Petrasso swung in a right-wing cross which James Wesolowski stole in to head past Day into the far corner.
Despite being a goal down Boro continued to create the better of the chances. Latics ‘keeper Mark Oxley did well to keep out a driven cross from Morais at his near post whilst on 17 minutes Zoko controlled a Freeman cross on his chest but his first time effort with the outside of his foot flew over.
Morais was certainly seeing plenty of the ball, using the wide Boundary Park pitch to good effect on the flanks and putting in a number of decent crosses. Haber and Zoko were also causing problems individually up front, without quite combining to the same effect that they did so well at Doncaster the previous week.
Five minutes before the break Ashton had to be at his best with a last-ditch tackle as Harkins threatened to burst through on goal ,whilst his strike partner Clarke-Harris fired wildly wide inside the box when he had better options to his right.
Stevenage continued to push forward and when Freeman was fouled 30 yards out it gave Boro a free-kick. With players waiting in the box Morais instead elected to shoot, but his effort flew over to give the Latics a slender one goal advantage at the break.
Graham Westley made a sub at the start of the second half with Michael Doughty coming on for Sam Wedgbury in the middle of the pitch.
Jonson Clarke-Harris beat the Boro offside trap within a minute of the restart but, in similar fashion to his earlier chance, failed to hit the target in an early warning for the visitors.
Stevenage’s first effort of the second period came five minutes in. Parrett found Morais out wide and went for the return ball, reaching the byline and firing in a fierce low cross which Oxley parried only for Haber to fire over.
Morais twice tested Oxley with shots from distance and Philliskirk fired into the stand as the teams traded efforts around the hour mark with Darius Charles then coming on for Haber. The striker was soon in the action, charging into the box and seeing a low cross fly across the face of goal with the excellent Kasunga clearing before a sliding Freeman could reach it.
It was becoming an increasingly scrappy encounter with neither team retaining possession for long periods of time and both defences on top.
With 14 minutes remaining Jones was penalised out wide, handing Oldham a free-kick on the left. Whilst the initial delivery was cleared, the ball was put back into the box and after pinging around in the box it fell to Grounds to fire wide of Day’s far post.
Despite having the lead Oldham looked anything but comfortable and when Charles was hauled down at the other end two minutes later, it presented Boro with an equally dangerous set piece. A well rehearsed move saw Morais scamper down the side and deliver a cross but the referee penalised Jones for obstruction and handed the hosts a reprieve.
Bruno Andrade came on for the final 10 as Boro switched to a 3-5-2. But the tactical switch lasted just minutes before Chorley was handed an early bath, shown a straight red for an off-the-ball incident noted by the linesman.
Danny Philliskirk missed a golden chance to double the lead in injury time when he fired over, however Wesolowski’s first half header proved enough for Oldham as Boro’s winning start to 2014 came to a halt at Boundary Park.
Swindon visit The Lamex on Tuesday night for a rearranged fixture in which Graham Westley’s men will be hoping not just for an improved performance, but a much different result in front of their own fans. For ticket details, please click here.
Stevenage: Day, Jones (Andrade 80), Ashton, Chorley, Hartley, Morais, Parrett, Wedgbury (Doughty 46), Freeman, Zoko, Haber (Charles 60)
Subs not used: A.Smith, J.Smith, Burrow, Tounkara
Oldham: Oxley, Kusunga, Tarkowski, Grounds, Mellor, Petrasso (Rooney 89), Smith, Wesolowski, Harkins, Clarke-Harris (MacDonald 89), Harkins (Dayton 73)
Subs not used: Brown, Rodgers, Lockwood, Rachubka
Attendance: 3,460 (90 away)
Referee: Steve Rushton