Stevenage continued their recent revival with a 1-1 draw at Crawley Town this evening.
In truth Boro will be disappointed with a point after dominating the first half but only having a Bira Démbéle goal to show for their efforts. The hosts improved after the break but were thwarted time and again by Stevenage defenders – and saw Chris Day save a penalty – before Matt Tubbs equalised late on to secure a share of the spoils.
Graham Westley made just the one change from the side that won 3-2 at Bradford at the weekend with John Mousinho coming in for Peter Hartley, who dropped to the bench
After a late winner for Boro on Saturday there was so nearly a dream start in West Sussex as the visitors struck the woodwork within two minutes. A neat ball from Darius Charles was flicked on by Zoko to Doughty who rattled the post, but was flagged offside by the referee’s assistant
Following his two goals on Saturday Luke Freeman was a quite literally a marked man in Crawley’s eyes. After one home attack broke down the winger led a Boro counter-attack, but was immediately closed down by at least four defenders, as the attack broke down.
Michael Doughty, however, had better luck against the home defence, beating his man to the ball on 8 minutes and running into the box to set up a Boro chance. His cutback found Zoko whose left-footed effort was saved at the second attempt by Paul Jones.
Josh Simpson blazed over from 30 yards just past the 10 minute mark in a rare foray forward for Crawley, but otherwise Stevenage were fairly untroubled, instead taking the game to the Red Devils and continuing to create opportunities to take the lead.
20 minutes in Doughty put Akins through on goal with a neat pass but Jones came to Crawley’s rescue, somehow turning the winger’s fierce effort behind for a corner. From the resulting set play Akins gathered Smith’s short pass before working his way into the box again and unleashing another effort which deflected behind for a second consecutive corner, from which Boro took the lead.
Rather than any of the more elaborated routines seen recently, Smith simply swung the ball in and up rose Bira Dembele to plant a header unchallenged into the back of the net to give Boro a well deserved advantage.
Five minutes later he was nearly at it again, rising again at the back post to meet another Smith corner, but this time the referee signalled for a foul.
Now and again Crawley threatened to mount an attack but either poor passing or the difficult state of the pitch, particularly in front of the dugouts, ensured their attacking moves broke down.
Boro, however, were having no such problems and created a handful of chances to extend their lead in the 10 minutes before the break. First Freeman collected a poor defensive clearance, turned onto his left foot and fired a shot at goal which bounced just wide.
Then Doughty won a loose ball in midfield and burst forward before prodding through to Akins, who turned his defender but saw his shot blocked. Freeman recovered the ball and set his sights again but his low shot struck the retreating Akins.
Then moments later, in the final chance of the half, Zoko beat McFadzean to the ball and made his way into the box. With options to his left the Ivorian elected to shoot left-footed but his low effort was saved easily by Jones.
Crawley came out with renewed enthusiasm in the second half and immediately looked much more threatening. Matt Tubbs looked to burst through in the early stages but Ashton was there to brush him aside and let the ball run behind for a goal-kick.
Boro defenders Ashton and Obeng both received cautions for a late challenge and block respectively, but on neither occasion were John Gregory’s men able to capitalise.
Just before the hour mark the hosts threatened to break clear but a neat through-ball was cut out just in time by Ashton with two Red Devils lurking.
Minutes later Doughty was robbed on the break leading to a Crawley counter. Neat interplay between Jones and Proctor saw the latter flash a shot just wide of Day’s post before a Crawley body could slide in and tap home.
Tubbs then turned on the end of the box and fired in a shot which flew wide. Day looked comfortable but it was certainly an uneasy time for Boro.
Stevenage looked a shadow of the side which had dominated the first half, with cross after cross flying into the Boro box.
Clarke fired over at the back post from a Proctor cross with 18 minutes remaining, with the hosts then awarded a golden opportunity to equalise when Dembele was adjudged to have fouled Proctor, handing them a spot-kick. Up stepped Tubbs to fire down the middle but Day was equal to it and kept the ball out.
Westley replaced Charles with Jones with 13 minutes remaining as Boro switched to a back five. However still the hosts kept up the pressure.
One clearance from Dembele hit a Crawley man, leaving the Red Devils with men over. Neat passing inside the box set up what would surely be an equaliser, but there was Ashton to make a goal-line clearance and thwart them once again.
Tubbs fired over and Akins hit the side-netting as the teams traded chances in the closing minutes. Substitute Dean Parrett then so nearly embarrassed ‘keeper Paul Jones when he charged down a clearance, only for a covering defender to clear.
However into five minutes of injury time Crawley finally drew level to break Boro hearts. A long diagonal ball from Sadler was touched into the path of Tubbs in the box, who buried it past Day to send the Checkatrade.com Stadium into raptures.
Still John Gregory’s men surged forwards, sensing a late winner, however Boro somehow stood firm - with Day making another late save - to secure a point and inch closer to safety ahead of Saturday’s home game against Tranmere.
Crawley: Jones, M.Connolly, McFadzean, P.Connolly, Sadler, Jones, Simpson (Bulman 46), Drury, Clarke, Boateng (Proctor 46), Tubbs
Subs not used: Torres, Kaikai, Malins, Maddison, Dicker
Stevenage: Day, Obeng, Ashton, Dembele, Charles (Jones 77), Akins, Mousinho (Wedgbury 58), Smith, Doughty (Parrett 75), Freeman, Zoko
Subs not used: Arnold, Burrow, Hartley, Deacon
Referee: Iain Williamson
Attendance: 2,936 (187 away)