Late Boro equaliser secures pointAn injury time strike from Jimmy Smith saw Stevenage pick up what could be a valuable point with a 1-1 draw at home to Preston this evening.
Graham Westley made just the one enforced change to his starting XI with Dean Parrett replacing John Mousinho who was unable to play against his parent club. Michael Doughty returned from injury to take a place on the bench.
After an uneventful start in which both teams had periods of possession without creating too much, the game’s opening goal came 15 minutes in. Bira Dembele was penalised – and cautioned – for a late aerial tackle, handing North End a free-kick. In came the delivery, Kevin Davies stood his ground and nodded the ball on and Tom Clarke swept home from close range.
It was to prove a scrappy half with brief moments of quality on the ball from both sides constantly interrupted by niggly fouls and decisions from the officials.
Chances were few and far between. After 25 minutes a Roarie Deacon header from a Charles cross hit a Preston defender and caused a moment’s panic in the box, with Parrett unable to force it home. Whilst at the other end both Joe Garner and Kevin Davies saw efforts wide and blocked respectively, as the visitors went into the break with a 1-0 lead.
Chris Day had to be sharp to gather a low Laird cross at his near post at the start of the second half, with opposite number Declan Rudd also having to be cool under pressure at the other end, to gather a low Freeman cross under pressure from Zoko.
With their goal advantage Preston were looking comfortable in possession, albeit without creating any real opportunities in the final third. Even on the odd occasion they got behind Boro, the defensive trio of Dembele, Ashton and Obeng were able to recover and sniff out any danger.
Boro meanwhile were having to be patient to get their opportunities. Even when they did get chances they were often pulled up by the whistle-happy Mr D’Urso, much to the dismay of most in The Lamex. When Freeman was brought down on 72 minutes, handing Boro a free-kick, it brought the biggest cheer of the night so far - a sign of the home faithful’s frustration.
Freeman and sub Michael Doughty combined well to set up a chance for Zoko, before Boro created their best chance of the game so far with 10 minutes remaining. Luke somehow kept the ball in on the left flank, cut in the box and found Smith on the edge of the box, who saw his fierce shot cleared off the line by Keane.
Sensing a way back into the game Boro poured forward in numbers and grabbed a superb equaliser just into five minutes of injury time. A deep cross from Freeman found Akins, whose effort was blocked but only as far as Smith on the edge of the box who smashed it home to send The Lamex absolutely wild.
However, the drama was far from over. 1-1 oh so nearly became 2-1 to Boro when Charles cut inside and hit a curling effort which was turned away at full stretch by Rudd. For the second Tuesday in a row the side who had taken the lead were left hanging on for dear life, with the referee blowing for full time moments later.
A point is enough to move Boro out of the relegation zone on goal difference, however Westley and his men know they need more points on the board in the coming weeks before they can safely plan for League 1 action next season.
Boro: Day, Obeng, Dembele, Ashton, Akins, Smith, Parrett (Doughty 67) , Freeman, Deacon (Reid 83), Charles, Zoko
Subs not used: Arnold, Wedgbury, Burrow, Heslop, Hartley
Preston: Rudd, King, Clarke, Wright, Laird, Humphrey (Wiseman 80), Welsh, Keane, Gallagher (Brownhill 75), Garner, K.Davies (C.Davies 80)
Subs not used: Stuckman, Beavon, Buchanan, Kilkenny
Referee: Andy D’Urso
Attendance: 2,448 (402 away)