Stevenage lost to the odd goal in three in an entertaining 2-1 defeat at Bury this evening.
Adam Marriott scored his first Stevenage goal to give Boro an early lead but an instant equaliser from Ryan Lowe was followed by the eventual winner just seconds into the second half from Craig Jones.
Team news saw three changes from the weekend win over Shrewsbury with Graham Westley handing Michael Richens a debut, recalling Adam Marriott and giving Chris Beardsley his first competitive start since returning to the club.
It was a bright start by Boro with Chris Whelpdale sending a looping header over from the edge of the box with just five minutes on the clock after Lee had seen a fierce cross defended behind for a corner.
Beardsley was looking good alongside Marriott in the early stages and nine minutes in the two combined to give Boro the lead. Beardsley controlled well and played the ball down the line and despite it looking comfortable for the defender, in-nipped Marriott to rob possession, bear down on goal and smash the ball home from the angle.
The small band of travelling Stevenage fans were up in their seats celebrating but within three moments parity was restored and in impressive style. Referee Clark awarded Bury a central free-kick 25 yards out and up stepped the experienced Ryan Lowe to curl a beauty over the wall and away from the despairing dive of Beasant.
Buoyed by that equaliser the hosts began to assert their authority, particularly in midfield where the trio of Adams, Etuhu and Soares were looking tricky and full of creativity.
An Adams header was comfortable for Beasant, another Adams free-kick was defended well and Etuhu curled wide in a period of dominance for the Shakers before a few minutes of absolute chaos ensued at both ends.
With the clock showing 20 minutes, Tom Soares was allowed to dribble from midway inside his own half into the box only for Beasant to thwart him with a fine save. Boro countered and when Beardsley made it to the byline and pulled it back for Lee with ‘keeper Lainton stranded it looked for all the world that Stevenage would restore their lead. The midfielder kept his first-time effort low but there was a defender to block and frustrate the visitors.
The action was relentless. Straight back at the other end Beasant blocked from Rose with Wells then deflecting Rose’s second effort behind, as Graham Westley’s men remained defiant.
Lainton did well to gather a 25th minute Whelpdale header as Boro looked to threaten from a Conlon free-kick before Graham Westley’s men again had to stay sharp to defend an Adams set piece.
We’d only had half an hour yet the action was breathless.
With Bury finding plenty of joy down the flanks Westley made a tactical switch, replacing the unfortunate Richens with Ashton. Boro reverted to a back five with Henry and Dembele occupying the wide berths to counter the threat from Bury’s wide men.
Beasant was having by far the best game of his short Boro career to date and saved his most impressive save of the game so far on 35 minutes. The dangerous Lowe found himself through on goal and looked certain to score but Sam stood up brilliantly and turned the striker’s shot over.
Danny Mayor was booked for a cynical foul on Conlon as Boro broke from the resulting corner, before Adams got his angles all wrong with an effort then went out for a Stevenage throw.
Into two minutes of injury time and it was the visitors who ended strongly. Conlon set his sights from fully 35 yards but pinged a fierce effort wide, with Lainton then having to show some skills to dribble around Marriott as Boro’s goal scorer looked to cause more embarrassment for the hosts.
Mr Clark soon called time on a hectic first half as everyone paused for breath.
If Boro were hoping to keep it tight at the start of the second half their plans were unraveled within seconds as Bury took the lead 30 seconds after the restart in disappointingly simple fashion. The ball was worked out wide to Rose in the left corner and his low cross evaded two Stevenage defenders and was swept home by Craig Jones.
A goal to the good Bury took their foot off the gas for a while which you felt suited Boro as they sought a way back into the game. Tom Pett replaced the hardworking Chris Beardsley on the hour in a sub which saw Charles move up front alongside Marriott. The change seemed to spur Boro on with Lee and Whelpdale seeing shots blocked and Lee then heading a 64th minute Conlon free-kick straight at Lainton.
Wells cleared a dangerous Adams cross as Bury looked for a third before Stevenage created a host of half chances. Conlon combined with Whelpdale at a corner but the ball just wouldn’t drop for a Boro man and was cleared, before excellent play between Charles and Marriott set up Whelpdale who blasted over from the angle.
Whilst not always seeing much of the ball Marriott remained alert and was forever chasing down defenders. With 17 minutes remaining Lainton was forced to embarrassingly dribble the ball behind after yet more harassing by the former Cambridge City man, but the ‘keeper made amends by taking Conlon’s second attempt from the resulting corner.
Bury pushed for a killer third as the clock ticked down, but despite winning a number of free-kicks they were unable to really beat Boro’s backline. Even on the one occasion they did, there was Beasant with yet another top save, this time denying Pablo Mills from close range.
Thrown on to add some protection in front of the Stevenage back four for the final 10, young Ryan Johnson picked up two yellows within a matter of minutes to receive his marching orders in a disappointing cameo.
A late free-kick lofted into the area by Ronne Henry and a bullet throw from Charlie Lee caused momentary panic in the Shakers area during the final of five minutes of injury time, before the full time whistle was blown and narrow defeat confirmed.
A trip to Bury won't be easy for many teams in Sky Bet League 2 due to the experience and quality within the Shakers squad, however a youthful Boro will be disappointed to come up slightly short this evening. Graham Westley's men can take heart, however, from an encouraging and determined performance ahead of the trip to Oxford United on Saturday afternoon.
Bury: Lainton, Jones, McNulty, Etuhu, Adams, Rose (Holmes 72), Mayor (Hussey 80), Lowe (Nardiello 84), Soares, Cameron, Mills
Subs not used: Jalal, Tutte, Sedgwick, Platt
Stevenage: Beasant, Henry, Wells, Dembele, Charles, Richens, Lee, Conlon (Johnson 80), Whelpdale, Marriott, Beardsley (Pett 61)
Subs not used: Day, Ashton, Deacon, Lancaster, Calcutt
Referee: Richard Clark
Attendance: 2,638 (86 away)