Stevenage took all three points with a 1-0 win at home to Shrewsbury this afternoon in Sky Bet League 2.
Darius Charles scored the only goal of the game in the first half but the win was just as much about Stevenage’s defensive display – combined with some poor Shrewsbury finishing – as the hosts clung on to their win in the closing stages.
With Andy Bond suspended Graham Westley named new loan signing Tom Conlon in central midfield alongside Simon Walton. There was also a welcome return for Dean Wells in central defence whilst there were places on the bench for second loan arrival Michael Richens, also from Peterborough, and Chris Beardsley.
Both teams seemed happy to sit back and suss each other out in the opening exchanges with a Charlie Lee deflected effort the only real shot of note early on.
After a bright start Simon Walton’s afternoon came to a premature end with 13 minutes on the clock, the midfielder looking a frustrated figure as he hobbled off after a challenge and was replaced by Connor Calcutt.
22 minutes in and Shrewsbury probably should have been ahead when James Collins was found in space inside the box but his shot was kept out by Beasant, with Henry there to clear the danger in the nick of time. Moments later from a Stevenage corner the visitors countered, with Andy Mangan running at Ronnie before cutting inside and flashing a shot wide.
Debutant Conlon was getting increasingly involved in play and it was his lovely cross-field ball on 29 minutes which eventually led to another Boro chance. Neat footwork on the edge of the box by the youngster and Lee set up a chance for Lancaster, who turned sharply in the box but fired over.
Grandison shot over, Akpa-Akpro shot wide of Beasant’s far post after being played in and Collins saw a shot deflect behind as Shrewsbury ramped up the pressure, only for Boro to hit them with the only goal of the game 10 minutes before the break. A Stevenage free-kick was only cleared as far as Charles whose first-time shot took a deflection before finding the back of the net.
A goal down the visitors still had their chances before half time when Dembele sliced inches wide of his own post and Beasant denied Akpa-Akpro, but Boro took their one-goal lead into the interval.
Adam Marriott replaced Lancaster at half time and the striker was straight into the action, seeing a shot blocked as Graham Westley’s men attacked from the off. The ball fell to Calcutt who himself turned and forced a save at full-stretch from Jayson Leutwiler, with Pett unable to keep his shot on the rebound down.
It was to signal a 15 minute spell of sheer dominance for Stevenage who time after time knocked on the Shrewsbury door. Charlie Lee saw a piledriver turned over in style, Marriott saw a shot blocked, Conlon fired straight at Leutwiler and Dembele headed wide as Boro pushed but were unable to increase their advantage.
For all their dominance Boro were given a timely reminder of Shrewsbury’s attacking play on the hour when they were fortunate not to be pegged back. From a corner from the left, Grandison rose to loop a header over Beasant but the ball bounced off the bar in a let-off for the hosts.
Sensing their way back into the game Shrewsbury began to push forward more and kept Boro’s backline on their toes with Henry, Wells, Charles and Dembele all staying strong and Beasant looking increasingly more confident behind them.
Time was ticking away but if anything it spurred the visitors on. If the first 15 minutes of the half was all Boro, the final 15 of the game was all Shrews as the hosts laid siege to Beasant’s goal. Sub Scott Vernon fired over, Mangan saw penalty claims waved away after going down under pressure from Dembele, Akpa-Akpro volleyed over at the back post and Collins headed over when it looked easier to score as chances fell to each striker, but none could find that equaliser.
In-between those chances there were heroic headers, brilliant tackles, diving blocks in the box and a real never-say-die attitude from Boro as they certainly defended their goal with their life.
You could feel the relief all around the stadium at the final whistle as Boro saw out injury time to record all three points and a clean sheet. Graham Westley’s men will now look to build on today’s performance with successive away trips in the next week to Bury and Oxford.
Stevenage: Beasant, Henry, Wells, Dembele, Charles, Whelpdale, Walton (Calcutt 15), Conlon, Pett (Deacon 82), Lee and Lancaster (Marriott 46)
Subs not used: Day, Richens, Ashton, Beardsley
Shrewsbury: Leutwiler, Wesolowski, Ellis, Goldson, Knight-Percival, Mangan, Woods, Grandison, Clark (Vernon 61), Collins and Akpa-Akpro
Subs not used: Halstead, Lawrence, Vincent, Demetriou, Wildig, Griffith
Referee: Gavin Ward