Stevenage took another step towards the playoffs with a narrow 1-0 win over Portsmouth at The Lamex Stadium this evening.
Tom Pett’s early strike was enough to separate the teams as Boro enjoyed the best of the first half, but Portsmouth rallied and were much improved in the second half. An end-to-end game saw chances for both sides but ultimately Boro stood strong and, thanks to results elsewhere now have a six point cushion in the playoffs with three games to go.
Graham Westley made just the one change from Saturday’s win over Northampton with Simon Walton coming in for Charlie Lee. There were plenty of alterations on the bench though with Keith Keane returning from suspension, Ronnie Henry coming back from injury and there was a welcome return for Harry Worley.
Stevenage came out of the blocks flying in an opening period of dominance and had the dream start with a goal inside three minutes. Bira Dembele’s header from a Tom Conlon free-kick was cleared but only as far as Pett on the edge of the area, who expertly volleyed home into the far corner to send the Lamex into raptures.
Buoyed by that early strike Boro flooded forward and won a number of corners. Pett in particular was catching the eye, turning his full-back inside out on several occasions and whipping in dangerous crosses.
Often the scourge of Stevenage over the years, the predatory Matt Tubbs headed straight at Day on 10 minutes but soon enough Boro were back on the front foot with both Dembele and Wells meeting corners but seeing the ball cleared. Nyron Nosworthy then denied Whelpdale in the area with a last ditch tackle.
Gradually Pompey came into the half and began to threaten with Day having to be alert to gather a high ball into the box and Boro having to remain focused to clear a couple of Pompey corners.
Simon Walton and Joe Devera traded yellow cards as both teams were stopped on the counter by late tackles in the closing moments of the half, as referee Sarginson saw fit to caution both in separate incidents.
Impressive at the back, Bira Dembele then went close to doubling his side’s lead from a deep corner in injury time but saw his volley arch just over as the teams went in level at the break.
Portsmouth looked much brighter in the opening stages of the second half and set the tone for what was to prove a nervy 45 minutes for the hosts.
Dan Butler came close to levelling matters three minutes in when a ball forward ran through for him and the winger tried to beat Day at his near post, but Boro’s ‘keeper stood up and turned the ball behind brilliantly.
A couple of narrow offside decisions denied Pompey as the visitors flooded forward, before Graham Westley made a double substitution by throwing on the experience of Keith Keane and Charlie Lee.
That move initially seem to galvanise Boro who went close to scoring through Beardsley, who mis-timed his 65th minute header and then Whelpdale, who saw his left-footed effort go straight down Paul Jones’ throat.
With 20 minutes remaining Portsmouth thought they’d equalised when Westcarr flicked home an early cross from Butler, but the offside flag denied the visitors and their ecstatic fans much to the home faithful’s amusement.
Pett shot straight at Jones and Beardsley again missed a ball zipping across the Pompey box as Boro failed to score that killer second as timed ticked on, giving Portsmouth additional hope as the game entered its final stages. Nyron Nosworthy headed wide from a corner and Boro had to stand up to a barrage of late pressure with the visitors flooding forward at every opportunity.
Sub Bruno Andrade twice caused a couple of late problems down the wing in Boro’s favour but Stevenage eventually saw the game and five minutes of injury time out to record what could prove a vital victory.
Results elsewhere mean Graham Westley’s men have a six point cushion over eighth-placed Luton with just three games remaining. A tricky trip to Accrington Stanley is up next for Stevenage who will look to continue their recent excellent form as the season draws to a dramatic conclusion.
Stevenage: Day, Bond, Wells, Dembele, Okimo, Whelpdale, Walton (Lee 56), Conlon (Keane 56), Parrett, Pett, Beardsley (Andrade 81)
Subs not used: Beasant, Worley, Henry, Akinyemi
Portsmouth: Jones, Webster, Devera, Taylor (Westcarr 26), Tubbs (McCallum 70), Shorey, Dunne, Nosworthy, Atangana (Fogden 81), Hollands, Butler
Subs not used: Poke, Ertl, Close, Chaplin
Referee: C Sarginson
Attendance: 3,615 (703 away)