Stevenage bowed out of the Sky Bet League 2 playoffs tonight with a courageous 3-1 defeat at Southend after extra-time.
A Tom Pett goal early in the second half had put Boro 2-1 up on aggregate but Ryan Leonard lashed home an equaliser to draw things level. Chris Day put in a superb individual performance to deny the Blues time and time again and when Barry Corr dramatically hit the crossbar with an injury time penalty, the game headed into extra time. With Boro tiring Southend were able to utilise fresh legs to stretch their visitors and win the game with goals from Stephen McLaughlin and Michael Timlin.
Graham Westley made three changes from Sunday’s first-leg draw with Simon Walton, Ben Kennedy and David Martin coming in. Roarie Deacon and Tom Pett dropped to the bench with Bira Dembele missing out altogether after his horror collision with Michael Timlin, who himself started sporting a protective cap. Joe Pigott came in for Stephen McLaughlin in Southend’s only change.
Fresh from his marvellous goal on Sunday Dean Parrett set his sights again within a minute but saw his shot deflect out for an early Stevenage corner. Dave Worrall also tried his luck for Southend before the five minute mark but blazed his effort way over.
Despite the torrential rain all afternoon the pitch had been covered and was looking good, although three mis-kicks in the opening 10 minutes from Dan Bentley suggested that conditions remained tricky for both sides.
Southend saw their first shot on target on the quarter hour when the dangerous Worrall beat his man, cut inside and unleashed an effort which Day got down smartly to smother.
It sparked a spell of sustained possession for the hosts who began to turn up the pressure on Day’s goal. Ben Coker cut inside and fired at Day with a chance identical to his goal here at Roots Hall back in August, with Joe Pigott then firing wide of the post after a Worrall cross had only been cleared to the edge of the box.
Slowly but surely Stevenage were beginning to create the odd opportunity of their own and on 26 minutes good work by Walton and Martin created a chance for Kennedy inside the box to the left, but his fierce shot hit the side netting.
Kennedy again shot high and wide on the half hour, not realising he perhaps had more time, and then a neat corner routine nearly paid dividends but Parrett was tackled at the last minute.
Three minutes from the break Corr really should have broken the deadlock with a superb piece of individual skill, evading his defender inside the box and sitting Day on the ground before chipping wide. A let-off for the visitors.
After being under the cosh for much of the first half, Stevenage came out for the second half much improved and nine minutes in silenced Roots Hall by taking the lead. A short Boro corner was played across to Parrett, who tried his luck but saw his shot take a massive deflection and fall perfectly for Pett to fire home.
Day continued what was to be a Superman-esque performance with a fine save on the hour, saving from Bolger with his knees, despite going the other way. Six minutes later he was at it again, saving brilliantly from Pigott 12 yards out.
However Southend’s pressure eventually paid off on 67 minutes when sub McLaughlin’s cross evaded everyone and fell nicely for Ryan Leonard to lash home past Day, to draw proceedings level.
Ronnie Henry immediately came on for Dave Martin with Andy Bond moving to midfield, Kennedy going out wide and Parrett pushing up with Beardsley.
Beardsley drove a fierce cross straight into Bentley’s arms in a rare half-chance for Stevenage before Pigott and Coker both fired wide as the chances continued to mount up for the hosts.
Boro were dealt a blow eight minutes from time when Charlie Lee went down injured. Unable to continue he was replaced by Deacon, with Henry shifting across to centre-back.
Stevenage began to concede soft free-kicks in the closing stages but nothing was as soft as the 95th minute penalty which referee Scott awarded for a foul by Parrett on Leonard – TV replays suggesting minimal contact. Barry Corr stepped up to take Southend to Wembley but sensationally saw his effort crash against the crossbar and over to spare Boro. The final whistle blew moments later to send the game into extra-time.
Corr headed wide under pressure from Wells three minutes into extra time and that was to signal another period of sustained pressure from the Blues with Chris Day in yet more inspired form.
On 97 minutes Corr intercepted a poor Henry pass and played in a suspiciously offside-looking McLaughlin but Day dived to parry away. A minute later Corr smashed at goal through the ‘keeper’s legs but it clipped the veteran’s heels on the way through and flew wide. From the resulting corner Leonard saw a shot deflect inches over the bar as the incredible drama continued.
Pigott and Leonard both had chances to score in the closing moments of the half – they ended up in Day’s hands, where else? – but three minutes into the second period the hosts made the breakthrough and took the lead in the tie for the first time.
After all of Boro’s heroic defending the goal was rather simple in the making with White floating in a cross to the back post and McLaughlin stooping to head home.
Lively sub Weston prodded just wide and Corr curled wide in injury time to cap a blank night for him in front of goal. Instead it was Michael Timlin who sealed the win with a late close-range curler of his own to confirm Southend’s place at Wembley.
Southend progress to face Wycombe at Wembley in the Play-Off Final while Stevenage have another season in Sky Bet League 2 to plan for. Graham Westley’s men can certainly hold their heads high after an inspired second half of the season and there should be plenty of optimism at The Lamex Stadium heading into the 2015/16 campaign.
Southend: Bentley, White, Bolger, Barrett, Coker, Worrall (Deegan 113), Timlin, Leonard, Atkinson (McLaughlin 63), Pigott (Weston 105), Corr
Subs not used: Smith, Prosser, Cassidy, Payne
Stevenage: Day, Bond, Lee (Deacon 82), Wells, Okimo, Whelpdale (Pett 41), Walton, Parrett, Martin (Henry 68), Kennedy, Beardsley
Subs not used: Beasant, Ashton, Zola, Conlon
Referee: Graham Scott
Attendance: 8,998 (759 away)