Teams have it all to play for after first leg play-off draw
Stevenage head into the play-off semi-final second leg with all to play for on Thursday night after a 1-1 draw at home to Southend this evening.
After a goalless first half notable for nine minutes of added time, following a sickening clash of heads between Bira Dembele and Michael Timlin, Dean Parrett lit up the second half with a superb 51st minute strike to put Boro 1-0 up. Southend restored parity within 10 minutes through Barry Corr and otherwise looked a threat going forward, but neither team could find a winner to leave the tie nicely poised.
As expected Graham Westley made numerous changes from the weakened side that lost at Luton last weekend. Chris Whelpdale joined Bira Dembele, Dean Wells and Jerome Okimo at the back; Roarie Deacon came into midfield with Dean Parrett, Andy Bond and Tom Pett, while Charlie Lee partnered Chris Beardsley up top.
Roared on by a boisterous Lamex crowd, early Stevenage pressure saw the hosts win a couple of corners with Charlie Lee seeing a tame effort saved in the opening chance of the game.
The visitors should perhaps have gone ahead on eight minutes when Southend broke on the counter and Stephen McLaughlin did well down the right, but Michael Timlin fired just wide when well placed just inside the box.
Barry Corr headed over and Chris Beardsley turned and shot straight at Bentley as the two teams traded chances from corners, before a sickening 27th minute clash of heads between Dembele and Timlin saw both players down receiving lengthy medical treatment. The game resumed after a six minute delay which saw Timlin taken off with a nasty cut, but Dembele returned to the action bandaged up, much to the home support’s delight.
Dean Wells volleyed just wide from a Parrett corner and Adam Barrett headed a Worrall free-kick over as both teams went close in the final minutes before the break, which included nine minutes of injury time after Chris Day also received a short spell of treatment.
The chances were adding up for Southend though, with Akinson firing over from a Corr knock-down and then Day coming to Boro’s rescue with a super save to deny Worrall from close range.
Graham Westley made a double-change at the break with Jon Ashton replacing Dembele and Ben Kennedy introduced for Roarie Deacon.
A driving attacking run down the left from Okimo set the tone for a brighter start by Boro and within six minutes had the lead thanks to a marvellous strike from Dean Parrett. The midfielder, who looked bright and full of energy all night, found space on the edge of the box and found the top corner with an arching shot that curled up and away from Bentley and found the back of the net, to send The Lamex wild.
Ben Kennedy went close with a mazy run and cross on the right before Southend forced a 59th minute corner, from which Barry Corr met McLaughin’s delivery to head home an equaliser, to tame the otherwise superb atmosphere.
Parrett and Kennedy again combined to set up a couple of half-chances for Stevenage but buoyed by that equaliser, Southend continued to hunt in packs and always looked a threat on the counter.
Former Boro loanee John White saw a shot from distance deflect just wide for a corner with Day then doing well to claim a dangerous Worrall cross and avert the threat.
Kennedy was looking to make things happen for Boro and the youngster went mightily close 15 minutes from time with a spectacular effort which moved in the air, forcing Bentley to beat the shot away. Had it gone in, it would arguably have been more spectacular than Parrett’s earlier superb strike.
Both teams pushed forward in the closing stages, looking to take that vital lead back to Roots Hall but defences remained on top. Jon Ashton did superbly to hook a ball away from goal-scorer Corr whilst at the other end, Whelpdale was crowded out on the edge of the box before he could fire in an effort.
The outstanding Worrall went close to a late winner for Southend when Myles Weston’s cross found the winger in the box, but fortunately his volley flew just wide. A last gasp Tom Conlon effort also bounced inches the wrong side of Bentley’s post as referee Stroud blew for full-time to leave the game finely poised.
With home advantage Southend will fancy themselves in Thursday’s second leg, however Stevenage have been much improved on the road in recent months and will travel to Essex with nothing to lose and a place at Wembley to win. Ticket news for that game can be found here.
Stevenage: Day, Whelpdale, Wells, Dembele (Ashton 46), Okimo, Pett (Conlon 78), Bond, Parrett, Deacon, Lee, Beardsley
Subs not used: D.Beasant, Walton, Zola, Martin
Southend: Bentley, White, Coker, Worrall, Timlin, Corr (Pigott 82), Atkinson, Bolger, Leonard, McLaughlin (Weston 78), Barrett
Subs not used: Smith, Prosser, Payne, Deegan, Cassidy
Referee: Keith Stroud
Attendance: 5,183 (1,607 away)