Stevenage moved nine points clear of the relegation zone with a vital 1-0 win away at Luton Town this afternoon.
Michael Tonge’s 84th minute penalty won the game for the visitors who played well all afternoon and constantly frustrated their under performing hosts at Kenilworth Road.
Stevenage made four changes from the side that picked up a point at Oxford, with Henry, Franks and Kennedy returning and QPR loanee Jake Mulraney handed a debut. Dale Gorman and Jerome Okimo dropped to the bench whilst Keith Keane (knock) and Byron Harrison (illness) missed out.
It was a decent start by Stevenage and the visitors forced their first chance after 10 minutes. Michael Tonge intercepted possession in the right corner and fed Ben Kennedy, who tried a near-post shot but dragged his effort wide.
The hosts took a while to get going in this game but were soon on the attack. Stephen O’Donnell surged down the right and found Paddy McCourt, who dribbled along the box before switching the ball back to Jack Marriott who blazed over.
Bradley Pritchard was proving an energetic figure in the Stevenage midfield and his 13th minute interception setup Boro’s second chance of the game. His ball found Greg Luer inside the box and the striker’s shot beat Jonathan Mitchell, but went wide of the far post.
Paddy McCourt saw yellow for a late challenge on Tonge just past the quarter hour and it was Stevenage who continued to frustrate their hosts, pressing high and forcing mistakes.
Michael Tonge fired over from distance before the half-hour mark and moments later Luke Wilkinson headed a Parrett free-kick wide after the Jake Mulraney was fouled on the counter.
The QPR loanee was proving a particularly lively outlet down the right, turning his defenders inside out and looking to cross with either foot. 10 minutes before the break he was clearly fouled as he looked to break into the box, but with referee Handley waving appeals away it set Luton up on the counter. A loose header from Wilkinson allowed Marriott to race onto the ball and get to the byline but his cross deflected kindly for Jones to gather.
Luton were now pushing forward more often but that simply left gaps for Boro to break into. One break, 39 minutes in, saw Parrett retrieve possession and find Luer but the striker shot tamely at Mitchell with his left from just inside the box as the chance went.
Sitting in front of the Luton back-four, Olly Lee had been trying to orchestrate the Hatters midfield but four minutes from half-time he broke forward. With space opening up in front of him he opted for a pop at goal which rose high over the bar, causing more problems for the hosts’ scoreboard than Jamie Jones.
In first half-injury time tempers flared when Mulraney fouled Alan Sheehan, with the Hatters left-back appearing to have the winger by the throat temporarily. After restoring order Mr Handley opted for just a stern chat with both, but with the home faithful baying for a card it lead to a reaction of disappointment around Kenilworth Road as the half-time whistle was blown.
Two minutes into the second half Luton were handed a dangerous free-kick on the corner of the box for a sliding challenge by Mulraney that saw the winger cautioned. Whilst the Hatters opted to take it short and Boro initially cleared, the hosts kept up the pressure and struck the woodwork moments later. McCourt found Sheehan in space and the left-back turned inside Mulraney and curled a shot onto the top of the bar.
Still Luton pushed and created chances but thankfully Paddy McCourt volleyed powerfully wide and Jack Marriott fired a low effort straight at Jones.
At the other end Kennedy cut inside from the right and fired a low shot at Mitchell before having Boro’s best chance on 61 minutes. Parrett’s corner collected by Mitchell but his clearance hit the retreating Wilkinson, who spread play out to Kennedy in space. The Northern Irishman tiptoed into the box with Cuthbert in front of him and fired through the defender’s legs but saw the ball fly inches wide.
Luton made a double-sub but almost immediately centre-back Cuthbert went down injured, forcing the Hatters to throw on midfielder Pelly Ruddock as they reshuffled their ranks.
They managed to keep creating chances however with Bradley Pritchard putting his body on the line with a great block and Jamie Jones denying Jack Marriott with a huge save one-on-one.
Aaron O’Connor and Dale Gorman came on as Darren Sarll refreshed things and the game looked to be heading to a stalemate until Stevenage were awarded an 84th minute penalty when Ben Kennedy went down in the box. Up stepped Michael Tonge to fire home and cue ecstatic scenes in the away end.
The hosts tried what they could to force an equaliser but were all too often let down by inaccurate passing, resolute defending or poor finishing, with Jack Marriott blazing over during seven minutes of added time. Instead it was Stevenage who saw out the remainder of the game to secure a huge three points in their quest for survival.
A win extends Boro’s advantage over York City to nine points and with a home game in hand against Yeovil this Tuesday night, it’s a massive opportunity to further strengthen their Football League status. Tickets for that game can be purchased now at www.borotickets.co.uk.
Luton Town: Mitchell, O’Donnell, Smith, Rea, Cuthbert (Ruddock 64), McGeehan, Marriott, McCourt (Green 62), Lee, Sheehan, Pigott (McQuoid 62)
Subs not used: Justham, Lawless, Benson, Green, Banton
Stevenage: Jones, Henry, Wells, Wilkinson, Franks, Tonge, Parrett (Gorman 78), Pritchard, Mulraney (Adams 53), Kennedy, Luer (O’Connor 80)
Subs not used: Day, Okimo, Whelpdale, Pett
Referee: Darren Handley
Attendance: 8,502 (347 away)