Stevenage’s recent revival came to a halt with a narrow 1-0 defeat at Notts County this afternoon.
Liam Noble’s goal 11 minutes from time proved the difference in a game which saw few clear chances for either sides in a stop-start game.
Darren Sarll made four changes to the side that drew against Yeovil Town on Tuesday night with Chris Whelpdale, Dale Gorman, Tom Conlon and Aaron O’Connor coming in. Ben Kennedy and Dean Parrett dropped to the bench whilst Jake Mulraney and Greg Luer both missed out with knocks.
Stevenage enjoyed some early possession deep in the County half but it was the hosts with the first half-chance on five minutes. The ball was lofted in neatly for Jon Stead and with Jones coming out to gather, in nipped Liam Noble but Ronnie Henry was there with a vital block.
Stead saw a shot blocked and Audel blazed high and wide as the Magpies opted for shots from outside the Boro box, whilst at the other end Chris Whelpdale dragged his shot wide of Loach’s near post after finding space just inside the box on the quarter hour.
Twenty minutes in and Notts County had a golden chance to take the lead. From a free-kick outside the box, the ball was lofted in but Mike Edwards’ diving header flew just wide.
The game continued with both defences on top, making it a war of attrition in the middle of the pitch as the midweek draw with Yeovil had seen. On the few occasions Boro did try and break forward, they were often outnumbered with County’s Stanley Aborah running the game in front of the home defence.
10 minutes before the break Thierry Audel went into the book for a late challenge on Tom Conlon, handing Boro a dangerous free-kick to the side of the box. Rather than go for goal, Conlon swung the ball in and Franks met it with a sweet volley that Loach parried, with Notts scrambling the ball away.
Two minutes later great interplay between Gorman and O’Connor down the right saw Boro get deep into the Magpies half, but Gorman’s near post cross was gathered by Loach with Whelpdale lurking.
On 41 minutes Jon Stead was played in down the right and he fired in a cross which was met by Campbell but saved by Jones. A minute later the diminutive striker run onto a through-ball and fired low into the bottom corner but the offside flag saved Boro’s blushes.
Moments before the break, Bradley Pritchard went down with a facial injury after blocking a fierce shot. Medical attention was immediately ushered onto the pitch and the loan midfielder was replaced shortly afterwards by Charlie Adams.
Byron Harrison replaced Chris Whelpdale at the start of the second half and it was Boro with the first effort after the restart, but Aaron O’Connor turned and fired wide when the ball fell to him just outside the area.
The game entered a rather stop-start phase with several fouls given in Boro’s favour, much to the annoyance of the home faithful. The jubilation that later greeted Stevenage’s first caution of the day, handed to Byron Harrison for clipping Aborah’s ankles, was almost as loud as celebrations for the winning goal.
Just before the hour Harrison found himself through on goal and it looked a great chance for Darren Sarll’s men to open the scoring, with O’Connor free inside the box. Instead Harrison went alone, seeing his first effort blocked and his second cut-back gathered by Loach, as the chance was wasted.
Liam Noble fired over and Aborah also cleared the bar with a rising shot as County pushed forward and probed the Boro defence, but with Jamie Jones relatively untested it looked like the basis of a third straight clean sheet.
However Notts County found their breakthrough 11 minutes from time when Noble gathered possession just inside the box and steered the ball home into the far corner to give his side the lead.
Ben Kennedy immediately came on and one great cross from him flew right across the six yard box but there was nobody there to tap in, much to the frustration of Luke Wilkinson who hadn’t gambled on the ball finding its way through.
Six minutes of added time were signalled and although County retreated into their own half and conceded a couple of dangerous free-kicks, Stevenage couldn’t make their hosts pay and fell to a narrow defeat.
Whilst this result at Meadow Lane didn’t go in Boro’s favour, a late equaliser by Wycombe saw York pick up only a solitary point and close the gap to nine points. With only five games remaining Stevenage will be keen to bounce back and get the points needed to secure safety as quickly as possible, starting with next weekend’s home game against Newport County. Tickets for that game can be purchased at www.borotickets.co.uk.
Notts County: Loach, Hollis, Noble, Hewitt, Valencic (Sharpe 90), Campbell (McLeod 62), Atkinson, Stead, Audel, Aborah, Edwards
Subs: Carroll, Amevor, Murray, Sarpong, Gibson
Stevenage: Jones, Henry, Wilkinson, Wells, Franks, Tonge, Gorman, Pritchard (Adams 45), Whelpdale (Harrison 46), Conlon, O’Connor (Kennedy 79)
Subs: Day, Pett, Parrett, Okimo
Referee: Mark Heywood
Attendance: 4,172 (218 away)