Stevenage picked up their first point of the Sky Bet League 2 season with a 1-1 draw at Notts County this afternoon.
Both goals came in the first half with Ben Kennedy’s early strike cancelled out by Jon Stead’s 18th minute lob. County twice hit the woodwork in the opening 45 minutes but Boro were much more threatening after the break, creating chances and asking plenty of questions of the home defence.
Darren Sarll made three changes from the midweek win at Ipswich with Andrew Fox, Michael Tonge and Matt Godden coming in for Dean Wells (injured), Dale Gorman and Rowan Liburd, the latter two of whom dropped to the bench.
It was a comfortable start for Boro who were passing the ball with real confidence and it appeared they had picked up where they left from their Portman Road victory. Indeed they took an early lead at Meadow Lane after some good interplay around the County box. Jobi McAnuff was found in space inside the area and he unselfishly laid the ball across for Ben Kennedy to slot home his second of the weekend.
Jon Stead volleyed over from a Tootle cross on the 11 minute mark and Michael O’Connor drew a smart save from Jones with a volley of his own from the edge of the area four minutes later, as the hosts pushed forward.
However they were lucky to avoid going two down as excellent interplay between Conlon, Henry and Godden on the right saw a driven cross into the box only for a County foot to intercept with Kennedy lurking.
Instead of conceding a second, Notts suddenly found themselves level on 18 minutes. Matt Godden was tackled fiercely just inside the opposition half and went down but County played on. A long diagonal ball over the top from Dickinson found Stead and he lifted the ball over the stranded Jones into the back of the net.
Buoyed with that equaliser the hosts were looking much more confident and forced Boro back into their own half, with any clearances seemingly going straight back to men in black and white.
Suddenly the visitors’ crisp, confident passing game of the opening quarter was gone and Darren Sarll’s men were living a charmed life as County twice struck the woodwork in a matter of minutes.
First Stead hit the post after being found inside the area with another diagonal, with Boro scrambling the ball clear. Then just past the half hour centre-back Thierry Audel intercepted a Boro pass and charged forward on the counter, exchanging passes with Stead and rattling the bar with a first time shot.
To their credit Stevenage kept battling away and won a number of free-kicks inside the County half as the break approached. An injury time corner, won by Kennedy, then nearly saw Boro retake the lead but ‘keeper Adam Collin kept out a fierce drive from Tom Conlon and then the hosts somehow survived the ensuing pinball.
Stevenage came out looking more determined and created the first chance of the second half when Collin punched a Conlon corner clear and McAnuff fired over the ball with a first time shot.
The former Reading and Leyton Orient winger was to impress the travelling Boro fans on the counter in the second half and on the hour he was involved again. Excellent control by Kennedy saw the striker find Jobi who burst forward, fed Godden and was inches away from the return ball.
Minutes later a McAnuff free-kick was met by Fraser Franks but Collin tipped his header over the bar. Two subsequent corners followed with Charlie Lee heading the second wide.
This was a really good spell of pressure from Stevenage with the visitors looking threatening time after time, with only that final ball or last-gasp challenge thwarting them. McAnuff weaved his way through the County defence on 65 minutes and cut the ball back for Godden, but it was cleared at the last minute.
Michael Tonge fired inches over the bar from distance and Tom Conlon saw an 80th minute free-kick kept out by Collin as Darren Sarll’s men kept up the intensity on their hosts, who were now experiencing what they had done to Boro in the first half.
McAnuff again went close with five minutes remaining when his looping header from Henry’s deep cross was just kept out on the line by Collin and then sub Jake Hyde drilled wide from 20 yards when Boro countered a rare Notts County attack.
A point sees Stevenage get off the mark in Sky Bet League 2 this season and there were plenty of positives, particularly from the second half performance. Next up is a trip to Leyton Orient on Tuesday night. Tickets for that game can be purchased at www.borotickets.co.uk until midday on Monday.
Notts County: Collin, Tootle, Dickinson, Duffy, Hollis, O’Connor (Hewitt 78), Forte (Oliver 61), Rodman, Stead, Audel, Aborah (Burke 69)
Subs not used: Loach, Smith, Snijders, Campbell
Stevenage: Jones, Henry, Wilkinson, Franks, Fox, Conlon, Tonge, Lee, McAnuff, Kennedy (Hyde 76), Godden
Subs not used: Day, Pett, Liburd, Gorman, Donnellan, Kerr
Attendance: 3,987 (192 away)
Referee: Robert Jones