A spirited second half performance saw Stevenage come close to taking a point at league leaders Plymouth Argyle this afternoon in an eventual 3-2 defeat.
A second minute header from Carl McHugh gave the Pilgrims an early lead but Charlie Lee equalised just three minutes later from close range. A Greg Wylde header restored the hosts’ lead on the quarter hour and the league leaders ramped up the pressure with Craig Tanner extending the lead and then going twice on two occasions, with Day also saving from Reuben Reid and Jake Jervis.
A double-sub at half-time spurred Boro into life and Lee pulled one back moments in the second half to give the visitors hope. Chances came and went for both sides but Stevenage couldn’t find that all-important equaliser, nor Argyle find that killer fourth.
Teddy Sheringham handed debuts to loan signings Aaron O’Connor and Keith Keane with Tom Conlon also recalled to the starting line-up. There were also welcome returns to the bench for both Dean Parrett and Jack Jebb after injury.
Plymouth were looking to get back to winning ways after a 2-1 home defeat in midweek to Northampton and got the perfect start after just two minutes. Ronnie Henry tapped a dangerous Kelvin Mellor cross behind for a corner and Carl McHugh met the resulting delivery to head Argyle into the lead.
Already Boro had work to do but a good response saw the visitors draw level just three minutes later. Good work by debutant O’Connor saw the striker shrug off a defender and advance into the box before seeing his cross towards Tonge deflect behind. From Conlon’s corner, Jamie McCombe tried to get the ball under control and took a swipe at goal, with the ball finding Lee at the back post to slot home.
The home fans were silence and it was Stevenage who carved out the next couple of chances. First O’Connor nearly broke away from the last man in the 13th minute but was stopped at the last moment, with the referee waving play for. Then a minute later Charlie Lee was found in-behind the defence and lobbed home wonderfully but was ruled offside.
However on the quarter hour the hosts restored their lead with a swift attack from the left. Jervis played the ball through Ogilvie’s legs and stood up a cross into the box which Greg Wylde met with a perfect header into the top corner for 2-1.
Twenty minutes in and more good pressure from O’Connor forced a mistake from the Pilgrims defence and won Boro a corner. Conlon’s delivery was cleared and Plymouth were again on the counter, with Day coming out to clear a dangerous cross-field ball.
Wylde fired wide and Reid forced Day into a fine save over the bar as the hosts ramped up the pressure and dominated much of the rest of the half.
Just past the half hour Colon was robbed deep in the opposition half and one ball down the channel set Argyle on the counter once again. The ball came in, Henry went to smash clear only to see his clearance hit Fraser Fanks and ricochet off the bar. Somehow Boro survived.
O’Connor continued his positive start in a Stevenage shirt by winning the visitors a 36th minute corner and then heading Conlon’s delivery onto the roof of the net. Two minutes later Lee was inches away from connecting from another Conlon cross, after some encouraging build-up play from Boro.
With six minutes of the half remaining Plymouth further extended their lead. Some neat footwork saw the ball find Craig Tanner inside the box and he cut onto his right-foot and found the far corner with a fierce drive.
Two goals to the good, Argyle smelt blood and could easily have scored more before the break. Day saved from Jervis, Tanner volleyed just wide of the far post and then the same man was denied moments later by a fine Day save.
Teddy Sheringham made a double-sub at the break, replacing Tom Conlon and Keith Keane with Dipo Akinyemi and Dean Parrett and the change had an immediate effect as Boro struck early in the second half.
After Lee had forced McCormick into a low save from a Parrett free-kick, the duo combined to go one better moments later. O'Connor played a great ball into the channel for Parrett whose low cross was bundled home by Lee.
It really lifted Boro and they managed to keep Plymouth penned back in their own half for the next 10 minutes, carving out some excellent chances.
The impressive Parrett and Lee both saw shots blocked in a matter of minutes before a 54th minute ball from Franks found Pett, but his cross for O’Connor was cut out before the striker could pounce.
O’Conner found Pett with a neat header on 56 minutes, only for the winger’s chance to be snuffed out, with the striker then shooting straight at McCormick 60 seconds later as Boro really kept up the pressure.
Jake Jervis volleyed over the bar on the half-volley as Plymouth finally created a second half chance on the hour, but still Boro were very much in the game and continued to press forward.
Tonge saw yellow for a foul on McHugh before Parrett was then harshly penalised for what looked an honest challenge in the Plymouth box, as Boro showed a much more competitive streak than the first half.
Reuben Reid headed over from a Argyle corner but otherwise that was it from the home attack thanks to some good defending from the visitors.
Ryan Brunt came on with seven minutes remaining and almost immediately sealed the win from close-range but Day was there to block one chance and then smother another. Wylde then saw one shot wide and another over as he missed opportunities to kill Boro off.
Four minutes of added time came and went with little in the way of action, perhaps surprisingly given previous fixtures between the two sides, to leave Stevenage pointless on the long journey home and keep Argyle top of the table.
Next up for Stevenage is a home game next Saturday against Barnet, tickets for which can be purchased at www.borotickets.co.uk.
Plymouth: McCormick, Mellor, Sawyer, McHugh, Nelson, Hartley, Simpson, Reid (Brunt 83), Wylde, Jervis, Tanner (Threlkeld 78)
Subs not used: Harvey, Purrington, Smalley, Bittner, Forster
Stevenage: Day, Henry, McCombe, Franks, Ogilvie, Tonge, Keane (Parrett 46), Pett, Lee, Conlon (Akinyemi 46), O’Connor (Jebb 80)
Subs not used: Jackson, Johnson, Hughes, Gorman
Referee: James Linington