Two first-half goals in quick succession condemned Stevenage to a 2-0 defeat at Hartlepool United this afternoon.
Jamie Jones saved a 40th minute penalty from Rhys Oates but Pools opened the scoring moments later through Nicky Featherstone, before Brad Walker doubled their lead right on half-time. Matt Godden hit the bar twice as Boro rallied in the second half, but Hartlepool stood firm and indeed looked the more likely to increase their lead as they registered their first win over Stevenage in 11 attempts.
Darren Sarll made two changes from the side that lost at Plymouth last weekend with Charlie Lee and Henry Cowans coming in for Kgosi Ntlhe (injured) and Rowan Liburd (sub). That meant some positional changes with Lee at right back and Ronnie Henry shuffling along to partner Luke Wilkinson. Ben Kennedy moved up top alongside Matt Godden.
Both sides had opportunities early on. First Sean Kavanagh fired high and wide after some neat build-up play around the Boro box on 3 minutes.
Four minutes later a long Charlie Lee throw was nodded behind, handing Stevenage their first corner of the game. Luke Wilkinson met Steve Schumacher’s set piece but couldn’t direct his header on target.
The same player strode forward into the Pools half and fired well over from considerable distance on 16 minutes before a driving run from Pett shortly afterwards was thwarted by a good tackle.
Striker Rhys Oates and right-back Liam Donnelly both saw shots saved comfortably by Jones, before Wilkinson again went close at the other end but headed over from Lee’s cross.
Five minutes before half-time the referee awarded the hosts a penalty after a cross hit Wilkinson’s raised hand. In a somewhat bizarre incident the goal music started to play before Rhys Oates stepped up to take his spot-kick, only for Jamie Jones to then save his fierce effort.
Parity wouldn’t last long though as Pools struck twice in quick succession before the break. Just 30 seconds after the penalty save, Hartlepool worked the ball back into the Boro box and although Jones saved a deflected shot brilliantly with his feet, Nicky Featherstone fired home on the follow-up for 1-0.
Pett went close with a curling effort from distance as Boro looked to pull level immediately, but 1-0 quickly became 2-0. Luke Wilkinson was dragged out wide and when the ball was passed into Oates, he evaded Franks just inside the box and cut the pass back for Brad Walker to gleefully fire home, despite Jones getting his hand to it.
There were no subs at the break but Boro did make positional changes. Charlie Lee switched to left-back which left Franks alongside Wilkinson and Henry at right-back in a more familiar back-line.
Stevenage won two early-set pieces but Hartlepool defended well as danger came and went. They then had the woodwork to thank for denying Boro as a nice touch by Godden released Pett, whose return pass saw the top scorer crash a shot against the bar.
With Tom Pett often double-marked the winger had to be at his best to create anything in this half, although one chance did fall to him on 52 minutes but he curled over from the edge of the box.
Just before the hour Stevenage recycled a free-kick that was initially cleared. Ronnie Henry hit a long diagonal which Wilkinson met, but saw his curling header bounce just wide of the far post with Bartlett well beaten.
Two goals to the good, Hartlepool enjoyed plenty of possession in the second half and always looked a handful going forward as Boro themselves looked to get back into the game.
Josh McQuoid came on for his Boro debut and immediately looked to link up with Godden. With nine minutes remaining that nearly happened when a cross from the left from the Luton loanee was flicked on by Godden, but his header hit the woodwork again and sub Ryan Loft was unable to convert from close-range.
At the other end Jamie Jones made a fine low save to deny sub Padraig Amond from scoring a late third, whilst the visitors went close in five minutes of extra time through another Godden header and a Pett effort that curled wide.
Next up for Stevenage is a home game against Grimsby Town next Saturday 28th January. Tickets for this Category A game can be purchased at www.borotickets.co.uk.
Hartlepool United: Bartlett, Donnelly, Bates, Harrison, Kavanagh, Featherstone, Woods, Walker (Laurent 80), Hawkins, Oates (Amond 73), Alessandra (Thomas 85)
Subs not used: Catterick, Martin, Richardson, Rodney
Stevenage: Jones, Henry, Wilkinson, Franks, Gorman (Tonge 72), Pett, Lee, Schumacher, Cowans (McQuoid 62), Kennedy (Loft 80), Godden
Subs not used: Day, McAnuff, Liburd, Johnson
Referee: D Webb
Attendance: 3,383 (78 away)