We go again...
Stevenage put in a superb performance at home to Reading on Saturday, earning a goalless draw that means a Third Round FA Cup replay at the Madjeski Stadium.
Boro were the better side for much of the contest and on another day, would have surely come away with the victory.
Reading keeper, Jaakkola making a number of crucial saves whilst Tom King was barely forced into action.
Darren Sarll named two changes to the side that blew Cheltenham away 4-1 earlier in the week. A first start for Tom King in goal whilst U18s Scholar, Ben Wilmot was handed his first start in competitions outside of the Checkatrade Trophy.
The selection meant that three players from the Stevenage Academy started (Wilmot, Kennedy, McKee) whilst two more began on the bench (Gorman, Gray).
Despite the opponents lofty Championship status, it was Stevenage who got off to the better of starts and could been ahead inside the opening ten minutes.
Ben Kennedy and Danny Newton both had opportunities to make it count in the air during the early exchanges but Kennedy’s header was deflected over whilst Newton couldn’t keep his down.
The Royals were intent on playing it out from the back and Boro almost caught them out early on as Tom Pett forced McShane into a mistake. The play ended with Jonathan Smith getting away a deflected shot from the edge of the box which spun agonisingly over the bar.
Crosses into the box were causing the Royals headaches and with just under 15 minutes gone, the ball ricochet off a Reading leg towards goal, only for it to be cleared off the line.
Ben Kennedy was clearly feeling fit and looking back to his best. The young star stole the show during the first half as he twisted his way around the Reading defence and midfield. With 25 minutes on the clock, he came inches away from finding Newton with a deft ball over the top, just out of reach of the striker.
It was almost the dream FA Cup start for young Ben Wilmot as he forced Jaakkola into a fine scrambling save to tip his header over the bar. Boro were continuing to force corners and dangerous ones at that.
Reading created virtually nothing all half but could have found a breakthrough after 35 minutes as Barrow robbed Jack King of the ball and had the chance to counter. As Reading had a 3 on 1 opportunity, McCleary fouled McKee off the ball, rendering the attack dead.
As the clock ticked down towards the break, Kennedy would have one more chance to create the opening goal. Picking up the ball after a loose Reading pass on the half-way line, the winger drove up the pitch, taking it past his man before firing in a low, powerful shot into a crowded area that needed just a touch towards goal.
With 5 minutes left before the half, Reading upped the ante and had their best spell of the contest so far.
Tom King introducing himself with a superb save to deny Dave Edwards from a corner, the Reading man attacking the ball at point blank range before it was cleared away.
McCleary fired over from the edge of the box with a few mins to go but Stevenage were able to see out the half as the teams went in all square.
The second half began much like the first, with Stevenage on top and creating the better of the opportunities. Danny Newton came a couple of yards away from firing in a spectacular opener inside the first five minutes as he hit a dipping volley beautifully, just past the post.
Reading remained a threat on the break and Ronnie Henry was needed to stop Liam Kelly down the other end as the Reading attacker had a one-on-one opportunity following a swift counter.
The away side’s star man was undoubtedly keeper, Anssi Jaakkola as he made two spectacular stops within the space of five minutes in the second half. First, beating the ball away from the top corner after a pin-point Joe Martin free-kick before denying Jack King’s stupendous volley off a Danny Newton knock-down.
With just twenty minutes to go, the hosts again began to settle down and experienced frontman, Yann Kermorgant had half a chance to put the Royals in-front. Latching onto a good ball into the box, he couldn’t quite keep it under the bar.
Alex Samuel made way for Ben Kennedy on 72 minutes and a few minutes later, Danny Newton had Jaakola making more saves as he drove forward before firing hard and low.
Ben Wilmot was enjoying a superb afternoon at the back and was needed with 15 minutes left as Barrow was played in over the top. The young defender back quickly to make a last-ditch challenge that surely denied a goalscoring opportunity.
Although Reading sporadically threatened to break through late on, a Stevenage defender was always on hand to come across and block out the danger. A fine defensive effort from the team all afternoon.
Neither team created any clear-cut chances of note during the closing stages as the game ended 0-0 - a fine result and performance from Stevenage as the two sides meet again in a few weeks time.