Liam Osborne, Sports reporter
Monday, April 9, 2012
Boro boss remains positive after Mark Roberts’ last-gasp equaliser salvages a point against Preston
Preston North End 1
npower League One
GARY Smith insists his team won’t give up hope of making the play-offs despite dropping more points in an entertaining clash with Preston North End.
Mark Roberts’ 94th-minute header salvaged a point for Boro after substitute Iain Hume looked to have won it for Graham Westley’s team with an 85th-minute opener.
The gap remains six points between ninth-placed Stevenage and sixth-placed Carlisle United, and with only five fixtures remaining and Boro having won just once in 13 outings, it looks like it will take something extraordinary for them to force their way into the play-off places.
“A win today was imperative for us really but we won’t give up the ghost,” said Smith. “We’ve got Brentford and Carlisle coming here so we can affect their form and their points tallies so we’ll keep fighting on. Our performances at home recently have been much, much better and we look like we will really push on at some point and really take someone to the cleaners.
“I thought we deserved more than that with our general play. The guys showed a fantastic attitude throughout. You’ve got to score when you’ve got momentum in the game and if we had scored before half time it might have been a very different picture in the second half.
“In the end the goal for them came about in a fairly fortuitous fashion to begin with as the goalkeeper shanked a kick. We’re disappointed because they had few efforts at our goal and troubled us infrequently. I thought we always looked more likely to score and at that point it was a bit of a body blow.
“But it was a fantastic header [from Roberts],” he added. “Sadly it wasn’t a winning goal – it’s one that maintains an unbeaten period at home for myself and the coaching staff since we came in. But we’re all looking for that victory. All the guys applied themselves so, so well and there were some really good performances out there today and I’m delighted for Mark that he got us back on level terms.”
Much of the pre-match talk concerned former manager Westley’s return to the Lamex Stadium for the first time since leaving Boro in January. And the home supporters were split in their reception of him with some choosing to boo while some opted to applaud the man who orchestrated back-to-back promotions during his second spell at the club.
But things spilled over slightly between the old guard and the new regime midway through the second half when coach Dino Maamria was sent to the stands after a minor confrontation with Smith’s assistant Mark Newson.
Smith didn’t have too much to say on the matter after the match, other than his predecessor Westley has too much to say at times. “He’s always got plenty to say, most of it is a load of old toffee,” said Smith. “But listen, when you’re on the touchline there are a lot of emotions that fly either way because we all want to be out there kicking the ball. We’re just frustrated because our time [playing] is over. There was nothing out of the ordinary and I’m sure Graham wanted to win as much coming back here as I did.”
Boro really should have had this match sewn up by half-time. They were by far the better side in the opening 45 minutes but again a lack of killer instinct meant they couldn’t find the breakthrough. Scott Laird was first to come close when his long-range effort flew just wide while Patrick Agyemang and Craig Reid also went close after a handful of good passing moves almost reaped their rewards.
Agyemang, playing against his former team, put in a much-improved display after a fairly uninspired spell as a Boro player so far. He suddenly found the ability to win header after header in the air, as well as providing excellent link-up play and an attacking threat previously unseen by the home supporters. He came closest to breaking the deadlock midway through the first half when he showed good strength to carry the ball forward only to fire narrowly over from 12 yards.
For all Boro’s efforts in the first half, they struggled to replicate the same attacking threat in the second. Preston gradually gained more of a foothold in the match and it needed a terrific save from Chris Day to stop Chris Holroyd from heading home on the line after Paul Coutts’ cross had been deflected away from the Boro ‘keeper.
It was just after the hour-mark when the match started to boil over slightly due to a couple of debatable refereeing decisions, and as a result of a few handbags between the dugouts Maamria was ordered to the stands – much to the pleasure of the home supporters.
Westley introduced Hume and Jamie Proctor with 20 minutes remaining and the pair caused Boro’s defence all sorts of problems. Suddenly it was Preston who looked the more likely to snatch a goal and so it proved when Hume slotted home with four minutes remaining.
A misplaced drop-kick from goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann went straight to the unmarked Danny Mayor on the left wing. He then waltzed inside past the would-be tacklers before slipping in Hume who took a touch and side-footed the ball past Day from six yards.
It was a massive body-blow for Stevenage but they continued to throw bodies forward and they ensured a deserved point with an equaliser in the fourth minute of stoppage-time. Michael Bostwick’s cross picked out Roberts inside the box, and the Boro captain guided a superb header into the far corner. It was fitting that Roberts was the man to score the goal after another heart-on-sleeve performance from the centre-half. Things just aren’t going well for Smith’s side at the moment, but the character shown to earn a point shows the group certainly hasn’t lost any of the fighting spirit on which they founded their rise to League One from the Conference. Next up for Boro is a trip to Yeovil on Saturday, and if they can just find their feet in front of goal early on, they won’t be far away from winning a long-awaited three points.
Stevenage (4-4-2): Day, Henry, Roberts (c), Ashton, Laird, Wilson, Bostwick, Byrom (Myrie Williams 86), Freeman, Reid (Thalissistis 80), Agyemang (Slew 71).
Subs not used: Mousinho, Lascelles.
Preston North End (4-4-2): Stuckmann, Gray, Robertson, Wright, Parry, Coutts, Ehmer, A Procter, Mayor, Aneke (J Proctor 71), Holroyd (Hume 71).
Subs not used: Arestidou, Devine, Cummins.
Att: 3,386 (473 away)