Accrington Stanley 0 (0) Stevenage 1 (3)

Boro off to Old Trafford after Beardsley strike sinks Stanley

Accrington 0 (0) Stevenage 1 (3)

npower League 2 play-off semi-final second leg

A CHRIS Beardsley strike saw Stevenage confirm a date with Torquay United at Old Trafford next Saturday after a fiery encounter at Accrington which saw two Stanley players sent off.

Accrington boss John Coleman had promised an avalanche of goals as his side looked to claw their way back from a 2-0 first leg deficit, but instead of an avalanche there descended a red mist over his players as Joe Jacobson and Sean McConville were dismissed within 30 seconds of each other in the second half.

Jacobson saw red for a late challenge on Lawrie Wilson while McConville, who himself had earlier tried to get Boro’s Darius Charles sent off by bodypopping in agony on the floor as though his leg had been mangled in an industrial accident, was dismissed for pushing Stacy Long in the face.

The hosts may point to some unhelpful officiating – indeed, when referee Russell Booth blew the final whistle he and his two assistants ran straight down the tunnel leaving 20 players on the pitch unsure of what was happening – but even when they had 11 players on the pitch the hosts struggled to make headway.

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Stevenage were without Jon Ashton (calf) so Michael Bostwick deputised at centre-half with Darren Murphy drafted into midfield for only his second start of the season.

Bostwick’s defensive partner Mark Roberts impressed in the first leg by the way in which he threw his body in front of the ball on numerous occasions, and he began the second leg in much the same fashion to block a Terry Gornell effort early doors.

While Roberts set a good example of why a defender might find himself on the turf the opposite could be said of Phil Edwards who embarrassed himself by pretending to be caught by a Craig Reid elbow when in fact Reid’s arm did not even touch him.

The hosts may have been trying to establish an advantage at all costs, but when they had the ball at feet they actually made a little progress into the Stevenage third.

After Gornell’s shot Jimmy Ryan tried his luck only to see Bostwick dive in his way, but although the hosts did press a little Chris Day was relatively untroubled in the visitors’ goal.

The first half was a poor spectacle and although there was the occasional moment of inspiration – Long moved the ball on to his left inside the box only to shoot wide just before the break – the first half was a non-event, which suited Boro more than it did Stanley.

Like the first half, the second period was as stodgy as the Crown Ground pitch and neither side was able to build attacks for fear of the ball running out of their control on an uneven surface.

McConville went closest for the hosts when he connected with a cross from the right only to be thwarted by an excellent Day save while Byron Harrison, on at half time for Reid, look lively up front for Boro alongside the dynamic Charles.

Harrison’s strike partner dug out an effort which curled past a diving Alex Cisak before Murphy twice tried his luck only to see both efforts blocked in the box, the second deflecting into the path of the Stanley stopper.

If Accrington were finding it difficult in front of an increasingly hostile crowd they only had themselves to blame midway through the second half when Jacobson – a bad challenge - and McConville – stupidity - were dismissed.

With two extra men Boro began to carve chances for themselves but they wasted many a good opportunity to seal victory with Long, a shot from the left of the box after Cisak had spilled the ball, and Harrison, dwelling on the ball, the main offenders.

It seemed likely that the game would end goalless which, of course, is all Stevenage would have needed to progress but when substitute Beardsley made a run across his defender in the dying moments he was found by a Ronnie Henry cross before taking a touch and shooting back across goal and past Cisak for his second of the season.

By this time the home fans had started to shout abuse at the officials as if the men in black were to blame but in truth the limitations of Coleman’s side – stop the full-backs from attacking on the only flat parts of the pitch and you stop them from playing – were exposed by a Boro team whose performance was as bullish as the claims made by Coleman before the match that his side were favourites to go through.

In the end it was Stevenage who went through, and Torquay now await.

Accrington (4-2-3-1): Cisak 6, Winnard 5, Hessey 6, Edwards 6, Jacobson 6, Procter 5, Ryan 7, McConville 5, Joyce 7, Craney 4 (Turner 62, 6), Gornell 5. Subs: Dunbavin, K Long, Richardson, Barnett, Putterill, Lindfield

Boro (4-4-2): Day 7, Henry 6, Laird 6, Roberts 6, Bostwick 8, Wilson 6 (Winn 90+2), Murphy 8, Long 7, Byrom 7, Reid 6 (Harrison 45, 7), Charles 7 (Beardsley 77). Subs: Welch, Margarson, Maamria.