Boro held to frustrating draw by Walsall
Stevenage 0 Walsall 0
STEVENAGE were held to a consecutive goalless draw after failing to overcome relegation-threatened Walsall at the Lamex Stadium.
Unlike last weekend’s draw away at Leyton Orient, Boro will have gone home incredibly frustrated from this fixture wondering quite how they didn’t take all three points. Chance after chance went begging for Graham Westley’s side and they can only have themselves to blame for not turning over a distinctly poor – yet ultimately resilient – Walsall side who rarely threatened Chris Day.
Luke Freeman was the star performer for Boro, with his imagination and trickery proving a thorn in the visitors’ side all afternoon. However he, too, was not without blame when it came to wasting chances, but his performance will give his manager plenty of hope that he has found the creative spark he has been yearning for.
Arsenal-loanee Chuks Aneke started his first ever competitive Football League match in the hole behind striker Byron Harrison, while fellow loan signing Freeman started on the left of a four-man midfield.
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And it was Freeman who had Boro’s first sight at goal two minutes in when he showed good skill to dink the ball over Lee Beevers’ head before seeing his shot from outside the box blocked away for a corner.
Freeman was again involved on 11 minutes when his neat turn and deflected shot from 20 yards was well parried by Jimmy Walker before the lively, pint-sized winger saw another shot saved after cutting in from the left two minutes later.
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Stevenage looked the more likely team to make the breakthrough and they produced their best chance on 22 minutes. Scott Laird’s cross into the box was nodded down by Harrison into the path of Aneke, but the 18-year-old’s volley dipped narrowly over the crossbar.
Day was called into action for the first time in the match on the half-hour mark, when he had to get down quick to parry away Adam Chambers’ 20-yard effort after Boro had failed to clear a ball into the box. This was to be Walsall’s only real sight at goal in the first half and their lack of adventure going forward meant Boro’s back four were rarely stretched.
Stevenage had a half-hearted appeal for a penalty 10 minutes before the break. Lovely one-touch link-up play between Aneke and Michael Bostwick led to an intricate through-ball being played to Freeman, who was outmuscled by Beevers before he could get a shot away. Freeman’s appeals for a foul fell on deaf ears.
Freeman was at the heart of pretty much everything good Boro produced in the attacking third, and with a touch more luck his creativity could have led to the home side taking a comfortable advantage into the half-time break.
Aneke wasn’t having quite as much of an impact , which was hardly surprising given this was his professional debut, but he still showed signs he has something to offer this team with his strength and composure on the ball.
Stevenage weren’t brilliant in the first 45 minutes, but it wouldn’t have been unjust had they taken a lead into the interval against a Walsall side evidently lacking confidence and a creative edge going forward.
The Saddlers began the second half with more purpose but without managing to test Day. And it was Boro who had the next opportunity on 55 minutes when they were awarded a free-kick after Freeman had been brought down 30 yards from goal after taking on three players. Bostwick stepped up to hit the resulting free-kick and his fierce effort was deflected inches wide of Walker’s left-hand post.
Freeman had picked up from where he left off in the first half and he showed excellent skill again to cut in from the right and fire a low shot narrowly wide of the target from 25 yards.
Jon Maken had a rare sight of goal on 68 minutes when Bowerman picked him out from the left. However the former Preston man failed to show the sort of composure that once made him on the most prolific strikers in the Football League and he blazed over from six yards when he should have done better.
Boro continued to create chances and it was Harrison who was next to come close when he was sent clean through by Bostwick, only to find the side-netting with his shot under pressure from Oliver Lancashire.
Boro continued to toil as the match entered the final minutes and they continually found their luck in short supply when substitute Chris Beardsley came agonisingly close to sealing a late win. Freeman’s inswinging corner was met by a leaping header from the striker six yards out but his effort was somehow headed off the line when a goal seemed certain.
Numerous deliveries were sent hopefully into the Walsall penalty area as the clock ticked down, but the away side dealt with everything Boro had to throw at them. Four minutes of injury time failed to yield any further chances as Westley’s side were held to a frustrating stalemate.
Stevenage (4-4-1-1): Day; Laird, Roberts (c), Ashton, Henry, Freeman, Bostwick, Byrom (Edwards 66), Wilson; Aneke (Charles 57), Harrison (Beardsley 74).
Subs not used: Julian, Shroot.
Walsall (4-4-2): Walker; Beevers, Lancashire, Smith, Sadler; Taundry, Chambers (c), Wilson (Halliday 69), Nicholls; Maken (Jarvis 90), Grigg (Bowerman 64).
Subs not used: Peterlin, Grof.