Boro reach FA Cup fifth round
Gary Smith wins opening game in charge
Notts County 0
FA Cup Fourth Round
STEVENAGE put their name into the hat for the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time in the club’s history following a scrappy win over Notts County.
It was just what new manager Gary Smith would have hoped for after his arrival on Wednesday, and despite it being a far from scintillating display from his new charges, an own goal from Damion Stewart on 12 minutes proved enough to send them through to the next round.
The first chance of a largely uneventful first half arrived on six minutes when Boro almost caught the visitors out with a quick counter-attack. Scott Laird sent Luke Freeman clear with a 50-yard pass down the left flank, and the former Arsenal man crossed first time only for Darius Charles to fire over from 16 yards.
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Boro went ahead six minutes later through the alertness and anticipation of Freeman. A Joel Byrom free-kick was cleared by Damion Stewart before the ball was thrown back into the box from deep by Ronnie Henry. And while the County defence had squeezed up, Freeman chased the ball down from an onside position, before shrugging off a tackle from goalkeeper Stuart Nelson. He then fired a fierce shot towards goal that was deflected into the net on the goal line by the unfortunate Stewart.
It was a rare moment of quality in the opening period, as both teams struggled to build decent possession and string passes together on the boggy playing surface.
Michael Bostwick was next to have a sight on goal for Boro on 29 minutes, when he curled a decent effort that seemed destined for the far corner before Nelson clawed the ball away for a corner.
Although Boro weren’t creating an abundance of chances, they still looked the more likely of the two sides to score the next goal. County looked exactly like a team that had only won once in the previous 14 league games. Any brief moments of promise they constructed in the final third were easily dealt with by the Boro defence.
Boro’s bright spark, unsurprisingly, continued to be Freeman and he came agonisingly close to doubling the advantage 10 minutes before half time. The skilful winger received the ball in the middle of the pitch 30 yards from Nelson’s goal surrounded by three players. However he somehow found a way out before firing a low shot from 20 yards that whistled narrowly wide of Nelson’s left-hand post.
Boro had a succession of free-kicks in the six minutes of stoppage time at the end of the first half but were unable to capitalise. They were worth the 1-0 lead at the break, but there was certainly room for improvement for Gary Smith’s side.
The Magpies started the second half much better than they had shown at any stage during the first, and their new-found tempo seemed to catch Boro unawares as they pressured their penalty for the first 15 minutes of the half.
This pressure almost paid dividends on the hour-mark when they created their best chance of the match. Striker Lee Hughes showed good strength in the box up against Jon Ashton, before teeing up the onrushing Alan Judge who hit a powerful volley that was superbly blocked by Day, before Ashton cleared the loose ball from danger.
County continued to pressure Boro and Hughes was next to come close when his close range flick was tipped over by the alert Day.
For all their pressure, though, County were nearly punished when Boro caught them on the break on 64 minutes. Chris Beardsley was sent clear on the right, and with three Boro team-mates overloading on the left, he picked out his strike partner Darius Charles whose low shot flew inches wide from the edge of the box. It was a golden opportunity for the home side and with a little more concentration they would have made the most of it.
Charles’ last action of the match before being replaced by Stacy Long on 71 minutes was a glancing header from a Scott Laird cross that flew just over the crossbar. It had been a frustrating afternoon for Charles who hadn’t been at his influential best, and looked slightly off the pace.
Boro had another breakaway opportunity minutes later and it was substitute Long who broke clear of the defence only to slip over in the box with three players lying in wait at the far post.
Boro weren’t content to sit back on their one-goal advantage, and they were denied what looked to be a certain penalty when a shot from May appeared to be blocked by the hand of Stewart. However the strong appeals fell on deaf ears.
Boro had a golden chance to wrap up the tie with two minutes left when Wilson found himself one on one with the ‘keeper, only to see his effort blocked by the legs of Nelson.
And they were nearly made to pay in injury time when a shot from the edge of the penalty area somehow found its way through a sea of bodies and into the hands of Day on the line.
And during a nervy and frantic last few seconds, Wilson found himself in the clear again following a County corner in which Nelson had come up for. The Boro winger raced clear and despite having Robin Shroot and Long to his left, Wilson somehow found the side-netting.
It mattered little, though, as the referee blew his whistle to signal Boro’s progression to the fifth round for the first time in their history.
Stevenage (4-4-2): Day; Henry, Roberts (c), Ashton, Laird; Wilson, Bostwick, Byrom, Freeman (Shroot 90); Beardsley (May 79), Charles (Long 71).
Subs not used: Julian, Edwards, Sinclair, Cowan.
Notts County (4-4-2): Nelson; Kelly (Stirling 71), Stewart, Chilvers, Sheehan; Judge, Bishop (c), Mahon (Sodje 59), J Hughes; Forte, L Hughes.
Subs not used: Mitchell, Pearce, Bencherif, Demontagnac, Hawley.