Boro show fighting spirit to earn (another) draw

Stunning strikes from Freeman and Bostwick salvage a point against Bournemouth

Stevenage 2

AFC Bournemouth 2

npower League 1

STEVENAGE are fast becoming the football equivalent of a counter-punching boxer after their latest fightback earned a draw with Bournemouth on Tuesday night – their seventh in eight games.

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They found themselves two goals down within 36 minutes after stunning strikes from Wesley Thomas and Scott Malone. But with Boro seemingly on the ropes after a torrid start, they clawed their way out of trouble with two brilliant goals of their own before half-time through Luke Freeman and Michael Bostwick.

The home supporters were expecting their team to race out of the traps after a poor start on Saturday against Walsall, but they were in for a rude awakening when the supposedly low on confidence Cherries comprehensively outplayed Boro in the opening 36 minutes. The pace and movement of Bournemouth’s attacking unit – led by lightening-quick strikers Zavon Hines and Wesley Thomas – was simply too much for Boro to cope with, and it came as no surprise when they took an 18th-minute lead. A long ball forward from the back was chested into the path of Thomas by winger Harry Arter, and within a blink of an eye the front-man had rifled a left-footed effort past Chris Day into the far corner. It really was a stunning finish.

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The visitors continued to dominate play, with their pace and movement a joy to watch, and they scored their second on 36 minutes. Left back Malone received the ball on the halfway line before he was allowed to maraud forward through the gapping chasm that was the Boro midfield. And with no challenge forthcoming he smashed a 20-yard effort through keeper Day, after the keeper had received no protection from his team-mates.

Gloom descended on the home supporters who couldn’t believe what was unfolding. However, with Boro laying flat-out on the canvas with seemingly no answer to Bournemouth’s quality, Freeman scored a wonder-strike completely out of the blue. The former Arsenal man received the ball in the inside-left position before cutting inside on his right and hitting a 25-yard effort that flew past the outstretched Darryl Flahavan into the top corner. Like his team-mates, Freeman had endured a tough start to the match. But the confidence shown to take that shot on, with his wrong foot, is testament to the self-belief of the talented 20-year-old.

All of a sudden Boro were a different team. All of a sudden they were playing the kind of expansive football Gary Smith has been trying to instil in this team – switching the ball from right to left at every opportunity and stretching Bournemouth all over the park. Confidence had shot through the roof and, with the home fans in full voice – it was now the Cherries with their backs to the ropes praying for the match official to sound his whistle for the end of the half.

But Boro weren’t finished there and the equaliser came in added-on time with another goal of the month contender. Lawrie Wilson’s cross wasn’t properly cleared by defender Miles Addison, and the onrushing Bostwick hit a volley from 25 yards that flew into the bottom corner past a rooted Flahavan. It really is no surprise that scouts from all over the country come to watch this man when his long-range shooting is so consistently good.

But with all the hard work to get themselves back into the match, the second half proved to be a far more even contest in which few clear-cut chances were created. Smith, wisely, switched to a 4-5-1 formation with Bostwick dropping into a defensive midfield role to offer the back four more protection. And it worked as Bournemouth’s attacking threat was largely neutralised and neither goalkeepers were overly busy.

Boro’s best chance came on 65 minutes when Darius Charles robbed Shaun MacDonald in midfield before releasing the overlapping Wilson. However, the winger was left frustrated after seeing his low effort superbly tipped around the post by the outstretched Flahavan.

In the end it was another frustrating night for Smith’s team after news of Carlisle United’s win at MK Dons filtered through, leaving them three points off their Cumbrian rivals. But the way Boro fought back, again, to earn a point means the steady drip-feed of optimism among supporters continues to flow and there remains hope that, with Smith in their corner, a play-off place is not beyond this team yet.

Stevenage (4-4-2): Day; Henry, Ashton, Roberts (c), Laird; Wilson, Bostwick, Byrom, Freeman (Long 73); Charles (Thalassitis 83), Reid (Myrie-Williams 68).

Subs not used: Agyemang, Lascelles.

Bournemouth (4-4-2): Flahavan; Francis, Addison, Cook, Malone; Cooper, Macdonald, Pugh (Taylor 80), Arter (Gregory 80); Hines, Thomas.

Subs not used: Jalal, Barrett, Zubar.

Attendance: 2,550 (380)

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