Byrom and Long fire Boro into pole position
Midfielders both on target as Stevenage beat Accrington Stanley 2-0
Stevenage 2 Accrington Stanley 0
npower League 2
GOALS from Joel Byrom and Stacy Long have put Stevenage in the driving seat as they head to Accrington for the play-off semi-final second leg.
The midfield duo both struck in a first half dominated by the home side who, it could be argued, actually deserved a bigger lead heading to the Crown Ground on Friday but were unable to add to their tally in a more even second period.
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Boro made two changes from last week’s draw with Bury, with Rob Sinclair and Byron Harrison making way for Lawrie Wilson and Stacy Long, and it was the latter who had the first chance of the game.
With just under 10 minutes on the clock, Ronnie Henry hit a controlled pass from the right up to Darius Charles who was holding off a marker but with neither player able to pluck it from the air, the ball carried to Stacy Long on the corner of the D who cut inside to fire right-footed past Alex Cisak’s upright.
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A Michael Bostwick strike aside, there was little to choose between the teams it in terms of clear-cut chances in the opening 20 minutes with both defences holding strong. That was until Long opened the scoring on 24 minutes with the help of a Sean Hessey deflection.
A throw-in from the right was aimed towards captain Mark Roberts in the Accrington box, and marked by two men the defender saw the ball poked away from him and into the path of Long.
With enough time to pick out a shot, Long looked to stroke the ball past Cisak but although the goalkeeper guessed the right direction he was caught out by a big deflection off Hessey.
Half an hour had passed before Accrington tested Chris Day. From a throw in on the right Boro striker Craig Reid headed clear to the edge of his own box were Sean McConville was waiting.
The midfielder, turning on the volley, struck the ball well towards Day’s right corner but the goalkeeper was able to react quickly enough to get one hand on it, before he grasped the ball with his second to keep it from being released.
When Terry Gornell went down injured near the halfway line the crowd were then to witness to a long-lost art form – the contested drop ball.
After one false start, Stanley won the ball first but Boro cleared their ranks to Henry on the right. He beat two players, cut inside to Byrom whose pass upfield was chested down by Reid to Charles and the striker hit a superb shot on the volley from 30 yards which dipped over the beaten Cisak onto the far post.
Reid, following up, could not shoot first time and by the time he got the ball under his control and shot at goal Cisak had managed to get behind the strike.
Bostwick fired low at goal while Lawrie Wilson shot over as Boro began to pepper the Accrington goal, and it was not long before the hosts bagged a deserved second.
Wilson crossed from the right to Charles, who flicked on a precise header which split the defence and Cisak and up popped Byrom who beat the stopper to the ball to get a foot to it and direct it over the goalkeeper and into the net.
Boro began the second half in pretty much the same position as they controlled the early stages with Byrom and Charles both shooting wide.
Long, too, struck goalwards only to see Cisak hold his effort from 20 yards, but the hosts almost allowed Accrington back into the game through a dreadful pass back by Scott Laird which was far too short for his goalkeeper to collect.
At Torquay United earlier in the season the same player was guilty of the same mistake, and that time it led to Mark Roberts seeing red for a last minute lunge to try to recover the situation.
This time, Stanley were unable to take advantage of the gift as McConville ran in, one-on-one, but after rounding Day, who got a touch on the ball, Jimmy Ryan followed up by chipping over his stricken team-mate and into the side netting.
When a Boro break was cut short early by a nasty Luke Joyce challenge, for which he was booked, Boro took a free kick midway into the Accrington half which was aimed deep to Bostwick in the box. The midfielder beat his men and headed across goal where Charles was waiting in a congested area to head wide.
Bostwick had another pop at goal without success, before substitute Chris Beardsley was beaten to the ball at the near post as he tried to connect with Wilson’s cross.
As the clock ticked down Accrington were finally able to see some of the ball and it was only the late intervention of a Roberts header that stopped Gornell from getting something on the ball from six yards out.
On three occasions the centre-back threw his body in front of the ball as Stanley pressed for at least one goal to take into the second leg, but when Ryan fired over from 40 yards it summed the game up for the visitors who had to settle for the hope that their wonderful scoring streak at home will save them in the second leg.
To do so they must overcome the best defence in League 2. Something they were unable to do on Sunday evening.
Stevenage (4-4-2): Day 7, Henry 7, Laird 6, Roberts 8, Ashton 7, Wilson 6, Long 8 (Beardsley 75), Bostwick 7, Byrom 7, Charles 7 (Murphy 83), Reid 6 (Harrison 75). Subs: Welch, Margarson, Winn, Maamria.
Accrington Stanley (4-4-2): Cisak, Winnard, Hessey, Edwards, Jacobsen, Proctor, Ryan, McConville, Joyce, Craney (Putterill 81), Gornell. Subs: Dunbavin, Long, Richardson, Murphy, Barnett, Lindfield.
Att: 4,424 (350 away)