Full time: Hartlepool United 0 Stevenage 1

Scott Laird penalty gives Boro a 1-0 win at Hartlepool

Hartlepool United 0 Stevenage 1

FA Cup First Round

Scott Laird’s second penalty in the space of a week was enough for Stevenage to see off 10-man Hartlepool in the first round of this year’s FA Cup.

Laird struck after Pool goalkeeper Scott Flinders had been penalised twice for a foul on Chris Beardsley in just the eighth minute of the game. Twice because in addition to giving away the spot kick the goalkeeper, more importantly when considering the outcome of the game, was also sent off.

Stevenage had their chances, especially in the first half, to punish their hosts but in the second half had to defend stoutly as Hartlepool went close with a couple of headers before Andy Monkhouse hit the bar midway towards the end of the match.

The only goal of the game came on 10 minutes with Laird adding to his penalty kick against Sheffield United last week.

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Boro had played the ball across the midfield before a quick-thinking John Mousinho split the home defence with a pass through to Beardsley. The striker took a touch, and seeing the Hartlepool goalkeeper closing down on him touched the ball to his left 16 yards from goal only to then go down under the goalkeeper’s challenge.

Flinders saw red, and substitute goalkeeper Andy Rafferty’s first job in only his second appearance for Hartlepool after replacing Evan Horwood was to pick the ball out of his bottom left corner following Laird’s precise spot kick.

From then on it was all Stevenage as they passed the ball around, kept possession and, in Lawrie Wilson, had the half’s main danger man.

Against Leyton Orient last week Pool left-back Ritchie Humphries had had such a torrid time that he put himself forward to be taken off at the break. It would have been no surprise to see him do the same week as Wilson ran him ragged.

On the other side of the pitch Robin Shroot also caused the home side problems as Boro pinned their hosts back. His free kick was hit over by Jon Ashton from 12 yards on 16 minutes, and then after dummying a run to his right went left to shoot low and wide of Rafferty’s goal just six minutes later.

Both Mousinho and Craig Reid had efforts blocked in the space of five seconds during a good spell midway through the half, while Michael Bostwick drilled a low effort wide just after the half-hour mark as Stevenage looked to kill the tie off.

Both Bostwick – a fierce shot just wide of Rafferty’s top corner – and Reid – forcing a save out of the goalkeeper from close range – had efforts at the Hartlepool goal early in the second half, while Peter Hartley headed just wide from a corner on 53 minutes.

Yet despite looking comfortable on the ball at times, Boro failed to really force the victory and make their extra man count. Hartlepool doubled up on Wilson to extinguish his threat, while in midfield the running of Gary Liddle and Antony Sweeney left Bostwick and Mousinho with very little time on the ball to dictate the play. Boro were getting the bodies forward, but they were not finding them.

In fact it was 10-man Hartlepool who had a good chance to go ahead on 65 minutes. After a wild, and very high, throw into the Boro box Hartlepool picked up the clearance and Humphreys sent a whipped cross back in. Substitute Nathan Luscombe arched his body to get his head on it but directed just wide of Chris Day’s goal.

These were nervous times for the visitors who stuck another body in midfield – Joel Byrom – while Byron Harrison came on up front with Beardsley and Reid making way as Boro looked to soak up the pressure and hit on the counter.

Yet too many Stevenage passes into the channels were hit far too hard, and with nobody chasing Hartlepool often found themselves back with the ball.

The hosts almost grabbed an equaliser with just 10 minutes to go, but the crossbar came to Stevenage’s rescue. The home side were having plenty of possession and when the ball was played to Adam Boyd he had plenty of options to choose from before knocking the ball down to Monkhouse whose shot beat Day but struck the underside of the bar, allowing Boro to clear.

That, as it happens, was the final chance of the game for the home side who for most of the second half had their tails up and must have thought they would get something from the game.

Boro though are enjoying a fine spell and although lacking in the middle of the park at times, at the back held firm as they booked their place in the second round.

Hartlepool (4-4-2): Flinders, Austin, Wright, Hartley, Humphreys (Boyd 78), Solano (Luscombe 61), Sweeney, Liddle, Horwood (Rafferty 9), Monkhouse, Poole. Subs: Haslam, Baldwin, Richards, Mellish.

Stevenage (4-4-2): Day, Henry, Laird, Roberts, Ashton, Wilson, Shroot, Mousinho (Edwards 81), Bostwick, Reid (Harrison 62), Beardsley (Byrom 66). Subs: Julian, Long, Cowan, Walker.