Full-time report: Walsall 2 Stevenage 1
- Credit: Kevin Coleman
Stevenage have Lucas Akins sent off as they go down 2-1 at Walsall
Walsall 2 Stevenage 1
SkyBet League 1
Stevenage’s recent turnaround in fortunes suffered a dent as they fell to a 2-1 defeat at Walsall.
Francois Zoko’s second-half strike halved the hosts’ lead with 18 minutes to go, but with Boro’s tails now up they were dealt the blow of seeing Lucas Akins sent off eight minutes later for reacting to being put in a headlock by a defender by hitting out at the Walsall man.
It was a blow from which the visitors never recovered, and for Stevenage it meant that they were unable to extend their unbeaten run to three matches in all competitions.
Stevenage made two changes to the side that won at home to Brentford last weekend, with Simon Heslop (sickness) and Jordan Burrow (on the bench) making way for Luke Freeman and Michael Doughty both of whom returned from suspension.
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Dean Parrett, the former Spurs midfielder signed on a free transfer last week, was also named as a substitute.
Zoko has been in fine form since he joined the club earlier in the month, and he set up the first chance of the match.
The Ivorian striker took on three players down the left side of the Walsall box before finding team-mate Luke Freeman, whose ball enabled Jimmy Smith to fire at goal from the edge of the box.
The shot was low, and as it passed Lucas Akins it took a deflection off the frontman to force Richard O’Donnell into a one-handed save low down at his left post.
Chris Day was also called into early action, the Stevenage goalkeeper getting down to save from Andy Taylor’s whipped free-kick around the side of the wall.
Walsall had only a couple more minutes to wait until they got the opener. David Gray was beaten by Ashley Hemmings down the left, and when the winger put in a low cross the retreating Stevenage defence failed to pick up Romaine Sawyers and the frontman put his side ahead.
Boro had fallen behind in each of their previous two competitive matches before going on to win both – but here they went close to going behind a second time but had Luke Jones to thank for blocking Sam Mantom’s shot before Day saved the follow-up with his feet from Taylor.
Jones was then called upon twice more, and on both occasions be blocked shots from Craig Westcarr on the edge of the box to keep his side within touching distance, before Greg Tansey came on for Michael Doughty with a minute to go until the break.
Stevenage made a change at half-time with Bruno Andrade coming on for the yellow-carded Hartley, with Freeman moving to left-back.
It was an attacking move, but instead of Boro pulling back level the hosts took just 10 minutes of the second period to double their lead.
Craig Westcarr had a trial at Stevenage once, and it was he who made Boro pay when he ran onto a James Baxendale pass before shooting across Day and just inside his far post.
Greg Tansey tried to drag Stevenage to within one goal of the home side, but his short free-kick to Morais, who returned the ball, was sent low and hard but the wrong side of O’Donnell’s post.
Boro continued to search for a way back into the match, and they had to look no further than Zoko.
Freeman’s long pass into the box from left-back had the Walsall goalkeeper in all sorts of trouble under pressure from Jones, and with Jon Ashton also in the mix the ball spilled out to the Ivorian who calmly slotted home from 16 yards.
Stevenage’s job was made more difficult when they were reduced to 10 men not long afterwards.
Boro had been on the offensive down the left, but when the game stopped the referee was called over by the fourth official and sent off Akins who had reacted to having his head in a headlock by hitting out at the Walsall centre-back.
The visitors, who until that point had been buoyed by their goal and were in search of another, were unable to recover that momentum, and the final moments of the match were played out in a midfield battle below a deluge of rain.
Walsall (4-4-2): O’Donnell, Taylor, Chambers, Butler, Downing, Hemmings (Lalkovic 88), Baxendale (Gray 88), Westcarr, Sawyers (Hewitt 84). Subs: Purkiss, Featherstone, Lewis, Benning.
Stevenage: Day, Gray (Dunne 63), Hartley (Andrade 46), Ashton, Jones, Freeman, Morais, Doughty (Tansey 44), Smith, Akins, Zoko. Subs: Arnold, Wedgbury, Parrett, Burrow.
Ref: A Madley.
Att: 3,720 (178 away)