Gallery: Super Laird on target as Boro move closer to the promised land
Stevenage Boro 1 Oxford United 0 SCOTT Laird demonstrated nerves of steel as he struck the winning goal from the penalty spot in Tuesday night s clash with fellow title hopefuls Oxford United. The 21-year-old left-back ignored the attempts by the Oxford p
Stevenage Boro 1 Oxford United 0
SCOTT Laird demonstrated nerves of steel as he struck the winning goal from the penalty spot in Tuesday night's clash with fellow title hopefuls Oxford United.
The 21-year-old left-back ignored the attempts by the Oxford players to put him off by sending goalkeeper Ryan Clarke the wrong way seven minutes into the second half to give Boro all three points and extend their advantage over their opponents to eight points in the title race.
Boro boss Graham Westley stuck with the same XI that cruised to a 3-0 victory at Crawley on Saturday with striker Chris Beardsley having to settle for a place on the bench again.
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Heavy rainfall throughout the day made the pitch very greasy but despite the difficult conditions Boro started like a steam train and should have gone ahead in the third minute when Andy Drury's cross wasn't cleared but David Bridges fired wide.
Ronnie Henry and Drury was causing all sorts of problems down the right and Tim Sills did well to get a header on target from a good delivery from Henry.
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Beardsley didn't have to wait long to get involved, the striker coming on for Mitchell Cole after the winger failed to shake off a knock following a heavy challenge from Mark Creighton.
The home defence dealt well with the Oxford attacking threat and the visitors had to resort to long range efforts. Chris Day did extremely well in the horrible conditions to hold onto Adam Chapman's well struck free kick from all of 35 yards.
Boro certainly created the better of the openings in the first half and many wondered how they hadn't taken the lead when Drury won the ball on the edge of the Oxford box but instead of the midfielder chipping the advancing 'keeper he took it around him and in doing so lost the angle forcing him to cut the ball back but the Us defence were on hand to clear.
Tim Sills came a whisker away from getting his first league goal from Boro when his header skimmed the bar. A superb free kick routine saw Drury played in down the side of the wall and he lifted his cross over goalkeeper Ryan Clarke but Sills rattled the crossbar with his header.
Seven minutes after the break came the game's decisive moment. Oxford failed to deal with Drury's right wing corner and when Bridges went down under Simon Clist's challenge referee Steve Creighton had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Laird grabbed the ball and placed it on the spot and despite Clarke and Chris Hargreaves trying to unsettle him, the former Plymouth man sent Clarke the wrong way to send the Lamex Stadium wild.
Instead of trying to sit on their lead Boro looked to grab a second and only a good save low down from Clarke stopped Beardsley from getting on the scoresheet.
A fluent counter-attack by Boro saw Drury get Beardsley free but his drive was pushed into the ground by Clarke and bounced over the bar.
Beardsley was denied for a second time by the Oxford custodian when he received a throw-in in the box and got a shot away on the turn which was held at the near post by Clarke.
Another Boro throw into their opponents box found Bridges free but his effort was wide of the target.
With time running out Oxford piled forward in search of an equaliser but with Mark Roberts and Jon Ashton shackling James Constable effectively and a Clist free kick that forced Day to tip over the bar aside, they failed to really test the Boro goalkeeper.
With 5,744 fans packed into the Lamex Stadium it was no surprise the place erupted when referee Crieghton brought an end to proceedings, setting the home side up nicely for Saturday's tie with local rivals Luton Town.
Boro (4-4-2): C. Day 7; Henry 8*, Ashton 7, Roberts (c) 7, Laird 8; Drury 8 (Long 75), Bostwick 7, Bridges 7, Cole (Beardsley 19, 7); Odubade 7, Sills 7 (Byrom 80).
Subs: Bayes, Long, Griffin, Byrom.
Oxford (4-4-2): Clarke; Chapman, Creighton (R. Day 69), Wright, Tonkin; Bulman, Clist, Hargreaves (Potter 63), Dearing; Constable (c), Green.
Subs: Turley, Chalmers, Grant.
Referee: Steve Creighton (Berkshire)