Harrison makes impression with double strike
Goalscoring exploits of new striker will have pleased Boro boss Westley
Stevenage 2 Gillingham 2
npower League 2
Craig Reid would have been sitting somewhere in the main stand at the Lamex Stadium on Tuesday evening rubbing his hands together as his new teammates took a point from their game with Gillingham.
Boro’s new – and club record – signing will have been rubbing his palms literally to stay warm, and metaphorically at the prospect of feeding off the sort of chances Stevenage created in a game they could easily have won.
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It was a funny game in that Alan Julian was the busier of the two goalkeepers as he saved time and again from the likes of Byron Harrison, Chris Beardsley and Ben May, but his work rate was increased because too many of Boro’s efforts were either straight at him or just above his head.
At the other end Chris Day was not immune from being made to work and whereas his counterpart’s saves were about quantity, his was about quality as shown by a superb piece of athleticism to tip Danny Jackman’s volley over the bar in the 34th minute.
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Stevenage splashed the cash – more than �100,000 plus Charlie Griffin and Yemi Odubade – on Reid on transfer deadline day, but it was a little heralded signing who cost a fraction of that price who did all of the damage for Boro against the Gills.
Byron Harrison is making a name for himself very quickly, and his two finishes – both with his head – showed a level of composure that will hold him in good stead at this level.
He has pace, he has strength and he’s terrific in the air, but most importantly he knows where the goal is and although a couple of headers went straight to Julian later in the game almost everything he hit went on target.
Harrison started the game up front with Chris Beardsley with Peter Winn joining David Bridges on the bench while Michael Bostwick missed out through injury.
With John Mousinho also missing the game, Boro boss Graham Westley was forced into an unfamiliar central partnership of Rob Sinclair and Luke Foster.
Sinclair may have the flair, but it was Foster who impressed. A centre-half by trade, the 25-year-old did things simply but effectively and rarely did he allow any of Gillingham’s midfield runners to get beyond him.
The opening minutes of the game were as dim as the fog that engulfed the ground with neither side able to do much on a somewhat bobbly pitch, but that all changed on 25 minutes when Boro went ahead.
Jon Ashton hit a measured pass out to Lawrie Wilson on the right and turning his man, the winger ran towards the box and curled his cross to the back post where Harrison, sneaking in behind the centre-half, headed home from a yard.
It was a great run by the striker who made the most of an overhit pass, but the skill and turn from Wilson to set up the chance was deserving of the goal.
Next up Day pulled off a superb one-handed save from the busy Jackman as the Gills midfielder volleyed towards the top corner from all of 25 yards.
Day had sprung out of his box quicker than Boro’s half-time ‘celebrity’ guest Dwain Chambers (who was here to make the 50-50 draw but whose name the announcer forgot) would have done, and the athleticism enabled him to spring to his right to tip the ball over.
The Gills were looking more comfortable when Kevin Maher sent the ball over the top for Cody McDonald to run on to. The striker had got in behind Jon Ashton and was about to make his way to goal only for the referee to call a foul on Maher instead of playing the obvious advantage.
The Gills were furious, and every one of them surrounded referee Andy Woolmer while the Gillingham bench was also angry with the decision. But it was his decision, and it stood.
Boro were looking good for their lead and Harrison headed inches wide as he looked for his second, but just before the break Gillingham equalised when Ashton fell too easily under pressure from Adebayo Akinfenwa in the Boro box and Barry Fuller’s cross fell to McDonald who finished unmarked from 10 yards.
Boro were shocked, and they were still reeling from the goal when Gillingham took the lead five minutes after the break.
This time it was not just a simple mistake, but a poor piece of defending which cost Boro.
On Saturday, against Reading, the Boro back line allowed Shane Long in at the far post unmarked to knock Stevenage out of the FA Cup.
This time, it was the large frame of Akinfenwa who took to sneaking in at the far post to poke home a John Nutter pass across the six-yard box unmarked.
The ball had been fed between Day and his back line, but Akinfenwa should have been picked up and Boro were behind.
The same man went close soon afterwards but pulled his shot wide from inside the box.
The hosts are a resilient outfit and Westley brought on Ben May and Peter Winn in a bid to influence the game. Winn looked good with two decent runs early on, but struggled to take his skill into the area whereas May got about bullying the Gillingham back line in a change of style.
The Gills retreated deeper into their area and it was from here where Harrison put Boro back on level terms. A cross from the right was curled in by Winn and Harrison was there, unmarked, to head past Julian.
It was an accurate finish with the flick of the head, and but Boro weren’t’ finished there.
Sinclair and Harrison both saw efforts saved by the increasingly involved Julian, a former Boro player, before May saw a shot deflected inches wide and Ashton also saw a header saved by the Gillingham stopper.
There were mixed emotions for Boro at the end – they had played well, but had only taken a point. They will be hoping for a fairer share of the points if they perform similarly against Accrington this Saturday.
Stevenage (4-4-2): Day 6, Charles 6 (Winn 6, 65), Ashton 5, Roberts 6, Henry 7, Wilson 6, Foster 7, Sinclair 6, Laird 6, Beardsley 5 (May 6, 64), Harrison 7. Subs not used: Bayes, Long, Byrom, Daley, Bridges.