Heartbreak as Boro blow play-off chance
Cambridge United 3 Stevenage Boro 0 (aet) Cambridge United win 4-3 on aggregate Boro s league season is over after Graham Westley s side capitulated at The Trade Recruitment Stadium this afternoon. Scott Rendell was the hero for United as he grabbed two
Cambridge United 3 Stevenage Boro 0 (aet)
Cambridge United win 4-3 on aggregate
Boro's league season is over after Graham Westley's side capitulated at The Trade Recruitment Stadium this afternoon.
Scott Rendell was the hero for United as he grabbed two goals to help Gary Brabin's side on their way to the play-off final.
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Boro adopted a defensive approach all match looking to protect their 3-1 lead from the first leg but it ultimately proved their undoing as Cambridge took full advantage of a lacklustre Stevenage.
Robbie Willmott's deflected strike reduced the deficit early in the second half but then Rendell came to the fore with two predatory finishes to ensure Boro will still be in the Blue Square Premier next season.
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Scott Laird was sent off in extra time to compound Boro's misery after picking up two yellow cards and manager Graham Westley now has a massive task to lift his side for the FA Trophy final against York on Saturday.
Westley made one change as Gary Mills came in at the expense of Junior Mendes while Darren Murphy was given the go-ahead to play until an FA disciplinary panel meets tomorrow to discuss his controversial sending off in Thursday's first leg.
Cambridge signalled their physical intentions early on as both Gary Mills and Michael Bostwick sustained head injuries but both were able to carry on.
United were predictably the faster out the traps considering they had to chase the game but the Boro defence, led by Mark Roberts, stood firm.
Stevenage had a big let-off in the 10th minute when Murphy appeared to trip Jai Reason inside the penalty area but the referee waved away the hosts' deafening appeals for a penalty.
It was a clumsy, messy challenge from the Irishman, who had let his opponent get the wrong side of him, and the relief from the travelling support that a spot-kick wasn't given was tangible.
Scott Rendell was causing Jon Ashton a problem with the former Grays man struggling to get to grips with the striker, who was proving to be an awkward customer.
However, Ashton made a fantastic block in the 25th minute when Boro allowed Anthony Tonkin to march into their penalty area unopposed before smashing a shot at goal. But Ashton had seen the danger and put his body on the line to block the defender's effort.
The danger had not been completely cleared though and Gleeson's cross from the right evaded everyone and bounced agonisingly wide of Chris Day's right-hand post.
Boro seemed quite happy to sit in and soak up whatever Cambridge could throw at them in the hope of hitting them on the break and, just after the half-hour mark, this tactic almost worked perfectly.
United were caught too far up the pitch and Andy Drury hooked the ball over the top to send Steve Morison through on goal with just the 'keeper to beat.
After his lethal display of finishing on Tuesday, you would have strongly backed the 25-year-old to surely put the tie out of Cambridge's reach but he dragged his shot wide when the least he should have done was work Danny Potter.
The miss almost came back to haunt Stevenage in the 35th minute when Courtney Pitt's cross from the left found Rendell six yards from goal but his header went straight at Day.
Westley decided to make a tactical substitution in the 40th minute as Lawrie Wilson was brought on in place of Darren Murphy with Cambridge enjoying far too much space down the left flank.
While Boro got to grips with the change in personnel United almost pulled one back in the tie but Pitt's 12-yard volley flew just wide.
Then on the stroke of half time Boro had another great chance when Ronnie Henry bundled his way into the Cambridge penalty area and he suddenly found himself with just Potter to beat. But the former Tottenham trainee demonstrated exactly why he is a defender by scuffing his effort into the ground allowing the United shot-stopper to make an easy save.
It was clearly not going to be pleasant viewing for the Boro fans in the second half as they watched their side gradually drop deeper and deeper.
And in the 55th minute they were made to pay when Cambridge pulled a goal back. Willmott cut in from the right hand side and his left-footed cross took a wicked deflection off Laird and, with Day wrong-footed, the ball glided into the top corner.
There was nothing Laird could do but the former Plymouth trainee held his head in his hands as Boro faced up to more than half an hour protecting a one-goal advantage.
United came within a whisker of levelling the tie when a Hatswell header flew just wide after the big defender met Willmott's corner.
Boro somehow needed to get on the front foot to alleviate some of the pressure on their defence. A Gary Mills free-kick caused havoc in the United penalty area and Roberts looked set to score but his header rolled inches wide.
Willock, who had replaced Boylan, almost got through on goal when he latched on to Morison's ball over the top but Hatswell just got back at him to divert the ball away from danger.
But it was all Cambridge and they duly brought the tie level in the 72nd minute thanks to a smart strike from Rendell. A free kick from deep found Hatswell free at the back post and his nod-down found the United striker with the freedom of the six-yard area and his clipped finish left Day helpless.
With Boro in a defensive mindset all afternoon, it was proving difficult to get forward although Bostwick had a decent chance when he ran on to Willock's flick on but the former Ebbsfleet man dragged his effort wide.
Boro should have sealed their place in the final in injury time when they missed two glorious chances.
Drury burst into the Cambridge penalty area after Willock found his run and he side-footed past Potter but Hatswell was there to block on the line.
The rebound then fell to Morison inside the six-yard area but he could not adjust his feet quickly enough and his tame effort was hacked off the line by Hatswell again.
Moments later Potter made an excellent reaction save from Bostwick's bullet header as Boro finally began to present a threat in the second half.
Stevenage were dealt a massive blow in the 96th minute when Laird was given his marching orders. The 20-year-old, who had already been booked in the second half of normal time, went through a challenge on Reason and the referee had no hesitation in sending the former Scotland Youth international for an early bath.
Wilson went to left back to compensate while the Boro fans prayed the loss of a man would again have a galvanising effect on their side.
Chances were once again proving few and far between although Henry made a good run down the right before crossing to the back post where Gleeson took the ball off Morison's head.
Rendell had a great chance when he met Willmott's cross from the left but his header drifted just wide. But the on-loan Peterborough man broke Boro hearts two minutes from the end of extra time when he pounced on Day spilling Carden's shot from the edge of the area and drilled home from close range.
Cambridge United (4-4-2): Potter 7, Gleeson 7, Bolland 7, Hatswell 8, Tonkin 7, Willmott 7, Reason 7, Carden 8, Pitt 6 (Parkinson 68), Phillips 6 (Holroyd 112), Rendell 8. Subs not used: McMahon, Challinor, Crow.
Boro (4-4-2): Day 6, Henry 6, Ashton 6, Roberts 6, Laird 6, Bostwick 5, Murphy 5 (Wilson 40, 7), Mills 6, Drury 6 (Mendes 100), Boylan 5 (Willock 60), Morison 5. Subs not used: Bayes, Vincenti.
Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire)