Match report: Swindon Town 1 Stevenage 1 (3-1 on pens)

Graham Westley

Graham Westley - Credit: Archant

Boro are knocked out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy following a night of drama at the County Ground

Stevenage were knocked out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy last night (Tuesday) on penalties after a second-half recovery had seen them claw back a one goal deficit.

Boro had fallen behind to a first-half Nicky Ajose goal before, with just over 10 minutes of the match remaining, Francois Zoko popped up at the near post to divert a corner past Swindon’s Tyrrell Belford to send the match to penalties.

However, with Belford saving two while another was fired high over the bar Stevenage were left licking their wounds afterwards and it was Swindon who, with a 3-1 victory on spot kicks, went through to the southern area final (i.e. the competition’s semi-final) with Peterborough United.

Stevenage began this game with a three-man defence as they welcomed back from injury Ben Chorley to partner Jon Ashton and Peter Hartley while there was a place in midfield for Dean Parrett as Luke Jones and Lucas Akins dropped to the bench.

The match started in sensational fashion with Boro going close only to then have both the crossbar and match referee to thank in quick succession.

Firstly Stevenage attacked down the left with Luke Freeman getting the better of two players before making his way into the box and pulling the ball back for Michael Doughty. His team-mate, though, fired over when a pass into the net looked the simpler option.

Most Read

Then at the other end Chorley was forced into a clearance off the line from Ryan Mason, before, with the players hardly able to draw breath, Darren Ward struck his shot against the underside of the bar with the ball bouncing down goal-side of the line.

Controversy then following as Ajose appeared to take a shove in the back as he attempted to nod the ball in only for the referee to allow play to continue despite vigorous protestations from the home support.

As the ball was played out of defence the game was then brought to a halt after the referee had spotted that the netting behind the goal had come loose following Ward’s effort.

It was a frantic start to the game but it remained goalless, though Ryan Mason tried to change that soon afterwards by shooting low at goal only to see Chris Day get behind his effort.

Jay McEveley then escaped Simon Heslop before firing just wide himself while Massimo Luongo had a chance created from a short corner that had left the Boro defence asleep only for a defender to block his attempt on goal.

It had undoubtedly been a promising start for the hosts and they deservedly took the lead with 22 minutes on the clock.

Ryan Hartley fired in a shot from the edge of the box and Ajose, who once had a trial at Stevenage, flicked the ball past Day and in off the goalkeeper’s left-hand post.

Boro were slow at getting back into the game but they did have a half chance on 35 minutes when Zoko crossed in from the right and Filipe Morais, with a slight flick of his head, touched the ball out for a goal kick.

Swindon’s Dany N’Guessan was then given a yellow card for a dive in the box when trying to go past Hartley, before the referee blew to end what had been a pulsating first period.

Boro went close to pulling level straight after the break, and it was Parrett that sent in a cross from the right allowing Morais to head at goal. Belford seemed surprised that the Stevenage man had got something on it, but gathered at the second attempt.

Swindon hit the bar for the second time in the match on 65 minutes, though this time the goal stayed intact.

Alex Pritchard was the man who smacked his shot at goal, but he was set up by Ajose’s deft touch before the same player then made a run to Pritchard’s right to pull a defender out of the space allowing his team-mate the crack at goal.

Boro wanted a penalty with just over 10 minutes to go, but the referee did not see things Zoko’s way after a challenge from substitute Yaser Kasim.

A minute later and Stevenage were level, a goal which had been coming as Boro pushed men forward. It came from a corner, on the left, with the ball being sent to the near post where Zoko got in to head past Belford at the near post.

There was a final chance for the home team as Ajose once again caused problems for the visitors, but collecting the ball in a packed area he curled his effort on to the outside of the far post and the ball bounced to safety, and the game went to penalties.

Zoko stepped up to put Boro ahead before Pritchard slotted home coolly for 1-1. Freeman then took one for Stevenage, but Belford saved, before for the hosts Mohammed Elgabas struck a sweet effort past Day for 2-1 to Swindon.

Chorley was next up for Stevenage, but the centre-back fired wildly over the bar before Yaser Kasim made it 3-1 to the home side.

Finally for Boro Morais put the ball down, but with Belford failed to react from Morais’ customary staggered approach and when the Portuguese hit the ball the goalkeeper guessed right and kept it out to help his team through.

Swindon Town: Belford, Barthram, Hall, Ward, McEveley, Luongo (Gladwin 67), Harley, Mason (Kasim 67), Pritchard, N’Guessan (El-Gabas 84), Ajose. Subs: Foderingham, Thompson.

Stevenage: Day, Chorley, Hartley (Andrade 72), Ashton, Smith, Freeman, Doughty (Wedgbury 90), Parrett (Akins 59), Heslop, Morais, Zoko. Subs: Arnold, Jones.

Ref: S Martin