Northampton Town 2 Stevenage 0
Boro have two men sent off but play-off place remains in their own hands
Northampton Town 2 Stevenage 0
Npower League 2
STEVENAGE head into the last game of the season knowing a win against Bury will secure them a play-off place.
The good news for Graham Westley’s men is that their hunt for a top seven finish is in their own hands against an already promoted Bury side who, if Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Wycombe is anything to go by (their biggest loss of the season so far), may have already taken their eye off the ball.
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The bad news for Stevenage is that they are likely to face a team which outclassed them in a 3-0 win back in February without the services of midfielders Luke Foster and John Mousinho after both were shown red cards in Saturday’s defeat at Northampton.
Westley said he might appeal both dismissals once he studies video evidence, but whether the duo make the game or not their manager will demand a better shift from his players than the one they put in at Sixfields.
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Whether it was nerves in front of a vociferous partisan crowd, or just a matter of poor concentration, Boro were lacklustre at times with far too many passes misplaced.
It was definitely poor concentration which allowed the Cobblers two against one at a corner in the third minute, and when the ball was played into the box it was cleared as far as the unmarked Liam Davis who fired home from 30 yards into the bottom corner.
Michael Bostwick had a shot blocked, while next came an effort by Chris Beardsley who turned in the area, made a yard, and drove a fierce effort from an acute angle, only for the ball to flick off a Northampton leg, power onto the underside of the crossbar, drop down on the line, and bounce clear.
There was not much of an appeal by the away team, but taking into account after the game the views of some who were closer to the action than those in the press box it seems as though the ball may have indeed crossed the line.
The hopes of the visiting side were further dashed when Foster was given a straight red card.
With the ball bouncing between the midfielder and Seth Ofori-Twumasi in front of the home dugout, the midfielder stretched out his leg and caught the defender, with his studs, on the top of the foot.
By this time both sides were at each other’s throats, and there was further controversy when, with a minute to go until the break, Dean Beckwith went over in the box.
The assistant on the near side flagged for a Town penalty only for the man in the middle to overrule him after a long discussion which left both sides stood waiting for a decision for the best part of two minutes.
The first half came to an end just as the temperature was rising, but the second half was less feisty, less pugnacious.
Chris Day began the half a busy man. The stopper almost scored with a long punt upfield which dropped, after a bounce, on to the top of the Northampton net, before the same player made a good save from Michael Jacobs free kick.
Beardsley then had two bites at the cherry without success, before Day made another decent save, this time from a Shaun Harrad snap-shot.
Chances in this half were more forthcoming than in the first, but Northampton’s second goal was avoidable from Boro’s perspective because it began with their throw-in inside the Cobblers half.
The throw-in was taken on the right but Boro played it backwards to Jon Ashton just inside the Northampton half and as the defender attempted to boot the ball forwards he saw his clearance blocked and the Cobblers broke downfield, with Kevin Thornton seeing his effort saved by Day only for Michael Uwezu to follow up decisively.
Darius Charles headed wide from 14 yards before substitute Craig Reid had an effort ruled out for offside, following which Mark Roberts saw yellow for sarcastically applauding the assistant.
There was another wasted opportunity, which in many ways summed up the afternoon.
Northampton goalkeeper Chris Dunn came out of his box on the right and challenging Reid he went down exaggerating an injury with the ball having gone out for a corner.
The referee was having none of it, and Reid picked up the ball but instead of taking it quickly – Boro had two players, marked, in the box while Dunn was still outside – Reid placed the ball at the corner flag, and walked away when no doubt a bit of cunning should have seen him whip the ball straight into the area.
It was one of those days for Boro who were reduced to nine men when Mousinho saw red for a tough tackle with just five minutes to go, and although they continued to push on for a goal, they were unable to break the Northampton back line and the hosts held on for their first win in 19 games.
Northampton (4-4-2): Dunn 6, Ofori-Twumasi 6, Davis 7, Beckwith 6, Johnson 6, Jacobs 7, Thornton 7, Tozer 6, J Walker 5, Uwezu 6 (Holt 75), Harrad 6. Subs: Rodgers, Hall, Wedderburn, P Walker, McKay, Laurent.
Stevenage (4-5-1): Day 6, Charles 6, Henry 6, Roberts 6 (Sinclair, 89) Ashton 6, Laird 5, Mousinho 6, Foster 5, Bostwick 6, Beardsley 6 (Reid 6, 65), Harrison 6. Subs: Margarson, Long, Byrom, Maamria, Atieno.