Play-off semi-final heartbreak for Stevenage

Jerome Okimo

Jerome Okimo - Credit: Archant

Stevenage’s season is over following a 3-1 extra-time loss to Southend United in the Sky Bet League Two play-off semi-final.

Tom Pett put Boro in front at Roots Hall and in the overall tie following a 1-1 draw at the Lamex Stadium four days earlier, but it was cancelled out by Ryan Leonard.

The goal spurred Southend on and Barry Corr had the chance to book the Shrimpers’ place at Wembley without the need for an extra 30 minutes but he crashed a last-gasp penalty off the top of Chris Day’s goal. Stephen McLoughlin and Michael Timlin spared his blushes with two goals in the second half of extra-time to bright Boro’s season to an abrupt halt.

The result was especially harsh on Day who time-after-time produced saves of the utmost class to keep Stevenage in the tie.

Ahead of the second leg, Graham Westley said Stevenage would be a different proposition and he stuck to his word by making three changes. Bira Dembele, who came off at half-time of the first leg with a head injury, was an enforced change - he was replaced at centre-back by top-scorer Charlie Lee. At the other end of the pitch, Dave Martin and Ben Kennedy were chosen ahead of Tom Pett and Roarie Deacon.

Phil Brown made one change, opting for Joe Pigott in a front two with Barry Corr instead of Stephen McLaughlin. Remarkably, Timlin, who needed 15 stitches following his clash of heads with Dembele, started the game sporting a protective cap.

Pre-match rain resulted in a disjointed half as both teams adapted to the slick ball, with first-touches not as confident as the players would have liked.

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There were chances, however, with the best falling to Southend. David Worrall forced a low save from Day following an excellent move down the left wing and Pigott flashed a shot past the goalkeeper’s right-hand post.

Corr was guilty of missing the best opportunity of the half. Pigott took three defenders out of the play with a smart ball to his strike partner. Corr side-stepped a sliding challenge which also put Day on the ground, but, with the goal at his mercy, he chipped the ball wide of the post.

Stevenage weren’t spectators in the half but did very little to worry Dan Bentley in the Southend goal. Kennedy, who was exceptional when Boro beat Southend at the Lamex Stadium earlier in the season, hit the side netting with the visitors’ best chance of the half.

Their most noteworthy moment came in the 40th minute when Chris Whelpdale was substituted for Pett after struggling with a suspected groin strain. Pett was excellent in the first leg and he provided Boro with a spark to take the lead.

A short corner was worked out to Dean Parrett on the edge of the box. His shot took a wicked deflection and Pett was in the right place to slot the ball past Bentley. It may have been an undeserved lead in the eyes of the home crowd but Stevenage had one foot in the play-off final.

Day made sure it remained that way with a superb save in the 60th minute. Coker, a former non-league star with Bury Town, pulled back a perfect ball for Cian Bolger who struck a sweet shot through a crowded box but Day managed to get his foot to the ball.

The momentum was all in Southend’s favour but Day was doing his best to deny them a goal as he pulled off his best save of the night, getting a strong left hand to Pigott’s fierce shot form 12 yards.

The pressure did eventually tell and it was Leonard who got the goal for the Shrimpers. Substitute McLoughlin swung in a ball from the left that was flicked on by Pigott to an unmarked Leonard. He took a touch and rifled the ball into the top corner to level the game.

Stevenage played the last 10 minutes with a patchwork back four after Deacon replaced Lee and Ronnie Henry, who came on for Dave Martin, was moved to centre-back. It managed to hold together in the 84th minute when Pigott scuffed a shot wide, and again three minutes later when Bolger missed the target.

For all their hard work, Stevenage were nearly undone in the cruellest of fashion after Dean Parrett brought down Leonard in the box. The whole of the ground stood up in expectation but Corr cracked his spot kick off the top of the bar, sending the game into extra-time.

Gilt-edged chances continued to fall for Southend but they continued to miss them. Henry was caught in possession by Corr, who flipped the ball to McLoughlin. He just had Day to beat but the goalkeeper pulled off a fabulous save to deny him. His next save was more luck than skill as he deflected Corr’s shot behind with his trailing leg.

The 39-year-old showed his worth once again at the very end of the first half of extra-time with a double save to deny Pigott and then Leonard.

Corr had the chance to make the result safe in the final minutes but it just wasn’t his night. Timlin, on the other hand had no such hesitation and tucked the ball in the bottom corner to ensure Southend’s spot in the play-off final against Wycombe Wanderers and spark a pitch invasion.

Southend United: Bentley, White, Coker, Worrall, Timlin, Corr, Atkinson, Bolger, Leonard, Barrett, Pigott. Subs: Smith, Prosser, Weston, Cassidy, Payne, McLaughlin, Deegan.

Stevenage: Day, Bond, Whelpdale, Walton, Parrett, Wells, Beardsley, Lee, Okimo, Kennedy, Martin. Subs: Beasant, Ashton, Zola, Pett, Henry, Conlon, Deacon.

Attendance: 8239 (759 away)

Ref: Graham Scott