Portsmouth scrape past Boro
Stevenage push former Premiership side all the way in Carling Cup
Boro 1 Portsmouth 2
Carling Cup First Round
STEVENAGE produced an entertaining performance in their first ever Carling Cup outing but were knocked out by Championship side Portsmouth after conceding two poor first half goals.
Darren Murphy’s 17th minute daisy-cutter was sandwiched between goals from 17-year-old debutant Nadir Ciftci and midfielder Michael Brown, both of which were headers and both of which could have been prevented.
Just as Boro left their 2-2 draw with Macclesfield Town on Saturday believing they could have had more than a point Graham Westley’s men were knocked out in 90 minutes in front of the Sky Sports cameras believing they could have at least taken the tie to extra time.
Boro began the game with four changes from Saturday with Darren Murphy, Robbie Sinclair, Yemi Odubade and Chris Beardsley given starting places ahead of Peter Winn, Luke Foster, Lawrie Wilson and Peter Vincenti.
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The changes saw Michael Bostwick moved to centre back while up front Boro played a variety of tactics, namely a 4-2-3-1 with Murphy and Joel Byrom sitting deep.
Portsmouth began the game with just four substitutes but still had a strong starting XI including the likes of Brown and internationals John Utaka and David Nugent which made Boro’s performance even more impressive.
The visitors, with more than 1,000 boisterous fans behind them, took the lead on eight minutes through Cifcti.
Chris Day has saved well from Nugent when the striker was through on goal and from the resulting corner Cifcti rose unchallenged to nod the ball home.
After the match Westley, who said his team prides itself on the way it defends set pieces, called Portsmouth’s two goals ‘shockers’.
After also conceding from a free kick against Macclesfield Boro will need to address their surprising frailty at set pieces before they travel to Bradford City this Saturday.
Despite the early set back Boro got the ball down with Robbie Sinclair impressive on the counter.
His pace and agility worried Portsmouth’s back line and on more than one occasion the interplay between Sinclair, Charlie Griffin and Chris Beardsley ended with a chance on goal.
The first chance fell to Murphy on nine minutes when the Irish midfielder had an effort blocked on the edge of the box after being set up by Sinclair whose passage towards goal was blocked.
Murphy then had another effort on 18 minutes and this time he got his foot slightly on top of the ball which slipped across the turf, went through Chris Beardsley’s legs before hitting Joel Ward on the back of the left ankle and rolling past Jamie Ashdown into the bottom left corner.
The goal was what Boro deserved and when Byrom hit a ferocious effort wide of goal just five minutes later Boro looked to be on top.
They then began to sit back, however, and the visitors began to control the ball and should have made it 2-1 when Ciftci hit the ball over from six yards after the visitors had carved open the Boro defence.
They did score a second just minutes later when Ward pinged a cross into the box from the right and Bostwick failed to get his head on it.
Brown, mistiming his jump, connected with the ball on his way down and skilfully directed it into the net.
There was a feeling that Boro may have let Portsmouth off the hook after sitting back when the game was there for them to press ahead, although they did almost grab an equaliser on 41 minutes.
It was Murphy who had the chance but his header looped over the bar and he fell in a heap on the floor.
Although the midfielder carried on until the end of half he failed to come out at the start of the second after his shoulder popped out of his socket during the break meaning Stacy Long was called into action.
Long took his opportunity well and controlled the game at times with a fine display of creative passing.
Bostwick, constrained by his defensive duties, did occasionally get forward and he almost levelled for Boro on 51 minutes when he put his foot through the ball only for Ashdown to pull off a full stretched save.
The game began to stretch but although Boro worked the ball well up to the edge of the box they were unable to find that defence-splitting through ball.
On came Lee Boylan, as good a finisher as anyone at the club, in an attempt to unlock the Pompey defence but it was Griffin who had the next effort straight at Ashdown.
Long then made Ashdown work to his right to palm the ball wide for a corner and Boylan tried to sneak through the defence but was thwarted on more than one occasion.
At the other end Day threw himself at Nugent’s feet as the striker broke into the box with Mark Roberts by his side but it was Boro who finished the stronger.
Just as on Saturday, though, Boro’s players walked off the pitch believing they could have taken more from it – and they’re probably right.
Boro (4-2-3-1): Day 7, Henry 7, Laird 6, Roberts 7, Bostwick 6, Murphy (Long 7, 46) 8, Byrom 7, Sinclair 7 (Winn, 76), Odubade 7 (Boylan, 70), Beardsley 7, Griffin 6. Subs: Bayes, Foster, Wilson, Vincenti.
Pompey (4-3-3): Ashdown 7, Ward 7, Wilson 6, Sonko 8, Mullins 6 (Gregory, 78), Ritchie 7, Brown 7, Hughes 6, Ciftci 7, Nugent 6, Utaka 7. Subs: O’Brien, Martin, Pack.
Referee: D Whitestone