REPORT: Hartlepool United 0 Stevenage 2
Boro keep within touching distance of league leaders
Hartlepool United 0 Stevenage 2
npower League 1
Stevenage moved to within three points of the top of League 1 after goals from Marcus Haber and Lucas Akins condemned Hartlepool to defeat.
With many of their promotion rivals dropping points it was important that Gary Smith’s men took full advantage and that they did, though they did have the woodwork to thank as twice in the second half the home side were denied by the frame of the goal.
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Last month Stevenage had a torrid time; a Nightmare November saw Boro pick up just five points from a possible 15 in a throwback to November of 2008 when the club picked up just four from 15.
That season Boro went on to make the play-off places, but this season Stevenage already occupy them and despite their blip remain in a strong position in the league.
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Having a two-week enforced break following their draw with Tranmere – Stevenage were not in FA Cup action last weekend – gave Smith time to work with his players to shore up a leaky defence and it seems to have worked as they held on for their first clean sheet in eight matches.
Miguel Comminges was called upon to start at left-back as cover for the suspended Darius Charles with Lee Hills on the bench.
Marcus Haber remained as the lone striker and it was he who scored the opener.
James Dunne collected the ball to the right of the Hartlepool box, and after David Gray’s run had taken away one of two defenders the midfielder was able to move the ball away from his man to curl a cross into the box.
Haber rose highest only to hit the foot of Scott Flinder’s post with his header, before the front man showed good determination to react quickest ahead of Sam Collins and slide home the rebound with the goalkeeper still on the floor.
Prior to the opening goal Steve Howard had almost put Hartlepool ahead.
The front man jumped to reach a Jonathan Franks cross from the left, but his neat flick was matched by the agile Steve Arnold who kept the ball from creeping just inside his left-hand post before Comminges was able to clear.
Franks was lively for much of the first half and not long after seeing his side go behind the Hartlepool man turned a defender before firing goalwards.
Again, though, Arnold was quick to react with Boro’s goalkeeper pushing the ball behind at his near post.
Boro were ahead but did not dominate the game as they would have liked and again there were stray passes and poor build-up play, but at the back they looked stronger, sharper, and the home side were unable to find a way through.
Stevenage’s second goal of the game came from the Akins from the penalty spot.
The winger was able to stroll up and send Flinders the wrong way after it was his initial cross into the area that Jordan Richards clearly handled.
Hartlepool did have chances to get back into the game, most noticeably when Anthony Sweeney fired goalwards only to find Gray straddling the goalline before clearing.
The hosts also twice struck the woodwork. Firstly substitute Luke James was unable to keep his footing and his subsequent shot was fired upwards onto the crossbar and over, and then, from an Evan Horwood free kick, Howard headed across Arnold and onto the far post when the goal was gaping.
Hartlepool kept coming at Boro, with Sweeney also shooting wide, but the full time whistle went leaving the home side 11 points from safety while Boro remain on the shoulders of Tranmere and Doncaster.
Hartlepool United: Flinders, Collins, Horwood, Baldwin, Richards, Humphreys, Franks (Walton 69), Monkhouse (James 69), Sweeney, Wyke (Poole), Howard. Subs: McHugh, Johnson, Murray, Noble.
Stevenage: Arnold, Gray (Rogers 82), Comminges, Roberts, N’Gala, Tansey, Grant, Dunne, Akins, Freeman (Hills 58), Haber (Agyemang 71). Subs: Day, Ball, Risser, Shroot.