Report: Sheffield United 2 Stevenage 2
Stevenage head into final game of season with destiny in own hands after draw at Bramall Lane
Sheffield United 2 (Cresswell 63 Lowton 85) Stevenage 2 (Byrom 31 Laird 47)
Npower League 1
Stevenage’s destiny is in their own hands heading into the final game of the season after escaping the Battle of Bramall Lane with a point.
Boro could have had all three to make their life much easier going into the season finale against Bury next weekend, but they were unable to keep hold of a two-goal lead given to them by Joel Byrom and Scott Laird.
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Yet at the same time the home side could have stolen the win themselves in the final moments as they stormed the bastions and battered at Boro’s door only to be denied by some top drawer defending from Gary Smith’s men.
On reflection, Smith said, Stevenage are pleased with a point to keep them ahead of Notts County and Carlisle United heading into next weekend’s play-off decider, and when you consider United were able to bring the likes of James Beattie and Richard Cresswell off the bench in the second half a point does seem an impressive feat.
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United are a club that can pay top strikers at this level top wages. It is a club already set for the Championship.
Boro, on the other hand, are building all the time to get there, and in Smith they have a manager who is looking to develop their play and who trusts his players – and encourages them – to build from the back.
Stevenage are turning into a decent counter-attacking team, too, and that is how they got their first goal.
Byrom, who had been drafted back into the side in the centre of midfield with Lawrie Wilson moving out right at the expense of Stacy Long, got the goal, though he didn’t know much about it.
Boro won the ball on the edge of their own box and Robin Shroot set Patrick Agyemang on his way down the right.
The striker had plenty of space in front of him, and approaching the box he whipped in a cross which saw an attempted clearance bounce off Byrom and past Steve Simonsen for the opening goal.
Before conceding the opening goal United’s best chance had seen Chris Porter fail to connect properly with a Stephen Quinn cross, while at the other end both Luke Freeman and Michael Bostwick had drilled shots just wide of Simonsen’s goal.
Boro’s second goal came from Laird two minutes after the break, a low drive taking a nick of a defender to wrong-foot Simonsen. It took Laird to eight league goals for the season, and put him out front as Stevenage’s top league scorer.
The Blades brought on Cresswell, and within eight minutes the front man had pulled a goal back as he headed in fellow substitute Ryan Flynn’s cross.
Boro had their chances to increase the lead once more, including a glorious opportunity which should have resulted in a goal for Shroot. Freeman dazzled his way past two defenders, set off on a run and teed up his team-mate who, instead of shooting first time, pulled the ball back only to see his shot blocked.
In the Stevenage box there were terrific tackles from Jamaal Lascelles and Jon Ashton, the former blocking a shot and the latter cutting out an inviting cross with Cresswell lurking behind. Chris Day, when called upon, was also exceptional in the dying moments.
Yet it wasn’t to be for Stevenage, and Matthew Lowton struck a sweet volley past Day from close range to level the scores.
Lascelles, keeping an eye on the winger behind him, was unable to close down Beattie who had peeled away from the centre-backs and the striker’s knock down allowed Lowton to steal a point.
Next up for Boro is a final game decider against Bury – for the second consecutive season. Last season Stevenage drew 3-3 at home, and sealed a play-off place. This year they’ll settle for a dull 1-0.
Sheff Utd (4-4-2): Simonsen 5, Lowton 7, Doyle 6, Williamson 6, Collins 5, Taylor 6 (Beattie 74), Maguire 8, McDonald 6, Quinn 5 (Flynn 55, 7), O’Halloran 6, Porter 5 (Cresswell 55, 8). Subs: Ertl, Howard.
Stevenage: Day 7, Lascelles 6, Laird 7, Ashton 8, Roberts 7, Wilson 6, Shroot 7 (Mousinho 73), Freeman 8 (Long 84), Bostwick 8, Byrom 7, Agyemang 7 (Beardsley 78). Subs: Julian, Reid.