REPORT: Stevenage 2 Portsmouth 1
Filipe Morais scores twice to move Boro to within a point of league leaders Tranmere
TWO goals from Filipe Morais either side of a Jon Harley strike consolidated Stevenage’s place in the automatic promotion places on Tuesday night.
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The Portuguese winger, who hadn’t scored for the club since signing in the summer, opened the scoring after 15 minutes as Boro went on to dominate for large spells in an entertaining first half.
Portsmouth were much improved straight after the restart and grabbed an equaliser through Harley’s long-range strike. However, just as it looked like the visitors would take charge and go on to win the game, Morais notched his second of the night on the hour-mark for what proved to be the winner.
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Boro cut the lead to just one point behind league-leaders Tranmere, and this was another impressive win from Gary Smith’s side, who face Swindon Town at home this Saturday.
The atmosphere inside the stadium was excellent from the kick-off, with both sets of supporters in good voice under the lights at a misty Lamex. The match started in a typically cagey fashion with neither side managing to carve out any meaningful chances in the opening exchanges.
However, the match sprung into life on the 15-minute mark when Boro took the lead through Morais. The move started from the hands of goalkeeper Steve Arnold, whose clever throw to right-back David Gray proved the catalyst for an incisive passing move that culminated in Lucas Akins sending in a sublime left-footed cross from the right. Morais was completely unmarked in the middle and he made no mistake with a diving header from eight yards.
Boro grew in confidence after going ahead, and Pompey found it increasingly difficult to forge any attacking momentum, such was Stevenage’s tenacity without possession. With the ball, there was no shortage of ideas and attacking intent from the home side, and the midfield five, as well as full-backs Gray and Darius Charles, were all proving a threat going forward.
It was not hard to see the strides this team has made since the early weeks of the season, and although results have been consistently good since August, the organisation and knowledge of the 4-2-3-1 system Gary Smith has employed continues to get better and better.
Stevenage were perhaps guilty of over-confidence at times, though, and Pompey’s best chance of the first half came five minutes before the break. Boro lost possession cheaply and following a goalmouth scramble in Arnold’s penalty area, where no fewer than four goal-line clearances kept the ball out, Akos Buzsaky finally fired over the crossbar from 10 yards.
Portsmouth manager Michael Appleton made a couple of tactical changes at the break, bringing in the lively Mustapha Dumbuya for the ineffective, and injured, Buzsaky, and it paid instant dividends as Boro were pegged back for the first 15 minutes of the second half. Captain Mark Roberts made an heroic goal-line clearance from Wes Thomas’ effort after the striker had rounded Arnold, but four minutes later the visitors made their pressure tell with the equalising goal.
Boro gave away possession from their own throw, and Brian Howard found Harley 25 yards from goal, and the former Fulham defender fired a low shot past Arnold into the far bottom corner.
Portsmouth were well on top by this stage, but Stevenage kept their heads in impressive fashion, and showed enough nerve and persistence to score the winning goal on 60 minutes.
Morais, who was a livewire all evening, constantly wanting the ball and showing great composure when in possession of it, played a one-two with Luke Freeman from a corner. The 26-year-old curled a first-time cross that evaded everyone and nestled in the far corner.
The goal took the sting out of Pompey’s second half riposte, and the game settled back into the rhythm seen in the first half with Boro largely on top, but occasionally allowing the visitors a sniff at goal. But when the ball did drop inside the Boro penalty area, the back-line put their bodies on the line on more than a handful of occasions to keep their lead in tact until the final whistle.
Stevenage (4-2-3-1): Arnold; Gray, Roberts, N’Gala, Charles; Tansey, Dunne (Grant 67); Freeman (Risser 80), Akins (Rogers 89), Morais; Haber.
Subs not used: Day, Iro, Lopez, Shroot.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): Anderson; Harley, Gyepes, Ertl, Michalik; Dickinson; Howard, Williamson, Buzsaky (Dumbuya 45); Thomas, McLeod.
Subs not used: Eastwood, Thompson, Walker, Rogers, Compton, Harris.