Stevenage 3 Bury 3: match report
Boro to take on Accrington Stanley in League 2 play-offs
Stevenage 3 Bury 3
npower League 2
STEVENAGE will take on Accrington Stanley over two legs for a place in the League 2 play-off final at Old Trafford.
In what turned out to be a rollercoaster of a match, Boro were, at one point, out of play-off contention at 3-2 down and with other results conspiring against them.
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However a late Ben May strike – the forward’s first for the club – plus goals going past fellow play-off hopefuls Torquay and Gillingham in their matches saw Stevenage finish their first Football League season in sixth place, and with it secure the play-off spot they so richly deserve.
Although Bury had already achieved promotion there was a chance for them to pinch the league title from under the nose of Chesterfield, and from the kick-off they showed intent to put Graham Westley’s men to the sword as they had done so convincingly in the first game between the two sides back in February.
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The visitors made the brighter start and Stevenage goalkeeper Chris Day had to make an early save after Ryan Lowe had breached the Boro back line, while Kyle Bennett volleyed over from the resulting corner.
The fun continued with Joel Byrom’s long pass being headed just wide by Harrison at the far post, but in the striker’s defence he was already running away from goal with a defender and goalkeeper Cameron Belford in close proximity.
Bury were playing some nice football but it was the home side which took the lead when Scott Laird, coming from deep on the left, found a yard after a Craig Reid touch to confidently strike the ball into Belford’s bottom left corner.
Boro’s front pair of Reid and Harrison caused the home side problems with their movement pulling apart the centre-back pairing, and it was Harrison who next went close.
Reid closed down Tom Lees on the right and the ball spun to Harrison 30 yards from goal. The striker took it well and beat two players with ease but when he was about to unleash his shot inside the box the ball got stuck under his feet and Bury were able to recover.
Boro were into their groove, none more so than Darius Charles who ran 50 yards with the ball and beating three players in the process before shooting wide from outside the box.
At the other end Bury were still playing the ball around with gusto and Bennett went on a run himself before shooting wide.
Bennett’s effort, it transpired, served as a warning to Boro as just a minute later Steven Schumacher scored from nearly the same position.
The midfielder had found himself free 20 yards from goal and when he collected the ball he took a touch before tucking it into Day’s right corner.
The thrills were coming thick and fast, and when Laird put Harrison through one-on-one with Belford everybody was expecting a second goal for the hosts.
The goal did come, but not before Harrison had been pulled to the ground by the goalkeeper and Reid converted with precision from the spot.
As for Belford, referee Sarginson showed the goalkeeper a yellow card in front of a disbelieving crowd.
Three goals became four on the half-hour mark when Michael Jones curled a cross into the box and Nicky Ajose stooped low to head past a stranded Day. The effort came from nowhere, but Boro had afforded the striker too much space to direct his effort at goal.
Harrison also went close with a header but after directing Ronnie Henry’s cross goalwards he could only watch on as Belford pulled off a spectacular tip over the bar.
Reid, so lively at the start of the first half, had the first chance of the second period when he scuffed a Harrison knock down five yards right of goal on 50 minutes.
The second half failed to match the ferocity of the first, but there were moments of genuine pleasure, and some a little more painful.
One of the latter came from the feet of Ben May, on for Harrison. With 20 minutes to go Michael Bostwick worked his way forward with the ball and seeing Reid in the box tried to set him up.
The striker was unable to get the ball under control and when a blocked clearance fell to an unmarked May 14 yards from goal the substitute lost control of the ball and again Bury were able to recover.
Boro were made to pay for their mistake when Schumacher hit a rocket of an effort past Day to put Bury 3-2 up just a minute after May’s miss.
The midfielder saw his opportunity when space opened up for him 30 yards from goal and he hit a superb effort which swerved and dipped in mid-air to rifle past Day with just 20 minutes to go.
At that point Gillingham were level with Chesterfield and Boro were out of the play-offs, but it was not to last as May was on hand to make up for his earlier miss.
Joel Byrom took a corner from the left and the ball was headed clear to Rob Sinclair. The midfielder tried to place an effort into the bottom corner but hit a body of players in the box and when it rolled in front of May the striker adjusted his footwork to shoot past Belford.
Suddenly the game burst into life again and almost straight from the kick-off Bury broke and Ajose tested Day from distance. At the other end, Reid found a yard on the turn inside the Bury box and hit his effort across the face of goal only to see it roll inches wide.
Boro had the scent of victory in their nostrils and Byrom, Laird and Roberts all had half chances but not one of them was able to make his effort count.
Their guests continued to play on the break and almost sneaked a win late on themselves only for Lowe to head wide from 14 yards the sort of chance the striker had been putting away with ease all season.
When the final whistle came both sets of supporters were celebrating, but although Bury have promotion in the bag for Stevenage there is still work to do, beginning at home to Accrington this Sunday.
Stevenage (4-4-2): Day 6, Henry 6, Charles 7, Ashton 6, Roberts 6, Sinclair 6, Laird 7, Bostwick 7, Byrom 7 (Murphy, 88), Reid 7, Harrison 7 (May 53, 6 (Beardsley 79)). Subs not used: Margarson, Long, Maamria.
Bury (4-4-2): Belford 6, Skarz 6, Sodje 5, Lees 6, Sweeney 6, Worrall 7, Schumacher 8, Jones 6 (Haworth 66, 6), Bennett 7 (McCartney 90+2), Lowe 6, Ajose 7 (John-Lewis 79). Subs not used: Branagan, Picken, Futcher, Jones.