Stevenage show signs of much-needed improvement despite Carabao Cup exit on penalties to Portsmouth
- Credit: Danny Loo/TGS Photo
Just as one swallow doesn’t make a summer, one game doesn’t make a season – but Stevenage’s penalty 3-1 shoot-out defeat at home to Portsmouth in the Carabao Cup certainly went a long old way to banishing the memories of the last one and hinting at better times to come.
There are caveats of course. Boro probably won’t come up against a defence as prone to gifts as Portsmouth were in the first half and they still conceded three goals themselves.
But first-half strikes from Elliot List, Charlie Carter and Scott Cuthbert gave them a 3-1 lead inside 30 minutes and at that point it felt like dreamland.
It finished 3-3 though and went straight to penalties, with the shoot-out was over quickly as substitute goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray pulled off three good saves.
There will be frustrations but if Boro channel and focus it right, and take the positives out of the performance, they can look forward to a productive year.
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The match opened like a game of rugby, long punts forward as both sides looked for a territorial advantage before suddenly bursting into life.
And Stevenage, who had largely won the early exchanges of kick tennis, were the ones to grab it by the horns.
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It started with a long ball from Luke Prosser that dropped over the head of the last defender and found List.
His control was exceptional though and the prodded finish through the legs of Alex Bass put them in front.
And while those in attendance began to digest that, the lead was doubled as Pompey’s defence fell into disarray.
A mix-up led to the ball running loose and although the visitors got their toes to one or two 50-50s, the desire of the Boro players was more and when it ran loose to Carter, he fired low to the right of the keeper.
It would have had supporters in wild abandon had they been here but it seemed as though Portsmouth had shaken the mistakes out by 21 minutes and a well-worked team goal, passed from back to front and finished by Roman Curtis, halved the deficit.
But there were still errors left in the tank and another scramble put Stevenage 3-1 up.
Bass came from a corner with a diving punch that went up in the air rather than up the pitch and when it dropped, Effiong’s presence allowed the ball to come back across the area where Cuthbert poked it home.
The big striker was a thorn in the side of the Pompey defence for the most part and although he didn’t have much of a sight of goal himself, he was able to bring in team-mates regularly.
It would have been a superb position to take into the break but there was still another twist as Portsmouth pulled another one back right on the stroke of half-time from the penalty spot.
It was given for handball against the impressive Ben Coker, frustratingly so as he was on the floor when the ball was fired towards him, and Gareth Evans did the rest, sending Jamie Cumming the wrong way.
Pompey manager Kenny Jackett chose to change keepers at half-time, bringing on MacGillivray, and to be fair he was largely a spectator as the visitors came out far more positively.
The second half was much more what you would expect of a side predicted to be found in the upper reaches of League One.
They were level within six minutes with a lovely goal. A first-time pass from Curtis found Marquis and his first-time shot was a beauty, rifled high into the top corner at Cumming’s near post.
And their whole mindset was better too. There was movement, passing and a threat every time they went forward.
It was the defensive workout Stevenage were probably waiting for from the off and they won’t be too upset at their efforts, even if it wasn’t always calm, composed and planned.
It was no surprise that the visitors came closest to grabbing a winner. A clever free-kick on the edge of the box saw James Bolton slip Curtis in down the side of the wall and only a combination of Cumming and the post kept the scores level.
Substitutes Andy Cannon and Ryan Williams also combined, the latter heading wide from the former’s cross, but Boro were able to see out the remaining minutes and take the match straight to the decisive penalties.
Stevenage: Cumming, James-Wildin, Coker, Vincelot (Newton 64), Cuthbert, Prosser, Carter, Osborne, Effiong, Marsh (Akinwande 53), List (Hutton 79).
Subs (not used): Johnson, Dinanga, Smith, Marshall.
Goals: List 9, Carter 10, Cuthbert 29
Portsmouth: Bass (MacGillivray 46), Bolton, Downing, Raggett, Brown, Naylor, Morris; Harness (Williams 76), Evans (Cannon 76), Curtis, Marquis.
Subs (not used): Mnoga, Whatmough, Close, Stanley.
Goals: Curtis 21, Evans (pen) 45+3, Marquis 51
HT: Stevenage 3 Portsmouth 2
Referee: Sam Purkiss (London)