Young guns on form as Stevenage defeat Mansfield

Harry McKirdy.

Harry McKirdy. - Credit: Archant

Harry McKirdy’s fine solo effort fired Stevenage to all three points at Mansfield Town.

With the score at 1-1 the on-loan Aston Villa forward, making his first ever start in professional football, ran 50 yards with the ball at his feet before clipping his shot over Scott Shearer as Boro made it back-to-back wins on the road in a victory which moved them up to 17th in the League Two table.

Charlie Lee had earlier put Stevenage ahead through a header from Henry Cowans’ free-kick, the other Villa player in the Boro line-up, before Mansfield hit back through Pat Hoban, whose unsuccessful spell on loan at Stevenage last season lasted all of 71 minutes.

Boro went into the game without the services of in-form Matt Godden who had failed to recover in time from a calf injury, so McKirdy was given the nod following his promising spell off the bench last week against Carlisle.

This meant that Boro’s front two, McKirdy and Ben Kennedy, were 19-year-olds while with Dale Gorman and Cowans, both 20, also in the side a youthful line-up was tasked by boss Darren Sarll to upset the odds against a team boasting the second best defensive record in the league.

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And while the hosts may have been disappointed to go into half-time down a goal, Boro’s energy and pace in the final third proved a real handful for Mansfield’s big defensive line all afternoon.

In addition to his goal McKirdy made one fine run which frightened the home defence, only to end with a save from Shearer, while Kennedy won the free-kick which led to the opener and was like a whippet as he chased defenders all game.

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It was a sign of the young Northern Irish forward’s enthusiasm and will to win that, despite looking sapped of energy a good 80 minutes into the game, there was still time for him to make a 40-yard charge to close down a clearance deep in injury time as Boro had their backs to the wall.

This wasn’t a perfect display from Stevenage. They look vulnerable at short corners with their decision to have one player marking two. It proved costly last week, in a midweek reserve match against Northampton Town and again here as Mansfield played the ball around them and fashioned a half chance which Boro cleared.

In other chances Kevan Hurst fired just over for the home side before Lee’s opener for Stevenage.

Matt Green forced a block out of Fraser Franks while Malvind Benning also headed over, but at the start of the second half a Mansfield goal came when Rhys Bennett, without doubt the home side’s best player, mis-hit a cross which saw Jamie Jones backpedal to claw clear off the line. When the ball was returned into the box, however, Hoban turned and poked in the equaliser.

Yet parity lasted all of just three minutes, as pushing bodies forward Mansfield left themselves open at the back. It was naïve from the home side who had some 35 or so minutes in which to seek a winning goal, and it proved costly as McKirdy ran the length of their entire half before beating Shearer with a neat finish.

Rowan Liburd forced a save out of Shearer late on while Benning ghosted into the box for the hosts and headed into the side netting when he should have scored.

Bennett then fired off target before another shot was deflected wide as Boro held on for another welcome win on the road.

Mansfield Town: Shearer, Bennett, Benning, Collins, Pearce, Hurst (Henderson 65), Howkins, Iacovitti (Thomas 49), Clements, Hoban (D Rose 74), Green. Subs: Jensen, M Rose, Hamilton, McGuire.

Stevenage: Jones, Henry, Ntlhe, Franks, Wilkinson, Gorman (Pett 55), Cowans, Lee (Wells 80), King, McKirdy (Liburd 71), Kennedy. Subs: Day, Fox, Hyde, Tonge.

Att: 2,726 (100 away)

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