League Two: Stevenage 1 Notts County 1
PUBLISHED: 17:12 11 November 2017 | UPDATED: 16:22 13 November 2017
Danny Loo Photography 2017
Brave Stevenage put in an heroic second-half performance to earn a point from high-flying Notts County at the Lamex on Saturday afternoon.
Danny Newton gave Darren Sarll’s men the lead seven minutes before the break, but Elliott Hewitt hit back for the Magpies before the hour and Boro had to dig deep to ensure their efforts did not go unrewarded.
You can normally gauge how important the game at the Lamex is by the number of vehicles in the Fairlands Valley car park.
For the match against Brighton under 21s in the Checkatrade Trophy on Tuesday evening – which attracted 389 hardy souls including 30 from the south coast – the car park was empty.
Against fourth-tier table-toppers Notts County it was full long before kick-off, as was the homely Lamex press box, peopled with fine Fleet Street reporters interested in a fixture Boro boss Darren Sarll had forecasted to be a ‘fascinating battle’ earlier this week.
With star striker Matty Godden in good form with six goals in three games, including a hat trick in a 5-0 demolition of Northern Premier side Nantwich Town in the FA Cup first round seven days ago, it would be interesting to see how he would fare against the County backline marshalled by the solid Richard Duffy.
Newton nearly put the home side ahead with a flicked header as the ball was swept in from left back Joe Martin. The ball flew past the onrushing keeper Ross Fitzsimons before clipping the top of the crossbar and going behind.
Sarll’s instinctive ethos is to play football, but he is a pragmatist too. And his team were not afraid to load the County box with high balls in order to examine Fitzsimons’ credentials after he opted to punch rather than gather early on.
It was a let-off for Kevin Nolan’s Magpies. It was also a warning for them to counter the threat posed by former Millwall defender Martin who provided four assists in last week’s Cup game.
County arrived at the Lamex atop of the division with an impressive 10 victories from 16 games.
Their home form has been imperious but the one glimmer of hope for Sarll and his men has been their recent displays on the road: one point picked up from nine through a 1-1 draw at Carlisle following losses at Crewe and Mansfield.
Boro’s attack was supplemented by the muscular presence of Luke Wilkinson who aided forays in the Magpies half, even if the final ball by his colleagues wasn’t as effective as his whole-hearted pressing.
Nolan’s side have been hailed for the quality of their silky play at times this term but there was scant evidence of that in this full-blooded affair.
Former Nottingham Forest forward Jorge Grant shot over on the half hour as play became scrappier as niggly challenges became more prevalent, most notably when Boro’s skipper clattered into left back Carl Dickinson in the middle, earning a stern rebuke from referee Ross Joyce.
Centre half Hewitt was then booked for protesting following a robust challenge that left the slight Terry Hawkridge prone. Retribution was to follow moments later as Hawkridge then clattered Martin, receiving an immediate yellow.
Thankfully the truculence was only a prelude to a goal rather than a sending off as the lively Newton slotted home low into Fitzsimons’ far corner to make it 1-0.
The goal was reward for Boro keeping their discipline and attacking intentions intact after a spell of aggression from County.
It was also testament to the hard working Newton who is a player who is determined to take his chance in league football after slogging his guts out on the non-league circuit.
As the half drew to a close Grant fired a centrally-sited free kick narrowly over Joe Fryer’s top right hand corner.
In truth it would have been slightly harsh on Boro to concede at that moment but the question was could they iron out their inconsistency and claim all three points after the break.
The interval featured a moving and passionate on-pitch discussion between Boro’s man on the mic Jay Drackford and former soldier and Stevenage hero Neil Trebble ahead of Remembrance Day that ended with a resounding round of applause for the well-respected man they know as ‘Trebbs’. Well done to Jay Drackford for his sensitive handling of the issue.
As the second period started Hewitt fired in a low cross which Grant fired over despite connecting clearly with the ball.
It was a warning to Sarll’s men they couldn’t afford to slacken off in their efforts especially when faced with County whipping the ball in.
As left-back Dickinson’s ploy was to launch the ball into a crowded box on occasions it became clear the Boro backline would need to keep their shape and defensive discipline.
However on 57 minutes the visitors finally breached Boro’s rearguard as Grant picked up a stray pass and fed Hewitt who drilled a low shot inside Fryer’s far post to make it 1-1.
County’s gleeful celebrations in front of a large number of the travelling and equally joyous Black and White Army packed into the Lamex away end indicated how important the goal was to the leaders.
As the visitors searched for their second again there was little evidence of their fine football which has propelled them to the summit, but then on raw winter days such as this finesse is a casualty of ambition.
Sarll’s men dropped deeper and deeper as their hard work became increasingly ragged in the face of constant balls over the top as Nolan’s men upped the tempo in front of 2,962 fans.
As the clock ticked down substitute Alex Samuel was booked for clattering into County captain Duffy as Boro showed character in refusing to submit to increasing pressure, even if as in Samuel’s case it bordered on the edge of propriety.
Tensions were such Sarll issued a loud and forthright rebuke to keeper Fryer for a tentative moment prior to a short break in play that was so loud it was must have been heard near Middlesbrough’s Transporter Bridge In Fryer’s native Teeside. It was that sort of game.
But as Boro withstood wave after wave of aerial attacks you felt an admiration at the spirit from this Band of Brothers and their redoubtable attitude and performance in the face of incessant Magpies high balls into a beleaguered goalmouth.
And as referee Joyce blew for full time the shattered looks of satisfaction from the Stevenage team as they crouched on their haunches at the end was as inspiring as it was earned.
Stevenage: Fryer, Henry, King, Wilkinson, Martinn, Whelpdale, Smith, Beautyman, Pett, Newton, Godden (Samuel 73). Unused subs: Franks, Day, Conlon, Vancooten, McKee, Wilmot.