Brilliance of Julian sees Boro triumph
PUBLISHED: 10:45 22 March 2007 | UPDATED: 11:40 06 May 2010
Stevenage Boro 2 Grays Athletic 1 (aet, Boro won 3-1 on aggregate) MARCUS CRAWLEY reports from Broadhall Way It was appropriate that an Irishman should play a pivotal role on Saturday in Boro getting to Wembley. And the Guinness – as well as most other al
Stevenage Boro 2 Grays Athletic 1 (aet, Boro won 3-1 on aggregate)
MARCUS CRAWLEY reports from Broadhall Way
It was appropriate that an Irishman should play a pivotal role on Saturday in Boro getting to Wembley.
And the Guinness - as well as most other alcoholic drinks - would have been flowing in the town that night as the celebrations for St Patrick's Day had some added interest.
Boro keeper Alan Julian, who has represented Northern Ireland at under-21 level, produced a series of stunning saves to keep his side in contention.
Teetotal Boro boss Mark Stimson said afterwards: "You have to give full credit to Grays.
"If it wasn't for Alan (Julian), we could have been a couple behind. Myself and Scott (Barrett) have been so impressed with him and he made some top-class saves in the game."
Grays had levelled on aggregate just after half time and seemed likely to end Boro's Wembley dream.
But Stimson's resilient side rode out the storm and ran away with it in extra time.
Luke Oliver restored Boro's lead before combative Grays skipper Stuart Thurgood lost his head and was sent off for his second caution.
Top scorer Steve Morison added some late gloss with a second goal as Grays pressed for an equaliser.
Former England man Steve Guppy was back in the Boro starting XI, while Oliver filled in at the back as Santos Gaia started his three-match suspension.
Much like the first leg at Grays a week earlier, it was Justin Edinburgh's side which did most of the running.
A Dennis Oli header dropped just the wrong side of the post from the Grays perspective, while Glenn Poole and Andy Sambrook also went close.
Nervy Boro had little attacking threat although Jon Nurse's low cross had keeper Ashley Bayes scrambling across his box.
The tie was reminiscent of the Trophy second leg against Morecambe five years ago when Boro withstood a barrage to reach the final at Villa Park.
This time the Grays charge did not fizzle out and Julian produced his first great save of the afternoon when he brilliantly clawed away a Poole shot to preserve Boro's advantage.
On an increasingly blustery afternoon, Grays went ahead in the 50th minute as Anthony Tonkin played in on-loan Brentford man Rhodes and he gave even Julian no chance with a clinical left-footed finish.
Ashley Nicholls then threatened to put Grays ahead but Julian was equal to the task.
Boro had not managed an effort at goal in the first 55 minutes but Morison changed this when his cross-shot looked to be heading under the bar before the intervention of Bayes.
Julian took centre stage at this point with some fine stops.
Pierre Joseph-Dubois was the main man frustrated as Grays sought to avoid the need for extra time.
This nearly became a reality four minutes from time when Rhodes fluffed a gilt-edged opportunity.
A long ball over the top evaded Ronnie Henry and Rhodes stabbed wide when faced with just Julian to beat.
This proved to be Grays' last real chance as Boro - with Mitchell Cole, Craig Dobson and Jamie Slabber on for Guppy, Daryl McMahon and Nurse - bossed the extra 30 minutes.
The vital goal came seven minutes into the first period as Mark Hughes floated in a free-kick and 6ft 7ins Oliver appeared to get the faintest of touches as the ball nestled in the corner of Bayes' net.
Bayes was now the busier keeper and he saved well from Slabber, Morison and Mark Beard while Dobson's volley flew just over the top.
The tie was effectively over following a moment of madness from Thurgood.
Already cautioned at the end of 90 minutes for a lunge at Beard, he lost the plot and was promptly shown red for clattering Dobson by the corner flag.
Now down to 10 men, the ghost was up for Grays who valiantly pushed forward.
Morison and Beard almost punished them while, in added time, Cole's shot was pushed behind.
Wembley was assured two and a half minutes in and it was ace marksman Morison with the sure finish.
Morison ran on, nicked it past last defender Andy Sambrook and stroked it beyond Bayes to seal a Wembley final against Kidderminster Harriers.
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