by Chris Groves
A CRUEL, LATE strike from Bruno Andrade gave Stevenage a 1-0 victory over a more than game Argyle side, who came close on plenty of occasions to taking the victory themselves.
No more than 20 seconds before the fourth official raised his board to signal how much stoppage time would be played at the end of the second half, Andrade latched onto a long ball forward and raced towards goal before calmly slotting home, denying the visitors a much-deserved point from the game.
With Reuben Reid having to miss out for the second straight game since his demolition of Exeter City last month, manager John Sheridan elected to stick with the partnership of Ryan Brunt and Lewis Alessandra, with Dominic Blizzard replacing Lee Cox in the centre of midfield. The Greens had lost both games this season that Reuben was not a part of (last week’s loss to Bury and a 1-0 defeat to Accrington Stanley in September), so the remaining Pilgrims went in search of their sixth away league win of the season, hoping to prove they hold a few more strings to their bow than some have suggested.
The hosts, meanwhile, made two changes, with Charlie Lee and Ben Kennedy stepping in for David Martin and the suspended Chris Beardsley.
Referee Andy Haines was forced into making a difficult decision after just four minutes, as Brunt outmuscled Bira Dembele in the penalty area and back-heeled perfectly into the path of Bobby Reid. A smattering of shouts for a penalty from Argyle players and the travelling Green Army were waved away, but the early signs of Brunt imposing his will on the opposition were encouraging.
Despite a playing surface that quickly showed come considerable signs of wear and tear, the Greens were eager to build their play from the back, and a clever piece of play from Brunt, Blizzard and Tareiq Homes-Dennis down the left flank allowed the Charlton Athletic loanee to fizz in a cross, but it was too close to Chris Day in the Boro goal.
Argyle’s early promise continued: after 17 minutes, Aleesandra latched on to a looping ball forward, waited for support and laid off Drew Talbot. The wing back expertly found Bobby Reid with his cross, and saw his side-foot volley rattle the crossbar. Bobby’s lack of luck didn’t deter him, though, and played in a ball soon after that found Holmes-Dennis at the back post who could not keep his shot down.
Stevenage would have seen this midweek fixture as a chance to not only usurp their opponents in the Sky Bet League 2 table with a win, but also to establish themselves as genuine promotion contenders. Striker Kennedy looked to have given his side the lead with their first shot on target, but his lob over Luke McCormick came from an offside position.
Blizzard was certainly playing a large part in the game on his return to the squad, but perhaps got closer than he would prefer after 25 minutes, as a collision with a Stevenage player forced him to receive treatment off the field to a cut below his left eye. The remarkable amount of time the midfielder had to sit out was navigated comfortably by his side at first, but Graham Westley’s side finally began to turn the screw ten minutes into their impromptu power play. Dean Parrett – who had a brief spell on loan at Home Park from Tottenham Hotspur – came close with a driven effort, before Chris Whelpdale’s deflected effort forced McCormick to change direction and make a terrific save, low to his left.
Blizzard was eventually able to return to the field after a near-fifteen-minute absence, but not before Stevenage had turned the momentum of the match in their favour, meaning the half-time whistle would have sounded a touch more pleasing to the ear than it felt it would after half an hour. Sheridan’s men were on course, at least, to maintain Argyle’s record of not losing a midweek, evening league fixture away from home since November 2012 against Bradford City, but three points instead of one at this stage of the season tend to feel even more advantageous than usual, do they not?
Mind you, the similarly positioned Stevenage would have had much the same mind-set, and after bringing on the more attack-minded David Martin for Roarie Deacon, Kennedy once again lifted the ball over McCormick after peeling behind the Argyle defence. It was not the linesman’s flag that denied the forward this time, but his own accuracy, failing to get his shot under the bar.
The Lamex Stadium faithful began to grow in confidence alongside their boys in red and white as a few tempting crosses came in from the fresh Martin, but their visitors refused to lie down. Excellent work from Blizzard and Alessandra once more set Holmes-Dennis free, but his shot towards the near post from a tight angle only found the side netting.
Jason Banton entered the fray after 65 minutes for Ryan Brunt, as both teams remained keen to stamp their authority on the game through possession and passes to feet, in spite of the increasingly shoddy surface. The array of bobbles saw ball retention become something of a rare commodity, but it nearly provided the breakthrough for Argyle.
Banton burst down the right flank and looked to deliver a ball to Reid, but the ball hit a divot upon his cross and diverted it over Day, forcing a goal-line clearance from Dembele. Alessandra kept the attack going and laid off to the lively substitute, who wriggled through a congested Stevenage box to fire agonisingly wide, before producing a 25-yard daisy-cutter (if daisies had any chance at all of growing on this pitch) that stung the sprawling fingertips of Day.
Tempers then flared as Kennedy was beaten to a long ball by McCormick and appeared to leave something on the shot-stopper, but Luke was quickly up and on hand to deny Tom Pett’s left-footed shot. Then came the sucker punch: a hopeful ball forward fell kindly to the feet of Andrade, who had the pace and presence of mind to fend off the likes of Peter Hartley and Carl McHugh and side-foot his shot home.
A visibly shocked and flattened Argyle side valiantly produced late efforts from Alessandra and Banton to try and scrape something from the game, but Sheridan’s men saw a game they so easily could have won, turn into a momentum-killing defeat. That being said, the Greens remain just one point off the play-off places after the result…
On to Northampton, then.
Stevenage (4-4-2): 16 Chris Day; 25 Ronnie Henry (capt), 19 Dean Wells, 3 Bira Dembele, 34 Roarie Deacon (50 David Martin, half time, 24 Danny Johnson 86); 7 Chris Whelpdale (36 Bruno Andrade 75), 8 Simon Walton, 18 Dean Parrett, 22 Charlie Lee; 11 Tom Pett, 33 Tom Kennedy. Substitutes (not used): 1 Sam Beasant (GK), 6 Andy Bond, 27 Ryan Johnson, 32 Tom Conlon.
Booked: Parrett 73, Kennedy 78
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 29 Peter Hartley; 25 Drew Talbot, 17 Bobby Reid (4 Lee Cox 81), 19 Anthony O’Connor, 11 Dom Blizzard, 13 Tareiq Holmes-Dennis; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 28 Ryan Brunt (8 Jason Banton 65). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (GK), 2 Kelvin Mellor 3 Ben Purrington, 6 Ollie Norburn, 14 Tyler Harvey.
Booked: Reid 60
Referee: Andy Haines.
Attendance: 3,022 (630 away)