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Match Report - Stevenage 1-0 Notts County

Monday 30th January 2012
Stevenage were rewarded with a home tie against Tottenham Hotspur after progressing to the fifth round of the FA cup for the first time in their history with a 1-0 victory over Notts County. It was Gary Smith's first game in charge and one which will give him plenty to think about. Stevenage, after a strong first half performance, usually so composed after taking an early lead, at times during the second half looked tentative and uncertain. They were fortunate that they did not have to settle this game with a replay after heavy second half pressure from Notts County and Stevenage's missed chances to settle the game only exacerbated a nervous performance.

An own goal from Damion Stewart in the 12th minute turned out to be the defining moment of this game. Much of the credit should go to Luke Freeman who, since his permanent move to the club, has continued to impress. And it was his hard work on the touchline that allowed him to find the space to drill the ball across the box into the helpless Stewart. Freeman latched on to Lawrie Wilson's long ball, finding himself sandwiched on the touchline between goalkeeper and defender he cleverly beat the two men and fire the ball across the box, into Stewart and into the back of the net.

It was a first half that Stevenage dominated in terms of both possession and chances. Despite their pressure they were unable to add to their tally; Michael Bostwick saw his long range effort well saved by Stuart Nelson in the Notts County goal. Soon after, Luke Freeman did brilliantly to turn his marker but his shot flew wide of Nelson's goal. Six minutes was added on at the end of the first half after an injury to Nelson had delayed proceedings but Stevenage looked comfortable with their goal advantage at the interval.

The second half was a different story; Notts County improved their performance dramatically and Stevenage began to look nervous. Chris Day was forced into a number of fine saves, first turning a dangerous cross over his bar and then when Lee Hughes flicked on a cross into the path of Alan Judge, Day reacted quickly and prevented an equaliser. The attacks kept coming and Day was needed again when Hughes found time in the box to swivel and strike a volley but the Stevenage goalkeeper could not be beaten.
Stevenage were forced to play on the counter and their inability to find a goal to kill off the game seemed to add to the intensity. Charles had two chances in relatively quick succession. First Stevenage broke and Chris Beardsley found Charles with Stevenage three players against one. Charles took the decision to shoot and did so well but his shot struck the outside of the post and flew wide. Moments later, Charles met Scott Laird's excellent cross with a fierce header dipped over Nelson's crossbar.

It was Lawrie Wilson who should have put Stevenage two goals up with two fine chances in the midst of a challenging period of Notts County pressure. Again Stevenage broke and a fine interchange of passing between Long, Wilson and substitute Ben May saw Wilson clean through against Nelson but the goalkeeper prevented a second goal for Stevenage. In the dying moments of the game, Notts County came close to taking the tie to a replay. From a corner, the ball was fired into the box and Stevenage were unable to clear. The ball flew frantically around the box before falling to Stewart on the goal-line; his backheel was steered goalwards but Day reacted superbly and smothered the ball.

With Notts County so close to an equaliser they pushed everybody forward and when Stevenage cleared their lines from a from a free kick, Wilson, whose pace allowed him to burst through from his own half, was given a second attempt to beat Nelson. Again, however, he failed to convert the chance. Fortunately, Wilson was spared regret as Neil Swarbrick called the game to an end and Stevenage progressed to the fifth round for the first time in their history.

Gary Smith may be concerned after a frantic second half performance that lacked the organisation for which this team has become renowned but Smith has inherited a side with exceptional team spirit and determination and that was visible from Saturday's performance.

The draw has handed them a dream tie against Tottenham Hotspur and if they are to have any chance of progressing they need to make sure that they maintain their well organised and well prepared approach that they have displayed over the course of the season. They have continually proved that they are capable of beating bigger opponents; few will forget the 3-1 victory against Newcastle last year.Indeed, it is this ability that has seen them rise to League One status in an unexpectedly short period of time. They have risen two leagues in as many years. In their first season in League One, they have taken the scalps of Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United. They have overcome Championship opposition and progressed further than they have ever done in the FA cup; further indeed than Manchester United and Manchester City.

These are not one-off victories; they are no longer the minnows of the non-league world. They are a highly motivated and professional outfit fighting for promotion to the Championship. A fifth round tie against Tottenham Hotspur is evidence of this. And it is fully deserved. Underdogs yes, but if Tottenham underestimate their opposition, they may find themselves another scalp in the growing Stevenage collection.
Paul Lamey

Total articles: 8

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