Town: Chris Weale, Jermaine Grandison, Darren Jones, Luke Summerfield, Rob Purdie, Reuben Hazell, Paul Parry, Matt Richards (c), Terry Gornell (Bradshaw, 77), Marvin Morgan, Mark Wright
Subs: Joe Anyon, Tom Bradshaw, Jon Taylor, Connor Goldson, Asa Hall, Joe Jacobson, Aaron Wildig
Stevenage: Chris Day, David Gray, Darius Charles, Jon Ashton, Greg Tansey (Morais, 57), Anthony Grant, James Dunne, Lucas Akins, Mark Roberts (c), Luke Freeman (Shroot, 77), Robbie Rogers (Agyemang, 60)
Subs: Steve Arnold, Filipe Morais, Michael Thalassitis, Miguel Cominges, Patrick Agyemang, Bondz N’Gala, Robin Shroot
Referee: Mr. D. Whitestone
Assistants: Mr. N. Cooper & Mr. A. Crysell
Fourth Official: Mr. M. Mellor
Martin Wild reports from Lamex Stadium
Shrewsbury halted a run of three successive defeats on their travels with an excellent performance at the Lamex Stadium. Paul Parry scored early doors to get Town in front but midway through the first half, Darius Charles struck a superb equaliser to deny them a much-deserved first away win in League One.
As expected, Michael Hector’s knee problem kept him out of the side and that opened the door for Reuben Hazell, who’s had the best part of 12 months out of the game after suffering a bad injury in the home win over Torquay last October. The temperatures were hovering around the low twenties in Hertfordshire and the pitch looked in immaculate condition which pleased manager Graham Turner in his pre-match interview.
Town struck in their first attack inside five minutes. Marvin Morgan was held off by central defender Jon Ashton and although Matt Richards’ low trajectory free-kick from just outside the box was pushed out by keeper Chris Day, the ball fell into the path of Parry who lifted it high into the net for his second goal in Shrewsbury colours.
Parry almost turned provider minutes later when he sent in a glorious cross which eluded the home defence but this time Terry Gornell wasn’t quite so clinical and a glorious opportunity to double the lead passed by.
It was a great start by Shrews who were looking to capitalise on a leg-weary home side still stinging from a midweek 4-1 home defeat against Southampton in the Capital One Cup.
Marvin Morgan was next to try his luck and wasn’t that far away with a cracking left foot drive which just cleared the bar, after Luke Summerfield had done well to break up some Stevenage possession as Boro dallied inside their own half.
Town did have a remarkable let off after 19 minutes when a combination of Richards and the right hand upright were enough to keep out captain Mark Roberts’ effort for the home side. Then Hazell extended a long leg to thwart Robbie Rogers when the striker looked favourite to spring clear as Stevenage responded well to their early setback.
They finally made the breakthrough after a period of pressure with a goal of real quality. Left-back Charles found himself high up the pitch and he cut in from the flank before curling an absolute peach right into the far corner of the net to make it 1-1. It’s highly unlikely that Chris Weale will be beaten by a better goal this season.
Day in the home goal was showing signs of nervousness and when he dropped a Mark Wright corner, the error went unpunished - and it wasn’t the stopper’s first rick of the day from a handling sense.
Six minutes before the break there was another great chance for Salop to add to their tally but this time Day came to his side’s rescue to keep Morgan’s shot out with his legs. Morgan showed good pace and awareness to get on the end of a Summerfield clearance and his effort was goalbound until Day’s timely intervention. James Dunne then tested Weale for the first time with a shot from outside the box but this save was far more routine than the one which had tested his counterpart at the opposite end 60 seconds earlier. And as the game swung back up the other end Parry’s firm header from a Wright cross was straight at Day who conceded the corner with a reactionary save. That came to nothing but it was a good end to the half for the visitors.
Half Time: Stevenage 1 Town 1
Town started the second half in the same manner as they had begun the first and almost struck in carbon-copy fashion to that fifth minute opener. Parry was fouled five yards outside the box and Richards tried his luck for a second time with an identical execution of the free-kick. This time, Day had learned his lesson and took no chances, just about managing to claw the ball away from the base of his left hand post.
Stevenage made the first change when Filipe Moray joined the action just before the hour with Greg Tansey forced to limp off with an injury. Shortly after, new capture Patrick Agyemang – who only joined Boro yesterday – came on to make his debut in place of Rogers.
Summerfield was first into referee Dean Whitestone’s notebook for an obvious foul on Luke Freeman right on halfway, with neither side really in the ascendancy as the game entered its final third.
With the game fairly quiet in terms of goalscoring opportunities, perhaps the most eye catching moments of this second period was the impeccable handling of Shrews keeper Weale. He had caught everything that had come his way and the wonder goal aside, this was an assured performance between the sticks for the Greenhous number one.
Returning to the action, Wright tried to slip Morgan in with a low diagonal ball in from the left but it was a yard in front of the Shrewsbury striker and there was no-one on hand to apply the finish as it rolled along the six yard line and out of play.
With just 15 minutes left the points were still looking likely to be shared and in a bid to prise the extra two, Turner introduced young Tom Bradshaw for Gornell who had just put a header straight at Day. Robin Shroot became the third Stevenage change at the same time and within a minute Parry came within a coat of paint of nudging Town in front again when he directed a far post header against the post from close range.
Town had, for the fourth successive match, created enough chances to seal the victory but hadn’t made the most of them when they had come along. But it was impressive stuff against a side that reached the League One play-off semi-finals last term and their supporters were in good voice away to our right with this compact little stadium now bathed in sunshine.
Another chance came and went when Morgan headed well over from another probing Wright cross with five minutes to go and but for a superb block from Rob Purdie, Anthony Grant might have nicked the win for the hosts in the next attack.
Parry did squeeze the ball beyond Day with a minute left after good hold-up play from Morgan but the winger had just crept into an offside position, and the flag soon went up to curtail any prolonged celebrations.
Town did most of the pressing in the three additional minutes but the home side looked more than content to bank the point – they’d been let off the hook for sure.
Full Time: Stevenage 1 Town 1