Town: JaysonLeutwiler, Mickey Demetriou, Liam Lawrence (c), Cameron Gayle (Jermaine Grandison, 90), Connor Goldson, Nathaniel Knight-Percival, James Collins, Ryan Woods (Keith Southern, 90), Mark Ellis, Bobby Grant, Andy Mangan (Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, 50)
Subs: Mark Halstead, Jordan Clark, Connor Randall, Scott Vernon
Stevenage: Chris Day, Chris Whelpdale, Simon Walton, Darius Charles, Tom Pett (Dave McAllister, 23, Chris Beardsley, 90), Adam Marriott, Dean Parrett, Dean Wells (Calvin Zola, 90), Charlie Lee, Jerome Okimo, Ronnie Henry (c)
Subs not used: Sam Beasant, Bira Dembele, Tom Conlon, Roarie Deacon
Referee: T. Harrington
Assistants: N. Barnard & P. Dermott
Fourth Official: S. Rushton
Attendance: 4,565 (158 from Stevenage)
Martin Wild reports from Greenhous Meadow
James Collins’ double was enough to sink a determined and gritty Stevenage side who became the first side to score two league goals here since last April. Collins levelled Adam Marriott’s early opener for the away side before Liam Lawrence despatched a penalty soon after. Dean Wells scored before half-time to equalise but with time running out, Collins struck to send the Meadow into raptures.
Town’s line-up changed from the one that comprehensively defeated Hartlepool last time out. An early injury for combative midfielder James Wesolowski in that game was later diagnosed as a serious one, thus ending his season prematurely. Bobby Grant started in place of the stricken Wesolowski, and Nat Knight-Percival returned for Jermaine Grandison who stood in as deputy during his fellow defenders’ one match man.
On a sunny, but bitterly cold afternoon in Shropshire, Stevenage kicked off defending the Pro-Vision CCTV Stand end of the stadium.
Marriott forced a smart near post save from Jayson Leutwiler in the sixth minute, with the big Swiss keeper needing to be alert as the shot had a degree of pace on it. With Graham Westley making headlines this week for comments made about match officials, Tom Pett was an early entry into Mr. Harrington’s notebook for a very heavy challenge on Mickey Demetriou.
But within a minute Westley’s side scored the opening goal when a well worked move in the middle of Town’s half, saw the ball fed through to Marriott who had crept in behind the home defenders. His finish was a clinical one high beyond Leutwiler to give the visitors a 10th minute lead. It was the first league goal conceded here in three months.
Shrewsbury had only been behind twice at the Meadow this season in the League, but on each occasion they had gone on to win the game. With respect to both Tranmere and Cheltenham though, Stevenage arrived here in some form and Town already had their work cut out.
Stevenage were very physical in the early stages, and the home fans were howling their disapproval with so many indiscretions going unpunished. Darius Charles in particular could count himself very fortunate not to have received a card for challenges that were questionable, on the two strikers Collins and Mangan.
With Stevenage looking to make a change and appealing for a foul on Marriott, the ref waved play on and NKP was away. He fed Mangan with a cute reverse pass and Mangan in turn found Collins. The Irishman cut inside on to his right foot and stroked the ball calmly beyond Chris Day and into the bottom corner to restore parity.
Oh, how the crowd loved that moment. As did Micky Mellon who took great delight in giving it the double fist pump - in the general direction of his opposite number and pantomime villain for the afternoon. McAllister did come on for Pett but before he’d even touched the ball, Town were given a penalty when Collins was bundled over on the edge of the box. Skipper Liam Lawrence calmly sent Day the wrong way from the spot and with two goals in two minutes, the hosts were in front midway through the half.
With Stevenage stung into a response, it took a perfectly timed tackle by Connor Goldson to close the door on Marriott who’d ventured once more into dangerous territory. Ronnie Henry was the second player carded for a foul on Lawrence, and despite Westley’s comments about Town’s good fortune with officials on a cards versus fouls basis, both were already totting up for his own side.
With four minutes to go before the interval Town should have gone further in front. A brilliant pass from Lawrence left Collins in on goal and as the top scorer looked to clip the ball over Day, the keeper threw up a hand to keep the ball out. It proved to be a very costly miss.
Charlie Lee had a shot deflected over and from the resultant corner Lee was left in acres at the back stick. He volleyed the ball towards goal and although it was blocked on the line, the rebound was bundled over by Wells to level things for Stevenage. It was a really sloppy goal to lose and instead of a two goal cushion at the break, Town went down the tunnel on level terms.
Half-Time: Town 2 Stevenage 2
Within three minutes of the restart Day rescued Westley’s side again. Great link up play involving Lawrence and Mangan once more gave Collins a goalscoring opportunity. But with Day standing tall, Collins was denied by an outstretched leg as the netting looked likely to ripple for a fifth time. Shortly after Mangan was withdrawn – presumably with an injury – with Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro brought on from the bench in Town’s first change. You had to feel for Mangan. Injuries have restricted his appearances and there have been clear signs of an understanding starting to develop with Collins.
Akpa Akpro lamely headed a chance wide from Demetriou’s cross as Salop continued on the front foot, and you felt he should have at least made the goalkeeper make a save. But Collins was still a real threat and getting himself into some really good positions, with nemesis Day the only thing standing between him and a well deserved hat-trick.
Mark Ellis and NKP both went close during the same phase as the Stevenage defence started to come under mounting pressure. A number of corners were forced and the crowd’s vocal backing increased as a result. NKP was the first Town name into the book maybe for something he said, as his name was taken while Shrews were ready to take yet another corner.
Demetriou headed goalwards from a Cam Gayle cross but Day dropped on the ball to make another save, before Charles did really well to muscle Collins off the ball after he’d once again advanced menacingly towards goal. The Stevenage defence were being stretched alright but they were very well drilled and thus far, were frustrating Town attempts to break them down for a third time.
With 18 minutes left and very little seen of the visitors from an attacking perspective, it took a decent block from Leutwiler to deny Marriott, and when Charles headed the corner back across goal, Wells nodded a half-chance on to the roof of the net.
It was too tight to call. Town had been the more adventurous but as the clock advanced, their opportunities were becoming less and less frequent.
Day had to make a full length stop to push out Lawrence’s enterprising volley before Goldson took one for the team halting the run of Dean Parrett. It was 2-2 on the scoreboard and the same score on the bookings. Parrett took the resultant free-kick but Leutwiler flew across goal to push the 25 yarder away as the game became increasingly tense.
Shrewsbury aren’t a side to give the game up until the very last, and Collins embodies the heart and the belief in this team. Demetriou did brilliantly to feed the Town number 9 and he did the rest with a clinical finish to cap a memorable afternoon for him. The place went wild and bar Leutwiler, every player in a blue shirt ran towards the bench – right past the disconsolate figure of Monsieur Westley.
He had said Town were ruthless. You know what? He was right on the money. They are!
Full-Time: Town 3 Stevenage 2