Saturday, 19 March 2011

Stevenage v Lincoln City, 19 March 2011

Venue: Broadhall Way, Stevenage
Attendance: 2,732
Final score: 2-1
Lincoln made the reasonably long trip down to Stevenage-used-to-be-Borough this afternoon in the hope of getting three of the five points required to reach the magical 50 mark.

Stevenage are enjoying their first season in the football league, and so far it has been an enjoyable one for them.  They sit just outside of the playoffs, and despite having the reputation of being a big, no-nonsense side its points that decide where you finish, and Stevenage have been picking up enough to justify playing whatever style of football they want.  Stevenage’s home form is good, having only been beaten 3 times at Broadhall Way this season.  They have, however, drawn 9 at home, suggesting that a tight game was on the cards.

The big problem facing the Imps was a lack of strikers, with Facey ruled out by a dislocated shoulder and Hutchinson by his own petulance against Macclesfield on Tuesday night.  Facey in particular will be missed as a captain, a target man up front and even as an outlet down the wing with his surprising turn of pace.  Rumours that the Japanese earthquake were actually caused by Delroy chasing down a loose ball are so far unconfirmed.

These omissions meant that Scott ‘Bill S. Preston Esquire’ Spencer was given his first start for the Imps, and a chance to perhaps claim a starting place for the rest of the season.  Luke Howell also returned from injury into the centre of midfield, pushing Jamie Clapham out wide, an unusual position for the ageing left back.  The absence of Facey meant that loanee defender Stephen Hunt wore the captain’s armband.

Stevenage made a positive start, and City’s defence would be left in no doubt from the off that they would be facing a tough afternoon. Despite Stevenage getting the ball forward often, neither goalkeeper has overly concerned in the opening quarter of an hour.

The first incident of the game was an early, unplanned City substitution.  Howell’s return to first team action lasted less time than he would have hoped, and he had to be replaced by McCallum.  Hopefully the setback in his recovery will be minor.  The change meant a tweak in the midfield, with O’Keefe and Clapham in the centre, Carayol wide right and McCallum going wide left.

City’s first real chance of the game came a few minutes later when Carayol’s pace saw him create some space, but his goalbound drive was deflected wide.

City began to get into the game as the half wore on, though the threat of being hit on the break was ever-present.

The deadlock was broken in the 33rd minute.  Carayol put a cross into the box, which was deemed by the assistant referee to strike the arm of Scott Laird.  The referee gave the penalty despite the protestations of the Stevenage players.  Grimes stepped up and coolly sent Chris Day, a former Imps loanee, the wrong way to give the Imps a 1-0 lead.

The goal sparked some confidence in City, and Carayol fired a shot just over the bar soon afterwards.  Sadly for the Imps, the old adage about being most vulnerable just after you score proved true.  A poor clearance by Clapham fell in the Imps’ box, and allowed Mousinho to shoot.  His shot was well saved by Carson, but the rebound fell to Wilson who tucked it home, albeit off the City keeper.

City seemed to wobble slightly after conceding, but managed to hold out until the break.

City began the second half well, with Grimes curling a shot just wide, and McCallum hitting the side netting.  At the other end, the pace of Charles embarrassed Adam Watts, but the Imps smothered the breakaway.

On the hour, Stevenage took the lead.  Wilson received the ball and sent a dipping shot past Carson from outside the area.  It wasn’t particularly high, and there was a suspicion that the City keeper might have done better with it.  Nevertheless, City found themselves trailing even though Stevenage had barely pressured their goal, and now needed to step up a gear to get back in the game.

That effort was hampered just 5 minutes later when Grimes injured himself while taking a shot, seemingly kicking the bottom of a defender’s boot.  The innocuous injury was obviously troubling Grimes and he had to come off, to be replaced by  Andy Hutchinson – another striker who will hope to make the most of any chance he gets with City’s current injury crisis.

As time ran out, City continued to press but were unable to provide Day with a stern test.  As desperation set in, Carson up for two corners in the dying seconds and came close to connecting with one, but to no avail, and the final whistle signaled an away defeat for the Imps.

Ultimately, City were worn down by a hardworking Stevenage side and the game went according to their gameplan.  Stevenage produced nothing spectacular but ground out the win by putting City under constant pressure, and took the few chances they created.  Their style is not pretty but it once again proved effective and there’s nothing wrong with that, as the league table shows.

Of greater worry to the Imps is the addition of more injuries, with Grimes, Howell and possibly Hunt picking up knocks.  This spate of injuries can perhaps be put down to the fixture backlog from the harsh winter starting to catch up with tired players.

16 Chris Day
Scott Laird
24 Michael Bostwick
14 Mark Roberts
25 Ronnie Henry
Luke Foster
21 John Mousinho
Stacy Long
Lawrie Wilson
Darrius Charles
10 Craig Reid
Jon Ashton for Laird (58)
Darren Murphy
12 Ben May for Reid (88)
13 Joel Byrom
17 Peter Winn for Long (58)
20 Chris Beardsley
27 Dino Maamria

24 Trevor Carson
16 Julian Kelly
Adam Watts
Danny Hone
23 Stephen Hunt
14 Josh O'Keefe
19 Jamie Clapham
15 Luke Howell
Mustafa Carayol
39 Scott Spencer
29 Ashley Grimes
Paul Green for Hunt (83)
9 Gavin McCallum for Howell (14)
22 Andy Hutchinson for Grimes (70)
25 Cian Hughton
31 Ali Fuseini
40 Patrick Kanyuka
20 Paul Musselwhite

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