Eddie selected Arter and O’Kane as the central midfield partnership which signalled attacking intentions although the preference for Fogden wide right was the defensive sop for this. Grabban and Pitman were both picked in a 4 4 2 formation (4 4 1 1 some of the time) so it was clear that we had come for the win.
The first attempt on goal was in the first minute and from Stevenage when Lucas Akins shot well wide from distance after a long cross field run. The defence appeared to make a mental note of this (also the midfield) as such runs were shut down for the rest of the match. The next 10 minutes were punctuated by regular free kicks, both ways, as play was rather scrappy. Foggy then slotted a lovely ball through to Grabban only for him to shoot tamely at the keeper as has become the norm from him recently. Lewis was then sent clear by Pitman with the same result. Pugh then took a short corner to Ritchie whose shot from distance was straight at the keeper and lacked any venom.
This was to be Ritchie’s second from last involvement as a multiple collision of players left him and 2 Stevenage players in heaps on the ground. Ritchie had to leave the pitch with a head wound and Eddie stated in his after match comments that Matt would have been able to return after treatment in 15 minutes according to the medics. Eddie correctly decided that a substitution was the better option. Fraser came on wide right with Foggy switching to left back (I had wondered what the solution would be in such a scenario as we have so little defensive cover despite the size of our squad).
A few minutes later we were ahead. A fine run by O’Kane with a number of one twos, the final one with Pitman put Eunan clear on goal. He just got to the ball first but could only lift it high and wide. The keeper, however, wiped him out as he followed through his attempted block and the ref awarded a penalty. Brett had to wait a couple of minutes to take this as O’Kane had been injured on landing after his double somersault with tuck caused by the challenge. Despite the wait he sent the keeper the wrong way and scored with ease.
Stevenage had not been inactive as an attacking unit but their attempts on goal were woeful . Their crossing was just as bad and Allsop gathered everything with a reassuring calmness. Our crossing was no better mind you. One nil at half time and on the balance of play we deserved it but without producing any real quality.
The whole of the second half was a scrappy affair and there is little point describing any of the play apart from noting some of the incidents. Allsop easily dealt with the few Stevenage efforts that were anywhere near on target but their keeper was hardly tested either. We did have the ball in their net again But Francis had strayed offside before receiving a return ball so his cross to an unmarked Pitman was pointless. Fraser limped off but quite how he got injured is difficult to work out as the game passed him by. He was replaced by Hughes as we switched to 5 in midfield with Grabban playing wide right. Pitman worked like I’ve never seen him before as the sole striker. His harrying of their back 4 was a delight and he was involved in the only other event of note. At the start of added on time he fouled Charles whose momentum took him onto Arter and an unpleasant studs showing challenge above the ankle (the ball was in the vicinity). Pitman reacted angrily, with some justification, but it was only verbal and gesturing but other players became involved although it did not develop into much as there were many peace keepers, notably Grabban in his most positive contribution to the match. Charles was shown a second yellow and so he left the pitch and Brett was also booked. Having seen the replay Charles could have been shown a straight red. Arter was carried off on a stretcher and replaced by MacDonald. Hopefully Harry’s injury is not as bad as it looked.
So our losing streak has ended but hardly in a convincing way although the defence looked pleasingly solid but this has to be balanced against just how poor was Stevenage’s attacking threat. We played nice football at times albeit only briefly. Still a win is a win and we all would have taken 89 minutes of defending with a goal from our single break or a goal off anyone’s backside so it exceeded our expectations.
Allsop seems a good signing and as I mentioned above looks exceedingly calm which is probably what made Eddie notice him especially considering that he is still only 20. Fraser looks like a little boy lost and each time I’ve seen him play the match has passed him by. Hopefully his wunderkid tag is not misplaced but it does seem a sad indictment of Scottish football that he has come from their premier division but looks totally bewildered by the third tier of English football. O’Kane’s form appears to be improving but Grabban’s is a worry. His confidence in front of goal looks totally shot although he did shut down a lot and put effort into this. To my mind he needs a break/rest and McQuoid should be given a run through the middle.
Man of the match is a straight contest between Foggy and Pitman. Foggy did not look out of place at left back and as usual his work rate and determination were superb. He even knew when to make overlapping runs and when to stick. Brett on the other hand also put in a tremendous shift work rate wise but also his lay off play and setting up of team mates has improved drastically. Becoming a dad appears to have made him realise what responsibility is and he has translated it to his football as well. My vote goes to Brett Pitman as he now appears to be using the energy that he used to put into petulance for positive purposes and he also scored the only goal (which appears to be the sponsors’ criteria for home man of the match).
AFCB: Allsop, Francis, Cook, Seabourne, Ritchie, Fogden, O'Kane, Arter, Pugh, Grabban, Pitman
Subs: Jalal, McQuoid, Tubbs, Fletcher, Fraser (for Ritchie, 33 mins), Hughes (for Fraser, 65 mins), MacDonald (for Arter, 90 mins)
Phil Nesbitt, Cockfosters