On Wednesday 4th February 1998, Stevenage Borough travelled to St James’ Park to take on Premiership side Newcastle United in the 4th Round FA Cup replay. This followed a creditable 1-1 draw at Broadhall Way for the then Vauxhall Conference side some 10 days earlier. In fact many reporters that day indicated that Boro had been unlucky not to progress to the next round at the first time of asking.
A crowd of 36,705 was in attendance, 2,000 of which had travelled from North Hertfordshire to support Boro, along with a television audience courtesy of Sky TV. Boro fans, along with the significant majority of neutrals that had become enthralled with the tie due to the controversy of Newcastle’s unsuccessful bid to have the original tie moved to St James, were hoping for the underdog to prevail. The Geordies were of course hoping for an avalanche of goals to put the minnows in their place.
The game ended 2-1 to Newcastle, with Alan Shearer scoring twice for the Premiership club, with Gary Crawshaw grabbing a well taken goal with 15 minutes to go – celebrating his birthday in some style.
On the face of it, both sets of supporters could take something from the tie. Stevenage again could point to a creditable display on the big stage, a goal scored and no avalanche of goals conceded, which was predicted in some quarters. The Toon army could celebrate shaking off the attentions of Stevenage which eventually pathed the way for Newcastle to make it all the way to the final of the FA Cup that season losing 2-0 to Arsenal.
This however does not tell the whole story. Both Newcastle goals had question marks against them. The second Shearer goal had a suspicion of offside, but the real talking point came as early as the 16th minute.A quick free kick taken by Lee, allowed Pistone to make real progress down the left flank, playing a one-two with Tomasson, before putting in a deep cross for Shearer to score. Shearer headed the ball goal wards before it was cleared on the goal line by Boro centre back Mark Smith with an acrobatic overhead kick.
Shearer had other ideas, wheeling away with his trademark arm waving in salute to the Geordie faithful. Despite appeals from the Stevenage players, the goal was allowed to stand.
In truth, the Boro fans at St James’ Park who were housed at the other end of the stadium could not tell the rights or wrongs of the situation. This was not the case for the Sky viewers who had the benefit of replays and Sky computer generated images that suggested the ball had not crossed the line.
Going a goal down in such circumstances could have had a devastating effect on the team and precipitated a heavy defeat. This underlines the achievement of the Boro team that night to sustain this injustice but continue to compete to a level that resulted in a creditable 2-1 defeat in a Premiership teams back garden.
The teams that night were as follows…..
STEVENAGE BOROUGH: Gallagher, Dillnutt, March, Smith, Trott, Beevor, Perkins (Fenton 70), Wordsworth (Thompson 72), Crawshaw, Trebble, Stapleton (Inman 34). Subs Not Used: Cretton, Wilmot.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Hislop, Watson (Barton 22), Pistone, Howey (Beresford 81), Albert, Pearce, Batty, Lee, Gillespie, Tomasson (Ketsbaia 78), Shearer. Subs Not Used: Given, Rush.
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