Saturday 20th August,1994. The Marston Road Stadium
After winning the Diadora League Premier Division, accumulating 97 points in the process and finishing 5 points clear from second placed Enfield, Stevenage Borough could for the first time in their history turn their attention to playing in the top flight of non-league football – the GM Vauxhall Conference.
Stevenage Borough started life in the top flight with a tricky looking away fixture at Stafford Rangers. Boro went into the fixture on the back of a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Chertsey in a pre-season game just 5 days earlier.
On the day of the clubs Conference debut, a rousing performance from the men in red and white secured 3 goals and 3 points at the first time of asking.
The Boro supporters travelling home from Staffordshire, satisfied with their team’s showing also had the added lift of hearing Radio 5 confirming that Stevenage Borough were Conference League leaders, albeit if after only one game.
So who played and what happened? …….
Stafford Rangers 0 – 3 Stevenage Borough
|Manager: Brendan Phillips||Manager: Paul Fairclough|
|Team Sheet||Team Sheet|
|01 Davies||01 Gallagher|
|02 Boughey||02 Smart|
|03 Bradshaw||03 Conroy|
|04 Simpson||04 Smith|
|05 Molloy||05 Nugent (Luque – 89′)|
|06 Foy||06 Hedman|
|07 Williams||07 Hayles|
|08 Crowley||08 Simpson|
|09 May||09 Gittings (Williams – 67′)|
|10 Drewitt (Mee – 60′)||10 Venables|
|11 Shepstone||11 Lynch|
|12 Mee||12 Williams|
|14 Berry||14 Luque|
Boro started the game with purpose, pressing the ball well and forcing an early corner. Gittings was busy for Boro, forcing the play and making a general nuisance of himself.
The visitors had a number of half chances in the early exchanges, with Gittings forcing a fine save from keeper Davies and Simpson missing from close range after a neat interchange with Lynch.
The 20th minute saw Boro have their first clear-cut chance, and in truth should have taken the lead. Simpson collected a fine through ball and was clean through on goal but was denied by Davies who was quick off his line to block the fierce strike unleashed by Simpson. The loose ball fell invitingly for Conroy who squandered an excellent chance for Boro to take the lead by sending the ball wide of the open goal.
Boro were nearly made to pay for that miss as just 6 minutes later an excellent run and cross from Danny Williams saw Bradshaw’s diving header at the far post just clear the crossbar – A let off for Boro as it was a clear scoring chance.
Boro remained in the ascendancy for the rest of the half with Venables in particular orchestrating play and dominating possession without creating any other real chance of note.
After the interval, Boro picked up from where they left off in the first half – dominating proceedings. On 52 minutes another glorious chance for Boro to take the lead was squandered. A goal mouth scramble initiated by a fine cross from Lynch saw Gittings, Conroy, Venables and Lynch himself having goal bound efforts blocked by some fine last ditch defending from Rangers.
Paul Fairclough had seen enough and decided to make a change on 67 minutes with Dean Williams replacing Martin Gittings. What an inspired substitution it proved to be with Boro taking the lead just a minute later. Rangers last ditch blocking finally let them down, when they were unable to clear a cross into their box and could not prevent Steve Conroy securing Boro’s first ever Conference goal from 8 yards.
Rangers responded well to going down a goal with some pressure of their own but failed to work Boro keeper Des Gallagher. The game as a contest was over in the 78th minute as Boro doubled their lead. Simpson latched on to a fine through ball from Conroy, beating Davies with a well placed shot from just inside the area.
There was no way back for Rangers as Boro were in control and playing some confident football. Hayles really should have made it 3, shooting over the bar following a sweet interchange between Conroy and Venables.
The inevitable 3rd goal from Boro came at the death, with Venables again the provider with an inch perfect diagonal cross to substitute Williams who deflected the ball past Davies as he rushed from his line.
Boro could have made it 4 with Lynch and Venables both going close in injury time.
A fantastic start for Boro in their Conference career but the first year was not all plain sailing as they adjusted to the new level, eventually finding their feet and finishing in a creditable 5th spot. Stafford Rangers finished 21st in the league suffering relegation as a result.
The history website would like to thank Chris Bedford and Steve Howe from Stafford Rangers Official website for supplying their match report, stadium images and team sheet from the day along with our own Mervyn Stoke- Geddes for supplying a copy of the programme cover and sourcing our own match report and team sheet.