Saturday 28th May, 2011. Old Trafford
Following the two victories over Accrington Stanley, Stevenage – in their maiden season in the Football League – were now to face old foes Torquay United in the Play-Off final at Old Trafford. Many Boro fans regarded Torquay as one of out ‘bogey sides’, and indeed the two games earlier in the 2010/2011 season didn’t bode well (a 0-0 draw at the Lamex and a 2-0 defeat at Plainmoor).
Indeed it was Torquay United that should have been relegated from the Football League in 1996, to be replaced with the Stevenage Borough side that won the Conference that year. Stevenage were denied their promotion – and Torquay continued to enjoy League football.
With the weight of history, recent memories of failed play-off finals and the prospect of facing an in-form Torquay side, could the Boro make it two successive promotions?
Stevenage FC 1 - 0 Torquay United
|Manager: Graham Westley||Manager: Paul Buckle|
|Team Sheet||Team Sheet|
|16 Day||01 Bevan|
|02 Wilson||03 Nicholson (Rowe-Turner – 83′)|
|03 Laird||05 Robertson|
|04 Charles (Beardsley – 85′)||07 Mansell|
|13 Byrom (Murphy – 57′)||23 Branston|
|14 Roberts||08 Kee|
|25 Henry||09 Robinson (Stevens – 83′)|
|08 Long||10 O’Kane|
|21 Mousinho||22 Lathrope (Oastler – 79′ )|
|24 Bostwick||15 Tomlin|
|10 Reid (Harrison – 62′ )||26 Zebroski|
|29 Welch||16 Potter|
|05 Ashton||02 Rowe-Turner|
|07 Murphy||18 Oastler|
|12 May||04 Ellis|
|17 Winn||17 Halpin|
|20 Beardsley||19 Stevens|
|26 Harrison||14 Macklin|
As the game kicked off after a 15 minute delay due to congestion on the M6, Stevenage started the brighter side with Craig Reid having an early shot blocked within the first few minutes.
Although, The Gulls had plenty of attacking pace – and striker Chris Zebroski broke through the Boro defences a minute later, only to be flagged offside.
The opening exchanges were understandably tentative, with Torquay looking to utilise their pace and wide play, whilst Boro, and Charles in particular, continued to cause mayhem for their defence.
Neither side were able to gain an outright advantage. Boro had the better chances, Darius with a header off-target along with a few notable shots from range by Craig Reid and Stacy Long- neither of which proved too much of a problem for 6’6″ goalkeeper Scott Bevan.
Torquay weren’t without chances, although Boro’s defensive backline was resolute – Michael Bostwick covering for the injured Jon Ashton making a number of important clearances. The Gulls opportunities were limited to the occasional long shot and the constant threat of the pacey forwards.
As fans watching the match, the atmosphere was unique. The stakes were so high that you couldn’t really enjoy the match itself – although the barmy army were in full spirits and out sung the Torquay crowd throughout the match.
The deadlock was broken in the 41st minute, following a foul by Billy Kee on Darius Charles. The free kick was taken from the halfway line and played forwards by Joel Byrom and cleared by a defender as far as Ronnie Henry. The ball was played forward again from Bostwick to Charles, and Torquay were caught ball watching as John Mousinho made a sprinting run off the ball – taking a pass from Charles and racing straight towards the penalty area. The defender was unable to catch him as he reached the edge of the box and fired a low powerful shot past the diving keeper into the bottom right corner to make it 1-0 Boro in front of the Stretford End.
The Boro fans celebration was immense, with cheers of “We are going up”, although nobody really believed the game was over at that point.
Torquay attacked almost immediately, with Chris Zebroski making a dangerous run into the box to, only to be intercepted by Ronnie Henry again. The resulting corner landed squarely on the head of powerful defender Guy Branston, who’s free header went inches wide of the post.
After a couple more chances for both sides – the half time whistle blew, and the fans knew that the second half would see Torquay needing to attack in order to stay in the game.
The start of the second half was all Torquay, as Zebroski, Robinson, Nicholson and Kee all having decent chances on the Boro goal. By this time, the Boro attacking play was almost non-existent as all efforts were focussed on stopping the Gulls attacks. It was clear that some of the Boro players were starting to tire, and there was the worry that if Torquay did equalise, they looked capable of going on to win it.
Graham Westley saw the warning signs and made some substitutions midway through the second half, with Darren Murphy coming on for Joel Byrom, and Byron Harrison coming on for Craig Reid.
Although the substitutions added some fresh legs, the direction if the game continued, with Torquay relentlessly attacking the Boro goal – only to be thwarted by some great defending or shots that missed the target.
As the clock ticked down and Boro remained in front, he fans started to believe that it was going to happen. Chris Beardsley was brought on as an 85th minute substitute for Darius Charles. In truth the Boro team looked completely out of gas, but were still fighting to hold their lead.
As the Boro fans called for the whistle (admittedly from about the 80th minute), Byron Harrison started to cause some problems for the Torquay defence to think about – which relieved some of the pressure at the other end of the pitch.
Inside the 4 minutes added time, as the Dale Cavese chant rang out through the stadium, a last gasp break of the ball saw Byron Harrison clear a ball over the top, leaving Chris Beardsley with a 1 on 3 opportunity. The fans all screamed “shoot!” in unison, although Beardsley opted for the conservative option and held the ball up…as the final whistle went and Boro secured their place in League 1.
The celebrations that followed were amazing, with the fans applauding the team and singing along to ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ as Graham Westley handed the trophy to the crowd – as it was passed between the fans.