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Pilgrims 3-3 Stevenage Borough

Nationwide Conference

by Barbara Singleton

For high drama and goal-power, Boston United certainly seem to be the team to watch. But avid followers of the Pilgrims won't necessarily agree that this is exactly the right sort of excitement they want to see. Not if it means witnessing the type of below-par and throw-away performance served up by United in the second half of their clash with a Stevenage outfit who superbly defied the adversity of having two men, Adrian Clarke and John Morgan, sent off 11 minutes from the end of each half. From a high-point of establishing a 3-0 lead by the 41st minute, Boston were made to toil all the way to secure even a share of the Conference spoils as Borough made light of their numerical disadvantage and repeatedly ran United ragged with a flourishing and totally committed display. To a fair extent, the clash had mirror image phases of the New Year's Day encounter with bottom-of-the-table Kettering when the visitors also put the United rearguard to the sword for lengthy spells. But at least on that occasion the Pilgrims managed to conjure up a winning strike to ensure a happy ending. In the aftermath of Saturday's York Street clash, two threads of opinion emerge: on the debit side that United's second-half display was worse than woeful; or, to the visitors' credit, that Stevenage deserved praise for refusing to cave in. Arguably the correct analysis lies somewhere in between from a roller-coaster encounter, which at least saw United edge up one place to eighth, and took their recent league sequence to only one defeat in 10 outings. At face value, though, the 3-3 scoreline certainly masks a few shortcomings which Pilgrims' boss Steve Evans knows must be rectified before the FA Trophy trail starts at Tamworth on Saturday. In the meantime, reflections of Saturday's fare are still fresh in the memory. In a scrappy first 15 minutes, there was little to suggest the way the action would develop. United carved out only two half-chances during this spell with Mark Rawle and Ken Charlery shooting wide, both set up by Paul Raynor. In response for Stevenage, Ryan Kirby saw a long-range drive blocked by David Norris and then Drew Broughton saw a shot superbly tipped away by Paul Bastock following a good cross from the left by Morgan. In the 28th minute Borough went close again when Neil Illman fired a drive inches past a post following good link-up play with Broughton. The first flashpoint came in the 34th minute, after a few earlier unsavoury incidents of theatrical gamesmanship on both sides, when Clarke got his marching orders for a retaliatory grounding of Jim Dick following a tangle in midfield.

From the resulting free-kick, Paul WILSON spotted keeper Paul Wilkerson off his line and cleverly curled a 40-yard shot directly into the unguarded side of the Borough net. While Stevenage were still re-organising, Boston struck again when a 36th-minute corner by Wilson was headed onto a post by David Norris and RAWLE stretched to net the rebound. Remarkably the lead became 3-0 in the space of just eight minutes when CHARLERY squeezed the ball in from close range after Rawle and Norris had linked well, with the latter skipping round Wilkerson before setting up the scoring chance. But from that euphoric moment, things started to go downhill rapidly for United. In the 43rd minute, the ever-dangerous BROUGHTON seized possession on the edge of the home box and buried a low shot beyond Bastock. It was only a crumb of comfort for Stevenage. But it certainly seemed to serve as a catalyst for a swaggering second-half showing by the visitors. The home defence, competing without the 24th-minute loss through injury of Joby Gowshall, were repeatedly carved open as the hugely effective attack-minded quartet of Morgan, Martin, Illman and Broughton were exceptionally quick of thought and highly fast of foot. Broughton twice burst through only to conclude with off-target finishes. Then Illman, Broughton and Martin all again got into good positions, only to be denied by good saves in quick succession from Bastock. It took Boston until the 58th minute to press with any conviction, Raynor's low drive from the left being well saved by Wilkerson. However, the fightback Borough had been threatening finally unfolded in the 71st minute when ILLMAN controlled a pass from Martin and, despite the close presence of defender Colin Hoyle, swivelled well to shoot past Bastock. Two minutes later the scores were level when MORGAN dodged the home offside trap, raced onto a pass from ex-Lincoln City man David Phillips, waltzed round Bastock and slotted into a gaping net. More drama erupted in the 79th minute when another clash saw Dick collapse again after seemingly being caught by Morgan in retaliation to a midfield tangle. Cue a second red card for Borough, and an apparent chance for United to finally grab a recovery foothold in the match. Wrong. Even with just nine men, Stevenage still held the upper hand and looked more than capable of grabbing all three points, notably when Illman and substitute Darran Hay both went close late on. Boston's only real response of note was through an 83rd-minute shot from distance by Norris. But, like much of United's toiling second-half efforts, it amounted to nothing.

United team: 1. Bastock, 2. Gowshall (Mills 25), 3. Lodge, 4. Hoyle, 5. Howarth, 6. Wilson (Costello 80), 7. Norris, 8. Charlery, 9. Raynor (Fewings 83), 10. Rawle, 11. Dick. Subs (not used): Nuttell, Conroy (gk).

This report originally appeared in the Lincolnshire Echo.