Bristol Rovers 0-2 Pilgrims
by Barbara Singleton
As competent performances go, this was probably close to utopia for Boston United. A knockout blow delivered on the strength of a collective all-round team effort went a long way towards proving the Football League new-boys have truly arrived in the big-time. The nerves and apprehension of early involvement in the Third Division are starting to dissipate the more the Pilgrims get to grips with life one notch up from their successful Conference crusade last term. The fact that Bristol Rovers were dumped out of the Worthington Cup last night on their own patch served as ample evidence that Boston are starting to acclimatise quickly. Arguably it was a pity that league points were not at stake, as the spoils from such a victory would have hoisted United fully out of negative equity. But the confidence gained from such a result - and one achieved with a fair slice of guile, style and panache - will undoubtedly be good for the York Street spirit in readiness for more testing challenges ahead. Acting manager Neil Thompson will take great delight from seeing the side he is moulding make such a good fist of things in their first venture into Worthington Cup action. And a mouth-watering and potentially lucrative home first round tie against Second Division promotion favourites Cardiff City on September 11 already looks a major date on the Boston calendar. That is the reward for a really sterling effort at the Memorial Ground when goals from teenage striker Steve Burton and free-scoring midfielder Simon Weatherstone separated the Pilgrims from a Rovers side who - although purposeful in snatches on home territory - gradually ran out of ideas against a well-organised visiting unit. In defence, Boston looked resolute, competitive and tenacious, never giving up on any cause - a trait arguably best illustrated when Ray Warburton made a phenomenal challenge in the 35th minute to prevent Guiliano Grazioli from breaking the deadlock. That was possibly one pivotal moment in the encounter. Generally it was a case of Boston adopting a thoroughly organised approach despite having to shuffle their back line ranks in advance of the tie. With Jim Rodwell transferred to Farnborough, Ben Chapman injured and utility man James Gould virus-stricken, stand-in boss Thompson chose to select himself at left-back. And despite advancing years, he proved that his old Premiership know-how can be just as potent a tool as speedy limbs. He gave a tremendous 90-minute display, as did Paul Ellender, pitched into back line duty alongside the reliable Warburton. And apart from one late lapse with a misguided back-pass, his performance was also commendable. And the same could be said for all the other heroes in amber shirts, including goalkeeper Paul Bastock who - even when the Pirates thought they had chiselled out an opening - made himself into an impenetrable barrier with a clutch of excellent saves. Midfield was an area where Tom Bennett's class oozed through and where flank men Simon Rusk and Mark Angel were willing energies to the cause.
The Steve Burton-Daryl Clare front line also produced some useful moments. It was, in fact, one of those nights where blemishes were few, victory was thoroughly deserved and perhaps the United team came of Third Division age. The match itself produced a clutch of early half-chances, although none really threatened to yield a breakthrough. Best for Boston was a Clare cross-shot which flashed wide and then on 15 minutes Burton and Clare linked well to feed Weatherstone whose shot on the turn was held by Scott Howie. Moments later, Angel headed wide following good work down the right by Simon Rusk and Matt Hocking. In response, Robert Quinn and Grazioli each tried shots from distance. But both flew over the top. Midway through the half, Bristol threatened when a dangerous Wayne Carlisle free-kick was headed clear by Hocking. And then on the break, Angel fed Clare. A linesman's flag seemed to flutter, but play was allowed to continue and the United front man brought an excellent save from Howie with a firm drive. There was a good recovery by Bastock when saving on the line from a Mark McKeever header after Paul Tait had crossed from close to the bye-line, initially tempting the Boston keeper out towards him. Chances continued to flow at both ends with Boston having some escapes, notably Grazioli heading over, Carlisle going close with two teasing free-kicks and Tait also testing Bastock. At the other end, Weatherstone headed over from a Thompson free-kick and towards the break Clare fired off-target and Burton nodded wide after Warburton - an earlier saviour with his great challenge on Grazioli - had headed on an Angel corner. Rovers upped the tempo at the start of the second half and Bastock did well to save from McKeever, Quinn and Tait. And it was from a subsequent save, also from Tait that the Pilgrims' custodian then dramatically set up his team's opening goal. Rather than opt for a neat rolled out distribution, Bastock boomed a huge clearance downfield. The ever-eager BURTON - now settling in fully on loan from Ipswich - controlled neatly before jubilantly whacking a 15-yard drive beyond Howie on 52 minutes. Cue celebration number one. Later on, Bastock also saved superbly from Grazioli while a Danny Boxall drive flashed over from distance. Boston's attacking momentum was maintained with two near misses for Rusk from crosses by Angel. Around the 68 minute mark, Clare twice went close and then four minutes later Boston doubled their lead - again stemming from a Bastock save from Grazioli. This time he fed Bennett who found WEATHERSTONE and he rifled a superb drive beyond the reach of Howie. Jubilation part two. Five minutes later Weatherstone ran at the home defence, but shot wide as Boston threatened to inflict greater misery on the Pirates. At the other end, Rovers tried to exert late pressure, but Ellender, Warburton, Hocking, Thompson and Bastock all combined to form a resolute barrier.
United team: 1. Bastock, 2. Rusk, 3. Hocking, 4. Ellender, 5. Thompson, 6. Bennett, 7. Warburton, 8. Weatherstone, 9. Clare, 10. Burton, 11. Angel. Subs not used: Conroy, Monington, Cook, Elding, Morley.
This report originally appeared in the Lincolnshire Echo.