MOULDY'S MEN EDGE CLOSER TO TITLE WITH TWO WINS THIS WEEKEND
With Stevenage picking up maximum points since the turn of the year last weekend's double header at Nobel, firstly on Saturday against local rivals Letchworth then Sunday against fellow championship challengers Shefford & Sandy, was going to be massive in the possible destiny of the title. Two hard fought, at times edgy, wins have seen injured skipper John Mould watch his side move within two points of leaders Bedford with a game in hand. Danny picked up his 50th goal of the season in all games - 35 of them in this league.
Stevenage M1 - 3 Shefford & Sandy M1 - 1 (rearranged game, played Sunday)
Stevenage were hoping to pick up maximum points to dent fellow promotion candidates Shefford & Sandy's title hopes but it was the visitors who started the better side and caused early problems for the home defence. The composure of Graham Swinyard in central midfield calmed the home side down and gave them the chance to build some flowing attacks.
The first real opportunity fell to Mike Oliver who, despite suffering from a virus, hurdled a few challenges before hitting a shot just wide. Gary Brown then received a great pass from Mitch Snares but saw his effort deflected over the bar. But it was the visitors who went 1-0 up after Matt Oliver was adjudged to have fouled in the circle for a penalty stroke which was converted with Dingley sent the wrong way. Stevenage were now wasting the openings and short corner chances they were creating and did not look likely winners, with Tim Dingley having to make a couple of first class saves.
Hauling themselves back in the game Stevenage were awarded a penalty stroke themselves for a foul as Andy Blaxill worked on a short corner. Danny Blackburn stepped up and powerfully fired his flick in to the goal like a laser beam for the crucial equaliser. But Shefford then applied more pressure with Wharton and Nichol forced to make timely interventions. As the game swung from end to end the away keeper showed he was on fine form with Ben Oliver coming the closest to beating him.
Stevenage eventually took the lead when Graham Swinyard hit a great long ball to Danny Blackburn who after going past a defender, drew and went round the oncoming keeper before calmly hitting the ball in to the net with flair; this gave Stevenage a halftime lead but unfortunately Blackburn had to retire injured thanks to the flamboyance of his goal scoring.
The second half started at a frantic pace with a number of challenges too heavy for some players. Stevenage's Mike Oliver was warned for dissent before his brother Ben, and a later a Shefford defender, were sin-binned for similar offences. The visitors were taking the game to the hosts and if it hadn't been for some classy defending from Wright and Nichol, and some good saves from Dingley could have had goals to show for their pressure. The home side also had to thank Man of the Match Graham Swinyard for calmly breaking up Shefford attacks as they were starting to look a little panicky without their usual outlets of Ben Oliver and Blackburn.
But while still playing with 10 men Stevenage scored a third goal that gave them breathing space. A mistake from the visitors in midfield set Matt Oliver on his way again and after a great one-two with Risley set up Mike Oliver who won a short corner. This was well worked by Andy Blaxill and Matt Oliver for Mike Oliver to force the ball home at the far post.
Stevenage M1 - 5 Letchworth M2 - 1
Saturday's game was never going to be easy as Letchworth took the first points off John Moulds side earlier in the season so a good start was essential, but whenever the home side take to the field you can expect to see full out attacking play and it wasn't long before after a great run from Matt Oliver the first chance was put over the bar by Gary Brown. Letchworth then almost took the lead from a short corner but luckily Tim Dingley was in fine form to tip the ball round the post after a good strike from the visitors.
Stevenage's forward movement was causing a few problems for the visitors with Blackburn and two of the four Oliver brothers who were in the Stevenage side, Ben and Mike, each having good chances to score. The breakthrough finally came when after a great ball from Gary Brown, Ben Oliver put strike partner Danny Blackburn in the clear and his powerful flick gave the Letchworth keeper no chance. Letchworth then applied some pressure but their search for an equaliser was frustrated by Wright, Matt Oliver and Blaxill.
It was soon 2-0 with Man of the Match Ben Oliver again provider but this time for brother - after a great ball from Mitch Snares, he drew two defenders before passing to Mike Oliver to cooly slip the ball past the advancing keeper. Just before the break it was 3-0 when the ever reliable Graham Swinyard won a penalty corner after a tough tackle in the circle. Andy Blaxill was somewhat fortunate to see his shot ricochet off a defender, high over the keeper and just below the bar.
The second half continued where the first had left off with two sides playing open attacking hockey, the difference was the home side looked more dangerous when attacking and were a constant threat to their opponents. In the opening minutes of the half Letchworth had a couple of good penalty corners which were well saved by Dingley. Mark Risley and Chris Nichol then combined well down the left wing to give Jon Oliver a opportunity to get on the scoresheet, the visitors keeper was up to the challenge as he made a impressive save. Risley was then involved in another well worked attack this time Snares hit just wide. The home side were then camped in the Letchworth half and after a great pass from Ben Oliver, Blackburn saw a good chance well saved.
The temperature increased a little when Gary Brown was sin-binned for something he said and Dingley made a fine double save as Letchworth pushed forward. But the Stevenage lead was increased to 4-0 when after a great ball from Tim Wright, Danny Blackburn saw his effort well saved before making no mistake in smashing home the rebound for his second of the day. Swinyard then set up Mike Oliver who made it 5-0 with a tremendous finish after skipping round a defender. Ben Oliver almost made it six but again his shot was saved.
Letchworth did get the consolation goal their play deserved when two Stevenage old boys - Graham Swift and Tom Spencer - combined for Spencer to strike past a helpless Dingley.
Hertford M2 - 5 Stevenage M2 - 1
The mens 2s struggled to find any form in a hard fought but often fraught game. The only joy came from a Dan Farnan goal in the second half, in a game which saw the visitors misplacing passes to give Broxbourne the edge they needed to score 5 goals. Some fine work from the two full backs, Callum Mathews and Dan Hanslow, kept the scoreline as low as it was, for which Callum earned his man of the match.
Harpenden M3 - 1 Stevenage M3 - 1
Despite a last minute domestic injury preventing Ray Blaxill playing, M3 were able to continue their "oldies first" policy with stand-in Tony Farnan starring and Chris Strickland grabbing the equaliser from a well worked short corner (or so we were told). Both goals came in the second half and M3 slip to second in the table on goal difference.
Stevenage M4 - 1 Hertford M3 - 3
A cracking equaliser from Brownie left it 1 - 1 at halftime against visitors lying second in the table, but two goals in the second half killed off the home team.
Stevenage M5 - 1 Cheshunt M3 - 3
Dave Wells tapped in to put the home side ahead at half-time, but the visitors came away with a deserved win thanks to goals after the break.
No game again for L1, and L3 and L5 played friendlies
Stevenage L2 - 4 Chess Valley L1 - 0
Alfie Gunther (pic) scored all 4 as the home side eased past visitors who turned up with 10 and were reduced to 9 by injury in the second half, but let that take nothing away from a solid performance in which the girls had to battle to within a minute of half-time before getting the first. Alfie followed up a Debbi Church shot which hit the post for the second and it was one way traffic from then.
Stevenage L3 - 0 Hertford L2 - 1
Despite fielding L1 skipper and keeper Jenny Harding at centre forward L3 were just not good enough to make an impression on this friendly game.
Welwyn Garden City L4 - 1 Stevenage L4 - 1
After Holly Ashworth was set free to beat the home keeper it looked like a much needed league win for the visitors who were floored by an equaliser in the final seconds of the game.
Stevenage L5 - 2 Hertford L4 - 4
Good debut for Aussie newcomer Lou Nickell who grabbed both goals in this friendly match.