On the cup trail with Stevenage

stevenage v ipswichIt’s hard to get over excited by the Football League Cup in its early rounds: defeats can be explained away easy enough and crowds are invariably disinterested in the balmy heat of August.

Not so at Stevenage, where the home side added Ipswich Town to its list of cup scalps. OK, so it isn’t the FA Cup and the Suffolk club is no Newcastle, but Stevenage’s 2-0 win represents one of the genuine shocks of the first round of the competition.

This is an important season for Graham Westley’s side. Last term, after starting the campaign well and looking like possible play-off candidates, they had a mid-season blip that refused to go away. It cost Gary Smith his job and brought Westley back for a third stint at the club. After a period of non-stop progress, Stevenage may have plateaued (not a bad place to be), but the jury is out on Westley’s return. Stevenage also have to win over more fans in the new town – in 2012-13 their average gate was around 3,200, the second lowest in League One. This compares to their Conference heyday. But in the matchday programme for the Ipswich game, Chairman Phil Wallace said the club was able to compete at this level because of its debt-free status. That’s no mean feat in today’s football world.

Seeing Ipswich at Stevenage, performing so poorly, is a sad sight. Once one of the country’s top clubs, Ipswich cannot hold much hope for a good season, and that’s after just two games. Their first was a 2-1 defeat at Reading. Manager Mick McCarthy has been around, and he – admittedly – took the gamble of not fielding his best XI, but it back-fired on him.

The first half was poor, with long-balls thumped from end to end. Ipswich had the better of things, but striker Frank Nouble lacked the finesse and pace to cause the Stevenage defence much trouble.

All ok at half-time
All ok at half-time

Stevenage also lacked punch up front, but they opened the scoring when Oumara Tounkara was pushed in the area by Luke “he’s one of us” Hyam. Former Chelsea midfielder Filipe Morais scored from the penalty spot. McCarthy brought on frontmen David McGoldrick and Daryl Murphy and for a while, they had some urgency and purpose, but Stevenage keeper Steve Arnold pulled off some good saves to keep Ipswich at bay. For most of the second half, Stevenage withdrew their entire team behind the ball.

Fifteen minutes from time,  Stevenage’s determination paid off with a well-worked goal, finished by Jordan Burrow from six yards. Ipswich went close in the dying seconds, Tommy Smith denied by a one-handed save from Arnold.

For Stevenage, the win provided a good bounce-back from their 3-4 home defeat against Oldham in their first game. As for Ipswich and their noisy fans, the season may be a tough one.

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