Mind that gap, Rebels

Stevenage Borough

Stevenage Borough

Lynch (43), Marshall (65), Browne (90)
Slough Town

Slough Town

West (2-1)
League Attendance: 2123 Mark Pye
This year could swing either of two ways for Slough Town, both of which were on view in the first day of '96. On the one hand, their lively attacking and thoughtful build-up play might well make them front runners by the end of the season - or their naive defending and inability to capitalise on pressure might plunge them down the table.

For most of the first half in Stevenage, the Rebels were rampant and silenced a huge crowd with their dominance. The visiting supporters - in fine voice after accusations of excessive reticence - had plenty to cheer after two postponements had given them a Christmas away from the terraces. How wrong it all went.

After just seven minutes, Mark Fiore was forced to gct rid of the ball quickly to avoid an oncoming defender, but his wayward hack was chased by Barry Rake. He got in ahead of Wilmott, but - no doubt fazed by a rare sight of goal - dallied just long enough to allow Smith to sweep the ball from his feel with Mark West nicely positioned for a square pass in front of goal.

Andy Clement then chased onto West's pass but lifted his shot embarrassingly over the bar as the 'keeper advanced. Cliff Hercules flicked on Fiore's corner for West at the far post but he lost his balance and fell wide while Clement's 20-yard free-kick following what had seemed a reasonable challenge on Neil Catlin required quick reactions from Wilmott to turn it round the post.

But what has characterised the Rebels' season more than anything else so far has been their complete lack of composure. When a side bites back at them, they crumble like the footballing equivalent of a Cadbury's Flake, nice to look at and no doubt very tasty, but makes a terrible mess all over the carpet when the heat is on.

The Slough midfield - Rake in blistering form on the wing and Catlin and Pye covering every inch of ground in the centre - needed only to relax for a second to he punished, and Lynch made them pay on 43 minutes when he took the time to turn from the edge of the area and shoot straight past Trevor Bunting.

From then on, they lay back and asked for more. Stevenage looked nowhere near good enough and were themselves shy going forward, but they came up with the goods when called upon. Their second goal on 65 minutes was a nightmare for the defence, with Bunting fluffing a long ball to the far post and being left to scramble around on the floor with Brian Lee in a vain attempt to retrieve it. He got a hand to Marshall's first shot, but the sub pounced a second time and found the empty net.

Not even switching to 4-3-3 with the introduction of Garfield Blackman did any good. West was marked out of the game by Smith, and Hercules needed support he was never given.

When the Rebels found the net, it was largely because Hutchnell lay obviously injured in the area but the referee allowed play to continue for a good two minutes, by the end of which Fiore had found West with a typically accurate cross and he had headed in low from a few yards out.

That, ironically, spelled the end of things as far as the Rebels were concerned. With everything thrown up front, West was blocked on the line and Blackman hit the side netting, but Borough exposed the defence when they hit a third in the final minute. Browne, once tipped for a move to Wexham Park but happier in Hertfordshire, caught the offside trap in hibernation, rounded Bunting and jogged his way into the net.

A mixture of had fortune and bad planning then, but it leaves Slough in their lowest position of the season and, some might argue, perilously close to the relegation zone.

Stevenage Borough Lineup


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