Stevenage gained a measure of revenge for their defeat at Stonebridge Road 11 days ago as they triumphed in the battle of the last two Trophy winners.
Missing Michael West and Alex Stavrinou, the Fleet fielded Gavin Heeroo in midfield and Will Salmon at full back. And the defence was feeling the pressure early on when Jon Ashton made rather a meal of a loose ball after Lance Cronin knocked away a Michael Bostwick free kick and the Fleet were let off. But on the quarter-hour mark, they were not so lucky. Another free kick from a former player, this time Stacy Long, found Mitchell Cole wide out left and he squared into the box where Chris Beardsley had an easy opportunity to convert.
Beardsley was in the box again a few minutes later but didn’t trouble Cronin as he shot wide and on 39 minutes Ashton should have done much better than merely head into Cronin’s arms when he had the whole goal to aim at. Two minutes before that the Fleet had enjoyed their best opportunity of the match, Magno Vieira crossing to Ricky Shakes but for some reason the Fleet winger tried to head across goal to Heeroo rather than knocking it beyond goalkeeper Chris Day.
The Fleet probed for an opening early on in the second half but lacked effective penetration and could not unduly trouble the Boro back line in a stop-start opening quarter. The home side looked comfortable at 1-0 – though with a mind to their reversal at Stonebridge Road in the league, they stepped up another gear just before the hour mark with a succesion of chances. On 58 minutes, Long – clearly revelling in a rare start for Graham Westley, burst through the middle and fed Cole who got the better of Ross Smith and just cleared the crossbar with a shot.
Four minutes later Smith turned saviour, a great last-ditch tackle robbing Beardsley and then Leon Crooks cleared off the line from Cole after the Boro wide man had beaten Salmon and Cronin. Liam Daish threw Scott Ginty into the action shortly afterwards, but the Fleet’s midfield were struggling to get going and Boro’s physical approach appeared to be paying dividends as the Fleet couldn’t shake off an increasing lethargy.
The pacy Yemi Odubade entered the fray for the final 15 minutes, further stretching the Fleet but it wasn’t until a minute from time that Boro made the tie safe, keeping possession with some slick passing in midfield before Murphy released Cole down the left and he teed up David Bridges who rifled home a shot from 20 yards that left Cronin with little chance.
TEAM: Cronin, Salmon, Charles, Crooks, Smith, Heeroo, Holmes, Bailey, Welsh, Shakes, Vieira (Ginty 66).