Football: Borough back in the old routine

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The Independent Online
Stevenage Borough 2

Crawshaw 7, Barrowcliff 41

Southport 1

Jones 34

Attendance: 2,903

Trying again is what you are supposed to do if at first you don't succeed. In the GM Vauxhall Conference, however, there is a variation on this principle: you get to try again even if you have succeeded.

Kidderminster Town won the Conference in 1994 but were denied access to the Third Division. The same thing happened to Macclesfield Town in 1995. Last season it was Stevenage Borough's turn to be rejected champions, and so now they are climbing back up a mountain they have already conquered with matches like yesterday's hard-earned victory over Southport.

As the Hertfordshire club's neat little ground basked in the autumn sunshine, the mood in the well-populated stands - 2,903 was their biggest crowd of the season - was more one of determination than indignation. The Stevenage manager, Paul Fairclough, says he will never get over the disappointment, but for the most part people are looking forward, not back - as perhaps befits England's original New Town.

Like their two predecessors, Stevenage fell foul of the Football League's stadium requirements. The problem was not so much what needed doing as when it needed doing by - on 31 December the season before possible entry to the League, which Conference clubs have long since complained is unreasonably early.

If, however, as the conspiracy theorists would have it, the League has been operating a closed shop by another name, it almost certainly won't be able to do so any longer. As many as half the Conference sides have now developed grounds of League standard, of which Broadhall Way, two roundabouts east of the A1, is a prime example after a pounds 2.5m re-building programme was all but complete by the summer.

Not that this was any guarantee that the team would be able to reproduce the form that brought them the title. They have, however, remained largely intact - they are a youngish collection of proven non-League talent rather than bigger names on the way down - and once again are back at the top of the table after 12 matches in which they have won all six at home and lost only twice away.

Regular Premiership-goers in search of alternative entertainment might have been surprised by the quality on offer. The game was full of intelligent, passing football, but Stevenage had the edge in terms of both organisation and flair. Barry Hayles, last season's leading scorer in the Conference, is a compact striker with a fine touch, while a Nigerian, Efetobor Sodje, oozed class in the centre of defence.

Hayles helped give Stevenage the lead in the seventh minute, pulling the ball across the face of the goal for Gary Crawshaw to score. With Peter Davenport, the former England, Nottingham Forest and Manchester United forward, still a good judge of a pass or a run, Southport came back into the match and equalised in the 34th minute when Alex Jones headed in from a free-kick on the left. But seven minutes later Paul Barrowcliff swept home a left-foot shot, and Stevenage's equilibrium was rarely disturbed from then onwards.

Stevenage Borough (4-4-2): Wilmot; Webster, Sodje, Smith, Mutchell; Venables, Beevor, Barrowcliff, Trebble; Crawshaw, Hayles. Substitutes not used: Ugbah, Browne, Imber (gk).

Southport (3-5-2): Stewart; Dove, Horner (Carroll, 42), Jones; Clark, Butler (Vickers, ht), Gamble, McDonald; Farley; Davenport (Anderson, 68), Whittaker.

Referee: P Barnes (Peterborough).