Football: Grazioli keeps Stevenage under the spotlight
Monday 26 January 1998
Whatever fate befalls them in the replay at Newcastle, Stevenage's contribution to this season's FA Cup has already more than justified the acres of newsprint devoted to yesterday's fourth-round tie at Broadhall Way.
One by one, sides from the higher reaches of the Football League bowed out tamely, leaving it to the team lying 15th in the Vauxhall Conference to demonstrate that the Premiership is not all it is cracked up to be and restore some of the competition's tarnished grandeur.
They did so despite the potentially morale-crushing blow of seeing Alan Shearer bulge their net after less than three minutes. The England centre- forward, starting a match for the first time since ankle surgery in August, scored with only his second touch of a bitterly cold afternoon.
Thereafter, however, Shearer was reduced to mere mortality by the diligent attentions of Mark Smith, a 30-year-old foundry supervisor who lists Hitchin and Letchworth among his former clubs. Stevenage responded to his example with spirit and no little skill, richly deserving to draw level before half-time through Giuliano Grazioli.
Perhaps to the relief of Kenny Dalglish's multi-million pound team, the second half was not nearly so eventful. Not that anyone from Stevenage was complaining at the end. In scenes reminiscent of Newcastle's exit at Hereford 26 years earlier, half of Hertfordshire flooded on to the pitch while the Toon hordes shivered in their temporary stand.
After all, in symbolic terms, the tie was a collision of the corner shop and the corporate machine. Stevenage's manager, Paul Fairclough, had assembled his squad for pounds 30,000, whereas Newcastle had their pounds 15m talisman back in a line-up littered with internationals.
As the visiting players limbered up before the match, the public-address announcer ran through the team changes. On reaching Shearer's name he joked that he could not make out the word. The Stevenage fans roared their approval. Shearer's face remained fixed in a frown, his concentration unwavering.
The crowd quickly discovered why. When a Stevenage free-kick was cleared by Steve Watson, it seemed elementary for Mike Love to return it to the Newcastle box. But they say love is blind, and the leftback did not appear to be aware of Keith Gillespie charging in to rob him. The winger raced clear before crossing, whereupon Shearer headed his first goal since scoring for England against France in June.
The apparent inevitability of it all would have deflated many higher- placed teams. Stevenage's response was to swarm towards Shaka Hislop's goal as if nothing had happened, perhaps remembering that when Newcastle were humbled at Edgar Street in 1972 Malcolm Macdonald had headed them in front in similar fashion.
The Borough architect was Neil Trebble, a tall, elegant midfielder whose knack of finding space between midfield and the strikers repeatedly threw Newcastle out. His wickedly curling free-kick almost forced an own goal from Rob Lee, whose header passed only inches wide.
Confidence grew visibly in the part-timers' ranks. Trebble found an ally in Grazioli, releasing him for what looked a valid equaliser until the referee ruled Gary Crawshaw offside. Still undaunted, Stevenage created further openings, only to find Hislop unwilling to play the fall guy.
A series of brilliant reflex saves denied Grazioli, Crawshaw and Trebble in turn. Yet with Newcastle edging nervously towards half-time, the towering Hislop was helpless as Grazioli's touch turned in a Crawshaw corner. The scorer had sprinted half way to Knebworth before his colleagues caught up with him.
Gillespie, the only obvious thoroughbred in Dalglish's side on the day, did his best to repeat the early service from which Shearer had profited. One cross late in the first half found its target at the far post, but Des Gallagher's point-blank save thwarted Shearer.
Stevenage did not trouble Hislop unduly after the interval, whereas Steve Howey sent one header wide and Philippe Albert saw another tipped over by Gallagher. But the underdogs had done more than enough to earn another 10 days basking in the media spotlight.
Afterwards, Fairclough was asked whether he feared the worst when Shearer struck. "Yes, I can't lie," came the reply. "I've had two parrots on my shoulder lately: one saying we'd get slaughtered and the other that we might win. It was great to get a draw."
Dalglish, pressed about the mood in the dressing-room, said tersely: "The players are delighted." If that is true, things are worse than we imagine at St James' Park.
Goals: Shearer (3) 0-1; Grazioli (42) 1-1.
Stevenage Borough (4-4-2) Gallagher; Dillnutt, Smith, Trott, Love (March, 43); Soloman, Perkins, Stapleton (Inman, 80), Trebble; Crawshaw, Grazioli (Wordsworth, 80). Subs not used: Fenton, Wilmot (gk).
Newcastle United: (4-4-1-1) Hislop; Watson, Howey, Pearce, Pistone; Gillespie, Lee, Batty, Beresford (Albert, 69); Barnes (Ketsbaia, 69); Shearer. Subs not used: Rush, Tomasson, Given (gk).
Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).
Bookings: Stevenage: Crawshaw, Perkins. Newcastle: Beresford, Pistone, Shearer.
Attendance: 8,040 Man of the match: Smith.
newsFormer soldier taped 33 of the animals to the floor and then stamped on them one by one
Michelle Nijhuis' daughter insists (s)he is, and she learnt a valuable lesson on gender in books
Latest in Sport
Mesut Ozil reveals he really is the Superman at Arsenal, Jack Wilshere is Batman and don't make Lukas Podolski angry - it's the Arsenal Christmas Party
Transfer news: Liverpool - January transfer targets
Missing out on Tottenham job was a 'close shave', says Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers
The most underrated players in the Premier League
Transfer news: Chelsea - January transfer targets
- 1 North Koreans are gasping for the truth: Let's give it to them
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 4 Burglar steals video tapes of child abuse, hands them into police
- 5 Cycle death inquest: Boyfriend hugs driver of 32 tonne tipper truck that killed his girlfriend
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
£25000 - £40000 per annum: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: This se...
Salary £35 - 55K Plus Generous Benefits Package inc Car and Healthcare etc: C...
£120000 - £150000 per annum: Cornwallis Elt : Programme Manager, Strategy Lead...
£50000 - £70000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The London office of this Bi...