Football: Hard work for the back-page heroes

Rupert Metcalf sees the FA Cup giantkillers struggle in an unfamiliar favourite role
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LAST SEASON, Stevenage Borough enjoyed their spell in the spotlight as back-page heroes when they beat Swindon and took Newcastle to a replay in the FA Cup. Yesterday, in rural Oxfordshire, they were not so happy in the role of giants rather than underdogs.

They survived, thanks to goals in the third minute of injury time at the end of each half, which brought them a 2-1 win over Witney Town of the Dr Martens League Southern Division in a third qualifying round tie, but this was by no means a good display from the Football Conference side.

Paul Fairclough, the Stevenage manager, denied his side had been lucky, but he did admit his team had produced "a very unconvincing performance."

A relieved-looking Fairclough added: "A neutral spectator would not have known which side was two divisions higher. But that's what the FA Cup is all about. It's a tremendous leveller."

Stevenage had to come from behind to claim their victory, after the hard- working centre-forward Darren Teggart had given the home side the lead in the fifth minute. "The early goal threw us," Fairclough conceded. "They did to us what we were doing to other sides last season. They chased us, harried us, and didn't let us settle."

Now Stevenage must survive a tough trip to Dagenham & Redbridge in the fourth qualifying round if they are to reach the first round proper of the Cup. "We've had some tough battles with them in the past," Fairclough said. "It won't be easy."

It was, perhaps, not a surprise that the Hertfordshire side failed to show any of last season's sparkle. This is a very different Stevenage team. Only three who began yesterday's game had started last term's fourth- round replay at Newcastle: the centre-backs Mark Smith and Robin Trott and the right-back James Dillnutt.

Among the summer recruits are the speedy forward Jamie Barnwell, once of Coventry City, the former Barnet, Plymouth and Orient left-back Dominic Naylor, the striker Carl Alford, for whom Rushden & Diamonds once paid a non-League record fee of pounds 85,000, and Chris Taylor, the former Kettering goalkeeper.

Two minutes before half-time Witney almost doubled their lead when, from a Teggart cross, Andy Martin saw his header cleared off the line by Lee Harvey. Inspired by the runs of Barnwell, Stevenage were coming into the game, and equalised deep into first-half injury time, Jeran Meah heading in a Steve Berry corner.

Barnwell, who had taken a knock, was replaced at half-time, and Stevenage created very little in attack in the second half. Neither did the home side, and both teams seemed to have settled for a replay when another injury-time goal gave the visitors victory. Berry swung in another corner, Dean Samuels had a touch, and Mike Love drove the ball home.

Witney did not deserve to lose, but they are going to Wembley. They begin their FA Trophy campaign- with Saturday's game at Wembley FC.

Goals: Teggart (2) 1-0; Meah (45) 1-1; Love (90) 1-2.

Witney Town: (4-4-2): Alder; Knight, Leach, Tavinor, Martin; Ovens, Caffel, Merriman, Neville (Stevens, 76); Teggart, Wimble (Hulbert, 67). Substitutes not used: Simpson, Organ.

Stevenage Borough: Taylor; Dillnut (Mitchell, 69), Smith, Trott, Naylor; Harvey, Berry, Meah, Love; Barnwell (Samuels, h-t), Alford (Reinelt, 86). Substitutes not used: Thompson, Gallagher (gk).

Referee: M Ebbage (Burnham, Bucks).

Bookings: Witney: Teggart. Stevenage: Harvey.

Attendance: 767.

Man of the match: Teggart.