Football: Stevenage chairman rides out the storm

Conrad Leach sees a threatened display of fan power peter out
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The Independent Online
STEVENAGE chairman Vic Green feared a pitch invasion by fans after this game, because of his decision to remove Paul Fairclough from his duties as first-team manager last week after eight years in the job.

Instead the only protest came from a hard core of 100 fans or so calling for Green to resign, and they only stayed for 15 minutes until the lights went out. These were the brave ones who endured, many others making the sensible decision to leave early.

Green had tried to justify his actions in the match programme, stating that he felt the club were treading water under Fairclough, the man who took them to the top of the Conference two years ago. Then they were only denied promotion by Green's failure to make the Broadhall Stadium meet Football League requirements. Fairclough's CV also included forcing Kenny Dalglish's Newcastle to a replay in the FA Cup fourth round last season, and today they are fourth in the Conference.

These are no mean feats, but apparently they weren't enough for Green, who has instead offered Fairclough the post of Director of Football, while at the same time making it impossible for him to do that job by banning him from attending any games, home or away. Fairclough understandably has declined to accept the new offer.

But Green has remained steadfast, and stated in the programme: "It was time to inject some freshness into the operation." On this evidence, Green's changes, which included appointing Fairclough's assistant Noel Blackwell as the caretaker manager, have made Stevenage as fresh as last year's mince pies. Green has also gone to the lengths of advertising the permanent manager's post in the national press and has claimed a good response although some aspirants may withdraw their application after seeing replays of this performance.

But Blackwell, who played under Fairclough during his time in charge, felt that this performance was an improvement on the 3-0 defeat at Cheltenham last week, when the players were only just coming to terms with Fairclough's departure. Blackwell said: "I was pleased with what I thought was a reasonably good performance given the events of the week. Today was a benchmark and now we can put to bed what has happened and get on."

Yet Stevenage, with the exception of striker Carl Alford playing against his old club, and midfielder Dwayne Plummer, barely got out of their Boxing Day slumber, which was not helped by driving rain and a fierce wind for the majority of the afternoon. And it was Alford who caused the Rushden defence the most problems, as he appeared desperate to fulfil the rule that players must score against their old clubs.

He went close several times and his attempt after half an hour to chip Rushden's American goalkeeper Ian Feuer and his massive 6ft 7in frame livened up a drab first half-hour. Although not by that much - the goalkeeper's fingertips made sure of that.

Then, with six minutes left in the first half, Alford got his head to a Robbie Reinelt cross but his flick hit the post with Feuer beaten. Plummer also tried to wake up his teammates with a driven volley two minutes after the break. However, Feuer pushed it over, and 15 minutes later he again denied Plummer after a fierce shot. Thus Rushden manager Brian Talbot was left pleased with his new signing and Green still pondering the wisdom of his decision to remove Fairclough from his duties.

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