Stevenage Borough may be renowned for their FA Cup exploits and led by a manager familiar with orchestrating days of glory in the oldest and most famous cup competition in the world, but reality hit home at Broadhall Way as one of League Two's hottest prospects, the striker Grant Holt, scored twice to see Rochdale hop over one of the second round's most obvious banana skins.
The omens had looked good for Conference side Stevenage before kick-off. Their manager, Graham Westley, whose self-confidence and managerial techniques have seen him portrayed in some quarters of the non-league scene as a cross between David Brent and Jose Mourinho, has a proven Cup pedigree, having guided Farnborough to a lucrative tie with Arsenal two years ago. Combined with Stevenage's impressive Cup heritage, which had seen the Hertfordshire club earn match-ups with Birmingham City and Newcastle United in recent years and all indications pointed towards a Cup shock. And, in fact, the first half did nothing to spoil the illusion as Stevenage took the game to the opposition.
First Dannie Bulman stung the palms of the Rochdale goalkeeper Matthew Gilks with a long-range effort on 17 minutes as the Conference side attempted to assert some authority. Stevenage again went close to taking the lead when an outstanding run and pass from Craig McAllister ended with a bullet shot from the ever-willing Bulman into the side netting.
Even after the break, Stevenage held their own. That was until Westley, in an act of confidence verging on bravado, switched to a 3-5-2 formation to chase the win. It failed. Gaps opened up at the back and Rochdale exploited them, with Leo Bertos striking the crossbar in the 60th minute. Ten minutes later and Rochdale took a deserved lead when the goalkeeper Andy Woodman could only tip Bertos' effort into the path of Holt and he headed home.
Stevenage, in truth, created few opportunities thereafter and it was game over when Woodman was dismissed with three minutes remaining for a professional foul on Bertos when he was clean through on goal. With all of Stevenage's substitutes already used, Bulman took over between the sticks. But insult was added to injury when Holt, who had also struck the inside of a post in the latter stages, netted his second in added time to kill off the game completely.
Westley said: "For an hour it was an even contest. But with 30 minutes left at 0-0 we went for it and it didn't work out for us. Holt was always a threat and he nicked one, but I felt the scoreline was slightly unfair because they got one late on when we were down to 10 men.
"If some of our injured and suspended players had been out there I think you would have seen a different game and we would have run them even closer.
"Overall, we were edged out by a slightly better side. But we know that we were not too far off League pace."
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