In the first ever meeting between the two teams, Nigel Adkins’ men saw off the League One side with a lesson in finishing during the second 45 minutes.
Hosts Stevenage shaded the better of the chances in a goalless first half, where they struck the crossbar early on, but a rejuvenated visiting side put the hosts to the sword in the second half with goals that will have helped all four scorers stake their claim for a place in the forthcoming Barclays Premier League matches.
The rush of goals began just seven minutes after half time when Tadanari Lee opened the scoring with a low strike from Billy Sharp’s cross. The lead was doubled thanks to some quick thinking by Richard Chaplow who took full advantage of a backpass inside the area to square the ball for Sharp to tuck away the second.
A thumping drive from Jason Puncheon and an equally good first ever professional strike from substitute Ben Reeves were sandwiched by Michael Thalassitis’ consolation for the hosts on 90 minutes.
Stevenage: Day, Gray, Charles, Ashton, Tansey (Grant 67), Dunne, Haber (Thalassitis 84), Akins, Roberts, Freeman, Rogers (Shroot 63). Subs (not used): Arnold, Furlonge, Ball, N’Gala.
Saints: Gazzaniga, Butterfield, Richardson, Seaborne, Shaw, Hammond (Chambers 84), Ward-Prowse, Chaplow (Reeves 77), Puncheon, Lee, Sharp (Hoskins 84). Subs (not used): K. Davis, Stephens, Sinclair, Moore.
Referee: O. Langford
Nigel named a fresh starting XI from the weekend, with Paulo Gazzaniga making his competitive bow for the club in goal, and Dean Hammond skippering the side.
Tadanari Lee returned to first team duty after injury, whilst Saints Academy forward Jake Sinclair made his senior squad debut by taking his place amongst the substitutes.
The hosts got the game underway and immediately set about attacking Saints down the right side where their physical threats aimed to test the resolve of a new look visiting back four.
Adkins’ men responded with a quick break forward and had the ball in the back of the net on 4 minutes when Ward-Prowse threaded a fine pass through to Billy Sharp, who finished with style, but was flagged for offside by the assistant on the right.
In a lively opening to the game, Stevenage were awarded a free-kick when Luke Freeman was brought down around 25 yards from goal. Greg Tansey stepped up and rattled the frame of Gazzaniga’s goal as his effort clattered the crossbar and bounced down before being hooked clear by the yellow shirted Saints players inside the area.
The visitors made an otherwise disciplined opening to the contest, keeping the ball well, which created their next opportunity on 12 when Puncheon played in Ward-Prowse, who burst forward to fire a shot off a Stevenage defender to win a corner, which Seaborne headed narrowly over the top.
It remained an open but keenly contested affair as play reached the 20 minute mark, with Seaborne recovering well to deny Luke Freeman in the hosts’ next attack. However, Saints were let off the hook when Marcus Haber could only head wide at the far post when unmarked.
Stevenage continued to have the better of the early chances, and winger Robbie Rogers warmed Gazzaniga’s hands with a firm low drive from distance as Gary Smith’s side turned the screw.
The score remained goalless past the half hour mark with Saints defending resiliently and building patiently from the back, much to the frustration of the home crowd.
Stevenage almost broke their resolve in the 35th minute when Haber sprinted clear of Richardson to try and pick out Freeman in the six yard box, but a last ditch clearance from Seaborne kept the ball away from danger.
Six minutes before the break Saints went close again when Danny Butterfield tried his luck from range after getting free on the right, but the full-back’s effort flew narrowly wide of the right post.
At the other end, Stevenage skipper Mark Roberts should have done better at the far post to turn home a corner, with the defender’s effort ending up in the side netting.
Luke Shaw showed a clean pair of heels to Stevenage’s midfield as he attempted to conjure up a late first half strike. The left back’s darting run forward saw him go close to picking out Sharp inside the box, but the run went unrewarded as the hosts scrambled the ball clear.
Half Time: Stevenage 0-0 Saints
Chaplow and Sharp got the second 45 started with no changes for either side at the interval.
The Saints duo who took the first touches of the new half linked up well early on which presented the former with a chance on 49 minutes that Stevenage defender Darius Charles recovered ground on to deny the midfielder a clear sight of goal.
On 52 the visitors made the breakthrough when a break involving Butterfield and Puncheon led to Sharp cutting the ball across the area from the right. The cross was touched on by Chaplow into the path of Tadanari LEE who drove home inside the area from ten yards out for his second goal in Saints colours.
The strike gave Saints a foothold on the game as they began to apply the pressure, with the hosts notably deflated by the goal.
A well worked free-kick that saw Shaw play the ball into the path of Puncheon, who quickly knocked it into Sharp’s path, but the forward ran out of room as he tried to squeeze in his effort from close range.
Robin Shroot came on for Robbie Rogers on 63 minutes, but Saints didn’t let up. Lee again was instrumental as he broke forward on the left to produce an inviting cross for Puncheon, who found Sharp to his right, but the striker arched his effort over the top of Chris Day’s goal.
The hosts switched Anthony Grant for Greg Tansey with 67 on the clock in a bid to try and climb back into the contest, but Saints were looking comfortable and seemed more likely to extend their advantage than surrender.
That said, Grant did his best to try and make an instant impact when he smashed a shot wide after arriving late onto a cutback to the edge of the area, but his shot was deflected out for a corner that resulted in Haber heading wide of Gazzaniga’s left post.
The confirmation of the win came in unusual circumstances on 74 minutes. A backpass collected by Day, was flagged for an infringement by the official. Chaplow acted quickly to take full advantage of the free-kick which he squared to SHARP inside the area, who swept home gleefully infront of the travelling support for 2-0.
It was 3-0 just two minutes later when PUNCHEON delivered a stunning strike from right out of the top drawer as he took one touch before unleashing a fierce volley from 30 yards which flew into the right corner with Day rooted to the spot.
Chaplow was immediately withdrawn with young midfielder Ben Reeves coming on in his place for the final quarter of an hour or so, with the match more than safe now for Adkins’ men.
Calum Chambers and Sam Hoskins replaced Hammond and Sharp with six minutes to play, whilst the home side introduced Michael Thalassitis for Haber at the same time.
Hoskins went close to adding to the final tally with a shot that crept across the face of goal, but there was still time in the five added on minutes for both sides to score.
First, substitute THALASSITIS knocked home from close range to reduce the deficit, but the three goal margin was restored moments later when REEVES lashed home a strike to remember in more ways than one as he celebrated his first ever senior goal with a stunning strike from outside of the box.
Full Time: Stevenage 1-4 Saints