SALFORD CITY 1, STEVENAGE 0
Ryan Watson’s spectacular last-minute winner for Salford City, which ended Stevenage’s unbeaten start to the season, came as no surprise to head coach Neil Wood.
Wood revealed the journeyman midfielder had been on fire in training the day before the League Two clash involving the high-flying sides.
“We had a shooting competition in training, and he was the top scorer – he must have scored seven or eight similar to his winner,” explained Wood.
It looked as though the game was heading towards a hard-fought goalless draw until Watson’s late intervention.
Substitute Conor McAleny opened up the Stevenage defence, cutting the ball back from the left for Watson to shoot high into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area.
Wood described Watson, 29, as one of his side’s unsung heroes: “Sometimes Ryan does not stand out in a game, but he is such a hard-working player who simply gets on with his job and does everything professionally.
“He does not always stand out and catch the eye, but he does his job effectively, and that is appreciated by his team-mates.”
Wood said his side’s performance was “relentless” as the Ammies, with only one league loss so far, climbed from sixth to fourth place.
“We kept turning the screw and kept going to the 90th minute. We knew there would be chances and we would have to take one,” he said.
Stevenage, who dropped from second to fifth place, had been the only side in the EFL still unbeaten in league and Carabao Cup and four days earlier giantkilled Peterborough in the cup.
“We were nowhere near the levels we have been performing at,” explained manager Steve Evans whose side had not previously lost in seven league and cup games.
Despite being below par, Stevenage looked set to pick up a point until Watson’s last-gasp goal which even Evans applauded.
“It was a shocking game of no quality other than the goal which was worthy of winning any game,” said Evans.
Stevenage substitute Jamie Reid had a glaring miss with 10 minutes left when, clean through, he blazed wide.
“We had a massive chance and, had we scored, we would have won the game. He had to hit the target and, if the keeper saved it, you take it,” lamented Evans.
Striker Callum Hendry, signed from Scottish Premier League side St Johnstone in the summer, had two decent first-half chances for Salford while Brandon Thomas-Asante forced a decent save from keeper Taye Ashby-Hammond who is on loan from Fulham.
Stevenage had one opening when a drive, a screamer from Arthur Read, was superbly turned over by keeper Tom King.
Salford were livelier when Conor McAleny was introduced. He cut in from the left before his shot forced another important save from Ashby-Hammond.
Stevenage ought to have made the breakthrough after 80 minutes when Reid was put clean through. He looked odds on to score but inexplicably fired wide.
It proved a pivotal moment in the match as Salford capitalised on that good fortune with Watson providing the cutting edge which had been missing from both sides all afternoon.