Column: Mark Hollis
I’m delighted with League 1 start
In much the same way as last season, Stevenage FC have found themselves entering a league campaign in unfamiliar surroundings; last year it was League 2, this season League 1. However, this time around the shock of new surroundings does not seem to have had the same impact as last year.
Instead, we’ve started in the same way we ended the previous season and as a result, rather than being the whipping boys as many expected, we’ve racked up enough points to see us in the top half of the table.
Were it not for some questionable refereeing and timekeeping we might even have found ourselves a few places higher in the league and still in the Carling Cup.
I’m not going to pretend I’m not shocked.
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Despite the differences though, our opening two matches were reminiscent of last year. A draw at home with an established League 1 side in Exeter, and then a narrow defeat to Championship opponents in the Carling Cup. This time though, we fought from behind three times to finally go out to Peterborough after a dubious penalty was awarded in the final minute of injury time.
Following this up with a point away at Chesterfield was welcome even if we did have to endure seeing Jack Lester score with the last touch of the match but it was three days later where we really showed that we weren’t just happy with making the League 1 numbers up.
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Bournemouth finished in the play-off positions last season and to go to their place and show the character to win through after being pegged back to 1-1 showed the drive in this squad to prove their doubters wrong and to really push this football club onto greater things.
This character was further asserted in our following match at home to Hartlepool where we pegged back a two goal half time deficit to claim a point in a contest that looked dead and buried at half time.
However, character alone isn’t going to be enough to see us through this season, so coming off the back of defeat in Milton Keynes it was important to put in a good performance when Rochdale arrived at the Lamex.
Having started very brightly, Rochdale seemed to fall apart after quarter of an hour when Craig Reid put away a well placed drive into the bottom corner. Even an equaliser did nothing to give Rochdale a foothold in the game as they immediately surrendered another goal, this time from Chris Beardsley sliding in at the back post to finish off the rebound from a decent Reid effort on the stroke of half time.
Beardsley struck beautifully from 20 yards early in the second half to be followed by another Reid goal which put us out of reach. Even the immediate reply from Rochdale that followed wasn’t enough to get anybody really worried and the result was never in any doubt.
Following this was our fourth draw of the season away at Oldham which was a good return on what was an apparently lacklustre affair, but then came Sheffield Wednesday and an altogether different outcome.
I’d safely say the first half performance on Tuesday was the best I have ever seen any Stevenage team put in and when Reid put us ahead in the fifth minute it could already have been 3-0 such had been the pressure we’d applied to their back five.
The go three up inside 17 minutes with stunning strikes from John Mousinho and Michael Bostwick and then reach half time four goals to the good was phenomenal; particularly when you consider that had it been six or seven, the Owls couldn’t have had any complaints whatsoever.
The second half petered out a little bit in terms of excitement, but there was no need to do any more than a professional job and that’s exactly what we did. Darius Charles added a fifth with a cool finish after some excellent work in the box and even Wednesday’s goal wasn’t much of a consolation for the hoards of travelling fans whose misery was compounded in the dying minutes when they had Jermaine Johnson sent off for a stamp on Scott Laird.
It was a stunning performance capped by a stunning result which pushes us into the play-off places and puts us joint top of the goal scorers list in League 1!
So a lot of progress on the field then, and not least from Chris Beardsley who seems to have added regular goals to his strength and work rate to really put last season’s injury ravaged campaign behind him. Here’s hoping he can keep it up and cement a regular starting place because on recent showings he and Reid look a formidable strike force.
Off the field, Westley has been looking to add to the squad and has brought in Josh Walker on loan from Watford with a view to a permanent move, which is fantastic news. In his last loan spell here we only got to see a couple of glimpses of what he’s capable of and that, along with a few recent cameos, are enough to show that we’ve signed a very capable player who will bring a lot to the squad this season and for the seasons ahead.
Added to the players brought in over the summer, we look to have added some real quality in key areas and our squad depth looks better than ever.
In terms of the Supporters’ Association, membership numbers are up on this time last season, with over 100 new members joining this term. We’re still some way off last season’s grand total of 908 but I think it will take another good cup run to take us to those figures again, but many thanks to everyone who has shown their support again this year.
As ever, for all information about the SA, including membership benefits and information for booking coach travel for away games, please visit www.sfcsa.co.uk
Finally, the SA is looking for a volunteer to take on the recently vacated social secretary role. The aim of this role is to organise SA events with a view to raise funds for the club. If you are interested please drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Mark Hollis on Twitter: @hollismark