Ex-Boro boys make their mark
While present day Stevenage Borough players were etching themselves into the club’s history books this season, some former Boro boys were making their own mark in football history higher up the League pyramid.
Winning a championship is seen as the most conventional way to get promoted, but ask anyone who has tasted play-off success and they will say it’s the only way to go up.
This season ex-Boro players DJ Campbell, Steve Morison, Jon Nurse and Mark Arber all tasted play-off success, and as individuals they each played more than their part in their respective team’s success.
In February of this year DJ Campbell returned to Championship side Blackpool for a second loan spell from parent club Leicester City. I’m sure at the time of signing even the ultra-confident Campbell could not have envisaged what would unfold over the next few months.
After creeping into the play-offs on the last day of the season, Blackpool then blew away promotion favourites Nottingham Forest in the semi-finals.
I watched the second leg closely as two old teammates of mine were involved: Forest goalkeeper Lee Camp has been a family friend since I was nine years of age and we played together for six seasons at the Derby County academy. And in the Blackpool team that night was an old youth team colleague Alex John-Baptiste, a player who I’d grown up with at Mansfield for six years. So I had a vested interest and was keen to see who’d be making the trip to Wembley.
To be honest it was a typical end of season encounter. The game was full of mistakes, plenty of goals and wild celebrations. Campbell was probably the difference on the night. He hit his first career hat-trick in a 25 minute spell and looked unplayable. His movement and finishing were sharp and he once again looked ready to make the step up to the Premier League.
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As we know Blackpool went onto defeat a talented Cardiff City side in what is known as the richest game in Football – the Championship play-off final.
Blackpool appear to only know one way and that’s attack. It has served them well so far and I don’t see manager Ian Holloway changing his philosophy anytime soon.
The Premier League will definitely be a better place with Holloway and the Tangerines in it.
Many people around Stevenage have had one eye on League One and Millwall all season long, due to a certain number 20.
After a slow start Steve Morison did what he does best – score goals. In doing so he helped fire his club back to the Championship after a four year absence.
I’ve watched Millwall a few times this season and Morison has impressed me massively. For a team which is quite rigid and defensively minded, Morison is at times an isolated front runner.
It’s a job that seems to suit him, a strong direct runner (something defenders at any level don’t like) who can score all types of goals, he’s been key to their success.
In the play-off semi-final, he once again popped up with his customary goal to help see off Huddersfield Town. And even though the former Boro front runner didn’t get his usual Wembley goal, he put in an all-round performance that stretched the Swindon town backline to their limits.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Morison make the step up to the Championship. The only difference now is that he will be marked man; he will no longer be the centre forward from non-league side Stevenage Borough.
Teams and defenders especially will be well aware of his threat.
Speaking of non-league sides, Dagenham and Redbridge once again did the non-league fraternity proud by gaining promotion to the third tier of English football for the first time in their history.
Having only been a Football League club for three years it is a remarkable feat.
Again two former Boro boys were at the heart of their success. Mark Arber and Jon Nurse both played major roles in the Daggers’ success last season.
John Still’s side didn’t guarantee a play-off place until the final league game of the season, but that didn’t stop them putting in a record breaking performance in the semi-final first leg.
Dagenham’s 6-0 victory over Morecombe not only booked their place at Wembley but also sent out a message of intent to the other play-off contenders.
And when they met Rotherham United in the final, Nurse’s 70th minute goal secured a 3-2 victory and one of the most remarkable rises in football.
Every team that tastes play-off success deserve their rewards but the luck needed to win a one-off game means sometimes the best team doesn’t always get promoted.
That cannot be said of League Champions now can it?