Match preview: Stevenage v Exeter City

Graham Westley

Graham Westley - Credit: Archant

Stevenage will welcome a return to the comforts of home this weekend after yet another disappointing result on the road saw them slip to 15th in the League 2 table.

Stevenage will welcome a return to the comforts of home this weekend after yet another disappointing result on the road saw them slip to 15th in the League 2 table.

Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Newport County had manager Graham Westley – and the club’s small contingent of fans at Rodney Parade – somewhat bemused.

Why, Westley asked, did two of Stevenage’s centre-halves decide to form the wall in front of the free-kick which led to the second goal? Why indeed.

“It was 35 yards out, we set a two man wall and we put our two centre-halves out of action by putting them in the wall,” the Boro manager said.

“They’re about to put the ball in our box [and there is a] 90 per cent chance we’re going to need our centre-halves in there to win the ball, clear the danger and get ourselves up the pitch.”

It is the ‘attention to detail’, Westley said, that ‘is the difference between winning and losing’.

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And unfortunately for Stevenage, there is not much winning going on away from the Lamex – just three times so far this calendar year.

Boro remain hopeful that they can evoke the spirit of 2011 when, on January 18 that year, the club were 18th in League 2 and yet still made the play-off places come the end of the season. Charlie Lee said as much after Saturday’s game.

Yet, for the talk earlier this season that the current crop of players could be the ‘best Stevenage team ever’, the team of 2010-11 was a different beast.

It was a team forged during a couple of seasons winning together and had, the previous year, won the Conference title and finished as FA Trophy runners-up.

It was also a team that had stunned Newcastle United 3-1 in a thrilling FA Cup third round tie at the Lamex on January 8, just prior to their charge for promotion.

Boro’s fans have been spoilt in recent seasons by the club’s heroics in the FA Cup, and quite often such matches act as a fillip.

But there will be no cup glory to boost morale this season as the club exited the Capital One Cup, the FA Cup and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy without winning a single game.

After that Newcastle victory in 2010, Westley told the waiting press how he had told his players to go out and win 5-0.

The press, and the fans, quite rightly lapped it up. It represented exactly where Boro were, psychologically.

Yet this season, following the 3-0 defeat at Carlisle United, there was talk of how the Cumbrians are an ‘established league club’. Yet, so too are Stevenage.

Speaking at the weekend, centre-half Dean Wells said: “It’s coming down to the same’s the little mistakes [that are proving costly]. Switching off at vital times, it’ll cost you in the league.”

It is a concern that after two weeks spent on the training ground, the club conceded twice from set pieces against Newport County.

Boro were by no means overrun in south Wales, but once ahead Newport controlled possession and limited Stevenage’s use of the ball in their half.

This weekend’s opponents, Exeter City, are, like Newport, on a good run of form themselves and will look to control the match at the Lamex.

The Grecians have moved into the League 2 play-off places on the back of a run of nine matches without defeat, and they will face a Boro side missing Jon Ashton, Jack Jebb and Darius Charles through injury.

Exeter will have 19-year-old Guernsey-born James Hamon in goal for the visit to Stevenage, while Boro’s fans will also get a glimpse of Matt Grimes.

The England U20 international, who scored in the 2-0 win over Carlisle United at the weekend, has been linked with a host of Premier League clubs and was recently dubbed ‘the new Glenn Hoddle’.

Stevenage will be hopeful that they mean Glenn Hoddle, aged 57.