STEVENAGE BOROUGH SEASON REVIEW 2009/2010
CONTENTS page 3-4
pre-season a look back at how boro performed during pre-season and how the new signings were beginning to settle in
the slow start we hardly hit the ground running in august with 3 draws from the opening 3 games, but it soon began to pick up
the recovery a good run of form kept the team marching up the table, plus the fa cup run began at Chelmsford and ended against Port Vale
christmas & new year always a vital period of the season and with 2 games against cambridge, a sense of revenge was in the air
february & march another fa trophy run started to hit full pace while boro were aiming to overtake oxford at the top of the blue square premier
the run-in nervy times at broadhall way with big games against oxford and luton to get past before 3 away games that would turn the title one way or the other
the fa trophy final we review the trophy final against Barrow at Wembley
squad analysis a run through the squad and look at how each player has performed over the course of the season
season overview a summary of the season as a whole
pre-season After defeat against Cambridge United in the play-offs plus the loss of star striker Steve Morison in the summer to Millwall, manager Graham Westley moved quickly to try and strengthen his squad ahead of the 2009/2010 season. In came Salisbury striker Charlie Griffin to bolster his attacking options and Westley soon added former Oxford attacker Yemi Odubade. Chris Beardsley was a surprise addition and arrived after being released from Kettering Town, while Boro also spent £15k to sign Joel Byrom from Northwich. Westley’s last signing of the summer was the highly rated midfielder Stacy Long, who arrived from Ebbsfleet United. Leaving Broadhall Way were Steve Morison, Gary Mills, Calum Willock and John Martin. The latter two were released, while Mills declined a new contract at Broadhall Way to sign for promotion rivals Mansfield Town. Morison’s move had come after 3 fantastic seasons in Hertfordshire. “Moro” moved to Kenny Jackett’s Millwall and League 1 for £160k and as the season was to prove, he showed that he was worth every penny of the transfer fee. Pre-season began with a short trip to Essex and Chelmsford City at Melbourne Park. It was an unfamiliar looking Boro that took to the pitch, but not because of the personnel, but because of the kit. Stevenage sported their black training tops for the first half before reverting to last season’s home strip for the second half. Chelmsford, who were nearly promoted the season before began the game stronger and took the lead through former Boro striker Danny Hockton. Minutes later though, the Blue Square Premier side had equalised with Charlie Griffin scoring his first goal for the club since his arrival in May. The second half at Chelmsford was a dull affair for most parts, but Boro won the game late on thanks to a Chris Beardsley strike. A good cross field ball by Lawrie Wilson found Beardsley who looped his header past Harrison and into the net. After a morale boosting victory at Chelmsford, Graham Westley’s side returned to Broadhall Way to entertain Russell Slade’s Brighton & Hove Albion. Boro again controlled the game and comfortably beat what is an established League 1 side. Even though they bossed the first half, Boro went behind against the run of play thanks to a Gary Hart finish. However, they continued their good performance in the second half and within 10 minutes of the restart, Stevenage equalised with a goal from Mitchell Cole. A further goal from new signing Stacy Long gave Boro the win which made it 2 wins out of 2 games so far. A mid-week trip to Cambridge City followed, but it wasn’t the same performance we had come to expect from Westley’s side. The game was a tale of two penalties. First, Lee Boylan put Boro ahead with a well taken spot kick after David Bridges had been brought down. Stevenage couldn’t hold out though and City equalised from the spot themselves when Neil Midgley fired past Bayes. It was the first game of pre-season that Boro had not won. The next game saw the return of Steve Morison to Broadhall Way. The ex Boro striker received a mixed reception, but it proved to be his day as he scored his first 2 goals for Millwall in a 2-1 victory over his former side. The Stevenage goal came from Mitchell Cole, who again impressed for the hosts. Millwall didn’t look particularly special, but showed a lot of professionalism in what was at some points a fiery encounter. It wouldn’t have done anyone any harm though to be involved in a competitive fixture at that stage. Next up was the visit of Peterborough United, who in turn had another one of Boro’s ex favourites in their ranks.
George Boyd again returned to the ground where it all began, although Posh’s number 10 had a rare off night. However, even with Boyd not at his best, the Championship side showed their class with a comfortable 2-0 win. Goals from Shaun Batt and Charlie Lee secured the win and condemned Boro to the second straight defeat of the week. The team showed glimpses of quality at some points during the evening, but Peterborough were very professional and could have won by even more had Aaron McLean had his shooting boots on. After the disappointment of going 3 games without a win, Westley needed to make sure his side finished their pre-season campaign on a high. The visit of Southend United was another tough fixture and many thought it could end up like the Millwall and Peterborough games before it, but Boro started the game superbly and shocked the League 1 side when they took the lead through Joel Byrom. Darren Murphy added another goal 5 minutes later to put Stevenage 2-0 up and at that stage the home side were cruising. Southend came back into the game slowly and got a consolation through Frank Moussa, but it wasn’t enough and Boro won the game 2-1.
© FC Boro
Pre-Season v Peterborough
The victory over Southend signalled the end of pre-season for a lot of the ‘first team’ players. For some of the ‘fringe’ players however, Woking was their last chance to prove to the management that they were good enough to be considered for selection against Tamworth on the opening day. Players like Yemi Odubade, Eddie Odhiambo and even Peter Vincenti started at Kingfield looking to impress the watching management team. The game though was a poor spectacle and finished 0-0. Overall, the pre-season campaign was good and the management would have been happy with how the team performed overall. Of course, the main purpose of it was to get fit and sharp for the opening day of the league season and the team did that. Although defeats against Millwall and Peterborough wouldn’t have been nice, they would have been expected and the fact Boro competed with higher league opposition stood the team in good stead. Wins against Brighton and Southend came as a bonus, but they were well deserved victories and it just showed the potential of what this team could do.
the slow start After a summer full of optimism, Stevenage hosted newly promoted Tamworth at Broadhall Way on the 8th August hoping to start the new season with a bang. However, the Lambs had different ideas and frustrated the Hertfordshire side all afternoon. Stevenage took an early lead thanks to a Lee Boylan penalty, but never really got going and were punished late on in the first half when Bradley Pritchard equalised with a cool finish. It wasn’t the start that Graham Westley had planned, but looking at some of the results that Tamworth picked up during the season then it wasn’t actually a bad result. Next up was a trip to another promoted club, this time Hayes & Yeading. 250+ Boro fans made the trip round the M25 hoping to see the team bounce back and pick up their first win of the season, but they were again left frustrated as the Blue Square South play-off winners were the better side on the night and could have even won the game late on had it not been for a superb save by Chris Day. Boro actually took the lead with Andy Drury scoring a superb solo goal. Westley’s side again though didn’t take advantage of taking the lead and were caught napping when the impressive Dale Binns roasted Ronnie Henry before crossing for Danny Allen-Page to tap home the equaliser. Another disappointing display. Barrow away followed the Hayes game. It’s never the easiest trip, but looking back now we really should have won all 3 points there. Since their opening day win against Cambridge, Barrow had won just one game, against Tamworth, losing 4, including a 6-1 defeat at home to Rushden & Diamonds. Stevenage put on a good, solid performance, but it wasn’t enough as the lack of a clinical strike force showed at Holker Street. It had been a frustrating opening 3 games. Early on, it looked like the team was missing a natural goal scorer. Morison’s move to Millwall was being felt and the team couldn’t seem to adapt their game and score enough goals. Ebbsfleet made their way to Broadhall Way next. Boro needed a win badly after 3 straight draws and that first win finally came with an accomplished display against a woeful Ebbsfleet side. Liam Daish’s team had suffered a lot during the summer and was a shadow of the side they were in previous campaigns. Goals from Chris Beardsley, Joel Byrom and Lawrie Wilson made sure of the 3 points. After a convincing display, Stevenage were now full of confidence as they travelled to the Kassam Stadium to face early pace-setters Oxford United. The U’s had made a good start and were now favourites to win promotion from the Blue Square Premier. They continued their good start and were too strong for Boro on the day. Alfie Potter opened the scoring with a well timed finish after an Ashley Bayes mistake. An Adam Murray strike sealed the points for the home side before former U’s striker Yemi Odubade hit a consolation for Boro late on. Rushden were next to visit Broadhall Way and Stevenage were in determined mood to get back to winning ways. However, unfortunately the game will be remembered for the injury to Lawrie Wilson which saw the wing back miss most of the season. Boro won the game 2-1 with the goals coming from Lee Boylan and Michael Bostwick and although they won, the performance again was poor. In some ways Westley’s side were lucky to take all 3 points. Next up on the Bank Holiday weekend was the short trip up to Histon. Boro’s record up there wasn’t bad going into the game, with a win and a draw coming from their last 2 visits to the Glassworld Stadium. They kept that record going with a comfortable 2-0 victory with just 10 men for almost 80 minutes. Peter Vincenti got sent off early on, although it was a harsh decision, but it didn’t affect Stevenage though and goals from Scott Laird and forgotten man Eddie Odhiambo were enough to bring all 3 points back to Hertfordshire and move the team into 4th position.
© FC Boro
It had been a slow start to the season, but there were signs that things were beginning to pick up. I think it’s fair to say that at this stage most of Westley’s summer signings hadn’t lived up to their expectations, but it was still early days. The manager had already got problems with plenty of injuries and suspensions hitting the team in the early weeks of the season. The injury to Lawrie Wilson was a big blow, especially as he had arguably been Boro’s star performer over the first month of the season. The home form was again good with 2 wins and a draw coming from the first 3 games. However, it looked like we still lacked a bit of consistency away from home. The draws against Hayes and Barrow were frustrating results because they were games that I felt we needed to be winning if we were to have any chance of winning promotion. I didn’t expect much from the Oxford game and that proved to be the case. "I think you can see that the side is starting to evolve. It was a comfortable, professional performance without being exhilarating and with a little bit more clinical [finishing] it could have been much more convincing than the two. I lost count of the corners we had, we almost ran out of our repertoire. We must have had seven or eight before we scored, but it is nice when a set-piece comes to fruition."Westley’s view after the first few games
the recovery After a mixed August, September was the month when Boro clicked into gear and began to show exactly what they were about. First up was Eastbourne at home. Last season, the team from the South Coast had shocked the Broadhall Way faithful with a 3-1 victory, but it was very different this time around. Boro were a class above their opponents and goals from Jon Ashton and Ronnie Henry secured the three points. A tricky away fixture at Mansfield followed. If there is one thing that Boro had to improve this season, it was their away form against the ex league clubs. Westley’s side had already been beat by Oxford away from home and this time it was Mansfield, where we had lost 2-1 on the final day of last season. The Stags had started well and were challenging Oxford at the top of the table. They went 2-0 up very early on thanks to two strikes from Kyle Perry. It was looking like another one of those days for Boro, but the game changed dramatically when Perry was sent off for a stamp on Lee Boylan. With Mansfield down to 10 men, Boro believed they were still in a game and 3 goals from Chris Beardsley, Yemi Odubade and Charlie Griffin respectively won the game for the visitors. I think that game gave Boro a massive boost. It was one of the many turning points during the season, but I think we grew as a team that day and that win in Mansfield goes down as one of the most important wins of the season. The following week, Boro travelled to troubled Chester and came away with another 3 points after a narrow win. Michael Bostwick scored the only goal of the game. Next up were two home games and they looked straight forward enough, but Westley’s side faltered again dropping two points against lowly Grays and then only managing a point against Altrincham, Bostwick again with a late equaliser. The draws were beginning to look costly as Oxford continued to extend their lead at the top of the Blue Square Premier. September ended with a short trip to Luton Town. It was the first time that the two clubs had met in a league fixture and it was a night that the Boro fans that travelled won’t forget for a long time. Luton had experienced a mixed start to life in non-league, but went into the game on the back of a 4-3 victory against Cambridge. Stevenage frustrated their opponents and controlled the game. Luton had a few half chances, but nothing that troubled Chris Day. As everyone began to settle for a 0-0 draw, Scott Laird smashed one in from outside the box to give Boro all 3 points. It was another game that showed the potential of this side. They just needed to convert this into consistency. After Luton, there was another tricky looking away fixture, this time against York. Again though, Boro played well and were by far the better side in the first half. They had 2 goals disallowed and 1 that counted, an own goal by Danny Parslow. The second half was a different game though. Boro took their foot off the gas and allowed York back into the game and they equalised with just seconds remaining on the clock. Djoumin Sangare headed in an Alex Lawless corner to deny Boro the 3 points. Three home games followed. First up was Hayes & Yeading and they were comfortably beat 4-0. Charlie Griffin grabbed himself a hat-trick with the other goal coming from Bostwick. Salisbury were beat 3-1 the next Saturday. Mark Roberts opened the scoring before Griffin and Beardsley sealed the nd victory. Boro were now in 2 place in the table and in fine form. Wrexham then visited Broadhall Way on the Tuesday night and frustrated Westley’s side. They held them to a 0-0 draw with Joel Byrom missing a sitter. Boro took a break from league action at the end of October when they visited Chelmsford City in the th FA Cup 4 qualifying round. Although they went behind, goals from Griffin and Vincenti secured their passage into round 1 and a trip to Port Vale. Stevenage finished October with a respectable 1-1 draw against Kettering at Rockingham Road. Byrom opened the scoring with a free-kick that bobbled over Lee Harper, but the Poppies equalised through Moses Ashikodi.
November began with that trip to Port Vale in the Cup. It was arguably one of the performances of the season from Westley’s side as they outclassed the side from League 2 on their own patch. Even though Boro dominated the game, they didn’t take their chances and were punished just before halftime when Adam Yates’ long shot bounced over Chris Day. The team kept plugging away though and were rewarded late on when Charlie Griffin finished from close range to take the tie to a replay. The replay was more of the same, but this time Boro couldn’t find the goal. A solitary goal from Louis nd Dodds was enough to take Vale through to face Huddersfield in the 2 round. Back to the league and things were going along quite smoothly. Gateshead visited Hertfordshire and ended up on the wrong end of an 8 goal thriller. Charlie Griffin hit another hat-trick as Boro won the game 5-3. Further goals from Yemi Odubade and Michael Bostwick completed the victory. A 1-0 win away at Forest Green continued Boro’s good run of form. Lee Boylan again showed his predatory touch in front of goal to grab the only goal of the game. Two routine home wins against Chester and Salisbury completed the month. November had been a very productive month with 4 wins out of 4 games. Boro had also kept up with Oxford and York at the top of the league. December though didn’t start well. Stevenage played struggling Ebbsfleet United at Stonebridge Road and went down to a shock 2-1 defeat. The visitors had even taken the lead, but 2 nd quick goals in the second half from Stefan Bailey condemned Boro to their 2 league defeat of the season. Kidderminster were next up for Westley’s side and the team needed to bounce back straight away after the mid-week defeat in Kent. Kidderminster started the game the better and could have taken the lead, but Damien Spencer’s effort went narrowly over the bar. Stevenage though showed their character and went ahead when John Ashton headed in from a Ronnie Henry free-kick. Mitchell Cole added another in the second half to seal the win.
© FC Boro
christmas & new year Some of the worst weather seen in decades hit the fixture list in late December and early January. Boro started their defence of the FA Trophy with a 2-0 win against Ebbsfleet United at Broadhall Way. Westley’s team avenged the defeat to Liam Daish’s side a few days earlier and were comfortable winners. Goals from Chris Beardsley and David Bridges sealed their passage to the next round and a home tie against Vauxhall Motors. In the league, the Christmas fixtures threw up a double header against Cambridge United plus a home fixture against AFC Wimbledon. It would prove to be a real test of this team’s strength and character and they came through it with flying colours. Stevenage made the dreaded trip to the Abbey Stadium on Boxing Day with the painful memories of last May still fresh in many supporters and players minds. It got even worse after 5 minutes when Danny Crow scored from the spot to give the U’s the lead. Credit to Stevenage though. They didn’t fold and collapse like last season’s team would have, they stood up to be counted and got back into the game when Yemi Odubade equalised, also from the penalty spot. Wayne Hatswell then got himself sent off which swung the game Boro’s way. The second half was mostly Stevenage and they made their possession count. Charlie Griffin put the visitors ahead 10 minutes after half-time and Chris Beardsley sealed a memorable afternoon with the rd 3 5 minutes from time. It was a big day in Stevenage’s season and that was the game that I began to believe that there is something special about this team. Next up was AFC Wimbledon at home. The Wombles had taken to Blue Square Premier football like water to a duck’s back and were challenging for a play-off spot. They also brought quite a number of supporters to Hertfordshire. The game finished 0-0, but it was quite an entertaining draw. In fact, Wimbledon were unlucky not to take the 3 points back to South London. They had the better chances and frustrated Boro throughout. The New Year’s Day fixture saw Cambridge visit Stevenage. It was one of the only games not to be called off and coverage of the game even made Sky Sports News. A win for Stevenage would put the club on top of the league with Oxford not playing and that they did. Yemi Odubade fired in the first on 25 minutes before Danny Crow equalised. Boro continued to press and went back in front on the stroke of half-time when Lee Boylan finished off a sweeping move with a cool finish. The second half was all Boro and they went 3-1 ahead when Chris Beardsley finished from close th range. Boylan added a clinical 4 just after an hour and confirmed that it would be the Hertfordshire side that would be sitting top of the table at the start of 2010. "The first half we stuttered and stumbled and didn't really get going. In the second half we really got a grip on the game and could have won by a great margin. The energy was the important thing from my point of view. Between minutes 45 and 65 the energy that the lads showed the professionalism of the last week to keep themselves right."Westley after the Cambridge win The poor weather began to really cause havoc in early January. Stevenage had to wait 18 days until they played again after the Cambridge game. That game was in the FA Trophy against Vauxhall Motors and the Conference North side were hammered 6-0. In some ways, it was the perfect game to get back into action after a 2 week break. It shook off any cob webs that were lingering and got the team focused for the league game against Kettering a few days later.
It was around about this time that Graham Westley added to his squad. In came Tim Sills who left Torquay United just 6 months after helping them win promotion from the Blue Square Premier. The signing of Sills was certainly a coup and his quality and experience would show as the season went on. Sills would make his debut at home to Kettering, but it would be off the bench as the Boro boss decided to stick with the forward three of Boylan, Beardsley and Odubade. Boro were frustrated for long spells against the Poppies, who’s off the field problems hadn’t seemed to affect their performances on it. Westley threw on Sills to try and change the game in Boro’s favour and within a minute of coming on he set up Stacy Long to fire in the opener. Kettering tried to push for an equaliser, but in doing so left themselves exposed at the back and Long raced through in injury time to seal the win. After beating Kettering, attentions again turned to the FA Trophy. Dover were the visitors to Broadhall Way and although the visitors went ahead, goals from Sills, Beardsley, Bostwick and Odubade saw off the Blue Square South side and secured the holders’ place in the Quarter Finals where they would face Workington.
© FC Boro
february & march Tamworth were first up in February. The Lamb Ground has proved to be a bit of a bogey ground for Stevenage in the past and it was no different this time around as the title bid took a dent with a 1-0 defeat. Tamworth opened the scoring in the first half through Chris Smith. Boro were poor in the first half, but performed better in the second and even though they went down to nine men when Ronnie Henry and Darren Murphy were both sent off, they were unfortunate not to find an equaliser. Mansfield made the visit to Broadhall Way the following Tuesday night and Stevenage needed to bounce back after the disappointment of being beat at Tamworth. To add insult to injury, Oxford overtook them at the top, although they were held at home by Kidderminster. Things didn’t start well for Boro in what was a fiery encounter and just before half-time the Stags took the lead. Their goal courtesy of ex Halifax striker Jon Shaw. Boro re-focused in the second half and quickly got level when Yemi Odubade’s shot from inside the area was deflected in via a Mansfield defender. Minutes later Yemi scored again, this time firing in after Tim Sills’ initial shot had been saved. Stevenage had again shown their character coming back from a goal down to win the game and Andy Drury’s superb effort late on sealed the points for Westley’s side. Confidence had been restored ahead of another tricky away game, this time against Rushden. Boro again were not at their best and although they stifled the home side, they created very little. When the game looked to be heading for a stalemate, Robert Wolleaston smashed home a superb shot from fully 30 yards to stun Stevenage. Two straight defeats away from home had hit the side hard and it now looked like Oxford’s title to lose. At this point they were a few points clear with games in hand as well. Stevenage took a break from the promotion race and faced Workington in the FA Trophy quarter final. Again, the home side struggled and went 1-0 down. Two late goals from Stacy Long spared Boro’s blushes and put them through to the semis. After securing our place in the semi-final of the Trophy again, Graham Westley and his staff had to get the team focused for 4 massive games in the league. Away games at Wrexham and Eastbourne followed before home games against Crawley and Barrow. The Wrexham game was another turning point in our season. We showed again that we could turn up at “big” grounds and come away with a result. David Bridges scored the only goal of the game. At the end of February, Stevenage were 6 points behind leaders Oxford United having both played 30 games each. nd
Eastbourne was next up for Westley’s men and the 2 March 2010 was to prove to be a pivotal night in the Blue Square Premier title race. Stevenage thrashed the south coast side 6-0 at Priory Lane, with Mitchell Cole grabbing a second half hat-trick. The other goals came from Mark Roberts, David Bridges and Chris Beardsley as Boro ran riot. The night got even better when news came through that Oxford were held at Cambridge United to a 1-1 draw. Luton also only drew 0-0 at home to Mansfield, but weren’t really in the title race at this point. The win over Eastbourne had given the team and supporters a lot of belief that it could be our year. Oxford were beginning to wobble and it looked liked Boro were hitting top form. They had been th consistent all season, but were now beginning to find 5 gear and the opposition couldn’t cope with it, just as Crawley found out in the next game. Stevenage weren’t at their best, but they were physically too strong for Steve Evans’s side and goals from Michael Bostwick and Lee Boylan secured the three points. With Oxford not playing, Boro closed the gap again on the leaders although Luton were now gathering pace below after their 3-2 victory over Hayes & Yeading.
Blue Square Premier Table as of 6 March 2010
1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
Oxford United Stevenage Rushden Kettering Luton Town
Played 31 32 33 33 32
Points 67 66 59 58 58
Boro’s next game was at home to Barrow in another re-arranged fixture that had been previously called off when the ‘big freeze’ hit the UK. Barrow made the long journey south on a Tuesday night and after half an hour, were probably wishing they hadn’t bothered. Yemi Odubade opened the scoring with a well taken finish and Scott Laird added a second just before half-time. Yemi was a threat to the Cumbria side all evening and he grabbed his second of the night on the hour mark before completing his hat-trick with just 5 minutes remaining. Stevenage had done their job and the news coming through from the Kassam Stadium was also positive. Oxford had unexpectedly lost against Hayes & Yeading by 2 goals to 1. Former Oxford striker Steve Basham had hit a brace that had shocked Chris Wilder’s side. Boro went two points clear at the top, although the U’s still had a game in hand. After 4 straight wins in the league, attentions again turned to the FA Trophy and Kidderminster. Boro had drawn the Worcestershire side in a repeat of the 2007 final, the first played at the new Wembley. The first leg was at Aggborough and I was expecting a cagey game as the Harriers were in a good run of form under new manager Steve Burr. We got the opposite. Stevenage took the lead thanks to David Bridges and although Kiddy equalised courtesy of Gavin Caines, Boro were by far the better side. Goals from Yemi Odubade, Chris Beardsley (2) and a further strike from Bridges gave the team a 5-1 lead going into the second leg at Broadhall Way. Boro went into the next game against Histon still top after Oxford had dropped points at home against Kettering. Crucially now though, the destiny of the title was in Stevenage’s hands with both clubs having now played 33 games each. With the U’s not in action until the weekend, the Histon game was a chance for Boro to extend their lead to 4 points. They did just that. Jon Ashton’s first half header was enough to give the home side the win although Histon went close to an equaliser on more than one occasion. It was starting to get interesting in the league and with the second leg of the Trophy Semi-Final against Kidderminster still to finish off; Boro left Oxford and Luton to it. Boro drew the game against Kiddy 0-0 to make the Trophy final for the third time in four years, although in fairness the tie had been settled a week earlier. Luton showed their intent on giving Stevenage a run for their money with a 6-1 win against Ebbsfleet. That brought them right into the race and were just 2 points off Boro now, although they had played a couple of games more. The main challengers at this point were still Oxford and their title chances took a huge blow against Tamworth on the Sunday. They were held to a 0-0 draw which gave Boro a 3 point lead over them going in to the final month of the season. After missing their league game the previous weekend due to the commitments in the Trophy, Stevenage were back in action against bottom club Grays on the following Tuesday. Every game was now a must win and they travelled to Essex in good form knowing that maximum points from the next two games would put the club in pole position for the title. It didn’t start well at the Rec and Grays took the lead when Jamie Guy finished from close range. After going into the break a goal down, the team again showed its character and got back into the game when Michael Bostwick popped up from a corner. However, it was still only 1-1 and it looked like it was going to be a frustrating night until Charlie Griffin came off the bench to head in the winner just minutes from time. Stevenage were 5 points clear at the top from Luton. Oxford were a point further back, but had a game in hand on the leaders.
Oxford’s game in hand was against Rushden the following night. They went behind at Nene Park to a Rhys Day own goal, but equalised with 20 minutes left through Sam Deering. The U’s put a lot of pressure late on the Rushden goal, but couldn’t find a way past the Diamonds keeper. Their 2 points dropped meant that Boro kept their 5 point lead at the top, but had now played the same amount of games as Oxford and 1 less than Luton. Stevenage travelled to Crawley on the last Saturday of March in what looked like a tricky away fixture. Steve Evans’ side had played well at Broadhall Way a few weeks earlier and certainly had the potential to upset the league leaders in their pursuit of the title. Any nerves that were lingering before hand though were put to bed within 5 minutes after Yemi Odubade had put Boro in front. The Nigerian forward latched onto a Bridges pass and chipped the ball over the on rushing keeper. The perfect start. Boro controlled the game throughout and doubled their lead after the half hour when Odubade ran onto a Sills flick on and curled the ball past Rayner and into the net. With Boro 2-0 up at half-time, results from around the grounds were mixed. Oxford were being held by Gateshead, but Luton had hit 7 first half goals at home to Hayes & Yeading. They eased off in the second half, just adding the 1 to their impressive score line. Stevenage also added 1 more goal to make it 3-0 and what a goal it was. Joel Byrom received the ball just inside the Crawley half and chipped the keeper much to the surprise of the Broadfield Stadium. It was the goal of the season and capped off a fine performance. Boro had done their job and would take a 5 point lead going into the upcoming Oxford and Luton games. The next two games were arguably the biggest two of the season. Oxford and Luton were to visit Broadhall Way, where we were unbeaten since November 2008. The U’s were first up and Chris Wilder’s side came into the game on a poor run of form. They had just won 1 game of their last 6 and had seen their lead at the top of the league destroyed. Arguably the game was bigger for Oxford. They had to win to keep up with Boro at the top. Anything less and it would be difficult for them to catch the Hertfordshire side. Boro looked up for it from the kick-off and almost went ahead within the opening 2 minutes. Mitchell Cole had a great chance from about 10 yards out, but he mis-hit his shot and it went harmlessly wide. When on the ball, Boro were more productive than their opponents and created another chance when Andy Drury rounded the keeper, but he was forced too wide and his resulting cross was cleared. The second half was more of the same. Boro were looking the more threatening going forward and when Chris Hargreaves brought down Bridges in the area, Graham Westley’s side were given the perfect opportunity to take the lead. Laird stepped up confidently and stroked the ball in to the net. It was a really well taken penalty in such a high pressure situation. Oxford tried to get back into the game and were enjoying some long periods of possession, but couldn’t find a way through the Boro defence and in the end they resorted to long ball tactics which were ineffective. Boro had won the game and were now 5 points clear at the top, 8 clear of Oxford. th
Blue Square Premier Table as of 30 March 2010
1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
Stevenage Luton Town Oxford United Rushden York City
Played 37 38 37 38 38
Points 81 76 73 70 68
the run-in Boro kicked off the last month of the season with the biggest game of the season at home to Luton Town. The Hatters had benefited from Chester City’s expulsion from the division and as a result were 4 points closer to the leaders. They had picked up their form and were now Stevenage’s main rivals for the championship. Boro went into the game, 5 points clear of Luton with a game in hand. Richard Money’s side knew they had to win the game. Anything less would almost certainly gift their Hertfordshire rivals the title. Stevenage started off the better and even had the ball in the net, but Tim Sills’ effort was disallowed for offside. Although Boro were the better side for most of the game, it was Luton that got the decisive goal when substitute Matthew Barnes-Homer’s fortunate effort ended up in the back of the Boro net. The goal seemed to rock Stevenage and even though they put pressure on towards the end, they couldn’t find the breakthrough. Luton had beaten Stevenage and the Hatters now believed that they could overtake Boro at the top of the Blue Square Premier.
© James Cannon Photography
Chris Beardsley against Luton
AFC Wimbledon was next for Stevenage on Easter Monday and Westley’s side needed to bounce back after the disappointment of the Luton game on the Saturday. Graham Westley rang the changes as he aimed to freshen up the promotion chasing side. One player to make his first start since August was Lawrie Wilson and he started on the right wing. It looked like it was going to be a tricky game on paper, but the visitors calmed any nerves and took the lead within the first 10 minutes. Mark Roberts bundling home a corner. Stevenage were in dream land two minutes later when the superb Wilson was put through on goal and he volleyed home from just inside the area. Boro controlled the game throughout and made sure of the three points in the last minute when Eddie Odhiambo finished from close range. A fantastic response from the team that looked so dejected a few days earlier. The win at Wimbledon had breathed new life into the team’s title challenge. The focus had been regained.
After the response at Kingsmeadow, Stevenage were now favourites to win promotion from the Blue Square Premier. Luton were still just 2 points away, but Boro had the bonus of having a game in hand. Relegation haunted Forest Green were next up for Boro at Broadhall Way. Luton faced a trip to Tamworth. With FGR fighting for their lives, the game was always going to be a tough one, but Boro again scored early which dispelled any lingering nerves going into the game. Tim Sills did well to hold up the ball and his cross found Joel Byrom who shot home. The game stayed at 1-0 for a long while, but it was finally killed off after the hour when Scott Laird scored from the spot. There was a huge sigh of relief as the confidence grew that this could just be our year. As the full time whistle blew with the home side securing a 2-0 win, attentions turned to the Lamb Ground and the Tamworth v Luton game. Luton took the lead, but veteran Des Lyttle had equalised to put the Lambs level. Luton had chances to get the winner, but Tamworth held on to deny the Hatters the three points and extend Boro’s lead at the top to 4 points with a game in hand. Stevenage needed just 6 points from their next 4 games to seal the title. Three of those games were away from home with the first being a trip to Greater Manchester and Altrincham. Stevenage knew they would be in for a tough game against the Robins and that certainly proved to be the case. Altrincham were the better side for the majority of the game and they denied the leaders from getting into their stride. Chris Senior had a great chance to put Alty into the lead, but his header hit the bar. Gradually, Boro began to get into the game. Altrincham struggled with their fitness as the game went on and the visitors took full advantage. Boro worked the ball well down the left and Sills connected superbly with a diving header that was only parried by Saunders to the feet of Griffin who fired home. It was a huge goal and one that meant that a win at Kidderminster on the following Saturday would be enough to secure the club’s promotion to the football league for the first time in their history. So to Aggborough and Kidderminster Harriers. Stevenage travelled to Worcestershire knowing that 3 points would mean promotion for the first time in the club’s short history. The home side had endured a transitional season and new manager Steve Burr had already claimed in the media beforehand that he would be giving some fringe players a chance in the last few games to prove that they were good enough to be considered for new deals. Stevenage arrived in confident mood, especially after the late winner at Altrincham in the week. Nearly a thousand Boro supporters had made the trip from Hertfordshire and although there was still nerves, it was a much different feeling to that of the Luton and Oxford games played earlier in the month. Everyone was convinced that it was a matter of when the title was wrapped up rather than if. Things got off to the perfect start when Kidderminster shot themselves in the foot more or less right from the kick off. Goalkeeper Jasbir Singh picked up a back pass from John Finnigan and that allowed Charlie Griffin to shoot from inside the area and score the opening goal within the first 2 minutes. The title dream was getting closer. The home side worked their way back into the game after the goal, but never really threatened the Boro defence. At the other end, Westley’s side had a few efforts on goal as they tried to extend their lead, but they were only half chances and the game went into the break with the score line still at 1-0. The second half was another balanced affair with neither side creating a clear cut opportunity. That was until just after the hour when Joel Byrom’s weaving run concluded with the midfielder curling the ball into the net with his right foot. It was a fantastic goal and one that more or less confirmed that it would be Stevenage who would be playing in League 2 next season.
Boro played out the remainder of the match professionally and limited the hosts to long distance efforts. The full time whistle then blew much to the delight of the superb travelling support. Some celebrated their team’s promotion by running on to the pitch whilst others just sat back and applauded the efforts of their players. Boro had finally done it. It had been 14 long years since the class of 1996 had their promotion wiped out due to the Broadhall Way ground not being up to standard, but the club will now finally get their chance to play in the football league. Before they could be awarded with the Conference Trophy, 2 games were still yet to play. First up was the long trip to Gateshead. Graham Westley made 7 changes from the side that beat Kidderminster the previous Saturday, but still came away with the 3 points. A penalty from Scott Laird in the first half was enough to see off the side from the North East. The final game of the season saw York City make the trip south to visit the home of the Champions. City had already secured their place in the Conference play-offs, so they decided to rest some of their key players like Richard Brodie and Michael Gash. There was a party atmosphere around Broadhall Way and over 5,000 supporters turned out to see the Conference Trophy paraded around the stadium. The game itself wasn’t the greatest and had that end of season feeling about it. David Bridges headed in the only goal of the game and that was enough to give Stevenage the win which moved them onto 99 points for the season. It would have been 105 had it not been for Chester’s expulsion from the league and that point tally would have resulted in a Conference record. At the end of the game, the players came out in specifically made tops with the words “We are the CHAMPIONS” written across them. Conference Chairman Brian Lee gave the players their medals before allowing Captain Mark Roberts to lift the Trophy which confirmed that Stevenage Borough were the Conference Champions for 2009/2010 and will be playing their football in League 2 next season. A fantastic achievement.
Mark Roberts with the Trophy
the fa trophy final Stevenage failed to defend the FA Trophy after being beat 2-1 by Barrow in extra time. It was a bitter end to one of the best seasons in the club’s history. Andy Drury looked to have set Boro on their way as they went ahead after just 10 minutes, but the sending off of David Bridges changed the game. Barrow equalised 10 minutes from time when Lee McEvilly headed home a Rutherford cross. Barrow midfielder Hulbert was then sent off for a sickening challenge on Charlie Griffin, which left the Boro striker in hospital. It was 10 v 9 in extra time and Barrow took advantage of that when Jason Walker scored to win the game. Graham Westley fielded a familiar eleven with Joel Byrom getting the nod over Stacy Long to start alongside Bostwick and Bridges. Yemi Odubade partnered Chris Beardsley up front, while Andy Drury was given a bit of a free role. Barrow opted to start Gregg Blundell with Jason Walker and leave McEvilly on the bench. Barrow started the game strongly and were the better side in the opening exchanges. Boro seemed to take a while to get into the game, but then against the run of play they took the lead when Andy Drury picked up the ball and curled a shot into the top corner. There was nothing that Tomlinson in the Barrow goal could do about it. I was feeling pretty confident at this point. Our defensive record has been outstanding this season and I didn’t believe we would concede, certainly with 11 men. That’s where the game changed. 28 minutes had past when David Bridges was sent off for “violent conduct”. I just don’t buy that. From where I was sitting it looked like he had over run the ball and slid to nick it from the oncoming Barrow player. He slid into Bond and it happened that he slid into his midriff, which must have been painful. The reaction of their bench and some of their players got Bridges sent off. I don’t think Probert (the referee) would have sent him off if there hadn’t have been that reaction. With Stevenage down to 10 men, Westley adjusted his formation and was more defensive in his approach. Boro continued to try to use Yemi’s pace as their main weapon and it was working every time against their captain Jones. Yemi had him beaten, but failed to produce an end product. As the game neared half-time, Boro had a great chance to extend their lead, but Chris Beardsley’s half-volley flew harmlessly over the bar. It was to prove to be costly. The second half was an end to end affair. Barrow went more attacking as they looked for an equaliser and they brought on Carlos Logan and Lee McEvilly. Boro were more conservative in their play as they tried to defend their 1 goal lead with a player less. Lawrie Wilson came on for Joel Byrom as GW opted for Lawrie’s energy around the pitch instead of Byrom’s laid back style. Stevenage continued to use the counter attack to good effect. Yemi’s pace was still a useful weapon and it nearly worked when he got beyond Edwards only to be hauled down. Probert refused to give the penalty even though it looked certain. Jon Ashton then went close with a header that hit the side netting. It looked as if Boro had done enough and that Barrow weren’t going to find that goal they needed. Unfortunately though they did and it came courtesy of former Cambridge striker Lee McEvilly. Carlos Logan, who had been a threat since coming on passed to Rutherford, who then crossed for McEvilly and he headed the ball past Day. Ronnie Henry seemed to mis-judge the cross and that allowed McEvilly a free header. As the game looked to be heading for extra time, Barrow’s Hulbert then elbowed Charlie Griffin which left the Boro striker with a suspected broken nose and cheekbone. It was a disgraceful challenge that should be severely punished. At the moment Hulbert will receive the same punishment as Bridges and the difference between the two challenges is just too big to measure! It wasn’t the only tackle that Hulbert should have been punished for. There were a few tackles in the game on Byrom and Laird that could have easily seen bookings. The incident left a bitter taste in the mouth and my best wishes go to Charlie. Let’s hope he makes a full and speedy recovery.
The game went to extra time and it was now 10 v 9, as Boro had lost Griffin and had already had made their 3 substitutes with the latest being Ashley Bayes replacing the injured Chris Day. Boro only had Yemi to aim at up top and just 8 outfield players to try to get around the poor, but big Wembley pitch. You could tell that the players were struggling with fatigue as the game went on and chances for both sides were few and far between. Barrow though did get a chance and they took it. Jason Walker, who had missed one earlier, didn’t miss this time and fired his shot past Bayes, who didn’t move. “Circumstances conspired against us today. I thought we were valiant in our effort. The players worked their socks off for each other. I thought in the end the legs that we didn’t have out on the pitch because of the Griffin injury probably cost us.” Westley’s view on the game We didn’t really play well, but a lot of that was due to the circumstances. The Bridges sending off changed the game, Griffin’s injury was sickening and to quote Richard Money the pitch didn’t help either. A bitter end to a fantastic season. It’s a shame we haven’t done the double because I think the team deserved it over the course of the campaign. They’ve been superb and are without doubt the best team in non-league football at the moment. The Trophy win would have topped it off nicely, but the main thing is that we have won promotion and I’m more than happy with that.
Roberts post match at Wembley
squad analysis chris day One of the most consistent players I think we have ever had at Stevenage. Day rarely makes a mistake and has pulled off some great saves over the course of the season. I think it was Roy Keane that once said a quality goalkeeper can earn your team an extra 10 points over the season and I think it’s fair to say that Day has had that impact. He has kept a record number of clean sheets, if you include the Chester results, and is a big asset to this club. ashley bayes It’s been another season on the bench for Bayes, but he’s whenever he’s come in, he’s been a steady replacement for Chris Day. With Day established in the no.1 shirt and appearances likely to be limited again next year, it’s unsure whether he’ll remain at the club beyond the summer. The substitute appearance in the Trophy Final at Wembley could be a fitting end for Boro’s half-time entertainer. ronnie henry Arguably the player of the year. Ronnie has grown into the right back role under Westley and has been very consistent. He offers defensive stability as well as an extra threat down the right side with his overlapping runs causing Blue Square Premier defences all kind of problems. Ronnie has also now been with the club over 5 years and is the club’s longest serving player. His experience this season has also been invaluable. scott laird Boro’s number 3 has improved again this season. Despite still being young, he’s has grown in confidence and is a key member of the team. Along with Roberts, Ashton and Henry, Laird has been a big part of the best defence in the league and like Henry, he is also a threat going forward. He showed that by grabbing valuable goals against Luton and Oxford which helped secure Boro the title. mark roberts Graham Westley installed Roberts as captain in the summer as he has been proved correct in his decision. Roberts has been a superb leader of the club this year and leads by example. His defending has again been of the highest quality and has developed a good understanding with Jon Ashton at the heart of the Boro defence. It’s no coincidence that Stevenage have only lost 2 league games at Broadhall Way since his arrival. jon ashton There were a few doubts about Ashton last season when he arrived from Grays, but there are none now. Ashton has had a superb year at Stevenage and has been a rock in the Boro backline. His understanding with Mark Roberts has continued to grow and as a result the team has been very solid, unlike previous campaigns. Ashton is a big reason behind that and his “hard man” attitude has also won over a lot of the Boro fans. mark albrighton It’s been a bit part role for Albrighton this season due to injury and the form of Roberts and Ashton. However, he has been a reliable understudy for them both when he has been called upon. His experience has been helpful and although he struggles with the pace sometimes, he is a very solid defender and if he leaves this summer, as he is expected to, then there will be a number of Conference clubs that would be interested in his services.
lawrie wilson Lawrie had a “different” season compared to the rest of the squad. He started it well, impressing on the right wing, but then broke his leg against Rushden at Broadhall Way. Initially, it was thought that he would be out for the rest of the season, but he returned in early April against Luton. Wilson’s return exceeded many expectations and he capped it off with a superb goal against AFC Wimbledon. He’s improved a lot in the last 18 months and will be a key player in the football league next season. eddie odhiambo I didn’t expect Eddie to still be with us this season, but after a poor first season, he improved his attitude and showed that he was a useful squad player for us. He was used more at the beginning of the season and although he is expected to be released in the summer, Odhiambo has built a lot of rd bridges after last year. He also capped his season off against AFC Wimbledon with the 3 goal. I expect Eddie to leave this summer, but he’ll go with a lot of credit. michael bostwick Another player that could have won player of the year. Bostwick has been impressive in either defence or midfield this season. He played an important role at the start of the season filling in at centre half when Jon Ashton was out. He did the same when Mark Roberts got injured before Christmas. In midfield, Bostwick has been a class above and at times has dominated in games. He has also got Boro some very important goals over the season including strikes against Altrincham, Crawley and Grays. darren murphy Murphy seems to have gained himself a reputation as the liability in the team and has rarely featured since Christmas. He has potential and I think he can be a good player for this club, but he is still very raw. He can break up the play, but needs to improve his distribution. His passing seems to let him down and he sometimes dwells on the ball too much. If he can work hard over the close season then he could be a handy player in the league next year. david bridges The former Cambridge man finally seems to have got over his injury demons that he has been plagued with since he arrived in the summer of 2008. He’s had a good season in the Boro midfield, linking the play well and chipping in with a good number of goals. He’s the sort of player that can get that important goal when you really need it and his aerial ability is a threat from the crosses by Henry and Laird. I think he’ll be a useful player in League 2. joel byrom Joel had a slow start to his Boro career and it didn’t help when he was sent off on the opening day against Tamworth. I don’t think he has lived up to the expectations that his transfer fee put on him yet, but he has shown flashes of his quality over the course of the campaign. His goal away at Crawley was one of the goals of the season and he offers a threat from set-pieces, but he will need to improve to get into the Boro midfield next season. stacy long Another player that was brought in by Graham Westley over the summer of 2009. Long found first team opportunities hard to come by at first, but he worked his way into the side just before Christmas and showed the Boro fans what he could do with some good performances. His best game in a Stevenage shirt was the home game against Kettering where his two goals won the game for Graham Westley’s side. There’s no doubt he has the talent, but just needs to find some consistency.
andy drury It’s been another good season for Drury. The former Ebbsfleet winger has enjoyed a fairly injury free campaign compared to his first season and was a key player in the title run in. Particular highlights were his goals against Mansfield and Hayes in the league, while his long range effort against Barrow in the Trophy Final was sublime. He’s proved to be a big asset for this team and the hope is that he will extend his contract beyond the summer. peter vincenti Vincenti has again been a regular bench warmer this season and has failed to make the break through to the first team. Again his attitude has been good and he has contributed a few vital goals during the season. The late winner at Chelmsford springs to mind, but overall he hasn’t been as effective off the bench as last season. I expect him to be allowed to leave this summer. mitchell cole Probably one of the most frustrating players to ever wear the Stevenage shirt. Everyone knows he has the talent, but he fails to deliver it regularly. Again, we’ve seen flashes of his brilliance, but too often the lazy Cole has been on the pitch or not as his injury record will soon tell you. He has another year left on his contract and I think he will see that out, but he will need to improve if he wants to stay beyond that. His highlight of the year without doubt was his 6 minute hat-trick away at Eastbourne. charlie griffin Griffin was Westley’s first signing of the summer as the Boro boss tried to replace Steve Morison. He took a while to settle and the team took a while to adapt to him, but we’ve seen why he was snapped up quickly last year. Griffin has shown his predatory instinct in the box and although he hasn’t been prolific, he has popped up with some vital goals in Boro’s title winning season. The late goal away at Altrincham was my particular favourite. lee boylan Another player that has been more on the fringes of the first team this season, but nonetheless he has been a good player to have in the squad. Like Griffin, Lee has proved that he has the ability to score goals and Boylan kicked it all off back in August with the opening goal of the season at home to Tamworth. His brace against Cambridge was probably his best game of the campaign, but overall he will be frustrated that his appearances have been limited. I expect him to also leave in the summer. chris beardsley The surprise of the year for me. I didn’t expect much from Beardsley when we signed him from Kettering and to be fair, he didn’t set the world alight at the beginning of his career at BHW. However, Beardsley began to win the fans over after the Christmas/New Year period with some hardworking performances. He isn’t a prolific goal scorer, but he links the play well and combines with Yemi to good effect. If he can improve on his finishing then he will be a handful for plenty of League 2 defences next season. yemi odubade Another surprise really. I knew all about Yemi from his Oxford days and knew he had pace to burn, but the lacked a final ball. I didn’t expect him to be as much of a success as he has been this season, but he has shown he can score goals and if he improves his positioning, then he will be a dangerous player in the football league next year. He offers Boro another threat going forward and his pace is a weapon that a lot of BSP defences will be happy to have got rid of.
tim sills Signed from Torquay in January to give more competition to the Boro attack. Sills’ experience helped Boro enormously during the run-in and he has proved to be an important element in the squad. He is very clever on and off the ball and sometimes other members of the squad fail to read what he is going to do. He linked up well with Yemi at Crawley, but often his flick-ons and hold up play go unnoticed. He will be a valuable player for us next season. the others michael brough Graham Westley signed Brough at the beginning of the season to cover some injuries. His versatility was very useful in the short time he was with us. Brough made 6 appearances in his time with us this season with his best performance being at Kenilworth Road against Luton. Brough filled in at right back with Ronnie Henry unavailable and kept the Luton attack quiet. GW wanted to keep him on, but in the end couldn’t agree a fee with Torquay and he opted to sign for Mansfield instead. the management graham westley A lot of questions were asked when he was re-appointed as Stevenage manager, but he has answered them all in the best way possible. The FA Trophy success of last year has been followed by a record breaking campaign that has ended with promotion to the football league. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea and he certainly wasn’t mine after his first spell, but no one can deny his record at this level and he deserves a lot of credit for coming back and getting this club promoted. john dreyer He’s been the perfect foil for GW. You can tell he has a big impact within the squad purely because of the team’s defensive record this season. A lot of work has gone in to making the backline solid and JD’s hard work deserves plaudits too. He offers a lot to the table tactically and his previous experience in the Premier & Football Leagues will help the club to prepare for next season. dino maamria It’s no coincidence that Boro’s upturn in form over the 2008/2009 season happened around the same time Dino replaced Steve Greaves as first team coach. Although he has his controversial moments on the touchline, Dino offers a lot to the management team and seems to have a good eye for defenders after recommending Mark Roberts to GW. We should also give a mention to Neil Withington, Ali Uzunhasanoglu and Paul Dando for their work behind the scenes. phil wallace The Stevenage Chairman has done a fantastic job at Broadhall Way since he took over from Victor Green in the late 90’s. He has stabilised the club and made sure that it is running within its means financially. He’s been able to keep the club competitive in the Conference for more than a decade and made a bold decision to re-appoint Graham Westley as manager in 2008. Not many would have done that, but he’s been proved that he made the right choice. A lot of credit must go to Phil for the success we’ve enjoyed in the last few seasons.
season overview The defeat to Cambridge in the second leg of the play-offs last year left a massive void on Stevenage’s season. Boro, who were 3-1 up from the first leg, collapsed and lost 3-0 to put the U’s through to a Wembley final against Torquay United. All sorts of things went through my head walking out of the Abbey Stadium that day. Is that the last we’ve seen of Steve Morison in the league? How many players will stay for next season? Have we blown our best chance of promotion? With the amount of “big” clubs in the division next season, will we get another chance? At the start of the season, I didn’t expect to achieve promotion, let alone win the league outright. I thought Luton would win it with Oxford, Wrexham, Cambridge and Mansfield all competing for promotion through the play-offs. The opening 3 games didn’t change my mind either. If anything they only confirmed my belief further that we were not good enough to win promotion this season. How I was wrong! At the start of the campaign we seemed to struggle to score goals and the absence of Morison was certainly having an impact. The new signings took a while to adapt to their new surroundings and injuries to key players like David Bridges, Mitchell Cole and Ronnie Henry affected our performances th early on. We only won 1 of our first 5 games and were in 14 position after being beat by Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium. Certainly not title winning form. However, that defeat at Oxford seemed to kick something off in the team. We were always tough to play against, it’s just we weren’t scoring enough goals. Gradually the goals started to come and players like Charlie Griffin, Chris Beardsley and Yemi Odubade began to show the Broadhall Way faithful why Graham Westley was so keen for them to arrive in the summer. Boro won 5 on the bounce after that defeat against Oxford and were suddenly involved in the race for promotion. That run of form was massively important for the whole season. It showed that the team could put runs of results together and that they could go to tough places away and get a result. Included in that run were wins against the likes of Rushden and Mansfield. The Mansfield game in particular was special. Boro showed they had character when they came from 2-0 down away from home to end up winning the game 3-2. The season carried on in a similar vein. Stevenage were showing that they were difficult to beat and although they dropped points against teams like Grays and Altrincham at home, they also went and beat Luton at Kenilworth Road and held both York and Kettering to draws. Only a defeat to Ebbsfleet put a blemish on an other wise superb start to the 2009/2010 campaign. Christmas was another crucial period for Westley’s side. The double-header over Cambridge brought back plenty of unhappy memories from the previous May, but the team smashed past them in both games coming away with comfortable victories. A credible draw against an impressive AFC Wimbledon side was sandwiched between the two games. 2010 got off to a good start when rivals Kettering were beaten 2-0 at Broadhall Way. Tim Sills made his debut in that game and set up Stacy Long for the opening goal with his first touch. Boro were keeping up with leaders Oxford, just, but then two poor results against Tamworth and Rushden seemed to gift the U’s the initiative. They had an 8 point lead at this point. It didn’t look good. A plus point from this season though was Boro’s bouncebackability. They always seemed to bounce back after a set back and they did that after the defeat at Nene Park. Stevenage faced a tricky game away at Wrexham and won 1-0. That game sticks out as a massive turning point. It showed me that they had what it took to maintain a challenge for the title.
With Boro continuing to remain consistent, Oxford were now stuttering a bit and that 8 point lead was slowly being chiselled down. Oxford had choked. Chris Wilder was making panic buys in the loan market and Stevenage were gathering pace behind them. That run of results after the Rushden match were another crucial set of results. The Crawley game in particular was a game that stood out. Boro performed like Champions that day and goals from Yemi Odubade (2) and Joel Byrom gave the team a very impressive 3-0 win. With Chester City being expunged from the division along with all of their results, Luton now had an added impetus. They closed the gap on Boro without having to kick a ball and put some good results together to pressure us at the top. Boro beat Oxford to write them out of it and confirm it as a two horse race for the title. The Luton game was big, but due to Boro beating Oxford earlier that week, it was never paramount for us to win that game. We could afford a slip up and that game was it. It gave Luton some belief that they could do it, but realistically it was never going to happen. Luton never really bothered me until the Chester situation arose. Credit to them for their end of season run, but without that I question whether they would have even made the play-offs. Even though we lost the Luton game, I remained confident that we would do it because of what I had seen over the last 2 years from this team. They had showed that they were a tough, physical team that were very difficult to play against. They could score goals from all over the pitch and defensively were very solid. AFC Wimbledon were brushed aside in what at the start looked like a tricky game. So were Forest Green. Altrincham was a real test, but Boro held on until the latter stages when the part-timers were knackered and won that game too. It came down to the Kidderminster game and it couldn’t have been kinder. Kidderminster are a team in transition and were never really going to stand in Boro’s way. Boro blew them out of the water in the first 2 minutes with Charlie Griffin’s goal and then sealed the result when Byrom finished superbly with his right foot. Destiny had finally taken over! It’s been a superb season and one I have thoroughly enjoyed. The team has grown over the course of the season and it’s been great to see. I didn’t think we would win this league this year. In fact I never really believed we would ever get out of this division after such a long time in it, but I’m over the moon we have finally achieved it. A lot of credit has to go to Graham Westley for coming back under difficult circumstances and masterminding his team into the football league. The same goes to Phil Wallace for having the foresight and believing that GW was the one that could get this club promoted. It’s a magnificent accomplishment considering the amount of competition in the Conference. Teams like Luton, Oxford, Wrexham and Mansfield all have bigger budgets than us, but we have got past that and deservedly won the league. The Football League awaits.
STEVENAGE BOROUGH FC