Stevenage Season Preview: lessons learned?

stevenageIn five of Stevenage’s last six seasons, they have either been in League One or League Two’s top seven. Was last year simply a one-off? Can the club move forward once again? Answering those questions and more is supporter Callum Jackson, who you can follow on Twitter @BIGC1236.

It was clearly a terrible mistake to appoint Teddy Sheringham. Did the board focus on appointing the manager that could give the club the most publicity, rather than the one that could get the best results?

I think that was their main motive. They wanted to increase the gates and they thought that bringing in a name like Teddy would do that. A club like Stevenage are never really going the get the gates, they don’t have the fan base. They tried a risky experiment which didn’t work out, but hopefully that’s got the riskiness out of their system!

You seemed to regain some solidity once Darren Sarll had had a few weeks to get his ideas across and Glenn Roeder joined as an advisor. How do you assess Sarll’s time in charge to date?

When Darren took over from Teddy he had a decent start he went on a bit of a rocky road which was when Glenn was brought in to help him out. The difference was the fans believed Darren could get us out of the hole we were in, even when we were losing he had everyone’s backing, something Teddy never had. The performances improved when Darren took over, and then again when Glenn came in. So far I think Darren has acquitted himself well, but he is a very young manager and the level head of Glenn will certainly assist him.

Luke Wilkinson joined in January, forming a strong centre-back partnership with Dean Wells in the latter stages of the season. You must be delighted Wilkinson has signed a new deal?

Wilkinson was the main player I thought we had to keep, he came in and gave our defence a much more commanding look. He his big, strong and physical, a typical Stevenage player, I was over the moon when he decided to stay on.

Defender Fraser Franks was the Fans’ Player of the Year last term. What aspects of his game did supporters appreciate?

Fraser was just the stand out player, when he joined from Luton there were mixed responses from the Luton fans of ‘What have we done’ and ‘Thank goodness he has left’, so at Boro we didn’t know what to expect. He has been one of the most consistent and valuable players in the team, he has played across the whole of the back four and presented himself well in each role, that’s what has stood out for me anyway.

There are a few Peterborough fans who questioned the decision to let go of Andrew Fox. Given that Jerome Okimo has been released and Connor Ogilvie has gone back to Spurs, are you pleased the club has signed a natural left-back?

YES! As well as Franks did at left back towards the end of last season I think you need a natural left back there. Someone who is going to defend well but also run down the line to initiate an attack. I do not know much about Fox, but based on the majority of Peterborough reactions he looks to be a decent signing.

Long-serving Chris Day has been given a new goalkeeper/coach deal. Even though Jamie Jones has signed permanently and is expected to be first choice, will it help to have a figure connected to the club like Day around?

Massively, Jones is a very good keeper, who is up there with keeping Luke Wilkinson on. Day has been around the club for a few years now, he knows the ways of the club and he is a very good goalkeeper, all which can only support JJ. I think Day to Jones can be like Glenn to Darren, they all have what it takes to be great, they just need a little bit of guidance along the way.

Midfielder Michael Tonge seems to have the experience you’d want in a squad with a lot of up-and-coming players from non-league. Can he play an important role this season?

He played an important role last season, so I am hoping that will continue! We have a lot of young players and a lot of non-league players in our squad, and players like Tonge, with all the football experience he has, can only improve them. Just over a year ago he was on the books of Leeds United, now he is at Stevenage, I’m not sure what happened but we are lucky to have a player like him.

Eight players have been released this summer. Of those, who are you most disappointed to see depart?

Probably Rohdell Gordon, he was a young player that showed potential when he played. I am not sure why we have let him go, I think he would have been very positive in the future.

Dean Parrett and Chris Whelpdale have moved on to AFC Wimbledon. How do you react to their departures?

It is a shame that we have lost both of those players, when they were fit you knew they would be in the 11. They had come to the end of the contract and received better offers from a club in a higher division, you can’t blame them for leaving and although they will be a big loss for us, I trust Sarll to bring in appropriate replacements.

Northern Ireland U19 captain Ben Kennedy had an impressive 2014/15 campaign but struggled to regain his form last year. Have injuries been the only thing stopping him?

He came into the team in 14/15 as an unknown, he quickly became a big part of Stevenage in a short period of time. I believe that the fact he was now known and had many injuries is what has hindered his season. He could never really get going this season and because other teams knew what he was like he had to adapt his play, which he is probably not used to. He still shows plenty of potential, and I am sure if he can get a full season under his belt he will come on leaps and bounds.

You used a lot of strikers last season without much consistency, largely due to injuries. Do you think the team would have been more clinical had one or two strikers been able to get a run of games?

I think that is key with most strikers, they need a run of games in order to pick up some form. None of our strikers could stay fit for long enough, and the loans we brought in either weren’t very successful or they would score a couple of goals, in a pointless 1 month loan deal, and so their parent clubs would give them a run out in their teams.

Matt Godden arrives after a good season in the Conference South, while Jake Hyde and Rowan Liburd have had tough times at York and Wycombe respectively. Would it have been better to invest big in one proven goalscorer, rather than three who are perhaps not the most exciting additions?

We haven’t had a 20 goal a season striker since Steve Morison, from what I have seen and heard of Matt Godden I think he will be a decent striker for us, it will most likely take time but as long as he is given it I don’t see why he can’t be that 20 goal man. Rowan did struggle for Wycombe but had a good record for the Reading U21s, the important thing to remember about Rowan is Stevenage have actually paid for him, Darren and the team must see something special with him! I do not know much about Jake, so far all I have seen is negative comments from the York fans about how pleased they are he is gone. His record is okay at previous clubs and I don’t think Sarll would bring someone in if they were not going to fit Stevenage. We just need to give them all the time and chance to make their mark, from their prior records I am sure they know where the goal is.

What are your thoughts ahead of the League Two season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

That’s like asking ‘why is the sky blue?’ Football is an unpredictable game, we have seen with Stevenage over the last two years, from playoff contenders to relegation battlers. I’ve got no idea how this season will go for any club, all I know for sure is 4 clubs will go up to league 1 and 2 will go down to the National League. I just hope that Stevenage are one of the four!

Where will you finish?

We need to pick ourselves up after last season, I think you could see we were on that pathway in the final 10 games, we just need to continue that and improve. It’s important that we have kept the core of the squad and the management together. I think this will be a season to rebuild and so I think we will finish around mid-table, hopefully in the upper half though.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Stevenage’s performances have improved under Sarll and they will be sufficiently solid to make the top half. However, they may lack the match-winning quality to push further. 12th