2012-3: Behind The Numbers

By Pete H

The 2012-3 League One campaign gave us the chance to consolidate after a whirlwind couple of years in which we’d been promoted twice. If you think about it, it’d be the first time since the 2009-10 Blue Square Premier season that we’d start in the same division as the one we’d left off in. We started that as one of the strongest non-league teams in the land. We’d never been in the Football League either. In just two years, however, it was all change.

2012-3 League One: The background

Now, we were up against some of the biggest names in the history of English football; fallen top flight clubs and others long established in the top four divisions. In our first League One campaign, we’d more than matched them too. But we were an unknown entity in 2011-2. Our secret was now out. And, as everyone knows, it’s always hard to follow up a successful debut album. So, how to lay down solid roots in the third tier – while still managing expectations?

But we had a bit of a problem.

The squad that got us to our lofty new digs in League One was coming apart in summer 2012. Three mainstays of the past three seasons (Joel Byrom, Scott Laird, and Chris Beardsley) had agreed to link back up with GW at Preston North End, along with John Mousinho. Meanwhile, lads like Stacy Long, Darren Murphy, and – inexplicably – Ronnie Henry were released at the end of their contracts. And others like Lawrie Wilson and Michael Bostwick were sold.

In their place came a raft of new faces. The aim was to create a squad of League One players who would be able to keep us there. We paid an initial £75,000 for James Dunne, while there were also several freebies – including Anthony Grant, Marcus Haber, and David Gray. It’s fair to say that history doesn’t look back fondly on those additions. We also chanced our arm on some younger talent; Lee Hills and Matt Ball – son of ex-Boro’ midfielder Tim – also joining.

Flying out of the new season traps

In spite of the wholesale changes, Boro’ started the season pretty well all told. It looked like our transfer policy had paid dividends as we opened up the campaign on a run of 11 fixtures unbeaten. A little caveat is that we took four attempts to finally register a home win; the first three ending all square – including our season opener against Carlisle United. We also had a number of impressive away wins – such as our 2-1 victory at Coventry City live on the telly.

We also had a number of impressive away wins – such as our 2-1 victory at Coventry City live on the telly.

At the time, Tranmere Rovers were the early pace-setters and we were doing well enough to stick with them. For a brief moment on 22 September, however, we were sitting at the top of the table; leading at Doncaster Rovers, with Tranmere not in a winning position themselves. In the end, we returned to second with the eventual draw. And, as the unbeaten run continued, the question was whether we could genuinely mount another promotion charge.

As an aside, the early-season cup competitions had seen us progress in the League Cup to a second round tie at home to Southampton. Michael Thalassitis scored a consolation, but the clash was already out of sight by that point; Boro’ losing 4-1 at the Lamex. In the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, meanwhile, there was an upset of sorts as League Two Dagenham & Redbridge edged us by the odd goal in five in our first disappointment of the season.

2012-3 League One table – 06 October 2012
PWDLFAGDPts
1Tranmere Rovers118302662027
2Stevenage116501710723
3Sheffield United11560159621
4Swindon Town11623159620

What goes up must come down…

In our 1999-00 campaign, Boro’ won six out of six at the start of the campaign – and then we dropped like a stone. The 2012-3 League One season was not too unlike that. Boro’ travelled to Colchester United on 13 October and, for the first time that season, we tasted defeat. The fall, to be honest, wasn’t an immediate one. We bounced back with two straight wins to keep up the pretence that we were legit candidates in the race for promotion.

Things did start to unravel, however.

Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon Town came to the Lamex on 27 October and were ruthless in their 4-0 win. Cracks were starting to appear in the facade – and a 3-2 defeat at Rotherham in the FA Cup next up did little to help that. If anything, a 3-1 win at Yeovil Town next up would only paper over those cracks some more. And, if there was any doubt our bubble had bust, there were back-to-back 4-1 defeats for us to muse on.

First, it was at home to GW’s Preston (in which we believe the ‘old toffee’ mantra was born). Next, it was on the road at Sheffield United. Ouchy.

Now it was a case of stopping the rot from setting in as we headed in to December. And we just about managed that with two draws and a home win against Hartlepool United. Noses had been bloodied by the hefty defeats. We still sat in with the promotion candidates. But the direction of travel was now a downward one. And things were to get much worse as we headed towards Christmas and the second half of the season.

2012-3 League One table – 08 December 2012
PWDLFAGDPts
3Sheffield United21109229181139
4Brentford21108331211038
5Stevenage2110742927237
6MK Dons21106530171336
7Notts County2198432201235

Not so merry Christmas, not so happy new year

A couple of home games took us deep into December. But we lost ’em both. First was against a Crawley Town side who’d pulled off the same back-to-back promotion trick as we had. And second was on Boxing Day; a 3-1 reverse at the hands of Coventry. A 1-0 defeat on the road at Walsall marked our entrance into 2013 too. So, the festive period had been all round rubbish. Not even a 2-1 home win against Crewe on 5 January could change that.

The next nine outings gave us little to get excited by either. In fact, we won just one of them; the rest ending in defeat. That victory came at home to Notts County, for what it’s worth. We could go into each of the defeats, but we can’t be bothered to drag that all back up. The two things we would note, however, is a) the signing of Ben Chorley at the end of January and b) the increasing pressure on manager Gary Smith to put his ruddy finger on “it”.

2012-3 League One table – 02 March 2013
PWDLFAGDPts
13Leyton Orient35155153941-250
14Crewe Alexandra34138134146-547
15Stevenage35137154048-846
16Carlisle United36119164261-1942
17Preston North End34913124344-140

Results are red, we’re now feeling blue…

In March, Boro’ pulled a couple of corkers out from nowhere as far as results are concerned. We overcame promotion-chasing Brentford by a single goal on the 5th, before Dani Lopez – fresh from a loan spell at Barnet – returned to smash a hattrick past Sheffield United on the 16th. He’d actually scored a hattrick in his most recent game for the Bees before that – so it was a reet little purple patch for him.

Apart from that, however, results were still in the red. Two fixtures played in-between those two wins ended in defeat, while we followed up that sensational Blades performance with a drab two-goal defeat at relegation-threatened Bury. That result, on a cold night at Gigg Lane, didn’t change a huge amount in the league table. What it would change was the employment status of Gary Smith – relieved of his duties as the slide continued.

And yet it’s still our (unpopular) opinion that Phil Wallace got an itchy trigger finger too fast. Smiffy didn’t get a full season in charge. Our slide, while alarming, can be seen as a pyramid resetting itself after our explosive rise. It’s not palatable. But we were always going to have a dip. And, unfortunately for Smiffy, he’d pay the price for some questionable signings and the litany of poor results that had plagued us since the autumn.

2012-3 League One table – 19 March 2013
PWDLFAGDPts
13Crewe Alexandra37159134649-354
14Crawley Town371411124850-253
15Stevenage39147184453-949
16Preston North End371113134645146
17Carlisle United38129174565-2045

The next throw of the managerial dice

Call us cynical – but the timing of Smiffy’s sacking came not all that long after a certain GW had departed Preston North End; just over a year after he swapped the Lamex for Deepdale. To start with, anyway, Mark Roberts was back in charge as caretaker; leading us to Tranmere on 24 March. The game was live on Sky, presumably because we were the top two earlier on during the season. Neither us nor Rovers were still in such lofty positions.

Embed from Getty Images

After a dire 3-1 defeat on the tellybox, Robbo steered us to a point at Crawley Town on Good Friday. By now, it was a poorly-kept secret. But we still had to wait until the following day to get confirmation that GW was back at the helm. And he started on Easter Monday with a win against Hartlepool United, before following it up with a goalless draw at Portsmouth. Was it the end of the malaise and a return to the good times?

No.

Boro’ ended the campaign with three straight defeats; two at home and one on the road. It was a run that yielded no goals either. So, as end of seasons go, it was pure rubbish. But at least it was over. We were still a League One side. And now was the opportunity to regroup.

2012-3 League One table – 27 April 2013
PWDLFAGDPts
16Shrewsbury Town461316175460-655
17Carlisle United461413195677-2155
18Stevenage461592247641754
19Oldham Athletic46149234659-1351
20Colchester United46149234768-2151

What happened next?

The 2012-3 League One season would no doubt have been an eye opener. After such a rapid rise, there was always going to be a comedown. In the end, we ended six points clear of the relegation zone. Lessons would have to be learned, however, if we were to survive in League One some more. And, with GW back at the helm, the complete overhaul of the squad during summer 2012 would need some attention if it was to work for the returning gaffer.

There wouldn’t be major changes to the squad in summer 2013. In part, many of the arrivals that came in the previous summer were on longer deals. We only actually released four lads – with a further two leaving on freebies; one of which was much-adored skipper-cum-gaffer Mark Roberts. Seven came in and the aim was to boost our fortunes going into the new 2013-4 season. Did it work? Hindsight tells us “no”.

After slightly flirting with relegation in 2012-3, Boro’ went the whole hog in 2013-4; moving in, getting hitched, and starting a family with relegation. We were going back to League Two.

2012-3 Stats…

  • Goals For: 55 (47 league and 8 cup)
  • Goals Against: 75 (64 league and 11 cup)
  • Most Appearances: Lucas Akins (49)
  • Top Goalscorer: Lucas Akins (10 from 49)
  • Biggest attendance: 17,984 against Sheffield United, 17 November 2012
  • Players Used: 31 (plus six unused subs)
  • Points Per Game: 1.17
  • Average Attendance: 3,170

Season Details: 2012-3 League One

With thanks to the Stevenage Football Archive

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