For League Two playoff contenders Stevenage Football Club, it has, on balance, been a successful season. Having been relegated last term finishing bottom of League One, they have bounced back in style by securing a place in the top six and an opportunity to go straight back up.
Their sixth-place finish means that they will play the first leg of the play-offs on 10 May, with an away leg four days later. While Bookies.com have compared their odds for relegation and not returned them favourably, they have however made a number of teams sit up and take them seriously.
It is a hard task for any team to perform after losing virtually a whole squad of players the summer before, with no fewer than 19 players departing Broadhall Way and the same amount coming in. Manager Graham Westley has worked wonders on a shoestring budget to not only rebuild a side, but to instil confidence back into a football club that was lacking in spirit last term.
Westley’s rebuild mission has been nothing short of remarkable. Immediately identifying a need to recruit players who had tasted promotion before, he brought in the likes of Charlie Lee, Chris Whelpdale and Ronnie Henry.
The rest was a different kind of player. The young, the hungry, the fearless, with an insatiable drive to prove themselves, recognising League Two as a platform to propel themselves firmly into football league history.
Tom Pett and Jerome Okimo were drafted in from Ryman Premier League champions Wealdstone, Dean Wells and Sam Beasant joined from the Conference, while Evo-Stik Premier striker Adam Marriott and Berkhamsted Town attacker Conor Calcutt made up the other half of a squad from non-league football.
Their play-off status was secured after Dean Parrett, one of six remaining players from last season and talisman, scored the only goal against Carlisle following a resilient performance. It is a trademark which has embodied Stevenage’s season. Digging deep, they defended the 1-0 lead after going ahead shortly after half time, and Westley was understandably delighted to guarantee a playoff spot in such a manner.
“We knew the play-offs could be there for us before today; we’ve been playing okay and been building towards them for a while so it isn’t really a landmark for us,” said Westley.
“We showed a lot more composure in possession of the ball and it was good to see a goal crafted from what we’d talked about during the week.
“It was a pleasing performance today, even though I was disappointed to our reaction after going ahead but we’ve spoken a lot in there about how we can improve going forward,” continued Westley.
“It was a good team goal, Deano arrived in the right area and took the chance early and we’ve ended up winning the game and three points from it. It puts us in sixth for certain and that’s a commendable enough finish.”
With one more game to play, Boro can effectively start preparing for the playoffs, and it will be a hard decision for Westley as to whether he rotates his squad or looks to build momentum. Whatever happens, he can be proud of the job he has done this term.