It’s been a season of ups and downs for Stevenage, with plenty of games giving us hope for the future under Dino Maamria. Still technically being in the running for a play-off place with five games to go added an extra dose of excitement to each game in April. But many of the Boro’ contingent had already made their peace with finishing in the upper-end of mid-table. It’s quite the finish for a club with a new manager and what is effectively a brand new starting 11 each week; one that makes next season look rather bright.
Dino reinvigorates Broadhall Way
At the start of the season, many couldn’t decide if they’d count Stevenage as a relegation candidate, a play-off hopeful or middle of the pack club. Most bookmakers erred on the side of marking Boro’ as strugglers at 15/2, down to get relegated. Other, braver outlets like The Guardian saw Stevenage as a surprise package due to the influx of new faces.
As shown by Transfermarkt, Stevenage witnessed a huge amount of turnaround in the players department; 13 players coming in on contractual deals in the summer and 10 leaving the club. That includes striker Matt Godden, who got 30 league goals in his last two seasons. Along with some new loan deals, Dino Maamria had a new team ready to grow into his new process.
Boro’ got off to a decent start to the season, with six wins, three draws and three losses through their first 12 games; Maamria crediting his players for attacking on the front foot, playing at a high tempo, passing the ball well, and defending with resilience, per The Comet. Stevenage were a legitimate contender early on, and – while the hot-streak faded coming into the New Year – there were plenty of wins to keep the team at the top end.
A barren winter sees Stevenage slip
December was a very mixed bag, and January saw more wins than losses. But after the 1-0 win against Yeovil on 2 February, the victories evaded Maamria’s men. Draws tumbled in from winning positions and losses littered February and March. From 9 February to 30 March, Boro’ turned in just one win (a 2-0 home victory against Swindon Town), four losses and four frustrating draws. This run all but put Stevenage out of real contention for a play-off place.
But somehow, things turned around again to bring back the slightest of chances of Boro’ getting to the play-offs; a 2-0 win at Grimsby Town, then a 3-0 home win over Carlisle United. But with four games left, as of 15 April, Betway still had Stevenage at 66/1 to be promoted; the likes of Exeter at 11/2, Mansfield Town at 2/5, MK Dons at 4/9, and Bury at 2/11. Regardless of this, Maamria’s back-to-basics style kept Boro’ two clean sheets and two wins in a row; setting the club up for an exciting run to the finish line.
Clear path to continue the process
Prior to the start of the season and regularly throughout, the boss preached the need for Stevenage to focus on the process; to keep building team habits both on and off of the ball. Throughout the season, Dino’s philosophies of high-intensity work rate and build-up play are evident. But it’s clear there are some areas of the starting eleven that need improvement.
The primary area of concern has to be the strike force. Stevenage’s 50 goals for and 52 goals against as of 14 April is very middle-of-the-pack. While the team gets goals from players all over the park, the fact that goalie Paul Farman has nearly as many league clean sheets as Alex Revell has league goals (six), as many league clean sheets as Danny Newton has league goals and more clean sheets than Kurtis Guthrie has league goals (four with four games to go) makes clear that a scorer is needed up top.
Of the seven teams in promotion or play-off places with four games to go, six of them have a striker on at least 14 goals; the only exception being Forest Green Rovers, whose top scorer is central midfielder Reece Brown on 10 goals. It’s a scoring league; those who rise to the top tend to rely on goalscorers. If Maamria can add a consistent weapon to his striking arsenal, Stevenage should be able to improve on this season and contend for a play-off place.
Overall, it’s been an encouraging first season under Dino Maamria. Evidently not afraid to make changes where he wants to, it’ll be exciting to see what new faces the boss brings in to improve the team and continue his process next season.