After the sense of déjà vu going into Christmas, part two of our Stevenage review of the season charts a remarkable resurgence; one that lifted us well clear of what seemed like the inevitable battle for survival we so badly managed the season before. Boro’ came into the new year full of hope – and not just because we all wanted to see the back of a virus-ridden, locked-down 2020. It was also because we’d taken four points from the six available after returning from isolation.
Stevenage Review of the Season: January 2021
If you were in any doubt of why we had cause to hope for the best in 2021, our first game of the new year rode to the rescue. A 3-1 home win against Scunthorpe made good on what a draw at Cheltenham and victory over Cambridge since getting back to action. It was the first time since May 2019 that we’d won back-to-back games too. That is a long 18 months. And it was perhaps the first signs that new assistant boss Dean Wilkins was having a positive impact on the club.
Next up after the Iron, Boro’ weren’t able to spring another FA Cup surprise when Swansea City came to town. The high-flying Championship side found us in much the same frame of mind as we were when we dealt with Hull. The problem was (again) our difficulties doing much damage in front of goal. The Swans were just too clinical in that regard. And it meant we needed to take the precious few chances that came our way. We couldn’t do that. Ho hum, no biggie though.
Back to league action and Boro’ slowly kept gathering points; goalless draws against Tranmere Rovers and Colchester United started to get annoying as missed opportunities go. And neither looked that good either side of a 3-1 defeat down at Exeter City. But a memorable (and maybe game-changing?) final fixture of the month drowned out the noise as Boro’ struck with the last kick of the game away to Grimsby Town to claim a big three points. Quite funny too, actually…
January 2021: Transfers
A big second half of the season lay ahead, and Alex Revell made no secret of that with (most of) his January signings. At the start of the year, in came Chris Lines and Luke Norris on permanent deals. So too did Matty Stevens on loan from Forest Green Rovers. Later signings would include Jacob Bancroft – who would go on to be released without getting a sniff of the action – and Joe Martin from Northampton Town.
In the opposite direction, four players left the club on loan; Marcus Dinanga (Chesterfield), Femi Akinwande (Dartford), Inih Effiong (Notts County), and Luis Fernandez (Oxford City). For the first three, any opportunities of leading the attack were reduced to zero with a couple of our arrivals that month. And the loans felt as if we’d seen those players in action for us for the last time. Not so with young defender Fernandez, however; the lad continuing his development at the Hoops.
Stevenage Review of the Season: February 2021
By the time Exeter arrived at ours at the start of February, our improving form was starting to be reflected in the league table. Boro’ started the second month of 2021 with a tasty four-point gap between ourselves and the bottom two. We also had two games in hand over them. It wasn’t as if we had it our own way, though. The Grecians (who inflicted our only league defeat in January) completed a quick-fire league double over us with a 1-0 win at the Lamex.
Even so, the month wouldn’t be defined by that result. Boro’ drew at home to Morecambe and then claimed a brilliant away win at resurgent Tranmere Rovers; Danny Newton coming off the bench and scoring with his superb first touch.
Annoyingly, Bolton Wanderers edged us out by a single goal in our next outing. But, after that, a switch was flicked at Bragbury End. And it’d be some time before we’d lose again in League Two. Not all those unbeaten games were bobby dazzlers, of course. We’d won at Crawley in dramatic fashion and drawn at home to Walsall. Then there were two straight goalless draws on the road at Port Vale and Newport County respectively. Hardly the most memorable meetings.
Even so, they were part of something special that was unfolding. And it’d take us into March on the type of bounce that we hadn’t seen in these parts for quite some time.
February 2021: Transfers
Just a handful of temporary additions for us during February; Jack Roles coming in from Spurs on loan, while Jahmal Hector-Ingram did the same from Derby. Neither should’ve bothered in truth. Roles managed one start and one sub outing in his time with us, while the Rams’ striker never saw action at all. The other addition did make a more telling impact as goalkeeper David Stockdale joined on loan to deputise for the injured Jamie Cumming.
It was his penalty save at Crawley that safeguarded the points that evening.
Stevenage Review of the Season: March 2021
March. And in more ways than one. After we woke up from the slumber that two goalless draws put us in, Boro’ sprung into spring with a real kick up the jacksy. Forest Green Rovers, them of the vegan persuasion, came to town looking to further their promotion cause (and presumably to mock our meat-eating ways). What they got was a right shallacking; three of the best and no questions asked as we scored three times without reply.
Fresh from that, we welcomed league newcomers Harrogate Town to the Lamex four days later and edged it by a single goal to record back-to-back wins again. Hold up lads – this is becoming something of a habit. That joy was somewhat tempered by another couple of goalless draws on the bounce; first it was Leyton Orient, then came apparent no-hopers Southend United. What it did mean, however, was that we had recorded six straight clean sheets.
That’s two short of the best we’ve ever managed.
Of course, we dangle that line there because our run of clean sheets went no further. We threw open the doors to Carlisle United and Barrow and won both. But we let both pesky Cumbrians score in doing so. The clean sheet run was over. But the unbeaten run wasn’t. Incredible as this may have seemed last season or even as recent as Christmas, there was suddenly chat of a late run at the playoffs. No messin’ – the top seven was in conceivable reach of Revs’ army.
March 2021: Transfers
Stevenage Review of the Season: April 2021
April kicked off with all the festivities that Easter brings; namely a game on Good Friday and one on Easter Monday. Scott Cuthbert‘s decisive goal in the first of our double header, up at Oldham, put us in the top half of the table for the first time since we could go to the pub without wearing a mask or recording our attendance. And it had us five points off the playoffs. The situation with games in hand had flipped, however, and was now working against us.
What doesn’t help in such situations is dropping points. And that’s what our Monday afternoon saw us do; Bradford City still refusing to let us take the lead and keep it. That 1-1 draw made it a mammoth 12 games unbeaten, to be fair. And few sides in the league in what was a fairly topsy-turvy campaign could boast that sort of consistency. Naturally, it all fell apart in the 13th as we went down to defeat at Salford City. We really do owe the big-spending Ammies one next term.
After that, a 1-0 home defeat at Mansfield Town effectively ended any fanciful hopes of ending up in the top seven. It might have been a long shot, but it was a bit of a reality check. Still, you have to say that even talking about it – or being mathematically in with a chance – was such a step change. We’d changed from being relegation haunted to promotion hopefuls in just three months. More of the same in 2021-2 please.
A second straight 1-0 home defeat the following week was perhaps a little easier to take; being as it was against title-chasing Cheltenham Town. If nothing else, we’d done what we could on the day to stand in the way of Cambridge United pipping the Robins to the summit. And it’s fair that we doubled down on that in our final match of the month; heading to the Abbey Stadium and bagging a league double over the Us. We’ll miss the points they’ve given us lately…
April 2021: Transfers
Only one transfer to speak of. After reportedly prising him from Hastings United under the noses of Leicester City, the signing of Jamie Fielding didn’t quite turn into the coup we’d hoped for. In early April, we let him go; free to join Wealdstone after spending the majority of his time here at the Lamex, well, anywhere but. We’ve no doubt he’ll make us rue that decision now, obviously…
Stevenage Review of the Season: May 2021
Into May, then. And Boro’ had a milestone to be aiming for with the last two games of term: 60 points. And it’s for no real reason too. It’s just a nice, round number. First up on the first day of the month were Crawley Town. Theoretically, we could still catch them – but that needed us to win. And we weren’t able to. For a side that had struggled to score at one end and had a mean defence at the back, the 3-3 scoreline was a bit wacky all told.
Our final match took us to Glanford Park – the home of Scunthorpe United. The Iron had been fortunate that relegation matters were already decided beneath them. Otherwise, they could well have found themselves playing for their Football League future here. In the end, they had the chance to relax. But Boro’ needed to show that they had grown into a side that was better than what our hosts had become. A 1-0 win made that point, thank you.
And it got us to 60 points too. Nice.
That’s that, too. The 2020-1 campaign came to an end with us in a lofty 14th position with a goal difference of zero. We were among the lowest scorers, but we were also in with the toughest and tightest defences. And we only had one red card all season too. So, the discipline wasn’t half bad – don’t you think. Compared with last season, the transformation is exceptional. And if we could jump another 10 places up next season, we could well be laughing under the Revollution.
Stevenage Review of the Season: The Numbers
- Most appearances: 48 (39 + 9) – Elliott List
- Top goalscorer: 10 – Elliott List
- Most yellow cards…: 9 – Danny Newton
- … and red cards: 1 – Luke Prosser
- Most unused subs: 52 – Billy Johnson
- League Doubles: 3 – Cambridge United (2nd), Oldham Athletic (18th), Scunthorpe United (22nd)
- League Troubles: 2 – Salford City (8th), Exeter City (9th)
- Home Points: 32
- Away Points: 28
- Total Attendance: 1,000 (Southend United, H)
- League PPG: 1.30
- League GPG: 0.89