Is four wins out of the last fourteen league games a good enough reason to sack Gary Smith?
Fortress Lamex has become a limp bouncy castle with only 17 points from a possible 45 claimed on home soil.
Other chairmen would have surely axed the former Colorado Rapids boss by now, but I believe that Phil Wallace is doing the right thing to back the man at the helm.
Loyal Boro fans reply to the taunting trolls on the fans’ forums- “Who would you have instead?”
Rash sacking decisions are a risky gamble. They can pay dividends like with Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield in the closing stages of last season which saw both clubs promoted, or you can become a laughing stock like Nottingham Forest in the league above.
Gary Smith was never destined to live in the shadow of former boss Graham Westley- his ruthless style of football and nonsense in the media were not going to be missed. Players followed the previous manager north and Smith has had a clean slate this season. What did we honestly expect? The team is pushing through a transitional phase and I am excited about seeing the new look Stevenage FC take shape.
Chairman Phil Wallace is man who believes in long term projects. A new training facility and plans for a new £1.2 million north stand just reiterates his commitment to the club and its progression. The appointment of Smith was well thought out back in early 2012, and Wallace is always a man to look at the bigger picture.
It was over a week ago that Notts County handed Keith Curle his P45 after just winning two matches in their last 11 in all competitions.
Similarly at the beginning at the season, Paul Groves of Bournemouth was sacked ten games into the season having only won one game of the new campaign.
These are bigger clubs than us who have higher expectations- reaching the playoffs last season was like another fairytale despite defeat at Bramall Lane. This season hasn’t been a let-down either, we have found our place in the footballing world.
With Brentford, Oldham, Shrewsbury and Scunthorpe completing the fixture list in a tough February; it is time to really see what Smith can do as he adopts a 4-4-2 formation after the January additions of Sam Hoskins and Steve Beleck.
Every Boro fan will be awaiting the return of the animal Jon Ashton back to the defensive line, a player who has been dearly missed for an extensive period this season.
I for one am proud to say: In Smith I trust!
Written by Chris Penn, We Are Going Up’s Stevenage blogger
After 16 changes in the summer, the Stevenage fans were left in limbo. The team we knew was gone and we didn’t know what to expect. I set my stall out early, claiming we’d finish mid-table but that I’d have been happy with a season that saw us finishing anywhere outside of the bottom four. However, here we are, sitting in the play off positions having tasted the dizzy heights of second place.
Up until a few weeks ago we were neck and neck with Tranmere and separated only by goal difference. OK, our recent results have led to a bit of panic in the ranks and we’ve slipped a few places. But for us to be approaching Christmas in the play off places is remarkable.
The most intriguing thing about the season so far though is that, despite our current position, we haven’t actually played that well yet. We’ve played some wonderful football in sections of games, but we’ve also seen that countered by a defensive frailty not seen in a Stevenage side for many years.
Of course, this is only to be expected when the regular back five is broken up. Our left and right back positions have been taken up by new faces, influential centre back Jon Ashton is out injured and long term number one Chris Day has been relegated to the bench following the emergence of Steve Arnold between the sticks.
The defensive organisation is something that needs to be sorted quickly, as the last few weeks have seen us concede four goals at home twice (Swindon, Preston); four goals away at Sheffield United; and three away at Rotherham, where we were unceremoniously dumped out the FA Cup at the first time of asking. This has led to many questioning how good this side is, what they can achieve and whether our current position is actually a bit of a fluke.
A point away at form side Bournemouth has gone some way to allay these fears, but with Tranmere as our next test, we won’t have any time to dwell.
With Jon Ashton seemingly close to returning and summer signing Lee Hills back to fitness and well in contention to become our first choice left back, I’m quietly confident our defensive issues will be sorted so that our midfield can concentrate more on supporting our rather isolated lone striker, Marcus Haber.
There is a lot of creativity available across the midfield with Greg Tansey, Filipe Morais,Lucas Akins, Luke Freeman and Robin Shroot all capable of unlocking defences, but manager Gary Smith needs to work out how to best utilise them all.
Morais has been deployed largely as a winger with little impact, but when he’s had a chance to sit in the hole behind the striker, he has been a revelation. For me, Greg Tansey is finding himself dragged too deep. When he has performed, he’s kept play ticking over beautifully and scored some stunning goals, but he is prone to going missing too often.
Lucas Akins has arguably been the pick of our attacking bunch so far with some fantastic performances down the right wing. His pace and power have been a nuisance for many a left back already and hopefully he’ll continue that for the rest of the season.
As for Shroot and Freeman, it’s been a frustrating season for both. Freeman was last season’s star for us but this season his impact has been limited to a handful of sub appearances. I’m not sure if he’s lacking confidence or whether he’s just been found out when teams double or even triple up on him. And while he has the ability to beat them all, his final ball has been lacking.
As for Shroot, he’s joint top scorer having come off the bench a number of times early in the season to rescue points when the game has looked dead. For one reason or anotheras the season has worn on, however, he’s not been getting much game time.
So, despite looking to the outside world that it’s the same old Stevenage sitting in an elevated position and punching above their weight, it’s anything but. I think we’ve shown enough times already this season that we’re more than good enough to maintain a push for promotion but we need to show it far more consistently.
We’ve got a good group of players who came racing out of the blocks but no one would argue we’ve been lucky at times to scrape points out of games when we didn’t deserve them. We’ve had a tough run of fixtures against some teams who - on the day - were far superior to us and we’ve come unstuck.
It’s going to take a bit of mental strength and some clever management to make sure it doesn’t affect us too much and wreck the wonderful start we made. I honestly think that because these heavy defeats have occurred in quick succession, things seem worse than they are. If they’d have been spread evenly across the whole of the season and we were still sitting fifth, no one would bat an eyelid.
I fully expect us to get over this and have a real strong second half to the season.
Written by Mark Hollis, We Are Going Up’s Stevenage blogger
Stevenage start the 2012/13 season with an almost entirely new squad to the one that was narrowly pipped to last season’s Play-Off Final by Sheffield United.
Of that first team squad, only Chris Day, Mark Roberts, Jon Ashton, Darius Charles, Luke Freeman and Robin Shroot remain. Patrick Agyemang may perhaps be added to that list should Gary Smith turn last season’s loanee into a permanent acquisition.
In addition to those, we look set to see youngster Michael Thalasittis given a more prominent role and expect Don Cowan to feature once again after a long term injury.
In place of the departed players – I’ve not got time to list them all – come a number of exciting signings who Smith has brought in to transform Boro’ into a more potent attacking force.
Greg Tansey has arrived from Inverness Caledonian Thistle to add some creativity in midfield and sitting him alongside the tough tackling James Dunne and Anthony Grant will give him license to support a front line now featuring ex-Tranmere forward Lucas Akins and Canadian target man Marcus Haber. Throughout pre-season, Haber has shown particular prowess in the air and to capitalise on that, Stevenage will be looking for improved delivery from wide areas.
Our young prodigy Luke Freeman looks set to continue his dazzling form down the left hand side and the newly signed Filipe Morais takes over duties from the departed Lawrie Wilson on the right, where he’ll be expected to deliver a better final ball than Lawrie tended to manage.
As well as these new attacking options, Stevenage have made defensive signings in the shape of Lee Hills, Bondz N’Gala, David Gray and Anthony Furlonge, plus goalkeeper Steve Arnold as back up to Chris Day.
With such an overhaul to the squad, it’s difficult to know where to begin with expectations for the season but it’s safe to say that, as last year, the main priority is to stay in this division.
Our arrival in League One just 12 months ago was heralded as an outstanding achievement and the fact that we not only survived but thrived was almost beyond the realms of make believe. But this season will be a lot tougher.
The fully reassembled squad is going to take time to gel; the newly adopted style is going to take time to bed in and then, of course, we have ‘second season syndrome’ to worry about.
I’m hoping, considering the amount of new faces we have, that we can avoid the latter and can again be a surprise package. After all, I’m sure there will be many sides expecting us to perform again in the manner which served us so well in our old guise.
If the team can hit the ground running, there appears to be no reason why this squad can’t emulate their predecessors’ achievement and take a play off spot. But to look to any higher than a mid-table finish would perhaps be driving expectations too high for a squad who has only been together a matter of weeks.
Last season: 7th
Man To Watch: Luke Freeman
Written by Mark Hollis, We Are Going Up’s Stevenage blogger
The first foray into unknown territory is often a daunting prospect. This season, however, Stevenage FC found themselves battling ex-Premier League big boys for a third successive promotion and a crack at the Championship -– rather than settling for any old spot outside of the bottom four. Mad? Probably. Exciting? Definitely. Unique? Certainly.
As a fan, the past season brought with it a whole spectrum of emotions – from sheer ecstasy through to denial and uncertainty, finishing up with immense pride (admittedly, tinged with sadness) at what the club had achieved. Not just this season, but in the two or three that had preceded it.
I don’t need to go over previous seasons, because everyone knows where we’ve come from, but this season alone has seen some huge achievement. We’ve been victorious in battle with eventual champions Charlton; completed the double over automatically-promoted Sheffield Wednesday; and remained undefeated (in the league anyway) against play off finalists Sheffield United.
It’s seen us rack up six goals twice – at Yeovil and Colchester; five goals twice – away at Rochdale and at home to Sheffield Wednesday; and despite early predictions, not once seen us on the wrong end of a result that emphatic.
It hasn’t been an entirely smooth ride, of course. The departure of Graham Westley to Preston looked set to plunge us into turmoil, until Captain Fantastic Mark Roberts stepped up to the plate and guided the club through three matches without defeat – including that 5-1 win at Rochdale and a 4-2 home win over MK Dons.
The season fell flat for a short while upon the arrival of new manager Gary Smith. A string of draws looked to have derailed our play off hopes, but we put the work in (with a small amount of luck in the form of Brentford’s penalty taking!) to pull off a customary run of positive results when it mattered most and extend our hopes of promotion for another couple of games.
In the end, Sheffield United did what they’d failed to do in the earlier league games – hold us to a draw at The Lamex and then nicked a winner on home turf just as extra time was looming. If we’re honest, it was a fair result over the two legs, but that makes it no less cruel that it came so late.
And so it was. Our first season in League One ended with a paradox – it may have been extended, but it came to premature halt. With the end of the season, came the end of an era at Stevenage Football Club and everybody knew it.
It sounds melodramatic, but the final scenes were poignant.
Standing in the away end at Bramall Lane, witnessing our visibly broken trojan of a captain clamber through hundreds of Blades fans mocking our downfall and refusing police advice to go back down the tunnel. He then beckoned out his team, which merely confirmed what we’d known for a long time – this group of players we’ve cherished for so long had yet again given their all to the club, the shirt and the fans and we’ll probably never know another group like them.
The team has already been broken up with the departure of seven fringe players, adding to the loss of long term right back, Ronnie Henry; self proclaimed “goal scoring left back” Scott Laird; and the scorer of the goal that made this season possible, John Mousinho.
There are undoubtedly more to follow to – it’s the price you pay for punching above your
It’s difficult to look ahead to next season, what with not knowing who’ll be pulling on the shirt. But any player we sign can be assured of one thing – they’ve got some very big boots to fill.
Written by Mark Hollis, We Are Going Up’s Stevenage blogger
After the win at Charlton, it seemed like anything was possible, that Notts County could keep the momentum going, get results against the Sheffield sides and secure a play-off position. However, this proved a bridge too far.
On a warm St Patrick’s Day at the lane, a bumper crowd of 12,410, including a sold out Jimmy Sirrel Stand packed with Owls fans, watched the Pies lose 2-1 against a resilient and well-organised Wednesday side, Ryan Lowe and Gary Madine netting the away side’s goals and Lloyd Sam with a late consolation for Notts.
An improvement was expected against the red side of Sheffield the following Tuesday; instead, a first-half horror show saw the Pies concede four against United, and even though Alan Judge and Julian Kelly netted two before the end of the 90 minutes, a fifth was conceded and, to make things worse skipper Neal Bishop, already going through a bad patch of form, was sent off after two yellows.
On a positive, the three consecutive games against the titans of the division were now behind them, and a return of three points may have seemed decent enough. However, this left Notts in eighth place on 56 points, with Carlisle and Stevenage into sixth and seventh spot respectively. Even worse, those two teams had two games in hand – the play-offs were theirs to lose now.
A resurgent Scunthorpe side was the next team to face County at Glanford Park, and despite Notts dominating the match, the Iron defence proved just that, and a 0-0 scoreline was the final result. Two more points dropped – had the wheel come off the wheelbarrow for good?
Keith Curle, alarmed at this drop in form, decided to make some personnel changes. Out went the ineffective Ben Burgess to Cheltenham, in came Dele Adebola, Daniel Bogdanovic and Nicholas Yennaris – the former two seasoned Championship-level veterans, the latter a talented Arsenal youth-teamer.
A good performance against Oldham culminated in another late winner for the Pies, Alan Sheehan getting the all-important goal in the 89th minute, while Leyton Orient were dispatched 3-0, courtesy of goals by Damion Stewart, Jeff Hughes and the ever-improving Sam. Crucially, the seemingly unsurmountable Carlisle dropped points at Wycombe; a last-minute Chairboys goal making it 1-1.
On Easter Bank Holiday, despite looking finished two weeks before, Notts miraculously rose back from the dead and ascended into the play-off positions once again. Carlisle dropped two more points, while Lloyd Sam decided to pay tribute to the injured Jonathan Forte by bagging a hat-trick of his own against Yeovil and sealing a 3-1 win. Sixth place was once again occupied by County.
Brentford were up next, away at Griffin Park. A fairly tricky fixture, Notts finished the game with a valuable point, keeping the Bees at bay in a 0-0 draw while Carlisle lost against Charlton, the Addicks sealing promotion to the Championship after an outstanding season.
As things stand after Matchday 43, it’s not quite advantage Notts, because Carlisle still have a game in hand. However, this will be played on Tuesday against fellow play-off chasers Stevenage, who trounced Yeovil 6-0 away on Saturday. All Pies’ eyes will be on the game this Tuesday evening, hoping the Cumbrians drop even more points and with three games left in the season, the saying “squeaky-bum time” has never been more apt.
However, having done so well to claw our way back into play-off contention twice in one season – when Keith Curle took over County while in 11th and again after dropping to 8th after the Sheffield games – it would be a shame not to finish the job properly! So Come On You Pies!
Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger
I worked for my previous employer for the best part of 10 years. I’d been through an apprenticeship there, learnt my trade there and was comfortable there. I knew my role inside out, knew everybody and had a lot of friends.
Then the company hired a new manager who tried to shake things up and work “his way” and I didn’t like it. The reason for this wasn’t because I didn’t agree with the new man’s methods; I knew he was right, but it was different. It just wasn’t how I was used to working and the feeling of comfort I’d had for so long had gone.
I knew I could earn more money elsewhere and so decided to leave. My thought process being that if I was going to be made to change, I might as well be made to change for more money in an office nearer to my house.
And so… Gary Smith and Stevenage.
Smith’s arrival at Stevenage has heralded a period of uncertainty and fan division not seen at the club for many a year. It’s difficult to imagine from the outside a Stevenage fan who would have the temerity to feel dejected, but trust me, there are plenty. As with all periods of uncertainty and change, Stevenage has spawned a vociferous element that likes to make their ill-thought-out opinions known, and there is already a growing ‘Smith Out’ brigade among the fanbase.
The recently buoyant terraces are full of misplaced moans and muted boos at final whistles. I even heard one bloke ludicrously suggesting that this summer – the eve of another assault on a league we’re too small for – would be the first in years that Stevenage fans would be “at a low.” Ridiculous, I know.
Don’t get me wrong, Smith hasn’t done much to endear himself to the fans. His two forays into the loan market have been not far short of woeful with Patrick Agyemang seemingly unable to do anything you’d expect from a footballer and Jordan Slew seemingly more bothered about trying to get sent off than actually score goals. But the positive of those two arriving is that at least Smith has recognised quickly what we recognised a long time ago; that the club’s strikers don’t find the net often enough.
He’s also committed the cardinal sin of not applauding the fans after every match – something which I’ve never really understood. If I was getting whinged at and booed after two months in my new job I can’t imagine I’d be queuing up to ‘go for drinks’ on a Friday.
The main problem is that Gary Smith has inherited Graham Westley’s Stevenage squad and is not winning games that people think would have been won under Westley. It would appear that it’s Smith’s fault that his predecessor decided to up sticks with his whole management team in the middle of the season. It left captain, hero and living-legend Mark Roberts at the helm for three matches while chairman Phil Wallace frantically scoured the globe – and I do mean the globe – to find a replacement.
It would appear that it’s Gary Smith’s fault that Stevenage have had injuries to key players and that others were sold before he arrived, which has meant that he’s had to shuffle personnel about into unfamiliar positions.
It would appear that it’s Gary Smith’s fault that he has inherited a collection of players whose achievements have exalted them to the status of Gods. A collection of players who have taken Stevenage from non-league obscurity to League One security. A collection of players who have reduced grown men to tears. A collection of players who simply cannot be bettered and must never be disbanded… Ah.
The truth is, this team needs to be disbanded now. There was always going to come a day when somebody moved on. Truth be told, even if Westley hadn’t moved on, the team was never going to stay together beyond this year and the change in management will have unsettled the entire squad as much as it has the fans.
There’ll be players in the squad that dislike Smith, players that Smith dislikes, players who want to move closer to home and players that have simply had their heads turned by the opportunity of Championship football and associated wages. There will also be players who have no intention of leaving but face a period of uncertainty, knowing that the hugely successful team they’ve been a part of will be no more.
I fully expect four or five players to leave the club in the close season. If rumours are to be believed then one or two have already tied up moves, and good luck to them. They’ve more than earned their stab at a higher level or more money and every single one of them will move with my blessing and my thanks.
However, as sad as I’ll be to no longer see these players in a Stevenage shirt, I do find the thought of a summer revamp quite exciting. The club have coped perfectly well when losing star players in the past and hopefully will do so again. I genuinely believe that, given a transfer window and some funds, Gary Smith has the right contacts to bring in some very good players to this club. If he can keep enough players in the spine of this team and build around them, there’s no reason why we can’t press on again next year.
And let’s not forget, there’s still a chance that pressing on might even be done in the Championship.
Written by Mark Hollis, We Are Going Up’s Stevenage blogger
I’ll admit it – I never wanted Graham Westley back at Stevenage because I didn’t think he was up to it. Shows what I know!
In fairness to me, however, his first stint at Broadhall Way was, by and large, a pretty awful affair. Dreadful football, dreadful press relations and a dreadful relationship with the fans. I remember a good friend of mine having a cut out of a local newspaper article where Westley had slated the fans pinned to his wall “just so we didn’t forget” he’d done it. I guess it worked.
However, in among the gloom of Westley’s first tenure was a glimmer of light in the shape of the 2005 Conference play-off final, which was lost 1-0 to Carlisle United. But I’d imagine that even Graham himself would admit that the club finished there more by luck than judgement.
On his much maligned return, Westley pledged that he was a changed man and he’s spent the last three years proving that to be the case. Now, two FA Trophy Finals – OK, one was lost – a Conference title, a 3-1 FA Cup battering of Newcastle, a League Two play-off victory and, for now, League One comfort later, I’m genuinely gutted to see him leave.
Could Stevenage have achieved everything they have in the last three years under anybody else? Quite simply, absolutely not.
Westley’s knowledge of non-league football meant that, on his arrival, he could bring in some unearthed gems and assemble them into a well-drilled machine. The likes of Michael Bostwick surely could not have imagined that he’d be nominated as a League One Player of the Month, just three years after being in a relegation fight while at Ebbsfleet. Could Mark Roberts, arguably Westley’s greatest signing, have imagined he’d have had such success in the short time after he was marshalling the back line at Northwich Victoria? I seriously doubt it. But that, in my opinion, is Westley’s greatest talent.
Dragging more out of a player than anyone else thought was there is something which he has done time and again, and it meant that he could find players who would go along with his regime. As a rule, footballers don’t like training from 9-5 and most refuse to do it. Westley, though, has put together a squad at Broadhall Way that, while they might not like it (but how would I know?) know that it’s best for them and know that it works. The players who don’t like it? They don’t play for Westley – it’s as simple and as ruthless as that. His methods may be unorthodox, but they get results and that is why he’s now moving on.
This does pose a worry though. When he returned to Stevenage again, he arrived at a club that allowed him to set up his own regime and he was working for a chairman who knew him well enough to back his every decision. Whether Peter Ridsdale is the type to allow that remains to be seen, but Westley is not stupid and he won’t have taken the job without assurances.
While I’m sad to him go, I don’t blame him for taking his chance. His stock is as high now as it’s probably ever going to be and I think he is totally justified in moving on to Preston North End who are, lets face it, a much bigger club than Stevenage. He’s worked wonders here and a man with his ambition is always going to push for more. If Preston can give him the freedom to run things his way, then our loss will most certainly be their gain.
The success that Graham Westley brought to this club has been a long time coming and it’s been a joy and an honour to be a part of it. All the best Graham, and thanks for the memories.
Written by Mark Hollis, We Are Going Up’s Stevenage blogger
FA Cup third round day is a key fixture of the post-Christmas football calendar. Held on the first weekend in January, the third round is where the big sides from the top two divisions enter the competition.
In the earlier preliminary rounds, plus the first and second rounds teams from all over the country have fought to get this far, in the hope of securing a money-spinning tie and having a chance of upsetting one of the heavyweights.
League form goes out of the window on third round weekend as teams from the lower leagues take on some of the country’s most decorated sides. This stage of the competition has become famous for throwing up its fair share of shocks down the years, with underdogs upsetting the odds. Here’s ten Football League sides who did just that….
10: Liverpool 1 Reading 2 2010
In January 2010, Championship strugglers Reading forced a 1-1 draw against Liverpool at the Madejski Stadium to earn a replay at Anfield 11 days later – where it was expected the home side would win.
However Reading had other ideas. Despite falling behind when Ryan Bertrand unluckily deflected Steven Gerrard’s cross into his own net a minute into first-half injury time, the Royals held their own against Rafa Benitez’s side. With 91 minutes on the clock, a throw in led to Reading striker Shane Long being fouled in the Liverpool penalty area, winning a dramatic late penalty for the visitors. Gylfi Sigurdsson stepped up, sent goalkeeper Cavalieri the wrong way to force extra-time.
Having saved themselves, Reading then took the lead with ten minutes of extra-time remaining. Brynjar Gunnarsson nutmegged Emiliano Insua down the right hand side and sent in a cross which Long met with a glancing header into the far corner in front of the Kop. Liverpool were unable to find an equaliser as Reading held on to win 2-1 as Anfield was left stunned.
9: Manchester United 0 Leeds United 1 2010
When League One Leeds United travelled to Old Trafford to face great rivals and reigning Premier League champions Manchester United in the 2010 third round, a rivalry was rekindled. The tie evoked memories of the beginning of the century when the two were challenging at the top of the Premiership, but was also a reminder of how far Leeds had fallen since.
At the time of this match Leeds were seeking promotion to the Championship, with Jermaine Beckford’s goals keeping them in the hunt. The striker would produce the one crucial moment against United, as his goal in front of the Stretford End gave Leeds a memorable victory and progress into the fourth round. An historic result too as it was the first time United were knocked out at this stage under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson.
8: Burnley 1 Liverpool 0 2005
This game was memorable not only for Burnley’s unexpected win, but the comical own goal which gave them their victory. Liverpool travelled to Turf Moor for this third round tie but failed to put in a meaningful performance, and were punished.
After a first-half in which Burnley were the better side, the Clarets took the lead six minutes after the break when Richard Chaplow rolled a low cross into the Liverpool penalty area from the left, and Reds full-back Djimi Traore thought he was Zinedine Zidane, with disastrous consequences. The defender tried to turn as he controlled the ball, only to complete a dragback on the spin which ended up with the ball rolling into the back of his own net. A ridiculous goal which gifted Burnley a place in the fourth round.
7: Bournemouth 2 Manchester United 0 1984
In January 1984 Manchester United entered the 1983/84 FA Cup third round as holders, having beaten Brighton and Hove Albion in the 1983 final. Their defence of the triphy began with what seemed a straightforward trip to Third Division Bournemouth. The Cherries were near the bottom of the league and United had lost just once on the road that season, with the likes of Bryan Robson, Arnold Muhren and Frank Stapleton in their team. Bournemouth’s manager was Harry Redknapp, three months into his first managerial position.
United failed to offer much during the game and went behind on the hour after goalkeeper Gary Bailey fumbled a cross. Milton Graham was on hand to score and send 16,000 fans at Dean Court into raptures. Four minutes later Ian Thompson added a second goal and sealed a well-deserved 2-0 win for Bournemouth.
6: Sunderland 1 Notts County 2 2010
When former Manchester United team-mates Paul Ince and Steve Bruce went head-to-head in the dugout in January 2010, it was the former who earned the bragging rights, as Ince’s League One strugglers Notts County secured a memorable 2-1 success over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
It was Notts who took the lead five minutes in when Craig Westcarr’s flick was fumbled into his own net by Black Cats goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and despite some efforts at goal in reply, Sunderland could not find a goal and fell further behind with fifteen minutes to go. County striker Lee Hughes saw his first effort saved by Mignolet but tucked in the rebound from an acute angle to make the game more comfortable for the visitors.
Darren Bent pulled a goal back from the penalty spot on 81 minutes, but it was not enough as Notts secured an impressive victory.
5: Everton 0 Oldham Athletic 1 2008
Four years ago Oldham Athletic from League One pulled off one of the shocks of that year’s FA Cup by beating Everton at Goodison Park. Everton were flying-high in the Premier League and Oldham were mid-table in the third tier but it was John Sheridan’s team who prevailed thanks to a stunning 25-yard strike from Gary McDonald seconds before half-time.
Everton pushed for an equaliser, Yakubu hitting the post deep into the second-half, but Oldham’s lead remained comfortable and their strong rearguard display saw them through to the fourth round at the expense of David Moyes’ side.
4: Swindon Town 2 Wigan Athletic 1 2012
Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon Town side gave us one of the shocks of this year’s third round, as they came from behind to beat Premier League Wigan Athletic at the County Ground.
Callum McManaman looked to be setting the visitors on course for victory when he tucked home the rebound after Ben Watson’s penalty kick came back out off the post, but the League Two hosts fought back. Five minutes before the break, Alan Connell glanced a header into the far corner of the net from Matt Ritchie’s right-wing cross to level matters going into half-time.
Swindon continued to hold their own against Roberto Martinez’s Latics and got their reward fifteen minutes from the end. A 25-yard shot from Ritchie deflected off the legs of striker Paul Benson and rolled into the back of the net with Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi stranded. Swindon held on to defeat a side three leagues above them to the joy of the capacity crowd at the final whistle.
3: Stevenage 3 Newcastle United 1 2011
The 2011 third round draw pitted Stevenage against Newcastle United, rekindling memories of the time when the two met at the fourth round in 1998, where a goal from Giuliano Grazioli saw the non-league outfit secure a replay at St. James Park, which the Magpies won 2-1.
In 2011 Stevenage were playing their first season as a Football League club under the management of Graham Westley and were 13th in League Two as Alan Pardew’s Premier League Newcastle visited Broadhall Way. After a goalless first half the underdogs took the lead when Stacy Long’s strike deflected off Mike Williamson and sent Tim Krul the wrong way as it crossed the line. Newcastle fell further behind five minutes later when Michael Bostwick drilled a low shot in off the post to give the hosts a shock 2-0 lead.
Newcastle had midfielder Cheik Tiote sent off for a wild lunge on what would be an uncomfortable night for the visitors and despite Joey Barton’s outstanding 30-yard drive which halved the defecit two minutes into injury time, Stevenage extended their lead and sealed their place in the fourth round three minutes later, as Peter Winn clipped an effort over the advancing Krul after being played in by John Mousinho to send the home fans into raptures.
2: Shrewsbury Town 2 Everton 1 2003
In Jnauary 2003, Shrewsbury Town manager Kevin Ratcliffe, the most successful captain in Everton history, masterminded an FA Cup shock against his former club, knocking them out of the competition with victory at Gay Meadow. Shrewsbury, in the Third Division were 80 places below their opponents in the league standings but took the game to their more illustrious opponents, being denied on several occasions by Toffees goalkeeper Richard Wright.
However two goals from veteran striker Nigel Jemson either side of a Niclas Alexandersson equaliser – the second coming two minutes from time – sent the Shrews fans into delirium and humbled David Moyes’ Everton team which boasted the likes of Wayne Rooney and Tomas Radzinski in their ranks.
1: Wrexham 2 Arsenal 1 1992
At the Racecourse Ground in 1992, basement division Wrexham wrote themselves into FA Cup history with an unforgettable victory over George Graham’s Arsenal side. The Gunners were reigning league champions and expected to brush aside the Welsh outfit, bottom of the fourth division whilst Arsenal were near the top of the first.
Arsenal took the lead through a close-range finish from Alan Smith and looked to be going through, but with ten minutes to go 37-year-old Mickey Thomas, formerly of Manchester United and Chelsea, rolled back the years as he powered a superb 25-yard free kick past David Seaman to level the game.
With the crowd still in raptures after Thomas’ thunderbolt, the minnows from North Wales were not content with a draw as Steve Watkin squeezed an effort under Seaman’s dive to give Wrexham a 2-1 lead late on in the game. That’s how things stayed and at the final whistle, a pitch invasion ensued as the home supporters celebrated the most unlikely of FA Cup victories.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and blogger
As we are a few days into 2012, there’s no better time to reflect on the previous year in the Football League. 2011 served up some memorable moments, with unexpected promotions, great relegation escapes, controversies and goals aplenty.
A resurgent East Anglian outfit upset the odds to claim their second promotion in two seasons and top flight football returned to South Wales for the first time in nearly 30 years. A Premier League legend turned up in Wiltshire to begin his managerial career while two former England managers were hired and fired in the East Midlands.
Plenty more took place in 2011 and this week Toppo’s Top Ten takes a look back at some of the most memorable events of the past twelve months in the Football League.
10: Stevenage are promoted again
Stevenage were promoted to the Football League for the first time in their history in 2010 and made a decent start to life in League Two, hovering around mid-table for the first six months of the campaign. In January the club were sat in 18th place but went on a remarkable run of form in February and March, winning nine out of eleven games to propel themselves into the play-off spots. They may have come to the attention of many for their ‘timewasting’ tactics and the hard work put in by the team on the training field, but Graham Westley’s side were on the up.
They finished sixth and defeated Accrington Stanley 3-0 in the play-off semi-finals, to set up a meeting with Torquay United at Old Trafford in the final. Stevenage had the better of the first-half and made their dominance count four minutes from the break as John Mousinho rifled in a shot from the edge of the area after a fine run from midfield. The goal would prove to be the decider and Stevenage saw out the match to secure a famous double promotion into League One, emulating Exeter’s back-to-back promotions from the Conference into the third tier in 2008 and 2009.
9: Crystal Palace shock Manchester United
Having struggled at the wrong end of the Championship table early in 2011, Crystal Palace made a much better start to the 2011-12 season under manager Dougie Freedman, challenging for the play-offs and having a good run in the Carling Cup.
In the quarter-finals on November 30 they travelled to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, with the home side considered big favourites, despite Sir Alex Ferguson fielding some fringe players. After a dull first half, the game sparked into life when Palace midfielder Darren Ambrose thumped a brilliant 35-yard strike into the top corner at the Stretford End. United equalised thanks to Federico Macheda’s penalty but they could not find another goal, so the match went into extra-time.
Eight minutes into extra-time Palace won a free-kick which Ambrose swung into the penalty area, Glenn Murray escaped the attentions of his marker and nodded the ball into the back of Ben Amos’ net to restore Palace’s lead. The Londoners came under pressure in the closing stages of the game but defended resolutely to seal a last-four spot for the first time in ten years.
8: That Clarke-Di Canio bust-up
Former Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham United striker Paolo Di Canio was appointed manager of Swindon Town in May, not long after the club’s relegation into League Two had been confirmed. The Robins got off to an inconsistent start under the Italian, who was known for his short temper and hot-headed moments as a player. At the end of August we saw this side of Di Canio return as he had a furious bust-up with striker Leon Clarke on the touchline at the County Ground after losing to Southampton in the Carling Cup.
Clarke had an argument with one of the club’s fitness coaches before manager Di Canio stepped in. He asked the striker to leave the field but Clarke refused, Di Canio tugged at his shirt which seemed to wind the striker up more. Eventually the pair headed down the tunnel where the confrontation continued and became more heated with the two having to be pulled apart. Clarke had only joined Swindon from QPR 11 days later, and he was soon heading for the exit – farmed out to Chesterfield on loan.
7: Darren Ferguson returns to Peterborough
In January 2011, fourteen months after leaving the club by mutual consent, Darren Ferguson strolled back into London Road to become Peterborough United boss for a second time. He had just been sacked by Preston North End, who were bottom of the Championship – which was where Ferguson took Peterborough from League Two thanks to successive promotions in 2008 and 2009 during his first stint as manager.
Posh were in the play-off mix when he arrived and he eventually guided them into the end-of-season shootout for a place in the Championship. After overcoming MK Dons in the semi-finals they would face Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford on May 29, where Ferguson began his playing career and where his father Sir Alex, is a club legend. Huddersfield were considered favourites having just been pipped to automatic promotion by Southampton but the game was a tight affair until the late stages.
In the 78th minute Peterborough broke the deadlock when Tommy Rowe headed Grant McCann’s free-kick into the back of the net, before striker Craig Mackail-Smith’s 35th goal of a memorable season made it 2-0. Posh sealed the victory five minutes from the end thanks to a great free-kick from McCann to seal promotion back to the Championship and a remarkable comeback for manager Ferguson.
6: Huddersfield’s unbeaten run
In 2011 Huddersfield Town came close to securing a place in the Championship, being beaten to an automatic promotion spot in League One to Southampton, before losing the play-off final to Peterborough United. Lee Clark’s side were tipped to go one better in the 2011-12 season and pushed for the play-offs again from the start as they carried on a long unbeaten run from the previous season.
After losing in the league to Southampton on December 28th 2010, Huddersfield picked up 24 wins and 18 draws from their next 42 league games to equal Nottingham Forest’s Football League unbeaten streak of 42 matches. In their next game at home to Notts County on the 19th of November, Town would make history as they ran out 2-1 winners thanks to a brace from Jordan Rhodes and make it 43 unbeaten.
In this time they had lost matches in the FA Cup, Carling Cup and most notably, in the League One play-offs, so some felt the record should have been ended much sooner, however it was an impressive feat from the Terriers which came to an end with a 2-0 loss away to leaders Charlton Athletic in their next game.
5: Brighton move to their new home
Fourteen long years after leaving the Goldstone Ground and playing at the Withdean Stadium since 1999, Brighton and Hove Albion finally moved to a new stadium of their own, the impressive Falmer Stadium (named the AMEX Stadium due to sponsorship) which was in construction since 2008.
The move coincided with Gus Poyet’s side winning the League One title last season to be promoted to the Championship and the feel good factor was back amongst the Seagulls and their supporters. Their first competitive match at their new ground was a home league fixture against Doncaster Rovers and it would be a memorable afternoon for the home side. The teams took to the field amid a great atmosphere and the sell-out 20.219 crowd waving flags, but it was Doncaster who threatened to spoil Brighton’s afternoon as they took the lead through Billy Sharp.
Brighton tried to find a goal and finally equalised on 83 minutes as Will Buckley, a summer signing from Watford, hit a shot from the egde of the penalty area after Doncaster had failed to clear a free-kick. Injuries meant there were eight minutes of injury time and in the final minute, Buckley converted an excellent pass from Craig Noone to complete a brilliant turnaround and send the home fans into wild celebration.
4: Fans Reunited
Plymouth Argyle began the season in financial turmoil and had just suffered back-to-back relegations from the Championship into League Two. The club were £13 million in debt and placed in Administration. On the pitch the club’s fortunes continued to slide as the Pilgrims sat bottom of the whole Football League after nine games and manager Peter Reid was sacked.
A ‘fans reunited’ day was organised for Plymouth’s home match against Macclesfield Town on September 24th, led by Brighton and Hove Albion fans, hundreds of well-wishers pledged to descend on Home Park in their own teams’ shirts to support Plymouth’s plight. Albion themselves went through a similar situation in 1997 when they were evicted from the Goldstone Ground, docked points and nearly dropped out of the Football League.
Over 6,000 people attended Plymouth’s match with Macclesfield, with fans from clubs all over the country making the long trip South to be at the game. Argyle’s players responded and ran out 2-0 winners to pick up their first win of a difficult season. Two weeks later a second ‘fans reunited’ day was staged on an International weekend to encourage even more fans to support Plymouth, and the Home Park attendance swelled to over 8,000 as the Pilgrims drew 2-2 with Accrington Stanley.
3: Norwich City reach the Premier League
Norwich City’s rise into the Premier League is remarkable. Defeated 7-1 at Carrow Road by Paul Lambert’s Colchester United on the first day of the League One season in 2009, the club dismissed manager Bryan Gunn and appointed Lambert as the new boss. The Scot galvanised the team as they regained their form and went on to win the League One title later that season, immediately bouncing back into the Championship.
Norwich carried on their winning momentum into the second tier and the club were in and around the play-off spots for most of the season. Thanks to the goals of striker Grant Holt the Canaries were very much in the promotion shake-up and moved into the top two, maintaining consistent form in the process – not losing back-to-back matches all season.
On May 2nd the club went into their penultimate match of the campaign away at Portsmouth needing a win to guarantee promotion. The game was a scrappy affair with neither side fashioning many chances, however in the 50th minute they did find the net. David Fox curled a free-kick into the penalty area and Simeon Jackson met it with a close-range header to give the Canaries a priceless lead.
Norwich held on to secure the win and with it a second consecutive promotion into the Premier League as the players ran towards the travelling supporters to celebrate a remarkable triumph. The club became the first since Manchester City in 2000 to win back-to-back promotions into the top flight.
2: Brendan Rodgers takes Swansea City up
Having narrowly missed out on a Championship play-off place the season before, Swansea City appointed former Watford and Reading boss Brendan Rodgers as manager in the wake of Paolo Sousa’s departure for Leicester City. The Swans developed a reputation for playing attractive, attacking football and this would continue under Rodgers. He moved to bring Scott Sinclair to South Wales for £500,000 from former club Chelsea before the season began and he would be one of the club’s key players throughout the campaign.
After a slow start, Swansea picked up form and were soon in the play-off places, moving into the top two on occasion before falling away to allow Norwich to finish second. They eventually finished third to secure a play-off spot and face Nottingham Forest in the semi-finals. After a goalless first leg at the City Ground, Swansea won the return at the Liberty Stadium 3-1 to reach the Wembley final, where they would face Reading for a place in the Premier League.
On May 30 the two sets of fans descended on Wembley to witness what would be a pulsating encounter. Swansea took control of the first half as two goals from Scott Sinclair and a strike from Stephen Dobbie saw the Swans go into the half-time break 3-0 ahead. Reading looked out of it but they pulled a goal back when Joe Allen deflected a header into his own net four minutes after the restart, and eight minutes later the Royals got another when Matt Mills headed home from a corner to put Brian McDermott’s side right back in the contest.
Swansea had to see out Reading pressure as they pressed for an equaliser, being denied by the post and some last-ditch defending from Garry Monk, before they were awarded a penalty with ten minutes to go when Fabio Borini was brought down in the Reading penalty area. Sinclair stepped up and converted the spot-kick to complete his hat-trick and send Swansea on their way to promotion. At the final whistle they returned to the top flight after a 28 year absence and became the first Welsh team to reach the Premier League – quite a feat considering the club won promotion from League Two six years before.
1: Barnet’s great escape
On the final day of the 2010-11 League Two season Barnet and Lincoln City were locked in a battle to remain in the Football League. Lincoln were two points ahead of the Londoners with a home game against Aldershot, while Barnet faced Port Vale at Underhill. Barnet began the season with Mark Stimson as manager but he left with the club bottom at New Year and they turned to former boss Paul Fairclough as caretaker manager.
However after 15 points from a possible 48 the club were staring the Conference in the face and Fairclough left, with another former manager, Martin Allen returning as Bees’ manager on an eight game deal. He gave the side the lift they needed as they won two and drew one of his first three matches in charge, before he shocked everyone by agreeing to join managerless Notts County, just 19 days after his return to Underhill.
Giuliano Grazioli, a Barnet legend and assistant manager to Allen was placed in charge until the end of the season. After a win, a draw and two defeats from his first four games as boss, Barnet went into the final day of the season needing a victory whilst hoping Lincoln lost. Three minutes into the second half, Izale McLeod scored from the penalty spot to give Barnet the lead, but it would be meaningless unless Lincoln conceded against Aldershot.
Midway through the second-half at Sincil Bank Aldershot themselves won and converted a penalty to take the lead, with the news gradually filtering through at Underhill amid chants of “We are staying up!” from the Bees’ supporters. Fifteen minutes later Aldershot doubled their lead and the Barnet fans began cheering once more. Aldershot made it 3-0 with five minutes left, while at Underhill there were six minutes of injury time which only added to the tension, but Barnet held on to survive in the Football League, climb up to 22nd place in the table and condemn Lincoln to non-league football.
At the final whistle the Bees fans poured onto the pitch to celebrate with the players and coaching staff. Barnet had saved themselves by the skin of their teeth.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and blogger
Tweet Steven at @steven_toplis with your suggestions for Toppo’s Top Tens
Here we go again then folks, entering the second half of the season with Stevenage on an unbeaten run that surpasses that of Huddersfield Town. Sorry, couldn’t resist that one – but it wasn’t really 40 odd games, was it? (Play-off finals don’t count!)
The current run spans nine matches across League and FA Cup, with seven clean sheets kept and two goals conceded – one in each of the games against Bury and Sheffield United – both of which Stevenage won. They’re making quite a habit of this.
On top of the unbeaten run, the club are also continuing a run of not losing games they score first in, with that little achievement now moving past the 90 game mark, extending back to when the club were in the Conference.
In all seriousness though, results this year have way exceeded all expectations and it’s going to be a tough ask to maintain this until the end of the season. But, as we have seen for the past two years, Stevenage are more than capable of continuing to prove the critics wrong and achieve more than even us fans think is possible.
Since my last article, Stevenage have won five and drawn three; arguably the most impressive result being the defeat of Sheffield United, with Scott Laird’s late penalty winning the game. But even that was on the back of impressive victories in two tricky away matches at Bury and Brentford.
Much to the fans disdain, Stevenage don’t appear to have made many friends in football terms – but then who likes to be beaten by a pub team? However, the club’s fans have been picking up plaudits wherever they go, so I suppose I’ll take that. For now.
The side’s achievements so far seem to be going largely unnoticed, with Player and Manager of the Month nominations overlooking anybody with a Stevenage affiliation. But you just need to look at Stevenage’s league position compared with those of fellow promoted sides Wycombe Wanderers and Chesterfield.
The other teams promoted last season, Bury aside of course, have struggled hugely with the transition to this league but, even after derogatory words about Stevenage from both camps, I doubt there’s a single person related to either club that wouldn’t change places with Stevenage at the moment.
With only three home games before February, the next few weeks are going to be a difficult time for Graham Westley and the team. However, past experience shows that Stevenage should not be discounted from here on in and with the run they are currently enjoying, I certainly wouldn’t bet against the club dragging themselves into the play-off mix.
There are some tough games to come, notably Charlton Athletic and both Sheffield clubs away – all of whom will want to seek revenge for defeats at the Lamex Stadium earlier in the campaign. Who knows, this may all peter out to a mid-table finish, but even that will be six or seven places higher than most fans would have been happy with.
To wrap things up, 2011 has been a fantastic year to be a Stevenage fan and we’re just soaking it all up in case the club do a Dagenham next year! All that remains is for me to wish you – and your club – a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year.
Written by Mark Hollis, We Are Going Up’s Stevenage blogger