Sixteen matches into the season and Stevenage find themselves with almost double the number points than games played, a positive goal difference and a league position that is closer to the play-offs than the relegation zone.
Not bad that – for whipping boys at least.
Without wanting this blog to come across as smug or to deliver it in an “I told you so” tone, I’m feeling smug. And I did bloody well tell you so. Quite how long this smugness will last is anyone’s guess, but the rattling I’m expecting on Saturday won’t do much to rid me of it. Should that rattling occur, of course.
Truth be told, with a bit more luck, more competent refereeing and a bit more composure from the penalty spot, Stevenage would be in the play-off places now and there would not be many with legitimate grounds to argue it.
There’d be plenty who would argue it of course because, obviously, the team are a vile collection of thugs with no technical ability and no right to be in League One because they are newly promoted, don’t have much history and their ground isn’t fourteen times the size of the club’s average attendance*.
All that aside though, the start of this season has been a joy and to find ourselves in the best position of all of last seasons promoted sides is as impressive as it is unexpected.
Stevenage have beaten sides historically they shouldn’t be beating, with the highlight of these being the 1-0 win over Charlton Athletic. It would have been the 5-1 annihilation of Sheffield Wednesday but the “we’ll get our revenge” speech from little Bradley Wright-Phillips made that one so much sweeter. To think, a Charlton player wants to get revenge over Stevenage. You’re smirking too, aren’t you?
Other highlights have included beating Bournemouth away, Brentford away as well as turning Bury over on their own turf after former Stevenage star Efe Sodje claimed in the press all his former employers do is lump the ball forward. The irony of him then spending 90 minutes lumping the ball forward was not lost on those who made the journey. I didn’t go obviously, I’m married.
One away game that I did go to though, thankfully, was Huddersfield.
It was a lovely day. Few beers with the lads, kebab, fish and chips on the way home plus I got to see the worst penalty I’ve ever seen resulting in The Boro losing 2-1. Not the best way to build up to another highlight of the season, but you can find joy in the strangest of places and I found it in Lee Clark.
Watching a man of his standing in the game, who had his team on a 36 game unbeaten run, celebrating like he’d just steered Huddersfield to victory in the FA Cup Final after beating Stevenage, was brilliant.
The look of sheer joy on his face at the final whistle was unbridled, and to then watch him nearly rip Graham Westley’s arm out its socket and have the gall to complain when Dino Maamria refused to have the same treatment made the whole trip worthwhile. Obviously the little lamb blamed the visitors for that episode but even David Blunkett saw that it was an unnecessary confrontation started by him. But to avoid digressing – onto the downsides.
There’s only been one really, and that was short lived. Westley’s side lost four games in a row.
Not a big deal to many, but it’s the kind of run the club hadn’t been on for years, since losing three in a row back in October 2008. It was about due I guess. A run of defeats which started with a missed penalty against Notts County and ended with the aforementioned missed worst-ever-penalty at Huddersfield.
The Notts County defeat had the added downside of watching Lee Hughes scoring and grinning, and we followed that up with defeat in Carlisle then another at home to Scunthorpe in a game which left many wondering how Stevenage hadn’t scored until the 93rd minute. Add to that the fact it was merely a consolation after being 2-0 down and that was a rough afternoon. The defeat in Huddersfield was the fourth and then came the victory against Charlton to set the club on their way again.
The Boro have now won three and drawn one of their last four and are entering that time of the year where, in the past, they’ve maintained superb form until the end of the campaign. That said, in the past they haven’t had to play Sheffield United in their next fixture so no-one is going to be thinking that the team are safe just yet and what’s more, few fans are certainly not expecting a repeat of the last two years.
The goal remains the same: don’t go down. Stevenage are on course to achieve it.
* = It’s 2.5 times bigger but that’s beside the point.
Written by Mark Hollis, We Are Going Up’s Stevenage blogger
Mark tweets at @HollisMark