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
Mark tweets at @HollisMark