At the start of the year, Stevenage sat 17th in League Two. Just short of a year on, they find themselves sixth in League One, holding the final play-off spot after an impressive 6-1 victory away at Colchester. The win was the largest they have recorded since they began their brief tenure in the Football League and sees them unbeaten in their last six games away from home. The result condemned a dismal Colchester to their biggest ever home defeat.
For a brief spell before and after the half time interval, Stevenage dominated the game. Don Cowan impressed on his first start for the club and showed his ability after just two minutes when he used his pace to get through the Colchester defence pulling the ball back only to be volleyed skywards by Lawrie Wilson.
Stevenage’s dominance was rewarded within 10 minutes when Robin Shroot opened the scoring with his first league goal for the club. Cowan sent the ball through to Chris Beardsley who ran on and cut the ball back across the face of the goal to find Shroot at the far post who had a simple tap in.
It should have been two five minutes later when Cowan cleverly dummied a pass from Michael Bostwick for Beardsley to run onto. The striker found himself with just the goalkeeper to beat but failed to keep his composure and his finish was poor.
Just ten minutes later, Beardsley redeemed himself and doubled Stevenage’s lead when he picked up the ball from 20 yards out and fired low past Ben Williams in the Colchester goal. The referee did well to let the game flow after Cowan was pulled down just outside the box. The ball fell to Beardsley whose shot found the back of the net despite the fingertips of Williams, who should have done better to prevent the goal. It was Beardlsey’s fourth goal in as many games and takes his tally to one shy of last season’s total.
The home side finally got themselves into the match towards the end of the first half when they began to put pressure on the Stevenage goal, first hitting the post and then forcing a fine save from Chris Day but were unable to pull a goal back before the interval. Their best chance came from a corner; Stevenage failed to clear their lines properly and the ball fell to Karl Duguide inside the box. His curling effort looked bound for the top corner but was denied by the post. Colchester came close again soon after when Andrew Bonds long range effort forced a good save from Day. Stevenage held out to go into the interval with their two goal lead intact.
Graham Westley would not have been pleased with the way the second half began. The game became open and stretched with both sides creating a number of chances. Day, again, produced a fine save to deny Kayode Odejayi, turning his fierce shot behind. The resulting corner found Matt Heath with a free header but the defender’s effort went narrowly wide. At the other end, Stevenage almost extended their lead when Cowan and Bostwick combined but Bostwick’s shot could only ripple the side netting.
With the game open, another goal seemed likely and the home side’s efforts were rewarded when, from a deep cross, Duguid cushioned the ball back to the far post to find an unmarked Ian Henderson to score with a simple header.
Stevenage appeared to have lost their shape and Westley duly brought on Edwards (Cowan) and Freeman (Shroots), converting to a 4-5-1 formation to pack out the midfield whilst at the same time giving them attacking options through Freeman. The change worked and despite being against the run of play, Stevenage added a third when Michael Bostwick’s 35 yard strike was cruelly deflected past the helpless Williams.
The goal sparked a rout as Stevenage once again began to dominate the match. A fourth goal came just eight minutes later from a delightful free kick routine. Scott Laird dummied his run up around the side of the wall, Bostwick slid the ball through and Laird shot low across Williams into the back of the net.
Two minutes later and it was five. Luke Freeman received the ball on the edge of the area, he cut outside, took two touches to find a yard of space out and shot across the Colchester goalkeeper who, again, should have done more to stop the effort.
Joel Byrom completed the rout in the 83rd minute with a fine individual goal, using his pace down the right to get into the box before sliding the ball past the Colchester goalkeeper into the bottom corner.
The win extends Stevenage’s unbeaten run to 12 matches and sees them move up to the final play off spot for the first time this season in what has been a remarkable year for them.
There is always the concern surrounding newly promoted teams who perform well in the first have of the season but falter in the second, to find themselves tackling relegation and Stevenage need to be careful not get carried away with their success. Teams will know more about Stevenage and they will find themselves up against opposition who are more prepared.
However, Stevenage have proved themselves to be well prepared mentally and physically for this seasons’ challenges and it would be unlikely to see them rest on their laurels. It is their ethos to work hard and constantly improve so that any dip in form can be quickly countered.
Indeed, this season they have already shown their ability to do this. Prior to their unbeaten run there were was concern, when Stevenage suffered five consecutive defeats, that the bubble had burst. Westley and his players worked hard to stem the flow of goals they were conceding and rectify their poor form.
Westley focused his team on their defensive attitude “building on our defensive organisation and enhancing our patterns of play.” They then went on to keep six clean sheets in the next eight games and remain unbeaten. More recently, after a run of three goalless draws Westley turned his sides attention to improving their attacking play and set pieces. The resulting two games have seen Stevenage score eight goals. This is not to say that Stevenage can simply decide to focus on an aspect of their game and it will happen but it highlights that where there are problems, Westley and his players will work hard to find solutions. And so far, the evidence suggests that it is working, and working well.
Stevenage can look back on an exceptional 2011 but it is in Westley’s nature to make sure his team are looking forwards and improving, not just maintaining, their excellent form. It is this attitude that has ensured that Stevenage have always bettered their performances and results in the second half of the season. If they can do that again then 2012 could be a very good year for Stevenage Football Club.
Stevenage: Day, Henry, Ashton, Roberts, Laird, Wilson, Bostwick, Byrom, Shroot (Freeman 56), Cowan (Edwards 56), Beardsley (Harrison 73). Unused Substitutes: Julian, Aneke
Colchester: Williams , Rose (Coker 80), Okuonghae, Heath, Wilson, O’Toole (Gillespie 73), Bond, James, Duguid, Odejayi, Henderson. Unused Subsitutes: Eastman, Izzet, White.
Stevenage: Shroot (9), Beardsley (25), Bostwick (63), Laird (71), Freeman (73), Byrom (83)
Colchester: Henderson (51)
Yellow Cards: Okuonghae, O’Toole, Beardlsey
Attendance: 5276 (754 Away)