League Two Club-by-Club Preview for 2018/2019: Stevenage

2017/2018

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

League Two - 16th; W 14 / D 13 / L 19 / F 60 / A 65 / Pts 55

Previous manager Darren Sarll would’ve been hoping for a bit more from The Boro, particularly given their five-game unbeaten start to the campaign. Things still looked rosy in September, and the Hertfordshire outfit were sitting comfortably in the play-offs. However, a long, sticky spell followed, with a single victory from the beginning of October until Christmas in the league; the 7-1 hammering by ‘rivals’ Luton Town was a portent of things to come. Sarll simply couldn’t coax any consistency from his players, and at no stage in the remainder of his tenure did they win twice in a row. Dino Maamria was brought in to replace him in mid-March, the first 10 results yielding the epitome of a mixed bag. That said, there is more (justified) optimism regarding the upcoming season…

skysports-dino-maamria-stevenage_4260249
Relatively new manager Dino Maamria, renewing an association with the club that goes back 15 years, will be hoping to extract the best from some eyebrow-raising signings to propel Stevenage back into League One after what will be a half-decade absence in 2019

Top Goalscorer: Danny Newton (14 goals in 38 starts/3,262 minutes)

Top Creator: Ben Kennedy (7 assists in 24 starts/2,153 minutes)

2018/2019

Manager/Head Coach: Dino Maamria; the Tunisian-born manager signed for Burnley in 1996, and has remained in some part of the UK ever since, save for a brief time in the USL with Charleston Battery.  The former striker’s most fruitful period came at Leigh RMI (now Genesis), before moving south for The Boro in 2003. Upon his return from America, he again donned the red and white, remaining there for three years.

His first taste of management was as caretaker at Northwich Victoria, where he somehow masterminded survival from seemingly impossible odds and was named as the then-Conference Manager of the Year. Shortly into the subsequent season, he was sacked by the Trickies after being placed on gardening leave. Once more, he came back to the Lamex Stadium, this time as first-team coach under Graham Westley. He followed the divisive manager to Preston North End and then back to Stevenage in assistant roles. Upon Teddy Sheringham’s appointment and an all-too-brief time in charge at Southport, he gained his UEFA Pro Licence, linking up with Westley yet again at Newport County.

He struck out on his own st Nuneaton Borough in October of last year, finding them in a similar predicament to Northwich when he first cut his teeth as a manager. The same pattern followed, lifting the National League North side to within sight of the play-offs. Back in Hertfordshire, all eyes are on whether he can keep the quiet confidence the club have been building over the summer going, and transform it into something meaningful come the end of 2018/2019.

Ins: Scott Cuthbert (Luton Town), Jamal Campbell-Ryce (Carlisle United), Ben Nugent (Gillingham), Joel Byrom (Mansfield Town), Michael Timlin (Southend United), Johnny Hunt (Mansfield Town), James Ball (Stockport County), Emmanuel Sonupé (Kidderminster Harriers), Alex Reid (Fleetwood Town), Luther Wildin (Nuneaton Borough) & Paul Farman (Lincoln City).

Outs: Ben Wilmot (Watford), Tom Conlon (free agent), Fraser Franks (Newport County), Ryan Johnson (Kidderminster Harriers on loan), Chris Whelpdale (free agent), Jack King (Ebbsfleet United), Alex Samuel (free agent), Dale Gorman (Leyton Orient), Jamie Gray (free agent), Matt Godden (Peterborough United), Kevin Lokko (Dover Athletic) & Chris Day (free agent).

Predicted First XI & Shape:

Stevenage 1819

 

Tactics: Whilst not set in stone, the setup appears to be leaning heavily towards a more direct style of football this season. Paul Farman doesn’t, at the time of writing, have an understudy in goal, so he appears set to be #1. His ability to throw the ball long and accurately might not be called upon frequently, but could be a secret weapon for Maamria if a shift in emphasis is required. In front of him will be Ben Nugent and Scott Cuthbert. Both of them are more than competent centre backs in the fourth tier; the latter is more stocky and possesses immense strength, as well as being a danger in the opposition penalty area from set pieces. Nugent is also strong and brings balance to the duo with his left foot and is adept at timing a sliding tackle to perfection.

At full-back, Johnny Hunt and Ronnie Henry probably won’t be tasked with bombing forward; instead, they’ll be asked to retain the shape of the defensive line and only advance to close down space when the need is urgent. Joel Byrom and Michael Timlin will drop off out of possession to act add an intimidating extra shield. Both are excellent long passers with their left foot, strong and far from shy when it comes to getting stuck in.

Mamaria is blessed with an array of options for the right wing. Emmanuel Sonupé and Jamal Campbell-Ryce are the most prominent and might have to settle for rotation. The latter is 13 years his teammate’s senior, and can operate anywhere behind the striker. He’s most known for his balance, surprising aerial ability… and propensity to dive. He can still be a danger though, and could just as easily compete for a spot on the left with Ben Kennedy. Another versatile midfielder, he’s more agile than quick and quite aggressive. He has a tendency to avoid using his weaker foot, so his angled runs will be designed with that in mind.

Up top, possible captain Alex Revell will be putting himself about as he always has. A target man by build, his stamina is second-to-none, and he will be seeking to carry on his good goalscoring start to life at The Boro. His first touch helps bring in others to play, which is a key skill if, as expected, his strike partner is Alex Reid. Athletic and tall, he will be calling upon Revell’s know-how to remain a fixture in a match (and the team), as well as looking to lose his marker whenever possible.

newton
Last term’s Player of the Season Danny Newton might not even start, such is the stiff competition he now faces; if he does feature, he will drift wide to create space in the middle for late runners, as well as being a goalscoring force in his own right

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Play-off chasers; Maamria appears to have bought well on the whole following the sale of outstanding prospect Ben Wilmot to neighbours Watford, especially down the spine of the team. They ought to be much tougher to beat in 2018/2019, as well as having more depth throughout, except between the sticks. The optimism engendered by the current look of the squad is shared by the fans, who will be right behind their manager and his charges from the get-go. The style of play might not always be the easiest on the eye, but they won’t care if it yields results. They’re most definitely a side to look out for in League Two.

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