Stevenage head into the 2023/24 season with a spirit of optimism at The Lamex Stadium following a successful, and perhaps, surprising year which culminated with the Hertfordshire side finishing second in League Two.
Much of this positivity has been driven by Steve Evans who, suitable name aside, is a remarkably good fit for The Boro and has led to a turnaround in fortunes for the club following a challenging few seasons. Evans arrived in March 2022, where he saved the club from relegation, and the 60-year-old will be hoping for further success rivalling his time at the likes of Rotherham, where he saw back-to-back promotions and led the club into the Championship.
Stevenage will be hoping to maintain their run of good form that saw the side return its highest-ever League Two finish last season and will look to hit the
ground running following some interesting transfer business over recent weeks.
It’s been a busy summer at the Lamex with a surprising number of departures from last season’s promotion-winning side. Evans has been ruthless and has cut some of the more popular players from the team, including hometown hero Luke Norris, who left for Tranmere Rovers. Elsewhere, key midfielders Jake Reeves and Alex Gilbey have departed for AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons respectively, with many fans surprised by the latter’s decision to remain in League Two with his former side. Danny Rose has also left to join Grimsby Town however this was largely down to personal circumstances, with Evans admitting he would have liked to have kept the target man in Hertfordshire following promotion.
However, these departures have been covered by some highly impressive business, much of which was conducted early on in the transfer window. Thompson (Nathan), Thompson (Louis) and Thompson (Ben) have all joined Stevenage after spells in League One while the club have also recruited midfielder Nick Freeman from Wycombe, Harry Anderson from Bristol Rovers and Dan Butler, who is the third player to sign from Peterborough this summer (along with Ben and Nathan Thompson). Alex McDonald has joined Steve Evans for the third time in his career and will add some much-needed expertise at set pieces, while giant Scotsman Aaron Pressley has signed on a two-year deal from Brentford and should form a key part of a side which needed a target man to replace the departing Rose and Norris. Highly-rated Finlay Burns has joined the defence on loan from treble winners Man City while The Boro have snapped up Kristzian Hegyi on loan from West Ham and Taye Ashby-Hammond as their two shot-stoppers for the upcoming season. Ashby-Hammond spent last year on loan at Stevenage from Fulham and was one of a remarkable seven goalkeepers to play for them last year. Boro will be hoping to keep him fit if they are to prosper this season however Hegyi represents a strong backup if their first-choice ‘keeper is to miss any games.
Stevenage played relatively few pre-season games this summer as a result of the cancellation of the planned Watford fixture following the two sides being drawn against each other in the first round of the Carabao Cup, however, they fared well in the games they did play. The Boro opened their campaign with a 2-0 victory away at St Neots Town followed by a 3-0 win at fellow Hertfordshire side Hitchin Town, with two goals for Jamie Reid and Jake Forster-Caskey’s first goal in the red and white. This game also saw a lesser-spotted friendly red card for Hitchin Town’s Stan Georgiou who clearly took the local rivalry to heart. Boro then suffered a surprising defeat to AFC Stamford before drawing 1-1 against Colchester United in a game that was moved from The Lamex to St Neots Town at the last-minute following concerns over the state of the Stevenage pitch following its relaying. Stevenage won their final two pre-season friendlies against highly tipped Ipswich Town with goals for Reid and Ben Thompson before walloping a youthful Spurs XI 4-0 at home last weekend.
Start to the season
Stevenage have, on paper, a relatively easy start to life in League One, playing three of the four promoted sides in their first seven games. However, their opener against Northampton is likely to prove tricky with the club acting as the Boro’s perennial bogey team over recent years. Stevenage’s first home game is against Shrewsbury Town who have been tipped as one of the sides to struggle this year and is followed by an away trip to local rivals Cambridge United, who are also expected to battle relegation in the new season. This is followed by games against Reading, who could be without their summer signings if they are sanctioned for financial mismanagement in the coming weeks, and an away trip to Portsmouth, who Boro last played in the league in 2017, where they recorded a 3-0 victory. The first seven games are rounded off against Leyton Orient, who pipped Stevenage to the League Two title last season, and play-off winning side, Carlisle United. The Hertfordshire side will be hoping to get some points on the board early on in what can be seen as a relatively fortuitous start to life in the third tier.
Boro were dealt a blow in the Ipswich Town friendly following an injury to defender Terence Vancooten, who signed a new extended contract in the summer, which could see him out until mid-October according to manager Steve Evans. Elsewhere, Dan Sweeney had surgery earlier in the summer but is expected to return in late August, while Elliot List, who missed all of last season following an injury in the season opener against Tranmere, is expected to recover from a summer knock in time for the opener against Northampton Town. Harry Anderson has also missed much of pre-season after picking up a muscle injury, however, he is also likely to return in time for the opening games.
Ongoing Transfer Rumours
Despite having him on trial for much of the summer, Stevenage didn’t add to their trio of arriving Thompsons and chose not recruit midfielder Curtis, who joined Swindon Town earlier this week. The club is expected to recruit a backup left-back to challenge Dan Butler with former Crystal Palace player Reece Hannam spending most of the summer with the side, and Evans has said he expects another 2-4 players to join The Boro before the window closes. The club has been linked with Ipswich Town defender, Elkan Baggott in recent weeks, however, the arrival of Burns means they are fairly well covered at centre back. Any further signings are likely to be additional cover at defensive midfield, or potentially an additional wide attacking player to rival the likes of Roberts, List and Anderson.
Goalkeepers: Taye Ashby-Hammond, Krisztian Hegyi
Defenders: Carl Piergianni, Terence Vancooten, Dan Sweeney, Dan Butler, Luther James-Wildin, Kane Smith, Nathan Thompson, Finlay Burns
Midfielders: Louis Thompson, Ben Thompson, Jake Forster-Caskey, Alex McDonald, Jordan Roberts, Harry Anderson, Nick Freeman
Forwards: Jamie Reid, Elliot List, Josh March, Aaron Pressley, Makise Evans,
With all that being said, how do you think Stevenage will fare this season? Will they stay up comfortably? Are they surprise promotion contenders? And who else will they sign? Feel free to let us know.