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Little Stevenage can smell League 1 football

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Stevenage Borough will be looking to make it to League One on their first attemptThis week marks the biggest in the history of Stevenage FC as they embark on their date with destiny in the Npower League 2 Play-Off Final at Old Trafford this Saturday. The prize; a 90 minute shootout to gain promotion to League 1. The team standing in the way comes in the form of Paul Buckle’s Torquay United.

The Hertfordshire clubs’ meteoric rise from the Non-League into the Football League (and indeed 6th place finish in League 2 this season) is all the more impressive considering Graham Westley’s men only achieved promotion to League 2 last August. This crash course represents Stevenage’s first ever taste of league football since they were cruelly denied promotion back in 1996 for failing capacity regulations at their home, Broadhall Way.

However, it may not come as a surprise that Boro’, as they were formally known, find themselves in this promotion predicament so early in their history. Considering the clubs’ experience in facing adversity with the denial of promotion and flirtatiousness with FA Cup giant killing acts in the past, the club does possess comprehendible experience of those big occasions. None more so than by defeating Newcastle United of the Premier League this season by an impressive 3 goals to 1. Boro’ also found time for this cup upset in addition to their relentless charge up the English football pyramid. The acts of Stevenage and indeed Crawley Town this season serve as firm evidence to suggest there is some still magic in the FA Cup yet.

But in the here and now, Boro’s focus is solely on Saturday. Manchester may prove unfamiliar surroundings for flame haired Boro’ captain Mark Roberts and his team mates, not only for the vast 75,000 capacity in relation to Broadhall Way’s tiny 7,000 but in terms of the Football League’s venue scheduling. Wembley which is traditionally associated with the major domestic finals has been reserved for the Championship play-off this season, and Boro’ may have preferred the short trip down the A1 considering their recent relationship with the FA Trophy, playing there a couple of times against both York and Barrow.

Yet it is more than likely that the high walled backdrop of Old Trafford will do nothing but inspire Stevenage to greater glory, considering the hard work ethos of their manager Graham Westley. The 43 year old, in his second spell in charge at Broadhall Way is regarded for his unorthodox managerial methods; acceptance of business principles and exaggerated approach to training, with his players often negotiating 9 to 5 routines before match days. Westley hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye with his managerial counterparts in his debut Football League season, none more so than his employment of so-called ‘tactical drink breaks’ and long ball styles, but critics can only be silenced if this simple and effective approach; similar in method to Stoke City’s, propels Boro’ into the lofty heights of League 1.

The most ardent of Boro’ fans couldn’t have predicted at the start of the season that their team would have been one game away from rubbing shoulders with outfits such as Sheffield United, Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday who have all experienced the Premier League in the past. This represents the real prize for Stevenage and all shall be revealed in an engrossing and evenly-matched tie against their Devon counterparts at the weekend.

Prediction: Stevenage 2 Torquay 1

Key Man: Stacy Long: The former Charlton trainee provides tireless energy from the midfield, darting runs to support the front men, likely to be Darius Charles and Craig Reid and possesses a keen eye for goal. The midfield man would love to face his former employers next season.

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