Table-toppers Cobblers can expect more of the same at Stevenage
Cobblers fans left frustrated by the play-acting and time-wasting tactics of Cambridge United at Sixfields last weekend should be preparing themselves for more of the same at Stevenage on Saturday.
The Us players pushed the boundaries to the limit in the 1-1 draw against Town, with players taking every opportunity to feign or exaggerate injury - until they fell behind of course - in a bid to waste time and spoil the game and frustrate.
It’s all part of the game nowadays, and the Cobblers themselves will try and run the clock down when it suits them in tight games, as will most teams.
It’s called being ‘professional’.
But in the past, particularly under the stewardship of Graham Westley, Stevenage were a team renowned for perhaps taking these tactics a little too far, although that had changed somewhat this season with Teddy Sheringham in charge.
But with Sheringham being sacked and Darren Sarll taking the reins, it appears the Broadhall Way club are reverting to some old tricks, with opposing teams in recent weeks complaining about one tactic in particular which sees Stevenage manufacturing an impromptu and unofficial drinks break midway through each half.
A scan through match reports from recent matches against Wycombe Wanderers, Cambridge United and Hartlepool, reference is made to such drinks breaks, and it seems it is a deliberate ploy by Stevenage.
It involves a player going to ground to receive treatment on the far side of the field from the dugouts, and then the Stevenage players heading for the technical area for a drink - and while they are there they get a team talk from manager Sarll.
It’s not a new tactic either, with Cobblers boss Chris Wilder having a public fall-out with Westley back in 2011 when Stevenage did exactly this in a game against Oxford United.
Wilder earlier this week made reference to facing the ‘Stevenage of old’, and he will be hoping that referee David Webb will be wise to any tricks the home side may try to pull at Broadhall Way.
At least the Cobblers will have a 1,400-strong army of travelling fans ready to point things out to Webb on Saturday, and Wilder admits the team is going to need the supporters ‘right behind’ the team on what he feels will be a tough afternoon.
“As you would expect any side to do, Stevenage will fight to gain the extra few per cent, to seek any advantange,” said the Cobblers boss.
“They will be in our faces, they will look for a quick start, and we expect them to revert back to doing the things that helped make them successful not too long ago.
“To get a result we will have to win the battles both mentally and physically and we will need our supporters right behind us.”
Midfielder Joel Byrom, a former Stevenage player, also feels the Cobblers are going to have to get used to teams using spoiling tactics against them.
“Last Saturday Cambridge came with a gameplan, they came to get men behind the ball and try and catch us on the break, but that is the sort of respect we have now from other teams,” he said.
“With us being top of the league, people are going to try and spoil games and make it hard for us, and we just have to get used to it.”
The Cobblers may be boosted at Stevenage by the return to the matchday squad of captain Marc Richards, who hasn’t played since February 16 due to an Achilles strain.
“Marc Richards will travel with us,” confirmed Wilder. “He returned to training this week and it is great to have him back on the training ground.
Whether he is involved or not on Saturday we don’t know yet, but just having him back training is a huge boost.”