Stevenage vs Hartlepool United
The Lamex Stadium, Saturday 9th August, 3:00pm
Home side: DWWDWD
Away side: WLLLDW
Odds: Stevenage 21/20 Draw 12/5 Hartlepool 13/5
Stevenage will be hoping to field a young talented side against Hartlepool in their opening League Two fixture. The Hertfordshire side have made 12 new signings including the return of Ronnie Henry and Chris Beardsley. However they lost arguably their most creative player as Luke Freeman moved to Bristol City. Graham Westley has spent well and has seen his side form together during pre-season. Westley has signed a lot of up-and-coming players from lower leagues like Adam Marriott, Tom Pett and Dean Wells. Most have performed well during the few games they have played but can they replicate this during the League Two season.
Their opponents Hartlepool begin their season with relatively the same squad they ended the last one with. They have signed two new players Matthew Bates and Stuart Parnaby, who have signed on a free from Middlesbrough. Manager Colin Cooper is still hoping to add new names and is heavily linked with former Fulham and West Brom Albion midfielder Jonathan Greening. They will miss centre-midfielder Anthony Sweeney, who signed a two-year-deal at Carlisle and also Simon Walton who joined Saturday’s opponents Stevenage. With the size and depth of Pools squad, many have predicted a mid-table finish.
Both sides have experienced a completely different pre-season. Firstly Stevenage should be happy with the performances against West Ham and Millwall which both ended 2-2, but lead in both games. They scored in all but two of their nine pre-season matches. New striker Adam Marriott scored a hat-trick in their 3-1 win against Chesham United and he looks set to continue his impressive goal scoring record from last season. Graham Westley is hoping to improve his side’s defence after letting in 72 goals last season but they only managed one clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with Championship side Reading.
Hartlepool, on the other hand, found it tough, especially against a stronger opposition. They lost 3-0 to Premier League side Sunderland and lost 2-0 at home to Middlesbrough. They have scored 16 goals in their seven pre-season games but nine came in the first match during a 9-0 win against non-league Billingham Town. They conceded in all of their last five matches so, like Stevenage, will be hoping to improve defensively on Saturday.
The two sides have met each other five time: four in League One and once in a FA Cup first round tie, in which a Scott Laird penalty secured a 1-0 win for Stevenage. Graham Westley’s men have not lost to Hartlepool and have only conceded two goals against them, both conceded in a 2-2 draw. Since the last time they played on April 1st 2013 both sides have been relegated to League Two, most recently Stevenage last season.
Ones to watch:
Ronnie Henry: The 30-year-old defender returned to The Lamex after being released by Luton Town at the end of last season. A fan favourite and a born leader, Henry will provide the defensive boost that Stevenage lacked last season. He helped Luton to a club-record 23 clean sheets last season during their Championship winning campaign. He has already played alongside Jon Ashton and knows what it is like to be promoted with the Hertfordshire club having won back-to-back promotions with Stevenage.
Luke James: Establishing himself last season, Luke James is hoping to match if not better last season’s performance. He scored 15 goals in 45 appearances, winning Player’s Player of the Year and Hartlepool’s Player of the Year. Not bad for someone who is still only a teenager. Hartlepool will be hoping he can bag the goals in from day one and as long as they can be strong in defence, James could fire Hartlepool into League One after a two year absence.
It will be a nervy start to the season for both teams as they will want to get off to the best possible start. Stevenage go into the game with the better head-to-head record and debatably the better pre-season, which might give them a bit of confidence. It will be interesting to see how the home team line-up as they have rotated the squad numerous times during the last month. With both teams leaking goals I can see both teams scoring but Stevenage will have the home advantage so I am predicting…