The path they are taking may be an ugly one but there can be no denying the momentous nature of Stevenage's journey.
With this narrow victory over Torquay in the League Two play-off final, the club have reached English football's third tier for the first time. The men from the new town are in new territory.
But for all the joy of a blustery afternoon in Manchester, Stevenage are unlikely to make many friends in League One next year. This, after all, is a team cultivating a reputation for playing in a direct, relentless manner. They were at it again here but having already accused his critics of "jealousy", Graham Westley, the Stevenage manager, is hardly likely to care about the flak that comes his way having achieved this success on the back of winning the Blue Square Premier League title last season.
"A league championship is special but going up by winning a play-off final is a great feeling," said Westley, who in his second spell in charge of Stevenage has also led the club to the 2009 FA Trophy and, earlier this season, to a third-round FA Cup victory over Newcastle United. "I anticipated we could do this [at the start of the season], I knew it wouldn't be easy, it was always going to be a big jump going from promotion to the Football League to what we've achieved today, but the players have kept their confidence, kept their work ethic and spirit, and shown what those things can give you."
Most teams in League Two will be glad to see the back of Stevenage, who have been dubbed the Stoke City of that division, but any unpopularity they garnered should be tempered by a respect for the rapidity of their rise. The club was formed in 1976 and having worked it's way through the non-league ladder, were denied promotion to the Football League after winning the 1996 Conference title due to the inadequate nature of their home stadium, Broadhall Way. They finally made it up last year and have excelled in their first season in the fourth-tier, winning the play-offs on the back of the best defence in the division, conceding just 45 goals.
It has been in attack where Westley's men have struggled – they were the league's sixth-placed side but only its 11th-highest scorers, with 62 goals – making the contribution of John Mousinho telling. The midfielder arrived from Wycombe last summer and has ended the campaign as Stevenage's top scorer with eight goals, the last of which sent his team-mates into raptures here.
Running on to a through pass from Darius Charles, this game's outstanding performer, the 25-year-old thrashed a low drive into the corner of the net from long-range. The strike was a reward for the urgency Stevenage had shown from kick-off – which was delayed by 15 minutes due to an accident on the M6 that caused some of the sparse 11,484 crowd to arrive late to this venue – and was to prove decisive for the men from Hertfordshire. They can now look forward to trips to such teams as Sheffield Wednesday and Preston.
"We know next season is going to be tough but we beat MK Dons in the FA Cup earlier this season and they ended up as a play-off side in League One. So the lads have shown what they can do against top sides in that division," Westley said. "We're not underestimating the challenge ahead, but we're not fearful of it."
For Torquay, who finished one place and one point behind Stevenage, there will be regrets at the placidity of their performance here. Paul Buckle's men had not lost any of their previous meetings against their play-off final opponents but failed to assert themselves here until the second half. Their best chance of equalising came on 76 minutes, when Billy Kee smashed the bar with a long-range drive. More chances came the way of the men from Devon but no breakthrough.
"We coped with Stevenage's power and strength but we just couldn't find that finish," said Buckle, who has been linked with a move to Bristol Rovers and will announce a decision on his future on Monday. "But I'm proud of the team, it's remarkable for them to go from finishing 17th last season to the play-off final this year."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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