With three successive away league wins under their belts, Stevenage will travel to Portsmouth on Saturday in confident mood. However manager Darren Sarll is keen to ensure his side concentrates on playing the team in front of them, rather than the whole Fratton Park club.
The rescheduled Doncaster game allowed Darren to watch Pompey’s win at Luton on Tuesday night, which he says will only improve preparation for the weekend trip to the south coast.
Speaking to the local press this afternoon at Bragbury End, Darren explained, “We were lucky and had the Doncaster game rearranged. We had a team of people out covering 12 teams on Tuesday night, which you don’t usually get during the season so it’s a real advantage. People may say we’re two games behind now and you’d rather have the points, but in my head I’m now 12 teams and 12 pieces of information and feedback better. So our preparation can be improved.
“Portsmouth are in an elite group of sides in our league. They’re a tough team but I think in League 2 this year that team of elite teams has grown. How many would you put in there? I’d like to put ourselves in there. I’m arrogant to think that, I’ll put our team in that elite group of teams in League 2 and why not? If we continue our current developmental pace and growth that we’re showing, there’s absolutely no reason why not.
“With Pompey you have to strip it back. Play the football team, don’t play the football club. It’s a tough game because there are some good people there. Paul Cook is excellent and I loved watching his Chesterfield side when they were going through League 2 into League 1. He’s acquired a very, very select few players to play for Portsmouth, which Portsmouth can do, but strip it back, play the football team.
“The football club is a League 2 football club. Stevenage is a League 2 football club. Jobi McAnuff doesn’t have to tackle their boardroom directors or their chairman or any of the 16,000 that are behind them. He’s just got to concentrate on the 11 in front of him. Strip it back and it’s just a game of football.”
Dean Wells, Jobi McAnuff, Michael Tonge and Rowan Liburd were among those who featured in Tuesday afternoon’s reserve game against Southend at Bragbury End and Darren was asked if he considered his squad to be strong.
“Absolutely“ he said, “I’m glad the lads in the starting line-up are winning as my week would be more confrontational than what it is as the minute.
“What people don’t see is the work that Dean Wells does and Jobi McAnuff does. Dean Wells said to the defenders this morning, ‘since Morecambe (when he was injured), you have been brilliant. We look so much better at the back’. This is a lad who’s come out of the team, looked Luke Wilkinson and Fraser Franks in the eye and saying ‘you’ve been brilliant, absolutely brilliant’. What about that for a calibre of a man and the reputation footballers get?
“What you gentlemen don’t see and hear is the work Jobi McAnuff does in the changing room, the work Michael Tonge does with Henry Cowans, Dale Gorman etc. Charlie Lee is a vibrant character. I left him out of the team on Saturday to change the dynamic of the team and it was like he was playing in the dressing room. It was brilliant and that’s what we’ve got here. We’ve got some terrific people.
“Those boys sitting behind me at the moment are driving form and they’re driving performances because they don’t sulk, they’ve all got a terrific work ethic and they all want to play.
“It’s very, very competitive here. We’ve got 15 promotion winners in our players and management squad, 15 promotions winners in their career – you don’t get that collection of players and it be a friendly, nice, easy going sort of atmosphere. It’s very competitive. Whether it’s darts or a finishing game out on the training pitch, there are a lot of people who want to win here – it’s a good place to be.”
The full interview, in which Darren also speaks at length about the form of Matt Godden and Kgosi Ntlhe will be available on Boro PlayerHD soon.