Both Stevenage and Plymouth Argyle head into Saturday’s FA Cup tie at Home Park with contrasting league fortunes. The visitors are mounting a steady play-off push in League Two whilst the Pilgrims are beginning to scramble to safety in the league above as the season nears its half-way stage.

The line-up

Kurtis Guthrie will look to partner Alex Revell up front in Stevenage’s traditional 4-4-2 formation, yet fellow forward Danny Newton will be pushing for a place after coming off the bench to register a goal and assist in his side’s 3-2 win over Oldham last Saturday. Newton came on alongside Ben Kennedy to take over the wide positions and their impetus sparked the turnaround as Stevenage took all three points; both will be hoping to start this weekend.

Luther Wildin and Steve Seddon should both start, though Seddon has been used as a wide-midfielder in recent matches so the experienced Hunt should remain at left-back. The 20-year-old duo have both impressed since joining from Nuneaton Borough and Birmingham (loan) respectively over the summer. A good crosser, Seddon in particular will be a threat when receiving the ball on the wing and has two goals and four assists to his name already this season.

23-year-old Queens Park Rangers loanee Seny Dieng should continue in goal. The Senegalese has kept four clean sheets in the nine games he has featured in this season and been consistent successful when dealing with crosses since Paul Farman’s hand injury.

(4-4-2 formation)

Dieng

Wildin   Cuthbert   Nugent   Hunt

Campbell-Ryce   Timlin   Byrom   Seddon

Guthrie   Revell

Style of play

Stevenage’s style of play revolves around a basic 4-4-2 structure. With two composed central-midfielders, two wingers capable of crossing and two strong strikers, manager Dino Maamria has built a team designed to create crossing opportunities and convert them into goal-scoring chances. You can see how important crossing is to their attacking strategy by just looking at how they turned around the game against Colchester earlier this season:

Therefore, game-plan revolves around feeding the wingers possession around the opposition’s penalty area. When on the front-foot, the full-backs push forward to provide support and stretch the opposition while the strikers and opposite winger position themselves inside the box to draw attention. The cumulative effect of this is to create space for the winger or full-back to deliver a dangerous cross. Note how the movement of the full-backs in the next two highlights afford the winger extra space to cross the ball:

Despite the high profile departure of striker Matt Godden during the summer, who scored 35 times over the past two seasons, using this style Stevenage have maintained a steady flow of goals, evenly distributed among the team. Forwards Revell, Guthrie, Newton and Kennedy have all scored three apiece in the league, with a further nine distributed among seven others.

The quartet have succeeded in the formation, with their aerial and passing qualities of Revell and Guthrie in particular regularly causing opposition defences problems. Indeed five of Boro’s last seven league goals have either been scored or assisted by headers, while 11 of their total 21 league goals have come from crosses. With wing play a vital part of their game-plan, it is likely that Tafari Moore and Conor Grant will be repeatedly tested on Saturday.

In particular Byrom and Timlin have been key to Stevenage’s successful start. Though they may not be the strongest or the fastest of central-midfielders, their composure and passing abilities have enabled the team to take control of matches, restricting opposition chances and enabling his side to play on the front foot. Should James Ball start ahead of either, he will offer similar skill on the ball. Between the three of them, they also have four goals this season, all from outside the box, so Derek Adams should be wary of their ability: all three made it into Stevenage’s goal of the month competition for August.

Key player

Given their even spread of goals it would be difficult to single out one particular ‘danger man’, but in terms of overall play it has to be Alex Revell. The 35-year-old not only boasts the joint most goals but has also laid on a further three assists for his teammates giving him a hand in 35% of his sides league goals.

The former Rotherham man has been central to the way Boro have played with his hold up play and distribution of the ball out to the wings for the likes of Ben Kennedy, Steve Seddon and Jamal Campbell-Ryce who have assisted five goals between them this season.

At 6ft 3in his aerial qualities will challenge the likes of Niall Canavan and Yann Songo’o, and should provide one of the key duels of the afternoon. However, if he is marked well, or Argyle cut the supply of crosses, he could be kept quiet, with pace certainly not one of the veterans strengths should the Argyle duo stand their ground.

Weaknesses

With only 21 goals from 17 games, no other side in the top ten has scored fewer. Having scored just one goal less than 22nd placed Notts County and the same as 15th places Oldham, they may have a direct style of attack but it has not been the main factor behind their good start to the season.

For all they bring to the side, Revell and Guthrie have only managed 22 shots apiece this season, averaging just over one shot a game which suggests that, despite the regimented style of play, the players around them are often failing to create enough chances for them. Against an Argyle side who are finally beginning to grow in confidence, they are going to be have be clinical if they are to progress to the next round of the competition.

Indeed, though Stevenage currently rest eighth, they very much have their defence to thank for that. Under manager Dino Maamria, Stevenage have found themselves to be a lot more defensively sound, conceding just 16 goals from their opening 17 league games. This ranks them as the joint-fourth best defence in League Two, having conceded 12 fewer goals than at the same stage last season. Over the summer, the Tunisian brought in an experienced skeleton for his side in the shape of Scott Cuthbert, Jamal Campbell-Ryce, Joel Byrom, Michael Timlin and Johnny Hunt, all of whom are aged between 27-35 and have featured heavily this season.

Yet, despite the increased experience and organisation, Stevenage’s defence has still been found lacking when attacked by side who are more capable in possession and less reliant on long-balls. Exeter, Yeovil and Notts County all kept the ball on the ground, attacked Stevenage’s midfield and defence, and created lots of chances.

Though Timlin and Byron are strong in possession, they can be fragile without it against sides who have the quality in possession to get past them. Stevenage’s defence has stood strong in the face of aerial bombardment – just as Argyle’s did in 2017/18 – but will likely come undone against the extra quality that Carey, Grant, Sarcevic and Ladapo can bring.

Indeed, if Fox and Ness can get their foot on the ball and deny Stevenage, and in particular Timlin and Byron, possession, then things might begin to unravel for the League Two outfit.

Prediction

Given Argyle’s extra quality in possession compared to most League Two sides, it shouldn’t be surprising to see them carve openings through a packed defence. Stevenage have the tools to cause the Pilgrims problems, but their chances should be restricted if Fox and Ness can gain control.

Assuming that Derek Adams opts to start his strongest side, like he did against Grimsby last season, this is likely to be a victory for Argyle, but given the nature of the cup I’ll opt for a conservative 1-1 scoreline.

Author: Tom Sleeman

Read more articles by this author or follow them on Twitter.