Whilst the eyes of the footballing world will be focused on Wembley Stadium and the Champions League final on Saturday, the fans of Stevenage and Torquay United will make a pilgrimage to Old Trafford as the two sides face off for a place in Npower League One.
For Stevenage, the game is the culmination of an amazing first season in the Football League. Promoted as champions of the Blue Square Bet Premier last season, Boro have enjoyed an incredible 2011, which started with a pulsating victory over Premier League Newcastle United in the FA Cup. Yet despite their heroics, their achievements have not always been seen in a positive light.
Graham Westley’s side have been accused of gamesmanship, a point alluded to by John Coleman, Accrington Stanley’s manager after the two sides semi-final: “We know what to expect, they think they have their own laws – breaking up the game to get tactics to the players and get drinks on.” With seven minutes of stoppage time played at the end of the first 45 in the second leg, Coleman was drawn to comment: “The first half bordered on being a pantomime.”
Westley disputes those claims, and is keen to emphasise his sides’ achievements in being just 90 minutes away from promotion: “Stevenage is a hard working football club that is disciplined, organised and progressive. The sooner people stop listening to the voices that want to bring us down, they’ll start to appreciate what we’re really all about.”
Their opponents in Saturday’s match are Torquay United, themselves just two years out of the Conference. The Gulls squeezed into the play-offs on goal difference on the final day, but performed magnificently to gain a 2-0 win over Shrewsbury in the semi-final.
The following day sees potentially the best game of the play-off final weekend as Huddersfield Town take on Peterborough United for a place in the Championship. Both sides play a brand of stylish attacking football and have found goal scoring easy throughout the season.
Huddersfield will start as slight favourites, coming into the game on the back of a 28 match unbeaten run in the league. Town will be slightly worried by their inability to kill teams off though in recent weeks, and a propensity to let in plenty of goals. Their last three games have seen three draws with 16 goals shared between the sides, eventually squeezing past Bournemouth in the semi-finals on penalties.
With Huddersfield finding it difficult to keep goals out, Peterborough will fancy their chances to add to the 106 goals they notched in the regular season. Despite the loss of prolific striker Aaron Maclean to Hull City in the January transfer window, Craig Mackail-Smith has continued his fine form and has been the focal point of Darren Ferguson’s side.
The match has the makings of a classic and a crowd of over 56000 will venture to the Theatre of Dreams. The four sides will be hoping that their dreams are sweet, and the performances are not the stuff of nightmares.