Key player: Ross Sykes
This could be a big season for Ross Sykes. He was second only to Jordan Clark in terms of minutes played for Stanley last season and he was trusted enough to be handed the captain’s armband against Burton at the weekend. He’s only 21, so that’s a massive vote of confidence in his abilities by manager John Coleman.
Why would Coleman have been so impressed? Well, his sides pride themselves on organisation and togetherness, something Sykes displayed in abundance last season as a virtual ever-present at centre back. One would suspect that Stanley will face plenty of attacks again this season. If Sykes can organise the defence and deal with them well once more, it’ll win his team points and catch the attention of plenty of Championship sides.
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Manager: John Coleman
Can anyone remember a time when John Coleman wasn’t the manager of Accrington Stanley? The Scouser has spent 19 of the last 21 years in charge at the club, with spells at Rochdale, Southport and Sligo Rovers between 2012 and 2014 the only instances of a break away from the Lancashire club. Of all the managers across the Football League, there is a case to say he is the most synonymous with a single club.
Now 57, it’s easy to see why Coleman is so revered amongst the Stanley hierarchy. His first spell saw the club win three promotions to make it back to the Football League in 2006, and another success followed in 2018 to see Stanley into League One for the very first time. All of this has come with a backdrop of uncertainty – Stanley have gone into the season as relegation favourites for more or less the last decade. Coleman’s win ratio of north of 40% in that time is nothing short of remarkable.
Danger man: Dion Charles
Last season, Colby Bishop was Stanley’s top goalscorer with 12. However, Coleman’s side eked out more goal contributions from fellow centre forward Dion Charles. With 17 in total (9G, 8A), Charles was the only player to match Jordan Clark’s (8G, 9A) number of goal contributions across the campaign. With Clark now at Luton, Charles may well find himself as Stanley’s primary danger man.
There’s perhaps a Taylor vs Ladapo style argument to be had between Bishop and Charles. Bishop did score more last term, but Stanley won an average of 1.03 points per game when he played, compared to 1.35 with Charles in the side. When Bishop is on song he will score goals, but an in-form Charles would make Stanley a more threatening attacking unit.
Last season: 17th in League One
There may be an indication that Accrington have more or less reached their limit operating on their consistently shoestring budget. Their first two seasons in League One have seen them post 14th and 17th-place finishes, which will of course be seen as mighty successes. But who’s to say they can’t go any further? After all, Coleman has consistently out-performed expectations for the best part of a decade.
In truth, Accrington’s season was a classic lower mid table campaign. They had enough good results to consistently keep themselves out of the bottom three, including an unbeaten December, but never really had the quality to push on further. They were on a run of four games without a win before curtailment and, with trips to Portsmouth and Sunderland to come, they’ll have been thankful that the season did draw to an early close.
Key transfer: Jordan Clark
We’ve mentioned him a few times so far, and there’s no doubt that Stanley will be considerably weaker for Clark’s absence. The 26-year-old was instrumental in his side’s survival last season, as in fact he was during his entire four-year spell at the club. He was actually on trial at Argyle before signing for Stanley back in 2016, and he ended up making 191 appearances under John Coleman.
As mentioned, nobody was on the field for more minutes for Stanley last season, and nobody in the side ended the campaign with more goal contributions. He’s taken what many will feel is a natural step up to Luton Town for the 2020/21 campaign, but it does leave his old club a little in the lurch. How well they are able to cope with the absence of Clark may determine how successful Stanley are this season.
Target: Avoid relegation
Ok, yes, this is a fairly lazy prediction. Everyone has predicted relegation for Accrington for the last five seasons, and in that time they’ve finished in the drop zone on precisely 0 occasions, and even won a promotion. And yet, speak to anybody associated with the club, and they’ll tell you that staying in League One will be their primary goal.
In truth, they’ll fancy their chances of managing just that. Most teams who do drop down to League Two are either complete basket cases (Bolton, Southend) or less than the sum of their parts (Argyle, Bradford in 2018/19). Stanley are quite the opposite – a well run club who consistently outperform expectations. If Wycombe can gain promotion from this league, so can anyone. But, if you offer a Stanley fan 20th place right now, there’s every chance they’ll take it.
(provided by Accrington Stanley fanzine RawMilk)
The start of the season is always an exciting and nerve wracking time for any football fan, especially for us lucky souls that dwell in the lower leagues. Watching Accrington isn’t for the faint of heart. In our years back in the football league we’ve often either been involved at the top or at the bottom, very rarely having a middle of the road season. I can’t see this one being any different, and I doubt you’ll see us near the top 6, so you can work that out.
This year we have lost our most consistent performer in Jordan Clark, that’s nothing new for us but it means a younger player has the opportunity to step up and take his place. That’s what has kept us competing in recent history, and we do always seem to pull it out of the bag …somehow.
The loss of Clark is huge, and with Sean McConville and Colby Bishop out for at least a month we could be swimming against the tide from the very beginning if early results don’t go our way. I am the ultimate worrier when it comes to Stanley, always convincing myself that we will struggle, even back in League 2. In nearly 20 years of John Coleman and Jimmy Bell, they have proved me wrong each and every time. Long may it continue, I trust them wholeheartedly.