Key player: Dion Charles
After battling with Colby Bishop for the title of star striker at Accrington in 2020, Charles kicked things up a notch last season and ended the season with 19 goals as the league’s fifth top scorer, an outstanding tally in only his second season as a professional, first-team footballer after he joined from Southport in 2019.
Alongside Bishop, the duo must form one of the best strike partnerships in the league, with Charles adding three assists, compared to Bishop’s 10 goals and five assists. A dangerous partnership indeed. Given how Accrington can tend to rely on goals on the counter, Charles provides a nice balance of strenght, speed and dribbling, in addition to his excellent finishing last year, to exploit the spaces that Coleman’s approach creates for him.
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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 20 of the last 22 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 58, 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, and record their highest ever finish in the English football pyramid last year, ending in the top half of the table. 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, and made it through the financial hit from Covid. Coleman’s win ratio of north of 40% in that time is nothing short of remarkable. [editor’s note, this is almost the same entry as last year, but it was so perfect that there’s no need to change it.]
Leader: Seamus Conneely
It’s hard not to include Conneely in this preview after the strong season he had last time out. Though aged 33, Conneely is not only the leader in the team, but he is still producing performances that justify his inclusion despite the fact he’s seemingly heading towards the final years of his career. Though Accrington were hardly watertight at the back – only seven teams conceded more – his efforts to screen the back four were strong. In fact, during a five game period he was absent for in March, 17 goals were shipped, a quarter of the goals let in over Accrington’s entire season!
A lot of Coleman’s success has come from his faith in the right players, leaders on the pitch who stay calm under pressure, guide others through the 90 minutes, and grind out results, despite a limited squad and often a lack of quality in the team. Conneely is just the latest in a long line of players to lead the team in this regard.
Key transfer: Harry Pell
Is this the first time in a long time that Accrington have improved their squad on paper between the end of one season and the start of the next? Sure, Accrington have improved their teams over the years, but it’s seems to me that they usually do this by unearthing gems that few others would look at. Either way, Pell and John O’Sullivan – vital to Morecambe’s promotion last season – appear to be excellent pieces of business, plus the inevitably non-league gem that will have been uncovered that I currently have never heard of.
Pell himself is a hard-working, box-to-box midfielder who should fit in with Accrington’s approach. He adds height from set-pieces, is a composed passer, and makes good late runs into the box that have helped him average five goals per-season over the past five years in League Two. All in all, a neat fit for this team to improve the overall quality of the team and their squad.
Predicting relegation for Accrington is par for the course, so it’s only natural that the first time this website doesn’t put them down as attempting to avoid relegation they’ll inevitably be relegated. Either way, I like the look of this Accrington team. Often it can be hard to predict where they’ll finish because they’ve signed players from non-league that we don’t know anything about, or they’ve lost some of their best players. However, this season, they’ve signed players that we do know a bit about.
In fact, if Argyle had a put a team like this together (with a little extra star quality), I’d be thinking we’d have an outside shot at the play-offs. It looks hard working, mentally strong and functional, with enough creative quality and a good manager. I know it’s a tough looking league, but that’s all on paper – some of the supposed big hitters are going to be found out to be living on reputation, budget and fanbase rather than the quality of their squad. I think that Accrington are going to manage back-to-back top half finishes in League One.
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