Both Accrington Stanley and Plymouth Argyle come into Saturday’s encounter at the Crown Ground in contrasting fortunes. The hosts all but secured their League One status and ended Doncaster six-month unbeaten home record in a 2-1 win on Tuesday. Argyle however come into the game on the back of a run which sees them winless in seven matches, conceding at least twice in all of those matches.
Forward Paul Smyth is likely to keep his place in the starting line-up. The 21-year-old was an unused substitute in Accrington’s previous two league games but scored one and assisted the other in their win over Doncaster.
Goalkeeper Dimitar Evtimov will return from suspension. The 25-year-old was sent off for two bookable offences after just 22 minutes in their 3-0 home defeat to Luton.
Predicted Line-Up (4-4-2)
Richards-Everton, Sykes, Hughes, Donacian
Clark, Barlaser, Conneely, McConville
Style of Play
Predominantly playing in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, John Coleman’s side are able to both attack and defend in numbers. Unlike many sides in the division who prefer to opt for a sole striker, accompanied by a winger either side, Accrington’s formation allows them to stretch defences further with Billy Kee and Paul Smyth both in the middle stretching the centre-backs. This in turn creates more gaps for the midfield to drive into.
Kee is the club’s top-scorer with 12 goals for the season but has found himself alongside a number of striker partners this season. The likes of Middlesborough loanee Luke Armstrong, Andy Mangan and Offrande Zanzala have all been tried and tested but now 21-year-old QPR loanee Smyth has been trusted with the role. The youngster has impressed since coming in but prior to Tuesday night’s 2-1 victory over Doncaster had found himself as an unused substitute against Walsall and Luton. Assisting Sean McConville for the first and scoring the second brought his tally to eight goals and assists in 13 appearances (3G, 5A). The two juxtapose one another, with Kee providing strength and aerial ability whilst lacking pace and Smyth the complete opposite.
In defence, the 4-4-2 formation often allows them to have the vast majority of their outfield players behind the ball which can make them difficult to break down at times. Whilst going forward the same technique also allows them to keep opposition sides in their own final third and make it difficult for them to play out from the back. Staying disciplined in this formation was the main reason why Accrington started life in League One in such good form, losing only twice in their opening 14 league games.
Their back four are all six foot or above and have a fair amount of strength, making them difficult to beat in the air. Should he be fit and recalled, forward Freddie Ladapo is likely to struggle once more if long balls are played into him but with their lack of pace, if he can play on the shoulder and receive suitable passes along the deck, he could have some joy, especially given his record against the lower sides in the division, though he has repeatedly struggled away from home.
Despite going seven games without a goal, Billy Kee will be the player to watch out for on Saturday. The 28-year-old has scored 12 times this season and is Stanley’s top scorer. Despite only registering four assists alongside that, two of those came against Argyle during a 3-0 win at Home Park earlier in the season.
The former Torquay man was pivotal to Accrington gaining promotion from League Two last season, scoring 25 goals and assisting a further nine as his side were crowned champions ahead of fellow promoted sides Luton, Wycombe and Coventry. Most of that is down to his excellent positioning and strength which makes up for his lack of height and speed at 5ft 9in. Despite this however, the Englishman is clinical in the air should he win a free header.
Whilst there are many positives to their 4-4-2 formation, playing two forwards against a side like Argyle who play a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-2-1 formation, it is likely that the Pilgrims will have a lot more room in the middle of the park as opposed to their previous few games that they have performed poorly in. This will allow players such as David Fox, the chance to dictate play from a deep playmaking role and much more time to pick an effective pass.
Goalscoring has been another issue for Stanley this season with only Wimbledon (40) scoring less than their tally of 45. Both Kee and McConville have managed to reach double figures for the season but whilst they’re virtually mathematically safe from relegation this season, they will look to get further additions ahead of next season to ease the goalscoring burden on the pair. Overall, Coleman’s side have 12 different league scorers, although just four of them have managed to score more than two goals.
Having lost three of their previous four encounters with Accrington as well as their recent form, it’s difficult to see Argyle grabbing all three points against their hosts. That being said, with a four man midfield as opposed to five when the two last played each other back in December, Derek Adams’ side should have more joy in midfield. The visitors will be hoping that Accrington’s result against Doncaster virtually confirming their safety will cause John Coleman’s side to take their foot off the gas slightly. With the magnitude of the game and Accrington’s defensive record letting them down in the second half of the season, Argyle should have chances, but with their own frailties so should the hosts. I’m feeling rather optimistic and going for a 2-1 Plymouth win.