Preview: Accrington Stanley

Ever since relegation to League Two seemed certain, it was inevitable that this day would come – Accrington Stanley, away.

While we have adjusted to life in League Two reasonably successfully and look at least capable of getting out of this division at the first attempt, simply seeing Coventry City line up in a league match against a club famous for not being famous is going to be difficult for many to stomach. However, this is a match that counts for just as many points as all the rest, so let’s not dwell on the fact.

We head into this game on the back of a four-game unbeaten run, albeit after a slightly underwhelming performance away to Barnet last week – which we somehow ended up dominating by 16 shots against three. Leaving aside Accrington’s stature in the game, they are going to provide probably the sternest test, away from home, of our ability to sustain a promotion push. Come the end of the day we may have a better indication whether this defensive toughness has been more down to luck/playing weak opponents or the actual organisation and individual quality of this side.

What was apparent at Barnet was that lack of cutting edge in the final third, with Duckens Nazon’s absence keenly felt. Marc McNulty got into some promising positions – particularly when moved out onto the right-wing – but lacked the confidence/decision-making to get the goal from open play that he so desperately needs. Meanwhile, Jodi Jones was a peripheral figure, and Maxime Biamou and Devon Kelly-Evans tried but perhaps lacked a bit of quality in their execution.

Possible Line-Up

Nazon’s return to the side – fatigue from international excursions permitting – should boost our fluency and potency in attack, but it still feels like we’re somewhere shot of gelling as an attacking unit. If Nazon is fully-fit, it seems likely that he’ll take Marc McNulty’s place in the side, which would be a further set-back for the latter’s integration into the side. However, if McNulty stays in the side and someone else is dropped, we lose either the physical presence of Maxime Biamou or the energy of Devon Kelly-Evans. Restoring a front four that recent won three games in a row seems the logical decision.

There are no selection decisions to be made throughout the rest of the side, although Ryan Haynes’ return to fitness potentially provides us with another useful option from the bench for this game.

Last Time We Met

You could be forgiven for believing that this will be our first ever competitive meeting against Accrington Stanley, but that is incorrect (well, technically it is correct because the original Accrington Stanley folded in 1966, but we have played a team named ‘Accrington Stanley’ before).

We have been in the same division as them in two previous seasons – 1925-26 and 1959-60 – and we have won three of the four encounters. The most recent was at Highfield Road back in February 1960 when goals from Alan Daley and Ken Satchwell earned a narrow 2-1 win for Billy Frith’s Coventry City, back in the days before we were the Sky Blues.

How Are They Doing?

Despite famously having one of the smallest budgets and attendances in the Football League, Accrington have been one of the better teams at this level over the past few seasons – narrowly missing out on the play-offs last year and automatic promotion the year before. Just why Accrington have consistently over-performed over the past few years has been down to the management of John Coleman – now in his second spell at the club, having led them up from the National League in his first spell.

In a similar manner to Keith Hill at Rochdale, Coleman’s organisation of the side, along with a keen eye for talent and the ability to maximise that talent have been crucial to Accrington’s success. Although they have an element of niggliness to their game, they have been able to dominate their opponents with possession and chances on a pretty consistent basis. Those expecting a game against dogged minnows looking to sit back and hoof it will be in for a rude awakening.

The core of this Accrington side have been in place for a few years now, albeit while losing some key players to bigger clubs along the way. Mark Hughes in central defence is a veteran at this level, while Seamus Conneely playing just in front of the back four provides good protection, in attack, the wide-play and set-piece deliveries of Sean McConville are crucial, as is the all-round centre-forward play of Billy Kee – the latter three in particular have arguably been among the best performers in League Two over the past two or three seasons.

Possible Line-Up

The rest of the team is made up of pretty interchangeable and disposable loan signings and free transfers, although John Coleman’s eye for talent means that there is still quality outside of the core of the team. Stanley have been particularly enlivened this season by the pace of Kayden Jackson in attack, who has combined with Billy Kee for 13 goals this season. While the creative Jordan Clark and the presence of Liam Nolan in midfield have helped supply the bullets for Kee and Jackson.

Accrington also have Farrend Rawson in their ranks, which is slightly surprising despite him not having an amazing spell with us last season given that he still looked useful enough to deserve at least another season in League One. With Sean McConville’s set-piece deliveries, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get on the scoresheet against us.

Prediction

As should be clear from this preview, Accrington are going to be a a big challenge for us – although they did fold rather meekly against Luton at home last week. The experience and professionalism of our squad means we’re unlikely to be over-awed by the setting of the game so it should be a case of how we’ll deal with Kee and Jackson in Accrington’s attack and whether the return of the Duck can make us more clinical than we were last week.

I can see this game ending in a 1-1 draw.

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