In this reverse travellator of a promotion race in League Two, forward progress only serves to maintain your position while any stumble can send you back a long way. Two wins in a row had us one point away from an automatic promotion place, yet the defeat against Forest Green saw us slip outside the play-off positions.
This coming month though should begin to see things fall into a more definitive place for us and the rest of the division. This week sees us against 3rd and 10th before we take on Brighton in the FA Cup, then it’s 5th, 2nd and 9th, if we can average our current rate of two wins out of three, we should still be in the promotion race, anything less and we’ve not only dropped points, but handed them to direct promotion rivals. In three weeks time this could either be one of those seasons that promises much but fails to deliver, or we could be on track to end nearly half a century without a top six finish.
It feels like the first match of this run of six games will set the tone. With a bumper crowd at the Ricoh Arena, this is the opportunity to create some special memories that could boost the mood and atmosphere around the club for not just the rest of the season, but win over some lifelong fans experiencing their first day out at the football. However, the number of casual and very young fans in attendance could lead to a very strange atmosphere which could play drastically against us.
The defensive injuries sustained in last week’s defeat to Forest Green could further increase that sense of tension. Tom Davies, Jack Grimmer and Chris Stokes are all reported to have picked up knocks of varying degrees of seriousness during the Forest Green game, which is further compounded by back-up right-back Dion Kelly-Evans also struggling with an injury. A back four of Jordan Willis, Dominic Hyam, Rod McDonald, and Ryan Haynes could very well pick itself, unless Robins switches to a back three or brings young right-back Jak Hickman or centre-back Jordon Thompson into the mix.
Elsewhere, I would imagine that Mark Robins will stick with the attacking line-up that played against Forest Green. The experience of Liam Kelly and Michael Doyle could well be important in protecting a makeshift back four, while Tom Bayliss and Josh Barrett look dangerous coming off either wing – despite the preference clearly being for Bayliss to operate in a more central position. Although Jonson Clarke-Harris scored for the under-23s this week, it still feels way too hasty for him to come in and break up the Biamou-McNulty strike partnership.
Last Time We Met
Accrington were the first team this season to comprehensively out-play us – something that has only happened on three or four occasions since. We were simply unprepared for the rapidity and slickness of Accrington’s attacking play, with Sean McConville scoring the only goal of the game early on after one of several attacking moves that left our defence at complete sixes and sevens was finally rounded off.
It only serves to make our cobbled together back-line for this game all the more ominous.
How Are They Doing?
Accrington are almost a boring team to write about because their style of play, key players and perennial overachiever status are so well-established. Forget the name ‘Accrington Stanley’, forget the journeyman careers of the likes of Billy Kee, Sean McConville and co, pay attention to their third-place position in the table and third-best attack. This is not an easy game for us in any way, shape or form.
John Coleman has this Accrington side perfectly drilled in their attacking play, they can sweep forward in fluent passing moves, creating overloads, before exploiting the gaping holes they leave in opposing defences. Star striker Billy Kee is absolutely pivotal in their system – no other player in League Two has been directly involved in as many goals as Kee has (that’s 18 goals and eight assists). There are two other players in Accrington’s squad – Kayden Jackson and Sean McConville – in double figures for combined goals and assists, only Marc McNulty from our ranks is on that level.
While Accrington’s attacking play can be very eye-catching, they have some experienced campaigners further back that can make things awkward for opponents when Stanley take the lead. Seamus Conneely and Scott Brown a fierce, snarling defensive midfielders, while the veteran Mark Hughes at centre-back is not only a war-horse but someone who is a threat at the other end of the pitch on the end of set-pieces.
Accrington’s biggest weakness though is at the back, where they tend to leak goals, which should provide some hope that the game won’t necessarily be over should we fall behind. However, they are a side that tends to end games better than they start them – in first-halves of games this season they have a -1 goal difference, they are +17 in second-halves.
Just how the bumper crowd for this game affects things remains to be seen, it could either be a really positive positive or a really negative negative. Regardless, this is a really tough game for us against one of the division’s best teams, and we’re having to make do with a makeshift back four – the signs already are fairly ominous.
The hope is that we can continue our ability to win out in big games – this run of six fixtures could potentially be an amazing run for us in that regard – but this game has for me too many negative omens going into it than positive ones. I think we’ll lose this 3-1, putting extra pressure on the next five games.