Preview: Accrington Stanley

As off-field matters start to come to a head, our slim chances of making the play-offs this season feel somewhat irrelevant in the grander scheme of themes. Last Sunday demonstrated that we are capable of taking points off the best teams at this level away from home, which will be a large part of our task between now and the end of the season. We are now on a four-game unbeaten run, with Mark Robins starting to justify the personnel and stylistic changes made since the turn of the year.

Possible Line-Up

Expected Line-Up

It’s hard to see Mark Robins making any changes for this upcoming trip to Accrington Stanley. The biggest decision is likely to hinge on whether Amadou Bakayoko is fit after coming off around the half-hour mark against Luton, although the player himself has reported that the injury isn’t serious.

While Jordan Shipley made a scoring contribution from the bench in Bakayoko’s stead last Sunday, we did lack that target-man who could bring others into play for much of the second-half against Luton. Whether Bakayoko can be that kind of figurehead in tough games such as this one remains to be seen, but it would seem to give us more attacking thrust to have Bakayoko and Hiwula in that attacking unit rather than Hiwula leading the line with Shipley on the left.

Although there continues to be talk about bringing in David Meyler to the side ahead of Tom Bayliss, the difficult and intense nature of this game against Accrington Stanley makes a compelling argument for Bright Enobakhare to drop out of the side in favour of Meyler’s physical presence. While Bright is capable of great individual moments, he does have a habit of wasting possession or dwelling on the ball in dangerous areas which Accrington could exploit. Given Meyler’s apparent lack of fitness, it’s unlikely to happen, but Bright’s performance could have a big impact on this game either for or against our favour.

Last Time We Met

We were on a significant high as we last took on Accrington Stanley, at the tail-end of that incredible five-game winning run we put together back in October. However, a stilted performance from ourselves – partially the result of Tom Bayliss and Dujon Sterling being unavailable – saw Accrington eventually take advantage early in the second-half. The spirit that had been built over that winning run was in full evidence in the closing stages of the game, with the unlikely source that was Michael Doyle scoring the equalising goal to earn a hard-fought point.

The Opposition

Manager – John Coleman

Without John Coleman, Accrington would probably be nowhere near a League One club. Having taken over the club from the deepest, darkest depths of the non-league system, Coleman took Accrington to the fringes of promotion to League One during a 13-year first spell at the club. Between underwhelming stints at Rochdale, Sligo Rovers, and Southport, Coleman returned to the Crown Ground in 2014 and has recaptured the steady momentum of his previous reign, finally delivering promotion to the third-tier last season.

Coleman seems best suited to working at a club like Accrington with limited resources that he can maximise. Despite being one of the smaller clubs in the entire Football League, Accrington play an attractive and organised style of football based around efficient use of possession and quickly overloading teams down the flanks to open up space, combining that with a physical and cynical edge to break-up the flow of the opposition.

Possible Line-Up

Who To Look Out For?

Despite not quite reaching the same goalscoring heights as last season, Billy Kee is probably the most vital cog in this Accrington Stanley side. Like Coleman, the centre-forward is someone who’s never quite been at home at other clubs but is in his element at Stanley. Not only the chief goalscorer for the side, but a focal point linking attack and midfield as one of the key sources of assists for the team as well.

After the side went on a run of six games without a goal just after Christmas, the loan signing of forward Paul Smyth seems to have re-energised Stanley’s attacking play, with Kee benefitting in particular. The Northern Irishman is a pacey and willing runner in attack, replacing the role that Kayden Jackson played in last season’s promotion-winning side.

The other vital cogs in Accrington’s attacking play are undoubtedly wingers Jordan Clark and Sean McConville. Both have an excellent tactical understanding of what is required in John Coleman’s system, knowing when to come inside, when to make overlapping runs and passes, when to swap wings, when to make darting runs into the penalty area. Of the two, McConville’s set-piece and open play delivery makes him a bigger goal-threat, while Clark is a more technical and intricate operator.

In central midfield, Newcastle United loanee Daniel Barlaser has really made a name for himself last season. A player who couldn’t get into a struggling Crewe side in League Two last season, Barlaser has been a key performer for Accrington in League One this time out. A somewhat slight, technical player, Barlaser’s ability to switch the play opens up attacking angles for Accrington that otherwise wouldn’t exist, while he also has the ability to drive forward with the ball as well.

Areas To Exploit

This is going to be a difficult game on which to impose ourselves, as Accrington can be a very aggressive side and it will be played on a relatively poor pitch. Getting to grips with the conditions of the game from early on is going to be crucial in getting the result we need from this game.

Accrington’s main weakness is probably that their defence is relatively cobbled together, especially at with a right-footed centre-back in Janoi Donacien operating at left-back. That said, Donacien’s presence in the back-line gives them a further physical forcefulness and will be naturally comfortable against Luke Thomas coming inside from our right flank onto his left foot.

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