Meet the opposition... A boss that ‘cuts the mustard’, defensive woes and a rising star

Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman. Photo: PA

Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman. Photo: PA - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Ipswich Town take on Accrington Stanley in a league game for the first time ever on Sunday (12pm ko). STUART WATSON takes a look at the Lancashire club.

Highly-rated young Accrington defender Ross Sykes. Photo: PA

Highly-rated young Accrington defender Ross Sykes. Photo: PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Accrington Stanley... Who are they?

The Lancashire club were re-formed in 1968. They were promoted to the Northern Premier League in the early 90s, reached the Conference in 2003 and secured their place in the Football League in 2006.

After nine bottom half finishes in 11 seasons of League Two football, they were promoted as champions in 2017/18 before finishing 14th in League One last season.

'Coleman is God'

Accy fans think their boss Coleman is mustard.

The Liverpudlian, who scored more than 500 goals at non-league level, first took charge of the club in 1999 when they were a Northern Premier League First Division side. His initial 12-and-a-half year tenure saw the club win three promotions.

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He was away little more than two-and-a-half years - having brief spells in charge of Rochdale, Southport and Sligo Rovers - before returning to Crown Meadow in September 2014 to mastermind another step up the pyramid.

At Rochdale last weekend, Accrington fans unfurled a banner which read 'Coleman is God'.

Accrington Stanley midfielder Sam Finley. Photo: PA

Accrington Stanley midfielder Sam Finley. Photo: PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Unreflective league position?

Accrington's two league wins have come against struggling duo MK Dons (2-1 at home) and Southend (1-0 away). Last weekend's 2-1 loss at Spotland saw them slip to 20th in the standings.

Stanley had 28 shots on goal in that game, while Dale scored with two of their three efforts on target. It's not the first 'coulda, shoulda, woulda' moment for them this season either.

After watching his side concede a 92nd minute equaliser at home to Blackpool last month, boss Coleman rued: "We could have won at Wimbledon (1-1) and Bristol Rovers (3-3). We were mugged against Wycombe (1-1).

"We've just got to keep going, it's frustrating because we're not winning a lot of games, that worries you. I'd be lying if I said otherwise.

"We know we're not playing that badly. If you're playing well, you'll eventually start winning. I'm hoping that's going to be the case.

"We probably should be six or seven places higher than we are, but what's the point in complaining? We've got to start climbing the table."

Accrington Stanley forward Billy Kee. Photo: PA

Accrington Stanley forward Billy Kee. Photo: PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Defensive woes

Scoring goals has not been too big a problem. Accrington scored twice against Shrewsbury, MK Dons, Fleetwood (EFL Trophy) and Oxford City, while they put three past Bristol City and Oldham (EFL Trophy). You have to go back to April to find the last time they drew a blank on home soil.

The problem is at the other end. The recent 1-0 win at struggling Southend was their first clean sheet since January (29 games).

"It's when the mistakes are all in tandem, all in a chain reaction," rued Coleman. "They're the ones that need to be cut out if you're going to be successful.

"You don't always get punished for individual mistakes, but if you make four or five then you do. That's something that we've got to take responsibility for - we defend as a team and we attack as team. You've got to get back to basics sometimes."

Sacrificing style

Coleman makes no apologies when saying he doesn't care how the wins come.

"It's nice to entertain, but we aren't an entertainment business," he said.

"In some ways people have to enjoy their experience of coming to the game, but it's not all football in that respect. If you want to get entertained, got to the pictures or the opera.

"We're here to win games and how you win them doesn't have to be pretty. When they start giving points for artistic impression then that might change, but they don't at the moment.

"As much as I love football, it is all about winning."

Squad make-up

Only four players have experienced football at a higher level than League One and it was a brief taste for all concerned.

Bulgarian keeper Dimitar Evtimov started once in the Championship for Nottingham Forest (2015), winger Jordan Clark made six appearances in the Championship for Barnsley (2010-12), ex Spurs youngster Joe Pritchard had four Championship outings for Bolton (2019), while lower league journeyman Mark Hughes came on as a 90th minute sub for Everton in a Premier League game way back in 2006.

The likes of Sam Finley (AFC Fylde), Colby Bishop (Leamington), Dion Charles (Southport) and Wilson Carvalho (Stratford Town) were recruited from non-league, while others were snapped up following their release from bigger clubs, examples including Lamine Sherif (Leicester), Callum Johnson (Middlesbrough) and Offrande Zanzala (Derby).

Stanley have six players on loan from teams higher up the pyramid, but only one of them - Fulham defender Jerome Opoku - is featuring at the moment. Forward Courtney Baker-Richardson had to go back to Swansea for treatment after suffering a groin injury.

Rising star

Homegrown centre-back Ross Sykes continues to improve following a fine breakthrough season.

The towering 20-year-old was linked with several clubs before penning a new long-term deal back in March.

"To captain the side at a young age and lead the team like he does is excellent," said Coleman.

"He's still got plenty of years left in him of improving and I wouldn't rule him out for playing at the top level."

Key man

Former Everton youngster Sam Finley has been likened to Wayne Rooney by Coleman due to his energy and creativity in the middle of the park.

The 27-year-old joined Accrington from AFC Fylde in summer of 2018.

Team-mate Seamus Conneely said: "I just try and get the ball and give it to him. I think he's got wonderful talent. Some of the situations he manages to get out of I've no idea how he does it. He's great on the turn and all-action."

Talisman's tough time

Physical forward Billy Kee scored 74 goals in four seasons, enjoying a fine partnership with Kayden Jackson during the League One title winning campaign.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman has not been able to play this season due to a deterioration in mental health. The club issued a statement last month to explain he is undergoing specialist treatment for depression, anxiety and bulimia.