Rough guide to... Accrington Stanley

Cod Almighty | Article

by Miles Moss

6 August 2007

Last season
Despite the first two fixtures resulting in 2-0 defeats, the start of last season showed some promise: over the next two months Stanley lost only two more league matches, beating Wrexham 5-0 and Wycombe 2-1 along the way. Furthermore, they knocked Forest out of the League cup, and only lost in the next round away to Watford, and even then on penalties. Accrington's league form continued to bode well: after winning 2-0 at Torquay on 14 October they were ninth in the table. The "good cup run" suggested in Cod Almighty's rough guide last year might not have materialised, but the prediction of a tenth-place finish was looking good.

Football, though, eh. It can be a bit cruel. And sure enough, Stanley's form sheet started to look like a Welsh map, with big 'L's all over the place. Stanley supporters had to sit through the next 23 league matches and see only three wins. On 10 March, when they lost away at Swindon, Accrington were only out of the bottom two courtesy of goal difference.

This latter-season horror story had left them wobbling nervously between 19th and 20th places for the last 20 matches of the season. The away form hadn't helped – they lost every single one of their last seven away games – but this was balanced out by their home form, as they won every single one of their last five at the Crown Ground. Yes, including the 4-1 pasting of Grimsby. Beating Macclesfield 3-2 in the penultimate game of the season gave them 50 points and a place in the fourth division next season – far, far from the tenth place predicted by whichever idiot from the Cod Almighty team... oh, it was me... but safe nonetheless.

So what went wrong? For starters, having two influential midfielders poached by clubs with more wonga can't have helped, Ian Craney and Gary Roberts naffing off to Swansea and Ipswich respectively; then there were big fat injuries to captain Peter Cavanagh and Romauld Boco. The shocking away form can be blamed (Stanley picked up only 14 points on the road all season), but we can't ignore the factor of poor discipline: the team ended up bottom of the fair play league, with nine red cards and a whopping 102 yellows. That's more than even Chester and Boston, and almost double the disciplinary points of Grimsby. And we had a man sent off against them.

Whether poor support is a symptom or a cause of lacklustre performances is one of those unanswerable football questions. Either way, note these two stats: the lowest gate of the season in the division was Accrington's home fixture against Mansfield, a weary 1,234 addicts dragging themselves through the turnstiles. Fewer than 52,000 supporters went to Accrington all season – the same number of people who go to see nearby Blackburn in just two matches.

Ins and outs
It's been a busy summer for the Crown Ground's personnel department with three departures and seven new arrivals. Out on the freebie bus go defender Michael Welch, who has joined Messrs Barwick and Gallimore at Northwich Victoria, midfielder Tony Grant, to Chester, and Andy Todd (no, not that one), who played every game for Accrington last season, but turned down a new deal to sign instead for Rotherham.

New to the Accrington team sheet this year are 35-year-old Graham Branch, surplus to Burnley's requirements, 'tough-tackling' (we know what that means) ex-Burton and Peterborough midfielder Paul Carden, and goalie Kenny Arthur from Partick Thistle, of whom fellow newbie Carden has high hopes: "You only have to look at Kenny Arthur – he is the perfect build for a goalkeeper. Six feet three inches tall and six feet wide – he will fill the goal!"

It's clear from last year that Accrington need some extra help in defence, but of the remaining four new boys, three are forwards: John Miles, lately of Macclesfield (scored against Town in 2004); the flamboyantly-named Roscoe D'Sane, who comes via AFC Wimbledon; and Accrington old boy Lee McEvilly ('Evil' to his friends) who has spent the last two seasons in Wrexham. With an appetite matching his skill, McEvilly's return has had a mixed reaction: "McDonalds in Accy must be rubbin' their hands together," says one fan.

There is one defender, though, in the shape of Mark Roberts. This is Mark Roberts the footballer from Northwich, by the way, not Mark Roberts the streaker who you may have seen at the snooker and that.

It's worth noting that of the new signings Roberts, Miles, Carden, Branch and McEvilly should all feel at home, being from Lancashire or Merseyside. Coleman is surely trying to instil a local pride throughout the team, and will be delighted to hear comments such as Roberts' "I can't wait for all the local derbies against the likes of Bury and Rochdale where my family and mates can watch me home and away."

Their expectations
A couple of internet polls have been revealing, with tiny percentages of Stanley fans predicting glory, a few more predicting trouble, but around half of them expecting a mid-table finish. A third of fans are expecting a marked improvement from last year; 40 per cent reckon the team will perform about the same; and a quarter of those asked thought things were going to get worse. Miserable bastards!

Fans are almost all in agreement about the make-up of the team, though, certain that all it needs is a couple of defenders to turn what they already have into a good side. "I certainly don't think we'll struggle as many of the so-called 'experts' are predicting," says one fan, tempting fate. Indeed, a less-than-flattering preview in the Yorkshire Evening Post which predicts a "wooden spoon finish" has ruffled feathers in Accrington, the outraged fans at the very least expecting to finish above Macclesfield and Morecambe. Incidentally, a proposition on a messageboard that the top three this year would be Peterborough, Wycombe, and Grimsby prompted nothing but guffaws.

Our expectations
Stanley are top of the table as I write this, but then the season hasn't started yet. Though Accrington may have the better of every other team alphabetically, those number-crunching bookmakers don't hold out much hope for them. Now, I can't really claim to understand odds and all that stuff like what Mat Hare can, but I do know that when your team's name appears under a big title of 'relegation favourites' it's not good news.

Nobody is giving Accrington a chance – nobody except the players and the fans, that is. I'm pretty sure it's not worth putting a fiver on a top-seven finish, but underestimate them at your peril. If they can turn their obvious passion into points rather than bookings, mid-table shouldn't be a problem; I can see them finishing heads held high in 14th.