The relief of safety with two games to go makes Saturday’s clash at the Wham Stadium an easier watch, writes Tom Morton
Last week I said I would be enjoying the game and the sunshine, and boy did we all! In some respects, Accrington Stanley are a similar team to Cheltenham. By the table, at least, they are on the same points have the same sort of home/away form. But where Cheltenham felt like a team distracted by the season close, Accrington seem to be slipping gently away into the summer. You can see it in the results. By about mid-March they were both safe but way off the pace for a play-off shout. Their results then dipped.
Hopefully, we can take a bit of advantage of that poor form. Certainly, our performance is only going in the right direction and therefore the chance of finishing on a high. The reality is, with some fortune we could actually finish above Accrington. A win tomorrow puts us within three points with them left to face Wimbledon (who could be fighting for survival on the final day). It’s not likely to happen but think about this; if we get really, really good fortune – 14th place is still achievable for us.
Some of the stats work in our favour. Yes, Accrington have a decent home record in some respects. But it is not much better than our away record, making it a more than even match. Also, their clean sheet record at the Wham Stadium is only 27%. So chances are we will score and in our current form that feels like an opportunity to take the points. Yes, our clean sheet average is even lower (9% away, shocking!) but Wright is showing some real promise in this regard. In terms of scoring goals; Accrington appear to suddenly wake up and put the ball into the net in the second fifteen minutes of games. Interestingly they also concede heavily here too. So expect them to start slowly and suddenly switch into gear with the game opening up to both teams.
Defensively, Accrington play very tight and I think we can exploit this. Hopefully, Norton-Cuffy is fit because I want to see him spend the last couple of games running at defenders. We can relax and enjoy it now (and hope we find someone equally exciting for next season). In fact, perhaps it is a game for our next generation of players to have a go. I’m not quite as zealous as most fans about Max Sanders, but it would be nice to see how he holds up against what looks like a decent midfield.
Up front Accrington like to play with a lone striker in Colby Bishop. Behind him will be a midfield of four or five. Accrington like to play a counter-attacking football, which will serve our style well I think. Again it would be nice to see House play into that midfield – he may have been out of position but certainly impressed last weekend.
Sean McConville feels like their key player. He’s played every game and racked up four goals and fourteen assists this season from the left side of midfield. McConville has been with Accrington for a long time now. He originally joined in 2008 at the age of 19 and played for three seasons in League Two, before he left to join a sequence of non-league sides (and, oddly, four loan appearances for Rochdale in League One). He re-joined Accrington in 2015 and has been a key part of their team every year since including their 2018/19 promotion to League One. McConville is a solid left-sided player with a great cross which will be threat to us. With Colby Bishop playing very high McConville will be whipping balls across the 6-yard box for Bishop’s boot – plenty of Bishop’s nine goals this season have come from that approach. One person we won’t see is Rosaire Longelo. The promising youngster joined Accrington from Newcastle’s academy in January and has played (and by all reports impressed) plenty since. However, his season is over after a straight red against Bolton for a pretty hefty two-footed challenge. One for a young player to learn from you’d feel.
Our record with Accrington is bang average. Across the last ten games, we’ve won four and they took three. We played out a numbing 0-1 loss at Sincil Bank in November of course. Interestingly at that time we played Cheltenham, Accrington, and Crewe in the space of three weeks and took just one point from the sequence. Whatever happens tomorrow we’ve already beaten that record and are certainly a long way from the doldrums of November’s performances.
Forget prior games though, all eyes are now on next season. Will we start to see the shape of Lincoln to come? I’ve mentioned House, of course, and we will likely see some other second-string players get game time. Losing Maguire from mid-field (and I make no secret that this might not be a bad thing) gives us some interesting options to experiment and try new things. We saw some of that against Cheltenham and it was very welcome!
It’s always hard to make a call on an end-of-season game with little at stake for both teams. All we can ask for is not a dud. City are playing some nice football at the moment and so hopefully it will be as entertaining a game as against Cheltenham or (despite the disappointment of the result) Portsmouth.