How will Accrington Stanley line-up in their first game of the season against Doncaster?
Poor, beleaguered Doncaster Rovers, Championship dwellers three seasons ago, start their League Two slog at one of the division’s most boisterous cauldrons. Crown Ground, an old bear-pit of a stadium, will channel a bit of Ali Sami Yen fervor on opening night to remind their fellow basement dwellers exactly why this is football’s most arduous division. For Accrington, another season in the Football League will be met with acclaim. The Lancashire club, from a town of under fifty thousand residents, have shown admirable resolve in becoming part of League Two’s furniture.
Sadly for them, that pride will be tinged with disappointment at the start of this campaign. Last season saw them finish 4th and lose out to fellow fairy-tale mercenaries Wimbledon in the playoff semifinals, a cruel end to an odd-defying campaign. Fortunately, Stanley will begin their 11th consecutive season in League Two with much of the backbone of that overachieving squad.
Stanley was rocked by a few notable departures. Piero Mingoia’s free transfer to Cambridge United leaves a hole at right wing which Benin international Romuald Boco will look to fill. Ex-Blackburn teen Luke Wall is another good option on the flank, although he is more suited to the left. Dean Winnard’s departure will be a moral setback for the club, but the newly minted Morecambe defender took a back seat during much of last term’s run up the table, collecting only 15 of his 250 Stanley caps in that time.
The departure that will wrench the heart of Stanley supporters is Josh Windass’s move to Rangers. The young attacking midfielder came into his own last season, netting fifteen goals in twenty-eight appearances to push Stanley to the brink of playoff glory. Matt Crooks will follow him north of the border to team-up with Mark Warburton in the Ger’s return to the top flight. The imposing defensive midfielder leaves a hole Coleman hopes to fill with the arrivals of Bastien Hery, Steven Hewitt, and Patrick Lacey. Former PSG youth-teamer Hery looks a good signing from Carlisle, but he will still have a tough time usurping last season’s preferred midfield pivot of Seamus Conneely and Scott Brown.
Upfront, Stanley have retained the services of striker Billy Kee, the former Northern Ireland youth international sparked into life last season with 17 goals in the league. Coleman will hope for a repeat of last season’s goal-scoring exploits, and will likely turn to McCartan to help shoulder the burden. McCartan, a left winger, and a second striker is a good fit to fill Windass’s floating role behind Kee. Terry Gornell will likely perform a backup role to Kee, the Liverpudlian failing to find the net in nine appearances last term. Promising young forwards Max Hazeldine and Brayden Shaw have chances to move past the misfiring Gornell in the pecking order, although Hazeldine made little impression in his loan spell with Stockport last season.
At the back, Tom Davies’ move to Portsmouth opens the door for newcomers Beckles and Callam Jones to step into the fold. Beckles, signing on a free from Aldershot, has performed decently in an otherwise disappointing preseason and would expect to partner Hughes come the start of the new campaign. Left back Buxton and the versatile Pearson have signed on for another year, with Frazier Shaw offering competition after a move from Leyton Orient.
John Coleman will fancy his chances taking Stanley to the unprecedented heights of League One, this time, around, and the result against Doncaster will be a good barometer for the quality of this year’s squad. In Kee they have a proven lower-league goalscorer, McCartan looks as a ready-made replacement for Windass, and their defense remains largely unchanged from last term. Against Doncaster, Coleman will likely roll out his preferred 4-4-1-1. New signing Parish looks nailed on as the side’s number one. Ahead of him, Buxton and Pearson will fill in at left back and right back respectively, although Frazier Shaw may nip in to take Buxton’s spot. Hughes is likely to partner Omar Beckles in the center of defense, with Conneely and Brown sitting ahead of them.
Sean McConville looks set to resume service in his usual role on the left wing while Boco will get a run in the first eleven on the right. McCartan will roam ahead of the midfield four, with Kee given the onus as chief-goalscorer. There is obvious pedigree in this side, Doncaster and the rest of League Two should beware as Stanley bid to defy the odds and go one better than last season.
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