September 12th 2020. The day the footballing world has been waiting for. The Premier League and the EFL announced a week or so back that the 2020/21 season will be underway very shortly. Ahead of the new season, I have decided to take a look into the future at the 24 teams making up League One for the new campaign, with an in-depth look at what each team has to offer for the coming year. First on the list, is John Coleman’s Accrington Stanley.
The 2020–21 season will be Accrington Stanley’s 52nd season in their history and the third consecutive season in League One. Their last venture outside of League One was their title winning season from 2017/18, when John Coleman led his side to the League Two trophy with an incredible 93 points, beating out current Championship sides in Luton Town and Wycombe Wanderers to the top step. The 2018/19 season was Accrington’s first ever in the third tier of English football, and they proved that they belong with a confident 14th placed finish that year. This season they found themselves in 17th spot when the season was suspended due to COVID-19, but they were only 10 points worse off compared to their 14th placed finish the year before, with 11 games left to play. Accrington Stanley haven’t looked like a side that would be troubling near the top end of the league table, but they also don’t seem to be in a relegation struggle each year either. The new season will be a big test for Accy, with finances not being substantial for the Lancashire club, but at least they still have a manager who knows how to get the best out of his players. Accrington boast the lowest average home attendance in League One this past season, and have a budget that would mirror most League Two sides, barely sustaining a lot of them.
John Coleman is heading into his seventh season with Accrington Stanley, having also spent a further thirteen years with the Lancashire side when they were playing in the Northern Premier League First Division back in 1999. Coleman’s 41.6% win rate over the last 6 years has been very impressive for a team known for their very small budget, and is even more impressive when you read that over his first 13-year span, he had a 40% win ratio. The consistent success that John Coleman has brought to Accrington Stanley cannot be understated, he is a fantastic manager and Accrington are very lucky to have him. Coleman has overseen all four promotions that Stanley have achieved since his first day in 1999, with the rise up four divisions taking almost 20 years but it has been a steady climb for the Lancashire side. Coleman’s love affair with Accrington began over 20 years ago, but he doesn’t seem to have any plans on stopping his tenure with the club, until the achieve a truly shocking promotion into the Championship. In an interview with Sky Sports back in January, Coleman revealed that he believes his squad still has one more promotion in them. The gaffer has built up a reputation for being an astute recruiter, as he would rather be the one looking for the players rather than relying on scouts and external recruiters. You need to have the right personality to don the Accrington Stanley shirt, with the current squad being a well-oiled machine of strong willed and capable footballers.
Since the start of the 2019/20 season, Accrington Stanley have rotated their formation on a couple of occasions, but I have taken a look at two separate formations used this season, and the players who have appeared the most in those positions. The first is the 4-4-2 diamond, Accrington’s most popular set up this season, used in 12 of the 35 league games this season. The second, is their most recent formation, which is the 4-2-3-1 which was used for the final 8 league games of the season, as well as the first game of the season. All of the formations were found using Transfermarkt.
Looking at the 4-4-2 Diamond formation, Dimitar Evtimov started the first 19 league games of the season, but an injury just before the new year opened the door for 20-year-old Stoke City loanee Josef Bursik to take the gloves for the rest of the season. All the following stats were found and sourced through WhoScored. Evtimov made 45 saves in his 19 games for Accrington this season, whilst Bursik made 38 in 16. Two very capable goalkeepers with nothing to show between them when it came to shot stopping. Both keepers were very similar when it came to having the ball at their feet as well, with Evtimov being the more capable short passer with 160 accurate short passes to Bursik’s 80, but the Stoke City loanee was more capable with his longer passing.
The left back spot was occupied by 21-year-old Jerome Opoku, who spent the season on loan from Fulham. The Englishman picked up three assists and ten yellow cards in 25 appearances for Accrington Stanley this season. In support of Opoku was 24-year-old Joe Maguire, signed from Fleetwood in the summer. The English defender made 11 appearances for Accrington this season, without an attacking contribution. Also deputising at the left back spot was 27-year-old Bermudian full back Zaine Francis-Angol, who started four of the first 6 league games at left back, but only going on to make one more league appearance that season. Looking at Opoku, he made 21 interceptions and 35 tackles in 21 league one games this season. One of his standout attributes this season was his dribbling, with 34 successful dribbles this season. Will be a big miss next season. Maguire, brought in by Fleetwood in the summer, collected 15 tackles and 12 interceptions in 10 games, showing that Opoku was clearly the superior defender this season. Maguire was more suited to a defensive set up than an attacking, with only 1 successful dribble in 10 games this season, compared to Opoku’s 34. Angol’s five games amassed a poor 6.0 rating on average.
On the right-hand side, it was 23-year-old Callum Johnson who held down the fort at right back for the majority of the season. Johnson accumulated 38 appearances across all competitions, picking up three assists. The two league games he missed allowed 23-year-old Harvey Rodgers the opportunity to show his worth, picking up one assist from eight games this season. Rodgers played the last two games of the season at left-centre back so has shown his versatility at times this season. Stats wise, in his two games at right back, Rodgers made five tackles and two interceptions for a 7.16 average rating. The key player to look at however is Callum Johnson, with 32 league games to his name. Defensively, Johnson made 63 tackles and 25 interceptions this season, whilst also being vital as a blocker in front of goal with 15 blocks from shots this season. Johnson’s consistency as a defensive full back was clear to see this season, but he was also comfortable with the ball at his feet, making over 600 accurate short passes.
In the centre of defence, it was Ross Sykes and Mark Hughes who played the majority of the season as a partnership at the back. 21-year-old Sykes made 39 appearances in all competitions this season, scoring one goal and getting two assists. A key defender in the Accrington back line, Sykes missed only 4 league games this season. The most impressive stat in Sykes’ arsenal is the fact he was only booked three times this season. For a centre-back, that shows how good Sykes was went it came to tackling and intercepting the ball. 33-year-old Hughes was the left centre back for the length of the season, also picking up a goal from 35 appearances. The combination of youth and experience worked for Stanley this season, but questions will be raised if it can work this season. 19-year-old Aji Alese spent the season on loan from West Ham United, deputising for Sykes and Hughes if they were injured. The youngster predominantly played in the EFL Trophy, but was also seen as a competent left back when needed at times near the end of the season. As the leading defender, Ross Sykes was the bright spark in the Accrington defence this season, making 39 tackles and 55 interceptions from centre back. Sykes’ strength was aerial play this season, winning 67% of his aerial battles, one of the best amongst 21-year-old defenders such as Luke Woolfenden and Harry Souttar. Mark Hughes was always going to be seen as a defensive stopper, rather than a ball playing defender, with 39 tackles and 41 interceptions in the campaign. Hughes was very good at breaking down attacking movement, blocking 44 attempts in an attacking play against him. Aji Alese’s four games at centre back commanded a 6.68 average rating, as the young defender had a habit of being disposed by the opposition, with seven unsuccessful touches and being disposed three times.
In midfield, 27-year-old Sam Finley spent the majority of the season as the tip of the diamond in the 4-4-2, or the central midfielder in the 4-2-3-1. The Liverpool-born midfielder scored three goals in 38 appearances in all competitions this season, and was the driving force between midfield and attack. 32-year-old Seamus Conneely occupied the CDM spot in the diamond formation this season, before partnering Sam Finley in the middle of midfield for the final few games of the year. The English-born Irishman was the cog between the defence and the midfield. 21-year-old Lamine Sherif arrived at the Wham Stadium from Leiecster City in the summer, but struggled to dislodge Finley and Conneely. 23-year-old Ben Barclay signed from Brighton as a centre back, but was used 12 times in the holding DM position if Conneely was unavailable or playing in a different position. 21-year-old Sadou Diallo, a midfield loanee from Wolves, wasn’t used the middle of December, but did go on a run of five straight starts at the end of the season when Accrington changed from the diamond to a 4-2-3-1. 30-year-old Bobby Grant was a surprise loan deal from Wrexham in January, but the ex-Accrington player did get one goal and one assist in 5 games. Stats wise, it was Sam Finley and Seamus Conneely who looked to be the most dangerous central players this season, with Finley racking up 51 shots from his 31 games. He scored both his goals from inside the area, with 85% of his dribbles being successful. An accomplished player on the ball, with an eye for goal, however it can be said that he holds on to the ball for slightly too long, as he lost the ball 124 times last season. Seamus Conneely held the CDM position for the bulk of the season, making 38 tackles and 37 interceptions in 31 appearances. Conneely was susceptible to a few poor challenges, having made 28 fouls this season resulting in six yellow cards and 1 red card. An accomplished passer of the ball, with almost 800 successful short passes last season, Conneely will be looking over his shoulder for a younger starlet to battle him for the CDM spot.
Width wise, 26-year-old Jordan Clark was the pinnacle for Accrington’s strength on the wings this season. Signed from Shrewsbury in 2016, Clark went on to make 40 appearances in all competitions this season, getting eight goals and nine assists. Seen either on the right of a diamond, or the right winger in the 4-2-3-1, Clark was a key outlet for Accrington this season. The club will be hoping he takes up the option of a new contract. 23-year-old Joe Pritchard, snapped up by Bolton Wanderers in the summer, was the player on the opposite side of the pitch to Jordan Clark, collecting three goals and eight assists from the left-hand side. A solid campaign in his first full season in the EFL. Accrington stalwart Sean McConville played heavy rotations with Pritchard early in the season, but was not included in the squad for the final 11 games of the season. Still, six goals and two assists from the 31-year-old is a very impressive tally. 25-year-old Erico Sousa was used only as a late substitute in the EFL Trophy, and never looked anywhere near the first team this season. In terms of the individual stats, Jordan Clark was a very, very good winger this season. 81 shots from his 34 league appearances, six goals to his name as well, but surprisingly he wasn’t a comfortable dribbler of the ball, completing only 55% of his attempted dribbles. His passing was very good this season, with 64 key passes leading to dangerous attacks. He was also a good defensive winger when needed, making 31 tackles and 30 interceptions. Joe Pritchard wasn’t as attacking minded as Clark, with only 47 attempted shots compared to Clark’s 81. However, he was slightly more successful with his dribbling, carrying off 64% of them. An unselfish player, constantly looking to be the supplier rather than the finisher it seems. Sean McConville scored five goals from the 49 shots that he took this season, whilst also creating 35 key passes in the attacking third.
Going forward, Accrington were fortunate to have numerous striking options who knew where the back of the net was. Signed from Southport in the summer, Dion Charles made the step up to League One look seamless with nine goals and eight assists in all competitions. The Lancashire born striker played most of the season as a starting striker alongside either Colby Bishop or Offrande Zanzala, before finishing the season as the AM in the 4-2-3-1 set up. Another solid season in League One could see some interest from bigger clubs in 2021. 23-year-old Colby Bishop, another forward snapped up from non-league in the form of Leamington, was Accrington’s top goalscorer this season with 12 goals, 10 of those in the league. Partnered Charles up front for the majority of the season, but hadn’t scored since the middle of December. 23-year-old Offrande Zanzala was used more as a super sub than a starter, but was Charles’ partner when Bishop was unavailable. Eight goals in 28 appearances was a very good record for the youngster. 21-year-old Benny Ashley-Seal joined on loan from Wolves in January, but was unable to get himself on the scoresheet in five games for the club. 24-year-old Courtney Baker-Richardson joined on loan from Swansea in the summer, but only made four appearances all season, scoring just the 1 goal. Stats wise, it was clear that Dion Charles, Colby Bishop and Offrande Zanzala were the more dominant attackers this season for Accrington. In fairness, Dion Charles attempted less shots this season than Jordan Clark, but was obviously more clinical than the winger. Charles’ 34 key passes in the attacking third enabled him to notch up eight assists from the striker position, but he was susceptible to being slightly weak sometimes in the attack, being dispossessed 176 times this season. Colby Bishop had 59 shots this season, less than Dion Charles but was more clinical than his striking compatriot. Bishop was dispossessed only 62 times this season, considerably less than Charles. Bishop’s slightly taller frame helped him to shield the ball away from the opposition’s defenders, whilst also helping him do battle in over 300 aerial challenges. Offrande Zanzala was another clinical forward for Stanley, scoring six league goals from only 35 shots. Zanzala was also fouled 19 times this season, so he was always seen as a dangerous player by the opposition whenever he was on the pitch.
As of writing this piece, Accrington Stanley are one of only seven teams to have not made a summer signing so far, with my team Ipswich Town being one of them. Great. Anyway, the lack of incomings from Accrington has been attributed to the lack of staff currently working. In an interview with BBC Lancashire Sport, Chairman Andy Holt revealed that many of his staff are still furloughed, but they hope to have them back in August. In terms of outgoings, there have been a lot of players released by the club with John Coleman admitting to wanting a much smaller squad to work with this season to save costs. The biggest casualty was 23-year-old striker Offrande Zanzala, who was announced as part of the ‘unretained list’ on the club website. Zanzala’s reason for leaving was apparently down to needing consistent first team football, with the former Derby County striker signing on with recently promoted Crewe Alexandra for the coming season. Another ‘big’ departure was the release of goalkeeper Dimitar Evtimov, who was announced as one of the casualties of the retained list just before July. The Bulgarian keeper has returned to his native homeland and joined up with CSKA Sofia. 34-year-old Phil Edwards, 27-year-old Zaine Francis-Angol, summer signing Wilson Carvalho and 25-year-old Eric Sousa were also released by the club, and are currently looking for new clubs.
The Problem Areas?
When analysing the two most used formations and the most capped players of the season, there are key areas that John Coleman will be desperate to look at for reinforcements, so let’s go through each position. With the release of Dimitar Evtimov and Josef Bursik’s loan deal expiring, Accrington Stanley are left with only one first team goalkeeper. 20-year-old Toby Savin, promoted from the U18 squad last season, is the only recognised goalkeeper that Coleman has to call on for the new season. Maybe Savin is ready in the eyes of Coleman, and it would be a real boost for Stanley fans if they don’t have to go out and spend on a goalkeeper and can look for alternative areas that the club needs working on. On the right-hand side, Callum Johnson and Harvey Rodgers are too decent full backs to be used for next season, plus the return of Reagan Ogle from Southport means that have a packed right back position. Johnson is the clear standout of the three, and it shouldn’t be an area that Coleman immediately looks at for change. On the left, the expiry of Jerome Opoku’s loan deal, and the release of Zaine Francis-Angol means that the club has only one recognised full back next season in the shape of Joe Maguire. The 24-year-old didn’t perform as well as Coleman would have wanted, which is why Opoku was brought in for that left back spot. A new left back has to be high on Coleman’s list of targets, and will need to be someone who can immediately go into the first team. In the center of defence, the partnership of Ross Sykes and Mark Hughes was strong last season, but with the latter turning 34 in December, and the loan spell of Aji Alese ending, Accrington may look for a new defender. However, the club does still have Ben Barclay for the next season, and despite being used only as a holding midfielder, he is capable of playing centre back, plus the return of Zehn Mohammed from a good spell with Southport. Not immediate, but an area that could use a new starter. In the middle of the park, the club has retained the services of Seamus Conneely, Sam Finley and Lamine Sheriff for another year, whilst Niall Watson is returning from a loan spell in Wales. They have lost Bobby Grant and Sadou Diallo after their loan spells ended, but they do have Joe Pritchard and Sean McConville who can deputise, whilst Ben Barclay has proven his capability in midfield. Shouldn’t be an immediate problem. On the wing, as mentioned Pritchard and McConville are still here so the left-hand side is fine, but the release of Eric Sousa and the uncertain future of Jordan Clark could be cause for concern next season. If Clark signs, then a youngster should be all that’s needed, but if he decides to move on they will be desperate to fill the position. Going forward, Colby Bishop and Dion Charles are here for another year, so they are almost bankers to start together again, but the releases of Zanzala and Carvalho does leave them light up top, so a possible loan could be in the offing again like Baker-Richardson or Ashley-Seal.
I’m not suggesting by any means that I am a scouting guru who has an extensive knowledge of the world of football, but I do like the process of the transfer windows, and trying to be someone who can identify talent when it becomes available. For each team, after identifying the problem areas, I want to try and see if I can find any players for a specific set of positions who could be suited to each club, based on previous transfer years and the club’s reputation surrounding incomings:
Josef Bursik – Stoke City – 20 y/o – Loan Deal
Just finished a loan spell with Accrington Stanley. Knows the club, could return for another year with Stoke spot taken by Jack Butland.
Aaron Chapman – Peterborough – 30 y/o – Free Agent
Sold by Accrington in 2018 to Posh, could make a return on a free transfer. Experienced keeper for a free. Could be worth a punt.
David Cornell – Northampton – 29 y/o – Free Agent
Wanted by Ipswich Town after his release by Northampton, would be guaranteed first team football with Accrington Stanley though. Large wage could be issue
Joe Day – Cardiff – 29 y/o – Loan Deal
Spent first six months of 2020 with Wimbledon, getting three clean sheets in nine games. Another loan spell on the cards.
Alex Palmer – West Brom – 23 y/o – Loan Deal
Instrumental in Plymouth’s promotion campaign last year, and with West Brom’s promotion he will surely be on the loan list once more. Could go back to Plymouth, or make the short trip to Lancashire.
Owen Evans – Wigan – 23 y/o – Loan Deal
Spent the last six months leading Cheltenham to a surprise Play Off Semi Final, also making a fantastic penalty save in the semi-final. Wigan looking to let players go, Evans should be playing every game for a League One side. Could it be Stanley?
Left Back –
Josh Earl – Preston – 21 y/o – Loan Deal
Spent the first six months of the season with Ipswich, but struggled for first team football. Short trip across Lancashire could be the perfect thing for Earl’s development. Large wage could be an issue.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson – Manchester United – 23 y/o – Free Agent
Spent last few months on loan with Oldham, who have been linked with re-signing the youngster after his release from Manchester United. A very good left back option for League Two and mid-to-bottom end League One.
Sam Hart – Blackburn – 23 y/o – Free Agent
Spent the last six months on loan at Shrewsbury in League One but wasn’t given first team opportunities. Released by local club Blackburn, so Accy could be the ideal chance for Hart to reinvigorate his career.
Patrick Brough – Barrow – 24 y/o – Transfer Fee
A key player in Barrow’s stunning promotion campaign this season, but a move into League One is not out of the question for Brough. Would command a fee. Is Coleman willing to pay?
Tarieq Holmes-Dennis – Bristol Rovers – 24 y/o – Free Agent
Released by Bristol Rovers in the summer after two seasons, but is a very capable League One defender. Needs a place to call home.
Tony Gallacher – Liverpool – 21 y/o – Loan Deal
In need of first team football after his arrival from Falkirk in 2018. Loan spell with Accrington could be exactly what Gallacher needs after impressing in the Premier League 2 this season.
Right Midfield/Winger –
Scott Wagstaff – Wimbledon – 30 y/o – Free Agent
Wagstaff’s release from Wimbledon was surprising, after he got one goal and four assists in League One last season, could be the elder statesman Accrington need on the wing.
Bez Lubala – Crawley – 22 y/o – Transfer Fee
The DR Congo international had a stellar season last year, getting 12 goals and three assists in 34 games. Surely deserves a step up, but would Accrington be willing to part with a fee for the winger.
Jonny Smith – Bristol City – 23 y/o – Loan Deal
Spent last season on loan with Oldham, getting nine goals and six assists in 28 games. Maybe too soon for the Championship, but fully deserving of a loan spell in League One.
Ryan Broom – Cheltenham – 23 y/o – Transfer Fee
Another player deserving of the step up to League One, Broom got eight goals and six assists last season for Cheltenham. A very good right winger. Would command a fee however
Ryan Longman – Brighton – 19 y/o – Loan Deal
In need of first team exposure, Longman scored three goals and got two assists in the Premier League 2 this season. If Clark stays, could be a good challenger.
Anthony Georgiou – Tottenham – 23 y/o – Loan Deal
Two separate and indifferent loan spells with Ipswich and Bolton last season, but is a very expansive player who can get crowds onto their feet. A very, very good young player who needs a full season playing first team football, could Accrington be that place?
It’s always difficult to tell how each team is going to fair in the new season, because we haven’t seen many signings nor the influence of pre-season friendlies. Just by going off how each team is expected to deal with the current COVID-19 financial troubles, and what each team is capable of doing under much greater restraint right now, I think that it could be a season of struggle for Coleman’s side, but I think they will have just enough in the tank to keep their heads above water. With the return of four relegation spots, it will be a close battle down the bottom between a lot of teams this season, but Accrington might just keep themselves up through some astute business by Coleman and his ability to drill his team well.
What do you guys think? How do you think Accrington Stanley will fair in the new season? Should they be looking for an unlikely but albeit very possible play off push, it will it be third time unlucky for Accrington and they begin to slip down the table. Let me know in the comments below and make sure to follow All Out Football on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.