Accrington Stanley: meeting the opposition

Tranmere Rovers’ 2023-24 campaign ends this Saturday afternoon with a trip to Accrington Stanley.

It has not been the easiest of years to be a Tranmere fan. However, two wins in the last two games has provided supporters with reason for optimism as they look towards the future. 

It is set to be a big summer at Prenton Park as manager Nigel Adkins reiterated his need for a trimmer squad, with adaptable and robust players in this week’s pre-match presser.

The trip to 18th-placed Accrington Stanley will provide another chance for players to show their qualities, to either keep their place on The Wirral or for other clubs to take notice of them. Thus, Rovers will be up for the fight. 

Ahead of the game at the Wham Stadium, I spoke to Across The Pitch Podcast co-host Tony Robinson. 

Hi Tony, how long have you been an Accrington Stanley supporter? What was your first experience of the club like?

I was born on Stanley St in Accrington so I was destined to be a supporter, unfortunately when I was eight the team resigned from the Football League and then when I was sixteen I emigrated to Canada. 

Now that I’m retired I travel back for a couple of months to watch a few matches. 

My actual first hands on experience with the club was in Aug 2006 when I travelled over to watch their first home match back in the Football League in 44 years.

What have been some of your best and worst moments as an Accrington fan? 

Other than seeing my first FL match for Stanley the best experience would have to be winning the League Two title in 2018. 

The worst has to be being relegated out of League One last season.

You’re a co-host of the Across The Pitch Podcast and a shareholder of the club. Could you talk to us about your roles at both? When did they start, what do you do and what is it like?

Across the Pitch Podcast was started five years ago by two fellas in Phoenix Arizona and I was on as a guest a year later and after that Phil Kennedy, the host asked me to be a co-host to do player interviews. 

I am based in Toronto now but being from the area helped me build a relationship with the club which in turn helped the podcast. 

We have over 300 episodes and interviewed Andy Holt, John Coleman, Jimmy Bell and John Doolan amongst others. 

We have been downloaded in over 50 countries and six out of seven continents and we have helped spread the global brand of Accrington Stanley. 

As far as being a shareholder back in 2009 when they were in financial trouble I bought a few shares to help out the club, that’s what you do when you are part of the Stanley family.

Accrington play their home games at The Crown Ground and have been doing so since the club’s formation in October 1968. What are your thoughts on the 5,450 capacity venue and where should away fans go, around the ground, to make the most of their day?

The Wham is a proper lower league stadium, with one of the best pitches in the entire Football League, and now has a top notch sports bar and hospitality lounge right at the Stadium. Coley’s Bar (it will remain Coley’s Bar) is a great place to have a pint before and after the match for both home and away fans with several big screen televisions to watch football, you can even sit inside and watch the match from both the bar and hospitality.

The Crown pub is literally less up a few steps from the ground on Whalley Rd, it’s a nice pub as is The Albion on Whalley Rd in Clayton Le Moors a mere 15 minute walk and the landlord is an Ex Commercial Manager at Stanley, all fans are welcome.

Andy Holt is the Owner of Accrington Stanley, the 60-year-old took control of the club in October 2015 when it was on the verge of folding due to debt issues. What are your thoughts on him and the way he runs things? 

Andy is a down to earth bloke that will engage with fans in Coley’s after the match, he has done wonders for the club and has invested heavily in the infrastructure of the club. He’s built a really good community club that now has some of the best facilities in the Hyndburn area for business and social events, and Andy has put Stanley back on the football map. 

The one thing that gets Andy in a spot of trouble is when he gets on Twitter but Stanley wouldn’t be in existence if not for Andy Holt and he’s been a great guest on Across the Pitch.

55-year-old John Doolan, part of former manager John Coleman’s successful coaching staff, was appointed following the dismissal of Coleman in March. What are your thoughts on the Liverpool-born boss, in terms of both his playing style, which seems to consist of a 4-2-3-1 formation, and relationship with fans?

John Doolan was a logical choice as he ticked all the boxes for Andy, Stanley has a long history of appointing a manager that has ties to the club. 

John is a very likeable optimistic person which will be important going forward as he has worked with the next generation players that will be a key part of the team next season. With 95% of the players out of contract he will have the chance to put his own stamp on the team as early as next season. 

He’s kept the same formation and the style of play hasn’t changed that much mainly because of the playing personnel and the fact we are limited with the number of strikers we have. 

Next season will be interesting to see if he changes things around a bit to impose his own style on the club. He’s always been the quiet one of the coaching staff but the fans like him and this is a chance to be more open with the fans and media.

What were your thoughts on Coleman’s dismissal? It seemed to come as a shock to many as he had served the club well, guiding Accrington, across two spells, from the Northern Premier League Division One in 1999 to EFL League One in 2018.

The timing of Coleman’s dismissal is what caught everyone by surprise, the final straw was going down 4-0 in the first half at Wrexham. It started when Jimmy Bell was interviewed on BBC Sports Lancs when he said they were looking for new contracts which didn’t sit well with Andy as he told John & Jimmy that nothing would be sorted until safety was assured. 

Andy wanted a public apology and when nothing was forthcoming the Dynamic Duo’s time was up after the Wrexham match. What upset fans the most was the way it was handled by the club, dismissed by a WhatsApp message with only a two sentence statement to the fans. 

John Coleman is a legend at Stanley and will be remembered as the best manager in the history of the club. 

Accrington were relegated from League One last season, finishing 23rd and are currently placed 17th in League Two (at the time of writing, 10th April – a day on from a 3-1 away victory at Newport County). How has the past year been?

Last season was tough with 19 first team members being injured resulting in relegation, once that happened you knew that the club would be cutting back their budget and going with a smaller squad. Injuries haven’t helped this season but it has given the chance for several academy players to play in the first team, this was always going to be a rebuilding year and realistically a mid table finish was expected. I had them finish 10th to 12th but I think we will fall short of that. 

A few fans are thankful that we avoided back to back relegations but that was never on the cards for me.

The last meeting between Tranmere and Accrington finished in a 2-0 Rovers win as Josh Hawkes struck twice, late last September. Can you remember that game? What were your thoughts on both side’s? 

The 2-0 loss at Tranmere wasn’t a good performance by any stretch from Stanley and going down to 10 men early in the second half sealed our fate. There were five players in that match that won’t start for Stanley and with this being the last home match look for a much better performance by Stanley, more in the line of the win at Newport.

Accrington’s top goalscorer is 22-year-old Jack Nolan who signed from Walsall in 2021. The Portsmouth-born winger has netted 14 goals in 44 games this campaign, providing his teammates with eight assists. How special is he?

Jack Nolan has really blossomed this season with more playing time, one of the better signings by John Coleman. The thing is that he really should have more goals this season with the number of chances he has created. He has a good left foot and his crosses into the box create havoc for defenders, when we do win you can bet Jack had a hand in it. 

He is out of contract this season and he’s sure to be offered a better contract at a club with a bigger budget, he will be hard to replace but that is the way it works at Stanley.

In January, Accrington loaned in Czech goalkeeper Radek Vitek from Manchester United and Striker Jake Bickerstaff from Wrexham. How good have these both been playing and when looking ahead to the summer, do you trust the club’s recruitment team to get it right?

Of all the keepers that have come in this season on emergency loan Vitek has been the best. He’s very mature for a keeper, good footwork, commands his box and is a good shot stopper. He’s a quality keeper that will play at a high level. I saw Burnley’s James Trafford at Stanley and I rate Vitek over him. 

Jake Bickerstaff has struggled at Stanley, he’s more suited to play up front with a strike partner he doesn’t seem to fit into the formation we are using now as a lone striker. 

A lot is being made that the core of the team will be players coming from the Academy will be the foundation of the team next season, several of which will play against Tranmere such as O’Brien, Martin and Henderson.

What would you like to see happen for the club to kick on? 

It will be interesting to see how many of the old guard will be signed next season by John Doolan, with all the youth that could be on the team signing veterans like Joe Pritchard, Shaun Whalley, Sean McConville and Seamus Conneely up for the campaign will be crucial. Next season the goal will be to challenge for a playoff position and the following season go far automatic promotion. 

Andy has said he’ll back John Doolan in the off season but that will be to fill in around the core young players, the key will be to get in a striker possibly through the loan market.

Finally, what are your thoughts on Nigel Adkins’ Tranmere Rovers? Do you believe Accrington will win and end their season on a positive note? 

I’ve always held Nigel Adkins in high regard and I think he’ll do a good job at Tranmere. You are in a similar position in the league as Stanley, both teams are safe and everyone will be out to impress for next season. With it being the last home match this season look for a strong start from Stanley as they won’t want Tranmere to do the double over them. I think a positive end to the season will be reaching 60 points but that’s going to be hard based on games at Doncaster, Mansfield and Stockport so the lads will be looking for three points against Tranmere! 

Accrington Stanley’s Wham Stadium. 

Rovers last league tie here was in early March 2020 as James Vaughan and Mark Ellis struck in a 2-1 win for The Whites. 

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