Malcolm Dawson writes……what a contrast between yesterday and my previous visit to The Wham Stadium. Less than twelve months ago I got absolutely drenched as we watched the Lads playing for 70 odd minutes in a mud bath before the game was eventually called off. What’s more my car had collected a slow puncture which meant that I had to stop twice on the way home to try and get some air in my tyres in Accrington town centre then somewhere near Skipton and I drove home in the pitch dark, through driving rain, with the air vents struggling to keep my windscreen clear of the steam rising from my soaking thighs.
Yesterday I sat in glorious sunshine in a tee shirt regretting the fact I hadn’t decided to put my shorts on nor brought along any factor 20 Ambre Solaire (other sun protection creams are available). They’ve done a bit of work to the ground too and I was disappointed to find the double decker bus that sold cheap beer had been replaced by a number of bespoke refreshment bars but with a pie and a pint deal costing only a fiver it was still an inexpensive way to take a break from the diet.
I couldn’t get to the two midweek games we have played since Noah and his sons were spotted doing a bit of DIY on the recreation ground next door but Pete Sixsmith did and he has yet to see us lose there. It’s not a big stand at Accrington and Pete was only a few seats away so I have a pretty good idea about his impressions of a performance which brought about another three points in another 3-1 win. You can find out too by reading yet another top notch match report.
After a two-week break from the County Palatinate, it was back to Lancashire as we trekked over Blubberhouses Moor and along the A59 to Accrington via Colne.
For many of us, this was the fourth visit to the home of the Accrington Nori (it’s a brick) in 9 months. For part timers like me, it was the third one since April. Fortunately, all three have been bathed in sunshine rather than bathed in the precipitation that often hangs over Pendle Hill.
It was an important game for us after the unpleasantness at Peterborough. With more pressure on the ramrod straight shoulders of Jack Ross and players needing to cement their places in the team, it was a game we needed to win.
By 3.05, it didn’t look good. Accrington played a long ball forward, Willis and Ozturk showed perfect manners in leaving it for each other.
“After you, Alim.”
“No, after you, Jordan.” “
“I say Alim, what’s that cad, Jordan Clark doing thumping the ball into the net?”
“He’s not quite pukka, Jordan.”
The conversation on the terraces was probably not that polite.
(It wasn’t behind me with a proliferation of fs and cs and a bloke in front doing an impression of Bez from the Happy Mondays – MD).
The mood lasted two minutes. Denver Hume put a fine cross in from the left for Lyndon Gooch to volley home a spectacular equaliser, restore equilibrium and establish control.
Half an hour later we were well ahead with goals from Aiden McGeady and Mark McNulty and the game was all but over.
McGeady’s came after a penetrating pass from the lively Gooch. The mercurial Irish international used his twinkling feet to create space and scored for the third successive game in this little corner of North East Lancashire.
Ten minutes later, Accrington’s defence was wide open as Chris Maguire broke away, beat two defenders and slipped the ball to the industrious Mark McNulty who opened his league account for the club with a comfortable finish.
In between the two goals, Stanley could have equalised when a Cody Bishop shot struck Jordan Willis, fooled John McLaughlin, hit the bar and dropped just the right side of the goal line before being hoofed clear.
The second half was relatively comfortable as Accrington huffed and puffed and resorted to a long ball game, which Ozturk and Willis handled with reasonable aplomb.
McLaughlin had a couple of tricky moments but was never really in any trouble and we had opportunities to wipe out the three-goal deficit in our goal differences.
For Rob Mason, one of the Durham Branch’s intrepid travellers, emotions were split. Another goal or two would put a marker down with the other promotion rivals and quell some of the grumbling. On the other hand, he had 1-3 at 16/1 and with the Mason family mortgage riding on it, he exhaled loudly when Will Grigg fluffed a sitter that would have made it 4-1 and would have reduced he and the delightful Sandra to living in a cardboard box on the mean streets of South Hetton.
It was an adequate performance rather than a great one.
The game was one that we needed to win and win we did, so what’s not to like about that? Well, it wasn’t the most coherent performance and there were some blips but we could put that down to being rusty after a couple of weeks off.
Stanley look like strugglers for the rest of the season. Without Billy Kee, currently having some serious mental health issues from which we hope he makes a complete recovery, they had little up front and, despite having a grip on midfield, never really threatened.
Sam Finley was the pick of their players and kept them ticking over. His career started at Everton and has taken in stints at Southport, Warrington Town, Wrexham, The New Saints and AFC Fylde before he pitched up at Stanley a couple of years ago. He is a busy player who can pass, tackle and move forward and I admired his technique and commitment. He may not go any higher than League One but it shows that there are players who deserve an opportunity at this level.
For us, Lynden Gooch made a massive contribution with a splendid goal and an excellent pass for the second one. He used the ball well and worked extremely hard. George Dobson, who replaced Max Power, drove us forward but this was not one of Grant Leadbitter’s better games as he was hustled out of it by eager if limited, opponents.
At the back, Denver Hume did well and once they had been re-introduced to each other, Ozturk and Willis looked comfortable. Luke O’Nien was as industrious as ever, but there is a feeling that a good winger will take advantage of him. Accrington didn’t have one.
I liked McNulty, who works really hard and who will score goals at this level, McGeady once again scored at The Crown Ground and Maguire did well enough. The arrival of McGeoch and Grigg reinforced the depth in our squad compared with the relative paucity of the opposition’s.
I enjoyed my day out. The bright lunchtime lights of Colne were not for me so I caught a train on the East Lancashire line that took me from Colne via Nelson, Brierfield, Burnley Central, Burnley Barracks, Rose Hill (change for the Todmorden Loop here), Hapton, Huncoat to Grand Central Station, Accrington before departing for (amongst others) Blackburn, Bamber Bridge and Preston. It crossed three splendid viaducts which gave a clear picture of theses old mill towns, tightly tucked into deep valleys where witches roam and Massey’s Ales are still fondly remembered.
Accrington is a small town of 35,000 people, slightly bigger than Bishop Auckland and Spennymoor and with a clear identity. They have a splendid classical style Town Hall, a shopping centre that has seen better days, a fine (but very quiet) market hall and tributes to The Accrington Pals and the groundsman’s dog from Peel Park.
After three visits there, I hope not to be visiting again next season and will be happy to travel the rest of the East Lancs line through to either Blackburn or Preston. The two games this week, against Rotherham United and Bolton Wanderers may well define whether I am able to do this.
Ha’way the Lads (in American accent).