Sixer’s Accrington Stanley Soapbox:Wham! Bam! Thank you Stan!

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done a bit of work to the ground too and I was disappointed to find the double decker bus that sold cheap beer had been replaced by a number of bespoke refreshment bars but with a pie and a pint deal costing only a fiver it was still an inexpensive way to take a break from the diet.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. 

WHAM! BAM! THANK YOU STAN!

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.

Jordan Willis. Photo by courtesy of safc,com

“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.

Kick off at The Wham

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.

Accrington Market

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.

Tribute to an Accrington groundsman and his dog

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).

Highlights via safc.com

View from the West Stand: Willis and Maguire leave Portsmouth pointless

Malcolm Dawson writes……..In a week in which a young bride excitedly looking forward to her honeymoon, wakes to find she is a widow and a family man is stabbed to death with a screwdriver in a busy shopping centre, apparently trying to stop an altercation, I find it difficult to put any real significance on the result of a football match.

But I was there yesterday in my usual seat and found the experience somewhat more satisfying than that of a fortnight ago. It was no surprise to find us one nil down in the first half – when are we not? But up until that point we had looked more lively than we had in the opening minutes of either of the two previous league outings.

I won’t harp on about lax refereeing as the defence really should have dealt with the move that resulted in the Portsmouth opener, and which came from an error in midfield, but Maguire and McNulty were constantly being manhandled by the Pompey defence and a free kick should have been awarded to us, immediately prior to their goal. I’d like to see where in the Laws of the Game it says it is permissible to grab a player around the neck with one arm, whilst simultaneously pushing him over with the other but referee Michael Salisbury seemed to find that sort of thing allowable. That said Alim Ozturk quickly realised this and used a similar tactic when he could. Doesn’t make it right though.

But it didn’t take long for us to get back on terms, Leadbitter showing why he is such a threat in dead ball situations, then McGeady and Maguire combining nicely for the winner and I went home reasonably satisfied.

Jake does his bit for the seat change

I’m no fan of these early kick off times, even though now it is a lot easier for me to get to a 12.30 home game since moving back to the North East than it was when a trip to the Stadium of Light was a three hour journey on a good day. So it was at a relatively civilised time I left home with time for a latte and a bacon sarnie in the Roker End cafe. Pity the 800 or so Portsmouth fans who had travelled up for this one, though the two I spoke to were students at the Uni and had an even shorter trip to the game than I had.

As Mickey Gray and his co-commentator faffed about on the touchline there was relative satisfaction around and about at the team that was announced, with only a couple of changes from the side that started at Accrington in midweek. McLaughlin J back between the sticks was no surprise and with McGeady replacing Grigg it looked as if Ross had decided to stick with a back four, two holding midfielders, two wide men in Gooch and Geads with Maguire just behind McNulty to form a two man mobile strike force.

We set down a marker straight from the kick off as a long ball, directly into the path of McNulty looked momentarily threatening, but it was too strong and was easily collected by MaGillvary, whose bright green kit contrasted sharply with the insipid grey effort that the outfield ten were wearing. We were quick out of the traps and the M people up front were lively, in sharp contrast to the slow start we made against Oxford. For Portsmouth Curtis found some space in the box and outjumped O’Nien, back in at right back, but his header sailed high over the bar without threatening McLaughlin’s goal.

Marc McNulty thanks to bbc.co.uk

With 24 minutes on the clock, McLaughlin sent a high ball up towards McNulty who was on the end of a two handed push from Burgess, the Pompey number 6 but with those of us who had a clear view of the foul screaming for a free kick, the ref waved play on. Not a lot of danger in midfield apparently, but when Power tried to get a foot in, he just succeeded in playing in Marcus Harness who burst forward into the box. We had chances to clear it but a couple of unintended deflections later it broke back to Harness who drove the ball, through Power’s outstretched legs, across goal and into the bottom corner.

We are so used to going a goal behind at home now, that it is no longer a cause for concern, at least where I sit, when it happens early in the game. Frustration only kicks in later if it doesn’t look like we are going to get back on terms or push on for the three points. And it didn’t take us long. Immediately following the goal, McGeady and McLaughlin C linked up when the latter’s shot was deflected behind for a corner. Then two minutes later after a bit of pressure from McGeady who had popped up on the right wing, Burgess ran the ball out for another corner, taken by Leadbitter. The new skipper brings us a quality set piece delivery and his pinpoint kick was well met by the run of

Jordan Willis. Photo by courtesy of safc,com

Jordan Willis who got there ahead of the surrounding defenders and powered home his header.

Game on. Ten minutes later a hopeful high punt forward from Alim Asturk was controlled by McNulty, who somehow found McGeady. An attempted clearance ricocheted off Geads’  shin and he was away. A delightful pull back across the face of goal found Maguire who slid the ball into the empty net and we were in front. Now the big question was would we hold onto that lead.

Half time came and went and not long into the second period, the ever lively McNulty chased after a long ball and pulled up holding his hamstring. He went off to be replaced by Charlie Wyke, whose greater physical presence brings a different dimension to our attacking play and after he came on we won more clearances and his hold up play was good. Let’s hope McNulty’s injury is not too severe though.

Apparently we tried to sign John Marquis in January, and he had a great opportunity to put McLaughlin under pressure when he latched onto a ball on the right of the penalty area but his shot was way off target. The next best chance that Pompey had came from a powerful diving header, from Grant Leadbitter of all people. Fortunately the diving orange flash that was Jon McLaughlin pulled off a fantastic save.

Chris Maguire

We had other chances. Wyke just failed to get his outstretched toe on the ball to flick it home. O’Nien and Maguire had penalty shouts waved away, whilst at the other end Ozturk got a foot on a decent effort from Harness after a piece of free flowing build up play but this was a good three points.

I can’t say we dominated the game but we certainly showed more positivity than we had against Oxford and in that first half at Ipswich. We still look vulnerable at times but this is League 1. The pairing of Willis and Ozturk looked solid enough for this level, though by no means error free. Leadbitter and Power in front gives us strength through the middle and Maguire and McNulty showed good movement and moved the opposition about. Gooch had a decent game and O’Nien does a decent enough job at full back.

We are still a work in progress but we have a squad with enough players who are good enough to get us out of this division. The effort is there, the commitment is there. Now it is a question of finding the right combinations of players, implementing the right strategies and finding ways to change things around when they are not going to plan.

This was no classic but in case you have forgotten, we are unbeaten this season. My worry now is that with Rochdale on Tuesday and Wimbledon next Saturday, we will be expecting to be on 11 points by this time next week and if past experience is anything to go by this is a sure fire recipe for disappointment.

Prove me wrong boys.

Ha’way the Lads.

match highlights via safc.com

 

 

A Salut! Sunderland welcome to Jordan WiIlis, Jack Ross’s third pre-season signing

Jordan Willis. Photo by courtesy of safc,com

Signing number three is another free, Jordan Willis, 24, a defender who played for Coventry City until the end of last season.

Salut! Sunderland is happy to extend its customary warm welcome to a new recruit who describes himself as enthused by the prospect of playing in front of big crowds.

Read moreA Salut! Sunderland welcome to Jordan WiIlis, Jack Ross’s third pre-season signing