PREVIEW: Accrington Stanley v Luton Town
Accrington Stanley have given themselves an outside chance of reaching the League Two play-offs this season after a superb run of form.
A 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth on February 11 saw John Coleman’s side way down in 21st place, just three points off the relegation zone, with the play-offs not even on the horizon, some 17 points away.
However, Stanley then set off on a superb 15-match unbeaten run, including nine wins in that sequence to lift themselves to 13th, although more importantly, just four points adrift of the top seven with two games to go.
There were some mightily impressive victories too, winning at Exeter and Plymouth, plus thumping Leyton Orient 5-0, along with successes against Cambridge, Crawley and Colchester, drawing with another now promoted side in Doncaster too.
As with all good things though, Stanley’s run had to come to an end at some point, and last weekend proved one fixture too far, as Coleman’s men finally surrendered their unbeaten record, losing 1-0 at a resurgent Newport County.
On their own soil, Stanley are a tough proposition as they are currently 12 games unbeaten in all competitions, winning eight, including a 2-1 victory over Luton in the FA Cup.
They have been tough to score against in recent weeks too, keeping four clean sheets out of six and conceding just six goals in 12 games since March 4.
However, it’s at the other end where Stanley have faltered slightly of late, netting just one goal in three and boss Coleman told the club’s official site that had been the issue, saying: “We need to start scoring goals again.
“When we had our bad run in November and December that’s what plagued us.
“We have scored just one goal in the last three games and, while we are making chances, we need to start converting them again.”
After such a superb run, Coleman was frustrated it hadn’t seen his team break into the top seven, as defeat on Saturday would see their chances extinguished for another season.
He added: “We have been on a 15-game unbeaten run, with nine wins, and that should have taken us into the play-offs or the automatic promotion places.
“We should have started this run at least nine points better off but we started too late and left ourselves too much to do.
“Our objective at Christmas was to finish in the top half of the table and that hasn’t changed now. We need to give ourselves a platform for next season.”
Team news: Luton striker Danny Hylton is suspended for the match, while midfield duo Jordan Cook and Lawson D’Ath are unlikely to be risked, leaving just Cameron McGeehan and Danny Green out.
Attacker Zane Banton has been recalled too and makes the trip to the Wham Stadium.
For Stanley, captain Seamus Conneely is back after missing the Newport defeat, following the birth of his first child.
Top scorers: Hatters: Danny Hylton (26). Stanley: Billy Kee (13).
Milestones: Striker Isaac Vassell will make his 50th appearance for Luton if selected tomorrow. The summer signing from non-league Truro City has bagged 11 goals in his first season at the club too.
Man in the middle: Christopher Sarginson - taken 39 games so far this term, showing 118 yellows and seven reds.
Refereed Luton twice already, the 6-2 win over Solihull Moors in the FA Cup, plus Town’s 2-1 home victory over Crawley as well.
Last year Sarginson had the whistle for Luton on two occasions, the 4-1 defeat at AFC Wimbledon, plus a 3-1 victory over Morecambe.
Prior to that, has officiated Luton four other times, with wins over Newport County (4-2), Corby Town (4-2) and Notts County (2-0), and a 1-1 draw with Chester, when he sent off Kevin Roberts.
Assistant referees are Bob Roberts and Iain Siddall, with fourth official Natalie Aspinall.
In charge: John Coleman - 54-year-old who had a lengthy playing career, mainly in non-league for the likes of Southport, Macclesfield Town and Morecambe, plus a spell in Wales.
Became Ashton United player boss in 1997, before a move to Accrington two years later.
Spent over 12 years in charge at Stanley, leading them to three promotions, including the Football League in 2006 and was the third longest serving manager at the time, until leaving to join Rochdale in January 2012.
Had his contract terminated just priot to completing a year in charge at Spotland, and returned to management with Southport in December 2013.
Left six months later and was appointed in charge at Sligo Rovers for a short period in June 2014.
However, when ex-Southampton striker James Beattie left his position as Accrington boss in September 2014, Coleman was confirmed as manager for his second spell and came within a whisker of winning promotion last season, eventually beaten in the play-offs by AFC Wimbledon.
View from the opposition: Sean McConville, speaking to the club’s official website: “We were disappointed to lose the unbeaten run but we just have to go again and now we want to go and make sure we don’t lose at home before the end of the season.
“We haven’t lost at home in 2017 and there’s no reason why we can’t keep that up and win our last home game. There should be a good crowd on, the lads will have family there and we want to send them away happy and with three points.”
One to watch: Shay McCartan - 22-year-old attacker who has represented Northern Ireland at U17, U19 and U21 level.
Burst into goalscoring form during the latter stages of this season as had taken 17 appearances to get off the mark, not opening his account until the 1-1 draw with Carlisle on January 21.
Since then though, has been a regular on the scoresheet, netting 11 times in 20 games, including a double in the 2-1 win at Morecambe, making this his most prolific campaign to date.
Started life at Burnley, making one sub appearance for the Clarets in the Championship, a 2-1 win at Doncaster, where Luton forward Josh McQuoid was on target for the visitors.
Went to Hyde for a loan spell before moving to Accrington on a free in July 2013 and has played over 100 times since, scoring 25 goals.
Played for both: Paul Carden, 38-year-old former midfielder who started out with Blackpool and had spells at Rochdale, Chester City, Doncaster and Peterborough amongst others, before moving to Accrington in May 2007.
Made just four appearances for Stanley as he signed on loan with Cambridge, eventually becoming player/assistant manager to former Town boss Gary Brabin.
Joined Luton on loan in February 2011 and made the move permanent in August, as played four times for the club, becoming player coach under Brabin, before leaving in January 2013.
Since then, has managed Southport and was interim boss at Tranmere, while named Evo Stik Northern League Premier Division side Warrington Town boss in October last year.
We’ve got form: Luton are still yet to win at Accrington, with three draws and a defeat from their previous four visits.
The first game, a League Two clash back in February 2009, ended goalless, while Town then came from 2-0 down to earn a 2-2 draw in August 2014, with all the goals coming in the first half, Luke Rooney and Jake Howells scoring for Luton.
Jonathan Smith deflected in Craig Mackail-Smith’s blast during injury time for a point in the 1-1 draw last term, while Hatters were beaten 2-1 in the FA Cup this season.
Last time out: Luton fell to a 2-1 defeat in the FA Cup third round stage back in January.
Stanley were ahead through a magnificent goal from Sean McConville, as he sent a wonderful curling effort into the top corner.
Jake Gray levelled on 54 minutes, but Omar Beckles made it 2-1 just three minutes later, as Town had Glen Rea sent off for his second yellow in the fog late on.
Hatters: Christian Walton, James Justin Johnny Mullins, Scott Cuthbert (Stephen O’Donnell 41), Alan Sheehan, Glen Rea, Jonathan Smith (Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu 58), Jake Gray, Olly Lee (Jack Marriott 52), Isaac Vassell, Josh McQuoid.
Subs not used: Craig King, Jack Senior, Lawson D’Ath, Jordan Cook.
Referee: Darren Deadman.