Town Visit Accrington Chasing First Back-to-Back Wins
Friday, 1st Oct 2021 12:00
Town manager Paul Cook will be looking to record back-to-back wins for the first time as Blues boss against his old club Accrington Stanley at the Wham Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Cook’s side look to have turned a corner following the 1-0 away win at Lincoln, their first victory of the season, last Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with Sheffield Wednesday and Tuesday’s brilliant 6-0 pummelling of Doncaster Rovers.
It’s now vital Town build on those seven points from three games as they look to maintain momentum and climb the division from their current position of 19th.
“I think the big thing is we just want to make those small steps,” Cook said. “I think the whole interview process changes when you're winning, the questions change when you're winning, every negative feeling that you've had is replaced with positivity.
“My job as a manager, especially being an experienced one, is just to go to the next game, the last game is gone.
“Winning runs are put in over a period of time, they are not put over on laptops and iPads where you speak about it, they are done on football pitches and tomorrow we will walk into a very, very tough and hostile atmosphere against a team that have seen victories over many a big club at that ground.
“So it's a tough game, we will be well prepared for it and our supporters can look forward to it.”
Cook was appointed Town boss the day the teams last met at the Wham Stadium in March. He watched a Blues side run by caretaker bosses Matt Gill and Bryan Klug hold on for a 2-1 win against 10-man Stanley.
“There were a lot of emotions, especially after you've been out of work for I don't know how long I was out of work, was it eight months or something, I can't remember exactly,” he reflected when asked about that match.
“Then all of a sudden, you're pitched in, you haven't met the players, I met them in the hotel in the afternoon.
“It was a great win on the night, it was disappointing because we were probably hanging on in the second half and you're wondering why are we hanging on against 10 men when we should be going and killing the game off completely.
“It was just great to be back it, it really was. It was a good night because we won. It was obviously replaced then with the disappointment of Gillingham on the Saturday where we got rolled over [3-1].
“It was just great to be back and I can only comment on the support we've had through a really difficult time, especially from a massive percentage of the fans, from you guys [the local media] as well.
“It's important because you're entrusted with managing clubs and they're not easy jobs. And nowadays, in the modern-day world, people want everyone to conquer the world very, very quickly and I don't think football is like that.
“I think good clubs are built over periods of time on solid foundations, and I think that's what we are trying to do.”
Asked about the buzz around the club since Tuesday’s result, Cook said: “I think the positivity came in the summer with the signings we were making. Everyone gets excited and naturally so. I think for supporters all around the country, pre-season’s a time to be optimistic, it’s when you’re renewing your season tickets and we know how tough money is for people and how hard it is to travel.
“If you can’t be optimistic in those months from the end of June going into July when your club’s making signings [when can you be], and we made 19.
“So the reality is we built up that optimism, we probably went a long way to flattening it, if the truth be known, where we were in the bottom three or four, probably being written off by most [thinking we were] making it difficult to get promoted and all the rest of it.
“Now on the back of three strong results everything looks great. It’s football guys. I’ve got great belief in the squad. I know there are 37 league games left and there’s so much football to be played.
“Our optimism comes on the back of winning and that’s the reality of it. If you’re not winning games, the optimism is replaced by a different type of feeling.
“And my job, as you know, I just stay very level-headed and I make sure the players stay very level-headed and we just prepare for the next game.
“I know it’s boring, I know it’s an old cliché, but we’re walking into a very tough game at Accrington tomorrow and we’re preparing as well as we can for that.”
Cook isn’t one to change a winning team but he’ll assess the likes of Bersant Celina, who had an interrupted pre-season, ahead of the match.
“We haven't trained yet this morning,” he said. “The reality is there is always different stuff. If we can come through training this morning really well, as you can imagine, the dressing room has been a really good place to be around, which is great.
“And that little bit of winning feeling is something we all love and we like, and when we get it you just want it more, so I can guarantee our supporters there won't be much tinkering with the team tomorrow, especially if the lads come through training well this morning.”
Vaclav Hladky will continue in goal with Janoi Donacien and Matt Penney set to be the full-backs and Cameron Burgess and George Edmundson the centre-halves.
In central midfield, Sam Morsy will again wear the captain’s armband alongside Lee Evans, fresh from his first ever career hat-trick against Doncaster.
Scott Fraser will start on the left with Wes Burns on the right and Bersant Celina as the number 10, although perhaps swapping with Fraser at some stage as the pair did in the second half on Tuesday. Seven-goal top scorer Macauley Bonne will be the lone striker.
Winger Kyle Edwards has travelled having recovered from his groind problem and is likely to be involved from the bench at some stage.
Accrington, who are 12th, three points and seven places ahead of the Blues, were beaten 5-1 at Oxford on Tuesday, have conceded 12 in their last three matches and are without a win in four, losing three and drawing 3-3 at Morecambe last Saturday.
Their only success in their last six in the league was a 1-0 victory at home to fourth-bottom Shrewsbury a month ago, having previously gone on a four-game winning streak with one of those matches in the Carabao Cup.
Manager John Coleman admits his side’s defensive record is something of a concern.
“You have to keep working hard, it sounds simple, it’s not an easy fix. Lots of things could have changed on Tuesday night that could have made that game totally different,” he told his club’s official website.
“It didn’t but we have to try and address the things we are doing wrong and try and put them right.
“We can only do that by watching the video and then going onto the training pitch and trying to practice and put ourselves into areas where we get into the right position, quicker and more often.
“It’s a concern when you concede goals. If you think from the start of the season we have had two of our main defenders out in Cameron Burgess [who joined Town] and Harvey Rodgers [who is injured] so it’s not ideal but we weren’t getting carried away when we were second in the league and we won’t get carried away as we have lost a couple.
“We are desperate to win again, everything that has conspired against us has at the moment but what’s the alternative? Give up. We won’t do that.
“We have good coaching staff here and that’s what our jobs will be this week. We have a buoyant Ipswich coming here on Saturday but we love playing at home, we have a good home record, and we love playing the big teams at home.
“We look back at the 12 goals we have conceded in the last three games and out of them there have been nine individual mistakes by different people.
“You can’t cut that out as you can’t drop nine players. You have to keep trying to reinforce basics of defending and get back to trying to make your focus different.
“We don’t want to lose games, we hurt when we lose games, we hurt when we concede goals but we have got to put things into perspective sometimes, there is a life outside of football.”
Accrington defender Ross Sykes, who was sent off in the corresponding fixture in 2019/20 along with Armando Dobra following an off the ball clash, will miss out due to a ban having already amassed five bookings.
Midfielder David Morgan is a doubt, while Harvey Rodgers, Joe Pritchard and Joel Mumbongo remain sidelined.
The teams have only previously met five times in their history, all in the last three seasons with Town winning three times and Stanley twice.
At the Wham Stadium in March, with new manager Cook watching from the stands, James Wilson and James Norwood saw Town, who had Matt Gill and Bryan Klug in caretaker charge, to a 2-1 victory over 10-man Accrington, the Blues’ striker having missed a earlier penalty.
Dion Charles put Stanley ahead in the fourth minute, before Seamus Conneely was dismissed on 16 for bringing down Troy Parrott in the incident which led to the spot-kick.
Wilson slammed in his first Town goal on 41 and Norwood added his sixth of the season in first-half injury time to see the Blues to their third win in a row and up to seventh.
At Portman Road in October last year, second-half goals from Gwion Edwards and Freddie Sears saw then-top-of-the-table Town to a 2-0 victory over Stanley.
The Blues, who started without an out-and-out central striker, were disappointing in the first half but improved after the break with Edwards opening the scoring in the 54th minute and Sears sealing a third successive 2-0 League One home win on 71.
Centre-half Burgess joined the Blues from Accrington for £750,000 in August having spent one season with Stanley, making 50 starts and two sub appearances, scoring six times.
Right-back Donacien moved to Town for £750,000 in the summer of 2018, while striker Kayden Jackson joined the Blues from Accrington for £1.6 million during the same close season. Both were members of Stanley’s 2017/18 League Two title-winning side.
Blues defender Toto Nsiala had a loan spell with Accrington from Everton in the second half of the 2011/12 season and then joined them on a permanent basis the following summer, spending a further 18 months at the Wham Stadium.
Town manager Cook is a former Accrington player and manager, making 41 starts and 30 sub appearances, scoring once, playing for Coleman at the end of his playing career.
Cook was in charge at the Wham Stadium between February and October 2012 before joining Chesterfield, winning eight, drawing seven and losing 18 of his 33 games in charge.
First-team coach Gary Roberts had two spells with the Lancastrians, the first between 2005 and 2007 prior to his time with the Blues as a player with the second last season before he hung up his boots to join the Town staff in March.
Fellow first-team coach Franny Jeffers ended his career with Accrington during a short spell at the end of 2012/13 in which he scored twice in four starts and three sub appearances.
Coach Ian Craney had three permanent stints with Accrington as a player plus two loans and, alongside Roberts, was a member of their side which won what’s now the National League title under Coleman in 2005/06.
Saturday’s referee is Martin Coy from Durham, who has shown 16 yellow cards and one red in seven games so far this season.
Coy’s last Town match was the 2-1 home victory over Doncaster Rovers in February in which he booked Myles Kenlock and no one else.
His only other Blues game was the 2-2 draw at Peterborough in August 2019 in which he again booked Kenlock and three home players as well as awarding Town a penalty which was missed by Norwood.
Squad from: Hladky, Holy, Donacien, Vincent-Young, Penney, Edmundson, Burgess, Woolfenden, Nsiala, Morsy, Harper, El Mizouni, Fraser, Burns, Chaplin, Aluko, Celina, Edwards, Bonne, Barry, Norwood, Jackson.
Photo: Matchday Images
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