"Stanley … of noble fame and worth"
(Shakespeare - William, not Craig)
Our game against Accrington Stanley on September 29th could be regarded as a turning point in a season which will probably be remembered for all the wrong reasons - at 3pm that day we already had a fifth of the season behind us, and occupied a handy 5th place in the League One table. By 5pm we had lost 0-1 to a 7th minute penalty, starting a trend for giving away soft penalties or early goals (or combining the two) and the downward spiral was under way.
If anyone had told me then that the return fixture in deepest Lancashire would be crucial to the Saddlers’ League One survival, I would probably have replied with a suitable retort - something like “Go away in short, jerky movements” … and yet, and yet, this is definitely the situation in which we find ourselves. With only 5 games to go and 42 points on the board, it’s pretty much essential that we win 3 of those 5 to have any chance of survival. Our only saving grace may be that there are so many other teams in almost the same position, 11 clubs with only 6 points from top to bottom in that bunch.
Accrington Stanley’s season has a certain similarity to our own - on Boxing Day when they won at home against the Sloppies (well done, lads) they were 9th in the table, 13 points above the relegation zone, but in 18 games since then they’ve only gained 11 points. Their current form is not far removed from ours:-
Mar 12 Wycombe Wanderers (A) Won 1-3
Mar 23 Burton Albion (A) Lost 5-2
Mar 30 Fleetwood Town (H) Lost 0-1
Apr 3 Sunderland (H) Lost 0-3
Apr 6 AFC Wimbledon (A) Drew 1-1
Apr 9 Rochdale (H) Lost 0-1
We have actually scored more League One goals than Accrington, but we’ve also shipped more - but the fact remains that if we can get a 0-3 win we will leap-frog over them, even though they are 6 places above us.
What can Martin O’Connor do to bring about that result? He does have an advantage over any manager brought in from the wider world - he knows the players, he’s familiar with their strengths and weaknesses, and he is on record as saying that he wants effort and pride in wearing the shirt - attributes that have seen some players fall short in recent encounters. There are no injury-related absentees apart from the known long term ones, so he will have a full squad available for selection. His motivational skills may well be just as important as his selection and tactics - and any piece of rolled up paper that he carries will have the dual purpose of (a) important notes and observations, and (b) as an offensive weapon…
Prediction? Tricky, as always. Accrington are also fighting for their League One survival, so no-one is on the beach just yet. However, hints of dressing room unrest (for whatever reason) should disappear simultaneously as “New Manager” bounce makes itself felt. In the spirit of eternal optimism as a Saddlers’ supporter (if you didn’t laugh you’d cry) I’ll go for that 0-3 result, with Cook, Edwards and Kinsella chipping in.