ITEN Match Preview: Accrington (H)
Last week’s second half collapse to lose at Wimbledon stirred up concerns about the viability of a successful season, but Darren Moore takes his side into the first of four big tests over the festive period with most of his first team players available as he looks to turn this slump around.
Rovers fighting fit at last
It has been at least two months since the squad was as healthy as this, with the return to fitness of Wolves loanees Cameron John and Niall Ennis a significant boost. Tom Anderson returns from a three-match suspension at the perfect time as well, as the solidity of the back four has been compromised in his absence.
Moore spoke of some “50/50” decisions for his side this weekend but it is to be hoped that both Ennis and Jon Taylor can return to the starting line-up having appeared off the bench at Kingsmeadow last Saturday. There should be no headache over selecting Taylor ahead of Rakish Bingham, who was moved to the wide position with little impact for the Wimbledon game after a couple of lacklustre displays up front.
It may be seen as harsh to drop striker Kwame Thomas after he netted his third Rovers goal to put the team in front in the game, indeed he has three goals in only 110 League One minutes of playing time but his overall game pales in comparison to that of Ennis. Thomas has proven a capable poacher and is a physical presence but Ennis brings bags of energy and helps the team press from the front better than any other option.
The case could be made to play them both together up front but thus far, Moore has shied away from a two-striker formation so this seems unlikely and would involve dropping either Ben Sheaf or one of the wide players from the set-up entirely.
Bogey side Stanley hitting form
Rovers have never beaten the modern Accrington Stanley in an EFL fixture and recent form suggests they might not be fancied to break that duck this weekend. As Moore’s boys struggle to find the winning formula, John Coleman’s side come to DN4 on a four-game unbeaten run with three wins in that time to sit just three places and two points back in the table, albeit having played three more games.
Stanley came from behind to see off Portsmouth 4-1 last week, an impressive victory thanks in no small part to the goals of strike duo Colby Bishop and Dion Charles. The pair have 18 goals between them already this season and will be a big threat at the head of a likely 4-4-2 formation.
Coleman likes to stick to the traditional set-up although it can become a Diamond at will, whilst the form of the front two should mean no attempt to play a conservative 4-5-1 formation, something which has helped grind out away results this season but didn’t yield anything from trips to Peterborough and Rotherham, two sides who play a similar style to Darren Moore’s Rovers.
One plus for Rovers will be the absence of Sean McConville, the primary attacking playmaker for the side and joint top scorer last season. McConville has missed the last two games and won’t be rushed back, whilst young midfielder Lamine Kaba Sherif is also sidelined with a knee problem.
Sadou Diallo, an U23 team mate of Cameron John and Niall Ennis at Wolves, is pushing for a start in midfield whilst Fulham loanee Jerome Opoku is the preferred choice at left back despite being a centre half by trade.
This fixture has taken place six times since Stanley reformed in 1968, all in the last 13 years. John Coleman has been the manager in each of those meetings, starting in 2006 when Rovers won an ill-tempered Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie 2-0 at Belle Vue. An injury to Sean McDaid was one of several flashpoints in that game, with Rovers’ victory paving the way for a run to the final as Sean O’Driscoll’s side lifted the trophy in Cardiff.
Since that game, Rovers have lost four out of five with Stanley, drawing the other. Then a League Two side, Stanley dumped Championship Rovers out of the League Cup in extra time in 2010 before the pair met on the opening day of the 2016/17 season. Sean McConville netted a last-minute winner as Ross Etheridge suffered a horror show on his Rovers debut against the side he had just left, conceding two sloppy goals in a 3-2 defeat.
The return game was drawn 2-2 with Rovers goals coming from Tommy Rowe and John Marquis, whilst John Coleman masterminded a League One double last season with Grant McCann’s side going down to a late 1-0 defeat at the Wham Stadium and losing 2-1 to first half strikes from McConville and Paul Smyth in the Keepmoat clash back in April, a result which essentially ensured safety for the visitors and made Rovers’ ultimately successful push for a Play-Off place a bit trickier.
The ability for either side to create the chances that will win the game on Saturday boils down to which midfield comes out on top. Rovers looked back to their best for the first 45 minutes at Wimbledon last week, with Ben Whiteman and Ben Sheaf a big part of that. Whiteman in particular could have been on the scoresheet a couple of times himself, and the pair will need to take that form into this fixture rather than the second half collapse.
Up against them will be a duo growing in stature together. Seamus Conneely and Sam Finley are adept in any of Stanley’s differing formations and complement each other in a similar way to legendary Rovers pairing Brian Stock and Richie Wellens. Conneely usually sits deep and brings wingers Jordan Cook and Joe Pritchard into play, whilst Finley pushes on and often breaks out of the centre of the park to affect play in the attacking third.
Whiteman and Sheaf will have to do all they can to nullify this, especially considering how effective they have been in recent victories for Stanley. Making sure that potent strikers Charles and Bishop are isolated should allow Rovers’ more creative forces to prosper with more time on the ball, and there the game will be won or lost for Darren Moore’s side.