Accrington Stanley: How club made history with League Two promotion

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Accrington Stanley gain promotion

Being one of the smallest teams in the English Football League means nothing to Accrington Stanley, who have enjoyed unprecedented success this season and will reach new heights next term.

It has been a season to remember - victory against Lancashire rivals Preston in the Carabao Cup, striker Billy Kee being named League Two player of the season and now promotion to League One for the first time in the club's history courtesy of Tuesday's win against Yeovil Town.

These really are the glory days for a team most football fans, for better or worse, associate with a 1980s television advertisement for milk.

But how have they reached these lofty heights for a team of their relative small size?

Drawing parallels

Since resigning from the Football League in 1962, the reformed Stanley have never played higher than the English fourth tier.

The position they were in going into Tuesday's game at the Wham Stadium is in no small part down to a mid-season transformation.

John Coleman's side have put together a stunning run of form in 2018, having been ninth in the table following their Boxing Day defeat at Carlisle.

Since that 3-1 loss, Accrington have won 16 of 19 League Two matches, with January's defeat by Crawley, a 1-1 draw at Barnet in February and Saturday's 1-1 draw against Exeter City the only blemishes on an otherwise excellent second half of the season.

Promotion could have been wrapped up had Stanley beaten promotion-chasing Exeter City on Saturday, but the Grecians held them to a 1-1 draw
Promotion could have been wrapped up had Accrington Stanley beaten promotion-chasing Exeter City on Saturday, but the Grecians held them to a 1-1 draw

Their good form this season has drawn comparisons to the Coleman side that won the Conference National title in 2005-06.

"I see a lot of parallels with the Conference-winning side," Coleman told BBC Radio Lancashire.

"The way things have panned out and the way we've won games are very similar to the way we won them in the Conference.

"The spirit we had then, I see emerging in this squad and I hope it continues."

David and Goliath

Accrington attendances graphic
Accrington's cumulative attendance in 2016-17 was significantly less than Newcastle United's average attendance for each match they played in the Championship last season (51,114)

In his first spell with the club, Coleman led Stanley to three promotions from non-league to League Two, a division in which they have remained since 2006-07.

Coleman left for Rochdale in 2012 and short spells at Southport and Irish side Sligo Rovers followed. Since his return in 2014, Stanley have enjoyed an upturn in fortunes.

The club came narrowly close to automatic promotion to League One for the first time in their history in 2015-16, but were denied when Bristol Rovers scored a 92nd-minute goal against Dagenham and Redbridge to take third place on goal difference.

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They then went on to lose their play-off semi-final to AFC Wimbledon, with Lyle Taylor's extra-time goal in the second leg the difference between the teams.

In the two years since that defeat, players have come and gone - among them Omar Beckles to Shrewsbury Town of League One and Josh Windass to Scottish Premiership club Rangers.

With Accrington having the second-smallest average attendance in the EFL, renting a 3G pitch to train on as they do not own their own training ground, as well as an impression among some that they are a figure of fun, does Coleman get annoyed by the comparisons to richer clubs?

"It doesn't annoy me," he said. "Any publicity is good publicity as far as I'm concerned. If it's positive publicity then we are going to be forever the David and Goliath story.

"All the credit has to go to the players because of how hard they work, the desire and determination that they have shown without the greatest facilities to work in on a daily basis.

"But they put that to the back of their mind and get on with the job."

'We can compete'

Some Accrington Stanley fans made light of the club's recent controversy surrounding fast food bonuses
Some Accrington Stanley fans made light of the club's recent controversy surrounding fast food bonuses

It has been an eventful season for the club off the field, too. Accrington captured national press attention after the EFL "reminded them of their responsibilities" following owner Andy Holt's announcement that he bought the players fast food after wins.

Supporters have taken this in good spirit, with a couple of home fans attending Saturday's draw with Exeter in topical fancy dress following the club's run-in with the EFL.

Despite the publicity - good and bad, past and present - Coleman is happy with the impression some have of his team.

"I don't think we're seen as an underdog in the games over the past three or four weeks, but the size of our club and our structure means we are going to be seen as minnows," Coleman said prior to their game against Exeter.

"We can get ourselves on a stable foot and have a nice ground and a nice stand built and a training ground, and we can then start developing a proper club in this town instead of a club that's always ever-shifting and changing just to get by.

"We're a self-sustaining club who can compete in the English Football League."

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