Accrington Stanley hoping to have the last laugh with playoff push

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Many moons ago there was an advertisement for milk that caused the nation to chuckle, as two youngsters discussed Ian Rush's claims they’d be condemned to playing football for Accrington Stanley if they didn’t drink the white stuff more often.

But nobody’s laughing anymore. Stanley, after countless years of trying, finally occupy a play-off place in League Two at the tail end of a season for the first time. Tuesday night’s win over Southend was enough to send John Coleman’s men into sixth spot to cap a fine run of form in the league.

Victory over the Shrimpers was Stanley’s eighth consecutive win at the Crown Ground, and it fired them to within touching distance of promotion’s busy grasp.

It’s no wonder they’re smiling on this side of Lancashire. League form aside, there are plenty of other reasons to be pleased for Stanley fans. Ilyas Khan, the man who saved the club from the clutches of the taxman two years ago, has now taken the reins for good.

Most importantly, Khan has pledged to rid the club of the debt which has left players unpaid for parts of the campaign. Indeed, the players were forced to suffer another wage setback prior to the win over Southend. But according to reports, Khan has informed key figures at the club that he expects them to be debt-free by the end of next week.

“I have always said that Accrington Stanley should not have a controlling shareholder,” Khan said. “A club such as Accrington should be owned as widely as possible and run by people that are professional, so my ownership as of now is temporary.

"It allows us to get back on what I believe is the right track."

So soon enough, Accrington Stanley could be owned by its own supporters – if Khan has his way. His pledges look bright, and Stanley fans are understandably optimistic about their club’s future.

And why wouldn’t they be? On the pitch, things have never been better. Since being promoted to the league for the first time in their history just five years ago, Stanley have gained a reputation as a lower table outfit, with last season’s 15th-place finish their highest to date.

But times change quickly, and with good form comes great rewards. In the space of seven weeks they have climbed 13 places in League Two, taking 30 points from a possible 39 in that space of time.

After 12 years at the helm, manager John Coleman is currently the third longest-serving manager in England behind only Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. He could soon get an even greater reward than that original tempter: a mere place in the Football League.

There would have been a time not so long back when the thought of Accrington Stanley in English football’s third tier would have raised more than an eyebrow for Coleman, but three promotions as champions at non-league level together with this season’s impressive form have suddenly made it all one dizzy possibility.

Goals have been far from lacking for Coleman’s side, with only runaway leaders Chesterfield having bagged more on home territory than Stanley so far. Youngsters Terry Gornell and midfielder Sean McConville have produced 25 goals evenly distributed between the pair in League Two so far this campaign, while defender Phil Edwards has hit another 12 to fire his side towards the play-offs.

Referees have been kind to Stanley so far this term, with a mammoth ten of Edwards’ strikes coming from the penalty spot.

It’s with little wonder that Coleman has been nominated for the league’s manager of the month prize twice this season, although he today missed out on March’s award to Aldershot’s Dean Holdsworth.

Now the task for Stanley is staying put – or if they dare, push on higher. The form book certainly suggests they have more than a chance of having a crack of play-off glory at Old Trafford, but Coleman and his side will be taking nothing for granted.

For these perennial strugglers, forever struggling to compete with the lure of Blackburn and Burnley just around the corner, success has been a long time on the horizon. Nobody would begrudge them of the fairytale story that would accompany a miraculous promotion – heck, half the league is wishing them along. 

The days of better that the club’s players and staff have long deserved appear to be surfacing now Khan’s takeover has been completed. Stanley fans have never had it so good. They are daring to dream, and long may it continue.