Will Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman ever get a bigger job?

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 27 January 2020, 14:07

John Coleman and Jimmy Bell are doing a fabulous job at Accrington Stanley.

The managerial duo consistently build teams that perform well above their budgetary rank – so surely this should be a huge draw for Championship chairmen?

At least, theoretically it should.

After more than five years at Stanley, Coleman and Bell remain at the Wham Stadium and look unlikely to go-go, let alone wake anyone up beforehand.

Gabriel Sutton looks at the work the dream duo are doing in East Lancashire and why they remain hanging on like a yo-yo...

Competitive displays

Most clubs at this level, if operating with Stanley’s budget, would employ a defensive approach.

They would sit back, allow their opponents countless shots from outside the box and hope to profit from one or two moments on the counter-attack.

Coleman’s men, though, are brave and they sustain pressure for long periods within their games.

The Reds average 1.47 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 1.22 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 54.67%, the eighth-best in League One.

In layman’s terms, this means they are creating a high-volume and quality of chances, whilst denying that for the opposition.

Stanley’s finishing might not always be refined and there have been games like the 1-0 home loss to Gillingham, or Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Burton, where they could have been more clinical in front of goal.

What they never do, however, is use their technical inconsistency as an excuse to back off their opponents or settle for a draw and that is too their credit.


John Coleman is currently the second longest-serving manager in the EFL

Non-league finds

Ask a Stanley fan who their two most important players have been, so far this season, and two of the names they might mention would be striker Colby Bishop and midfielder Sam Finley.

Bishop has scored 10 goals in 22 appearances, very impressive for somebody stepping up from seventh-tier Leamington.

Finley, a ball-winner by trade, has been key to Stanley’s play with his energy and tenacity.

The former Fylde fighter has been let off the leash more this season to support the press high up, often beyond the wide men.

Finley has completed 67 tackles, the most out of all the midfielders in League One – and he is quickly learning to see the odd through ball, too.

The man in form now is Dion Charles, who has just scored in back-to-back EFL games for the first time in his career, after showing impressive close control to produce a rasping, left-footed strike at the Pirelli.

Charles averages one tackle per game, the fourth-most in League One, which shows that his time at Southport has helped him learn the dirty side of leading the line.

Callum and Clark combo

One of the consistent features of Stanley’s rise over the last three years is the right-sided combination of Callum Johnson and Jordan Clark.

From right-back, Johnson oozes confidence and always backs himself to play an accurate, first-time pass down the line.

Similarly, Clark has bags of pace and always backs his dribbling ability; the former Shrewsbury man loves to carry the ball forward and attack the gaps between the opposing left-back and left-sided centre-back to create for his teammates.

Both players had shown flashes of talent before moving to East Lancashire without quite getting their respective careers moving positively, so Coleman and Bell deserve huge credit for giving them belief.

The duo set high standards for themselves and for their players whilst never accepting mediocrity, which means so many like Johnson and Clark improve under their guidance.


One of Coleman’s core values is that he trusts his players.

When Stanley won the League Two title in 2017-18, they won 17 times in a 20-game sequence in the second half of that season and in that period, the starting XI did not change at all apart from a couple of positions.

Sometimes, Coleman’s trust in certain players can be scrutinized slightly.

Mark Hughes, for example, starts every week despite his perceived limitations at League One level, although a younger centre-back like Aji Alese or Ross Sykes needs an experienced head for guidance and Stanley simply cannot afford a proven League One defender.

Long-range specialist Sean McConville has a surprisingly complex relationship with natives too, despite his obvious ability.

The Liverpudlian happens to be Bell’s nephew and appears to get more criticism than others when off-form, amid questions of nepotism that are likely unjustified.

Coleman believes that sticking by players and strategies during lean patches leads to a sense of continuity and in terms of the big picture, that has massively enhanced performance levels over full seasons.


Considering how loyal Coleman and Bell are to their players – and how they like to stick to a familiar system – it would, in theory, be a test for them when key men are unavailable, as Finley and Bishop were at Burton recently.

It is hard enough to find one good player for each position in their budget – but how do they cope when not at full strength?

Fear not.

The managerial dream team were able to tweak the system successfully enough at Burton to deliver a performance improved from the previous two games, 4-1 and 2-1 defeats to Ipswich and Southend respectively.

Centre-back by trade Ben Barclay came in for Finley and shored up the midfield next to the disciplined Seamus Conneely – that partnership worked well.

Similarly, Wolves loanee Sadou Diallo came in for Bishop and operated as almost a fifth midfielder – much deeper than his counter-part would have done – adding to the team’s collective solidity whilst showing some nice touches.

With Barclay and Diallo coming in, Stanley looked more secure and gave away no clear cut chances in open play, alleviating a lot of the problems from the last two games.

Although Coleman and Bell rarely actively choose change, Saturday showed that when it is enforced, they can see it as an opportunity to improve the team, rather than exclusively a problem, underpinning the growth mindset that both possess.

No bigger jobs?

Before we address this, it is important to recognize that Accrington Stanley are a wonderful football club to be part of.

They have a unique spirit, which allowed them to return to existence in 1968, two years after the original club had been made extinct.

Stanley have a terrific bunch of fans and arguably the best chairman in English football, so it would be understandable if Coleman and Bell were happy to stay put.

After all, when they have gone elsewhere – to Rochdale, Southport and Sligo Rovers – things have not quite worked out.

Perhaps there is a sense of superstition about the connection between themselves and Stanley that has brought so much success – it also means a stable place for their families.

Additionally, it could be that Coleman and Bell like to oversee a whole club and involve themselves in non-playing aspects of the running of it like recruitment, whereas Championship clubs are increasingly favouring a head coach model.

Still, five current Championship head coaches – Scott Parker, Steve Cooper, Pep Clotet, Jonathan Woodgate and Graeme Jones - have got their jobs without any record of having succeeded previously as a club manager.

Of those, one could argue that only Cooper has so far been a qualified success.

If it is the case that Coleman and Bell want a job in the second-tier but have not had the opportunity then… what more can they do?

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