IF League Two had started on October 20, Accrington Stanley’s scheduled clash with Scunthorpe United tonight would be a battle between two contenders for automatic promotion.
The fact that the Reds picked up only two points from their first 10 games of the season – and four from their first 12 matches – means that instead they sit 19th going into the Store First Stadium clash.
Only four sides have picked up more points than the 29 Stanley have collected in 16 matches, once they secured their first league win of the season against Bristol Rovers at the end of October.
Given that James Beattie’s side have had three fixtures called off in that period, only Burton and Scunthorpe can say they have registered more points per game.
Captain Luke Joyce believes Stanley’s record in recent months – they are also unbeaten since New Year’s Day – has shown that they belong in the upper reaches of League Two.
“Obviously we were disappointed with that first 10 games of the season,” said Joyce, with Stanley following tonight’s match with a home game against Bury on Tuesday.
“But if the season started when we beat Bristol Rovers, we’d be fifth. It just shows you the run we have been on.
“To be where we are now after that first 10 games is a pat on the back for us, but we want to be higher and keep the run going.
“We’re six points off eighth so it shows you if we can win these two home games hopefully we can be in the top half at least.
“You can’t get complacent or too confident, you’ve always got a little eye on what’s going on below you, but we believe we’re good enough to be higher up in this league.
“Maybe people don’t believe it outside of Accrington, but I think this is as strong a squad as I’ve seen since I’ve been here.”
Boss Beattie added: “If we’d got off to any sort of start we’d be in a much rosier position now.
“We didn’t, but the lads deserve even more credit for the run they have been on.
“I say to them all the time, ‘Think about how you were feeling when you were coming into the dressing room when we weren’t picking points up, and how good you feel now that we’re in a much better position’. Any team up to the play-offs is involved at the bottom of the table, but if we win a couple of games we’re 12th or 10th or whatever.”
Stanley are working hard to make sure tonight’s game goes ahead despite the stormy conditions.
Rain is forecast for today but the Reds have covers ready to protect as much of the pitch as possible.
Stanley’s fine run since their poor start included a 2-0 win at Scunthorpe in November.
Since then, Russ Wilcox has replaced Brian Laws as boss, having worked as Laws’ assistant both at Glanford Park and previously at Burnley.
Scunthorpe are unbeaten in 14 league games since losing to the Reds, and sit second in the table.
Beattie said: “I think that was Brian Laws’ last league game, they might have had one more game against Grimsby in the FA Cup.
“He was talking to me in the tunnel and he seemed pretty confident about doing quite well at Scunthorpe.
“But Russ Wilcox has gone in there and done a great job. It’s going to be a really tough game.
“It was a great away performance to win there. Due to the finances of the club we travelled on the day which was difficult enough, I’d always like to travel the night before and prepare the lads properly.
“But they keep on surprising me.”
“We were made up with the performance that day at Scunthorpe,” Joyce added.
“They’re now second but we’ll be hoping to beat them again.”