JOHN Coleman believes the play-off hunt has never been bigger, but he is determined to stay in the leading pack.

Accrington Stanley climbed to fifth after beating Charlton Athletic in the Friday night fixture last week, slipping only one place after the rest of the weekend's results.

But the Reds boss warned there is still hard work ahead if they are to sustain their position, with plenty of other teams on their tails.

Stanley are one of four teams on 33 points, while they are only nine points off leaders Lincoln City having played four games less than the Imps. Below them, there is a nine-point difference between them and 17th placed Shrewsbury.

“There are a lot of teams all vying for the top six,” said the Reds boss.

“It’s a really strange league this year, there are probably 16 or 17 teams who believe they can get in the play-offs.

“It’s never really been like that before. Every game you play is always a challenge, the games come thick and fast and there’s very much a levelling off of standard this year.

“There is no great team and no really poor team, everyone is functional and can compete against each other and that’s why you have to pick up as many points as possible when you can."

Stanley return to the Wham Stadium for the first time since December 19th on Saturday, against Gillingham, after a succession of postponements due to a combination of Covid-19 cases in opposition camps and the weather.

And, having earned an impressive win away to Gills in mid-December, Coleman is relishing the re-match.

“Our win in December, that will be fresh in their minds and they did come on strong in the second half so we know they pose a threat," said the Stanley boss.

“We have got to try and keep on improving. The minute you step back and start smelling yourself and think you have arrived you can fall flat on your face.

“We know we can improve and there are areas we can improve on and we have broke that down and the players know that and the players are keen. It’s a great set of lads who want to work hard for themselves and for the team and everyone is pulling in the right direction trying to get success.”

Matt Butcher sustained an injury in the Papa John's Trophy defeat at Lincoln on Tuesday and could be ruled out, but defender Ross Sykes is back in contention.