MARK Hughes has bid a fond farewell to Stanley after leaving the club to join Bristol Rovers.

The 34-year-old centre-half moves on having played 246 times across two spells at the club, being a key figure in the 2018 League Two promotion-winning side before helping establish the Reds in League One.

Hughes now drops into League Two on a 12-month deal with Joey Barton’s Gas who are rebuilding after relegation.

The former Morecambe man was one of four new faces confirmed by Rovers on Wednesday which included another ex-Stanley man in midfielder Sam Finley, who played under Barton at Fleetwood.

In a message to the Accrington fans, Hughes said: “Today I say goodbye to a brilliant football club. I want to thank the club for how they have welcomed both me and my family the past five years.

“I would also thank the supporters for making me feel welcome from day one. The club will always have a place in my heart.

“I have made some great memories at the club. None more so than winning the league in 2017/2018. A night I will truly never forget.

“This has been a really tough decision for me but I think the timing is right for a new challenge.

“I wish the club massive success in the future. It couldn’t be in better hands with a great chairman, superb management staff and fantastic set of players.

“I hope the fans enjoy the return to football after what has been an unusual year.”

Boss John Coleman was full of praise for one of his key men in recent seasons.

“I wish to thank Mark for everything he has done,” he said. “He was instrumental in our League Two title success and has helped establish Accrington Stanley as a League One club.

"He has been a brilliant servant to the club and has been a very good player for us."

Owner Andy Holt added: "We are sorry to see Mark go, he has been a terrific servant to the club ever since I took over and I wish him all the best in everything he does in the future."

Former Burnley favourite Barton has also signed Carlisle full back Nick Anderton and Salford’s experienced former Sheffield United midfielder Paul Coutts.

He said: “It’s nice to get business done early in the window, as we see a new team for next season emerging.

“They are all lads that have predominantly played for northern clubs, so to attract them down south, it had to be a project that really excites them.

“The four of them are certainly a foundation for a nucleus of a new team, alongside the existing players, as we start to build a platform to help us get promoted next season.”

Stanley’s solitary bit of summer business so far has seen them bring in Colchester midfielder Harry Pell who captained the U's last season.