STANLEY have been handed an extra incentive on the eve of the new League 2 season.
The Reds kick off their campaign at home to Southend this Saturday and despite preparing for a ninth straight year in the Football League, Stanley have again been given little hope of avoiding the drop by the bookmakers.
Football League sponsors Skybet have Stanley and Morecambe as 9/2 favourites to go down, which comes as no surprise to anyone at the Store First Stadium.
But the pundits have also been wading in this week. Scott Barron, who played 139 League games for the likes of Millwall and Brentford before being forced to retire this summer, joined Sky Sports News to discuss the new season.
And his comments didn’t go unnoticed by Stanley skipper Luke Joyce.
“He tipped us for relegation along with Morecambe and Exeter, which we’re used to,” said the midfielder.
“But he said we only just survived last season. We were 15th – three points off ninth.
“We have a WhatsApp group which all the players are in so I sent a few of his quotes out on there. It didn’t take long for a few of the lads to send some choice words back!”
It’s not as if Stanley need any further motivation. The Reds finished last season in fine form to stay clear of the drop zone, losing just two of their last 10 games, and they’ve looked sharp in their six friendlies.
And while there were only three new signings when the Accrington Observer went to press, Sky didn’t acknowledge that Peter Murphy is the Reds’ only significant departure so the bulk of James Beattie’s squad has been playing together throughout pre-season.
“They said we’d struggle because we haven’t signed anyone,” Joyce added. “We haven’t needed to.
“At the end of last season we were in play-off form and most of the lads here now played a big part in that.
“We’ve kept the nucleus of the squad together and added one or two who fit in well. We have a great team spirit, we’re a tight-knit group and that helps us grind out those results.
“We’ve already shown that over the years, we’re one of the mainstays in League Two now. But we just have to leave the critics to it, try to prove them wrong and hopefully cause a few surprises, which we love doing.”
The doubters thought they’d got their pre-season predictions right last year as the Reds made a wretched start to the campaign. It took 13 games to register their first league win.
And while Stanley ultimately recovered, Joyce admits they cannot afford a repeat of last term’s Newport nightmare, when they lost 4-1 in Beattie’s first game in charge.
“We just didn’t perform,” Joyce recalled. “It’s never nice to lose but that was possibly the worst I’ve ever felt after a game, with it being on the opening day after a hard pre-season.
“This time it’s great to start at home. We really want to put on a good performance for the fans and get the ball rolling.”
Southend are among this season’s title favourites having made a host of summer signings.
Manager Phil Brown paid undisclosed fees this week to bring in Bolton defender Cian Bolger and Billericay striker Isaac Layne.
“They expect to be in a higher division and reached the play-offs last season,” Joyce added.
“But they’ve just made a few signings and if they put them straight in then maybe we can make the most of that. We’ve all been together for four or five weeks so hopefully we’ll have a better understanding than them.”