THE YEAR 2005 saw Accrington Stanley's dreams of a Football League return edge closer to reality.
From January to December, the Reds have made big strides and boss John Coleman has assembled a team who are two points clear at the top of the table - and nine points ahead of the final play-off place - and must be one of the hot favourites to finish in the prized top spot come April.
43 years after 'the most famous non league club in the world' was forced to resign for the Football League, it has never looked more promising for the club to re-establish themselves there.
The last year has been a battle but with more ups than downs with some stunning performances and exciting new signings which have helped the club establish themselves as the top side in the Conference.
The Reds began the year - their second in non league's top flight and first as a full-time club - in 11th place in the league but only because their New Year Roses clash with Halifax was delayed for the Sky cameras.
And they marked it by coming from behind for the first time that season with goals from Steve Jagielka and Ged Brannan. A victory over Farnborough followed and the Reds took over in third spot with high hopes of a play-off spot in what was a tight promotion battle with only leaders Barnet clear at the top.
Stanley made sure their main focus was the league after 11 brave souls left Hereford disappointed following a hastily arranged FA Trophy replay after a goalless draw at the Interlink. Mike Flynn was sent off and they lost 4-0. And it was followed by a 1-0 league loss at Tamworth - Stanley have never won at the Lambs.
In the Conference Cup, the Reds saw off York thanks to a Lee McEvilly extra-time goal and then got rid of Morecambe in the Lancashire Cup quarter-final.
February looked a horrendous one with games against most of the top league sides - but anyone who wrote the Reds off did so at their peril.
Scarborough were disposed of and then McEvilly scored a double at Exeter to seal three points followed by their emphatic 4-1 victory over Barnet in front of 1830 at the Interlink as Stanley moved into second spot.
The off-the field rumblings were of Bristol Rovers interest in Rory Prendergast but he kept turning in performances for Accrington.
It then, though, all got a bit edgey with a 1-1 draw at home to Halifax thanks to a late, late Ian Craney goal but Stanley just held onto second place while boss John Coleman picked up the Manager of the Month Award for February with 10 points out of 12.
A 2-2 draw with relegation-haunted Forest Green followed and then they stuttered at Carlisle with a 2-0 loss - although they 'swimming pool' flag was taken in good humour by everyone except the stewards who ordered it to be taken down. And the Reds slipped down to ninth place.
David Brown and Gary Roberts made their debuts against Morecambe in March which Accrington won 2-1 and then, on a freezing Tuesday night, they celebrated a 2-0 win at Canvey Island thanks to a Mullin double and Stanley were back in a play-off spot.
This reignited hopes that this was the year for the Reds but then it was cruelly snatched away.
Stanley were coasting 2-0 up at Burton before they conceded two goals from corners and stayed in fifth place.
Then it was reverse fortunes for the Reds as they were trailing 2-0 against struggling York but goals from Mullin and Roberts got Stanley at least a point.
It was goalkeeper Paul Crichton's last game before the ex-Burnley keeper - who never won over the Stanley faithful - left for pastures new.
And Coleman then admitted it was the 'lowest of the low' when, with just five league games left, Stanley lost 2-0 to fellow-promotion chasers Crawley Town and the play-off dreams began to ebb away. And, to make matters worse, Stalybridge Celtic won the Conference Cup Northern final on penalties.
However, the Reds maintained a glimmer of hope when they thrashed fellow play-off chasers Stevenage 4-1. Mullin scored his 19th goal of the season, McEvilly and Jagielka chipped in and Brown celebrated his first Stanley goal.
But, again, joy quickly became despair at Woking as, despite drawing 1-1 until the final minute, the Cards scored a controversial last gasp goal from a corner which saw Stanley's promotion hopes all but die.
They finally disappeared in the penultimate game of the campaign with a 3-3 home draw with Aldershot and the season petered out with a forgettable goalless draw at play-off contenders Hereford. The Reds finished in 10th spot but had more points than the previous season and stayed in play-off contention for longer.
Stanley, however, did pick up some silverware - the Lancashire Trophy after they saw off Burscough in a two-legged affair.
Summer was busy - Prendergast joined Blackpool and McEvilly left for Wrexham, both for fees, and Stanley signed Hereford's highly-rated defender Andy Tretton.
The pre-season saw Coleman take his time on choosing players before settling for keeper Stuart Jones, ex-Burnley winger Matt O'Neill, defenders Michael Welch, Danny Ventre and Leam Richardson, midfielder Anthony Barry and young striker Andy Mangan.
Stanley got off to a winning start against Canvey with Brown the goal hero. This was followed up with a 1-0 lucky victory over Altrincham with a Welch header the decider.
Then became a goalkeeper merry-go-round as Jones, who had been so dominating in both games, retired with an ankle injury. Alcock was prepared to step in until he broke his arm in a reserve game just days before.
In came Darlington keeper Bertrand Bossu and ex-Liverpool goalie Paul Harrison but Bossu had a nightmare in his first game at Cambridge and Stanley lost 3-1. Bossu and Harrison went and in came Craig Gallagher, from Everton, but he was injured just before the Exeter game and so Coleman hastily arranged for teenage Charlton goalie Darren Randolph to make his debut while they also snapped up 40-year-old veteran Andy Dibble.
Stanley lost 2-1 after Mullin missed a penalty although he made up for it by scoring a goal but Exeter maintained their 100 per cent record at the top.
It seemed the inconsistent Stanley of last season had returned after they cruised into a 2-0 lead at Scarborough in August only for Boro to hit back and Stanley dropped down to 12th with Coleman fuming.
But that was really the end of any league doom and gloom for the year.
Accy overcame Woking in their next game - with Craney and Mullin still claiming the same goal - but all the talk was of the signing of Benin international Rommy Boco.
They then saw off Burton with Brown and Mangan on target while a 4-2 win over Crawley got some measure of revenge for last season and it was three wins on the trot.
Jagielka, Brown and Roberts got the better of struggling Aldershot - but the Reds were still conceding too many goals for Coleman's liking - before Dagenham continued to be a happy hunting ground with a 2-1 victory and Stanley moved up to third place.
There was agony at Morecambe when Stanley lost 3-2 after battling with ten men following the third minute sending off of Chris Butler and they then drew 1-1 with bogey team Gravesend.
However, the Reds were soon in joint top spot following a rousing 2-1 win over Hereford but they dropped again when Stevenage, despite being down to ten men, celebrated a 3-1 win over Stanley.
Coleman's men then lost on penalties in the LDV Vans Trophy at Rotherham but what followed was the lowest point of the season so far - the FA Cup.
The Reds faced Conference North strugglers Worcester and a 1-1 draw on Saturday meant they had to make a hasty trip to Andy Preece's side on Monday. It was all going well with Welch and Roberts putting Stanley 2-0 up in 15 minutes.
But Worcester's revival and an 88th minute winner led to Coleman keeping his players locked in the dressing room long after the final whistle.
However, in true Stanley fashion, they put it behind them to celebrate a 2-1 win over York which was followed by the Sky televised win at Grays which halted the table toppers 15 game unbeaten run and brought Roberts to the nation's attention with his tricks which led up to the first goal.
Mangan was hero and villain as he made the winning goal for Jagielka before he was given his marching orders - but all that was forgotten in the euphoria of the win and the rest of the league certainly knew the Reds meant business.
The win spurred Stanley on as they then proved unbeatable, enjoying a run of eight wins on the trot - including the Lancashire Cup - and the defence, which the boss had complained about earlier in the season, became scrooge-like with no goals in six games.
Bogey team Forest Green were seen off on a cold, Friday night while Jamie Speare's return to the Interlink with Southport was not enjoyable for the former Reds keeper as his side lost 4-0.
Charlton goalie Randolph left - but his team-mate Rob Elliot stepped in and proved just as safe. Altrincham were seen off in the league and FA Trophy and Kidderminster also suffered at the hands of Stanley's flowing football and the Reds opened up a four point gap at the top.
Halifax provided tough opposition on Boxing Day but the tricky Boco continued his impressive displayswith a goal while a last gasp free kick by Roberts took Stanley's run to seven league games unbeaten.
And more top performances coupled with a few slices of luck could be the recipe which sees Stanley make the chairman's dream of a Football League return a reality in April.