(Picture: Action Images)
By John Lyons
WEST Ham have looked a bit shaky in their new London Stadium home – and Accrington Stanley boss John Coleman plans to give them another headache on Wednesday night.
Stanley travel south for the EFL Cup third round tie in optimistic mood. They have, after all, already taken two decent scalps in the competition.
For starters, the Lancashire side beat League One Bradford City, finalists in 2013, 11-10 on penalties in the first round after a 0-0 draw.
Then came a superb 1-0 last-gasp extra-time derby victory against Premier League Burnley at the Wham Stadium in round two.
That earned the League Two side their chance against another top-flight team in Slaven Bilic’s Hammers – and they’re not planning to make the trip to the capital just a sightseeing tour.
“It’s the first domestic cup game at the stadium and it’s something for us to be proud of,” said Coleman.
“We always lift our game when we play against big teams in big stadiums and I always believe every time I go out with a team that we can win – or I woudn’t bother.
“I have never gone out to draw or contain any team. Plenty of teams have done that to us, but I have always gone out to win. If we get a tonking, so be it – you have to be prepared to play your own way and the players know the style of play I want.”
As for whether he would prefer to play against West Ham stars like Dimitri Payet or their second string, Coleman plumps for the former.
“It would give us an indication of where our players need to get to,” he said. “The difference I have seen from top level players is how super-fit they are and that is something we can aspire to.
“Slaven Bilic won’t have come up against a team from our level too often and we will surprise them with our style of football. There is a lot of direct football in League Two, but there are four or five teams that buck that trend. We are one of them.
“They will be surprised how we approach the game.
“Playing against a Premier League team could give my players a bit more time on the ball to express themselves.”
While Stanley have enjoyed their EFL Cup nights, their league form has been patchy.
However, Coleman insists it’s not a hangover from last season when they agonisingly missed out on promotion to League One.
“We lost a lot of that squad and it’s been a case of bedding new players in,” he explained. “There is more to come from us and I know this team will get better.
“We brought in good players this summer and, when they get to know each other, I can only see us improving. We want to be challenging for promotion, without a doubt.
“If we were just aiming for survival, I would pack in, though our budget might say we should be doing that. You shouldn’t be in the league if success is just staying up.”
As for whether he had personally found it difficult to get over last season’s disappointment, the 53-year-old smiled: “Yesterday, I went 90 seconds without thinking about it, so I guess I’m over it.
“It was a body blow, sickening. We set out to get 85 points and we did it. We were unfortunate not to win the last game – we hit the woodwork a few times – and other teams in contention got their results.
“People say it’s swings and roundabouts with decisions, but the one against AFC Wimbledon (when Billy Kee’s ‘goal’ was disallowed as referee Trevor Kettle blew for half-time with the ball goal-bound) only happened to us.
“That cost us two points, and things like that are frustrating. I was so pleased with the way we played last season, but we didn’t get the promotion I felt we deserved.”
Today is the second anniversary of Coleman returning to Stanley for the second time as manager and, for all the setbacks, he’s loving life with the club, just as much as when he led them into the Football League first time around.
“You are always trying to improve as a person and in your job,” he said. “You have to use everything as a learning curve and this time around I’m better equipped.
“It’s been a whirlwind two years, but there have been far more highs than lows and that’s all you can hope for.”
*This article originally featured in The FLP on Sunday September 18th.