John Coleman feels like his side are real promotion candidates this season – and he says there is an air of 2017/18 about the squad.
That season the Reds defied the odds by clinching the League Two title and Coleman says he can feel a similar atmosphere around the Wham Stadium.
Stanley travel to fellow promotion candidates Doncaster Rovers on Boxing Day – they currently sit in fourth place on 33 points, three points ahead of the Reds but Coleman’s men have two games in hand.
“It’s a similar feeling to 2018, you have got to get on runs and when them runs come to an end you have got to dust yourselves down and go again,” said the Reds boss.
“Obviously we had the Wigan debacle, as I would call it, but we have come back a little bit stronger since then but you have got to keep driving forward.
“We are not sitting back on our laurels, we are always trying to progress and you have got players who are egging each other on and geeing each other up and I think they are smelling this could be a special year.”
Stanley drew with in-form Blackpool on Saturday and Coleman says that game told him a lot about his team.
“I think what the players learned from that is that we are very much in the hunt. People have played us down this season, ourselves included, but we looked like promotion candidates on Saturday, against a very good Blackpool team who have been in excellent form and we pushed them all the way.
“I think we were the better team. When I have watched the video again we really should have won the game, we had lots of possession, didn’t give up too many chances and had lots of shots ourselves.
“We didn’t hit the target as much as I would have liked but we controlled most of the game and if we can carry on playing like that and showing the energy and appetite we showed who knows where it can take us.”
In his look at Stanley’s 16 games this season, he has been pleased with what he has seen so far, the 4-3 loss at Wigan aside.
“We have been defending better this season, there is no getting away from that fact, and that’s a cornerstone to build on.
“We want to score more goals and we are always striving to play better.
“The things that we spoke to the players about after the Wigan defeat they took on board – they have passed the ball better, we have used the space on the pitch better, been tactically a little bit better from set plays and overall we have improved from the Wigan game which we had to do and we are always trying to build on that.
“We have players who are chomping at the bit to play games which is always a good sign.”
But he won’t be underestimating Doncaster, who could have gone top on Tuesday but lost to Shrewsbury.
“I went to watch Doncaster midweek and they are a good side but we know we are a good side and our plan is to formulate a strategy to beat them and I am sure they are doing the same with us.
“We have to play to the best of our ability all the while and if we do that we are a match for anyone. The pleasing thing is we had a friendly for the 23s and the fringe players on Monday and they came through well and everyone is itching to play and do well and when you get that in the squad it’s good.
“All the players are keen for the team to do well, even the ones who aren’t playing, and they are keen to get into the squad and that’s the type of attitude you have got to try and develop at the club.”
It’s a busy time for the Reds who have a run of games against teams in the top half of the table with Sunderland on 29th December, leaders Portsmouth on 2nd January 2021 and seventh placed Charlton on Friday 8th January, live on Sky.
“Starting with the Blackpool game, we have a smashing run of fixtures against all the teams in the top 10 who are all playing well and these are the game you want to test yourselves.
“If someone had said 20 years ago we would have been playing Doncaster on Boxing Day you would have bit your hand off. We believe we are here on merit and we believe we can challenge on merit.
“We still think we are improving, we know we have got to improve and we are trying to improve.”
Meanwhile he says there will be at least one addition to his squad in January.
“I think you can always strengthen your squad and we are going to try and make at least one signing and hopefully a couple more.”
The full pre-match interview video with John Coleman is available to watch on the club's official YouTube channel, CLICK HERE to find out more!