Those three points against Stevenage on Friday night have gone a long way towards securing our first ever trip to the play-offs. Four more points will make it mathematically certain, one more win seems like it will be enough, and we could even get away with failing to pick up another point, were Mansfield to fail to win either of their remaining games. It is most definitely in our hands.
While this upcoming game against Lincoln isn’t the must-win game against a play-off rival that it looked like being a few weeks ago, we’re not a stage of the season yet for either team where we might consider playing out a tactical draw. A point in this game for either side, coupled with a loss on Saturday, is likely to lead to a nervy final day. I don’t think either manager will want to risk that – although I’m not sure there will be too big an effort from either side to win the game if it’s level in the final 10 minutes.
This is a chance for us to build some momentum heading into the play-offs (touch wood), Mark Robins has changed the tactics up and it has brought back-to-back wins but this game will be a test of whether those wins have come because of or in spite of the switch in systems. Bringing Jordan Shipley into the side for Bayliss allowed Robins to play a more orthodox midfield three which certainly brought the best out of Liam Kelly as more of a marauding midfield presence than we’re accustomed to and saw us control possession for large portions of the game.
However, something doesn’t sit quite right for me in having to play two strikers on either wing. The biggest issue is that defensively, it leaves a huge gap in front of our full-back for the opposition to exploit. Secondly though, it leaves us with a dearth of creative players in the side, players who might otherwise be creating chances for McNulty, Ponticelli or Clarke-Harris.
As for the team selection for this game, it’s unlikely that Mark Robins will rock the boat too much. Despite this being a midweek game, this is certainly the most important of the two we’ll play this week, and we’ve had an extra day’s rest than our opponents. The only possible change that I can foresee is Tom Bayliss returning to the side for Jordan Shipley, based on the assumption that he was rested on Friday with this game in mind, rather than simply dropped from the team.
Last Time We Met
With this game having originally been pencilled-in during the height of the Beast From The East – called off at around 10am on the day of the game, you have to go back to November for our last clash with Lincoln City.
That trip to Sincil Bank was a rare occurrence for us, a game that we won after falling behind. A dismal first-half performance from the Sky Blues saw Lincoln take a deserved lead via man mountain Matt Rhead. However, Duckens Nazon and Jodi Jones took the second-half by the scruff of the neck and dragged us to victory. First, Jones fired an audacious effort from range and a narrow angle to level the scores up, before Nazon fired home a rebounded Jones effort to put us ahead.
How Are They Doing?
Lincoln have had a strong season back in the Football League and should really have nailed down a play-off place already, but have been consistently undermined this season by their lack of a reliable goalscorer. Their run to the Checkatrade Trophy final – which they won – has also hamstrung their past couple of months, leading to long runs of Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday weeks.
Their top-scorer this season is Matt Green – one of the umpteen strikers Mark Robins had been chasing over the summer – a very hard-working player with a good turn of pace and a physical presence too, Green isn’t the most clinical of finishers and is currently being deployed on the wing. Lincoln’s only other striker options are Ollie Palmer and Matt Rhead, who are both very similar bulking target-men centre-forwards lacking in mobility.
In wide areas, Cowley generally likes to play hard-working and direct players who look to put crosses into the box, although a switch to a 4-3-3 system has meant less room for that type of wide player. Harry Anderson is their best winger and has six goals and four assists to his name this season, but typically blows hot and cold. Ipswich loanee Danny Rowe impressed initially after arriving in January but hasn’t been on top form since, while ex-Stevenage star Tom Pett offers more of technical option out wide.
Lincoln’s midfield three of Alex Woodyard, Lee Frecklington and Elliott Whitehouse have gelled together strongly over the past month or so and give Lincoln a rock-solid core in the centre of the pitch – again, through work-rate. Woodyard is one of those midfielders that likes to keep things simple on the ball but does excellent work off it and looks destined to play at a higher level. The experienced Lee Frecklington has scored some important goals since returning to the club in January, while ex-Nuneaton star Elliott Whitehouse has finally come to the fore after taking time to adapt since signing for the club in October 2016, scoring the winning goal against Shrewsbury in the Checkatrade Trophy final.
In defence, Lincoln will be able to call upon Michael Bostwick, whose suspension for a soft red card was overturned this morning. Bostwick is an important player for Lincoln, not only as someone who clearly should be playing at a higher level but also in the character and leadership he offers.
Additionally, right-back Neal Eardley has been a big player for Lincoln this season. The experienced ex-Blackpool and Birmingham man was brought in on a short-term contract over the summer due to his recent injury issues, but he’s stayed fit all season and proven to be a shrewd signing, offering energy going forward and defensive sturdiness at right-back.
As mentioned earlier in the article, this isn’t exactly a do-or-die game for either team but it is one that I think both managers will be looking to win – is that’s not a completely trite insight. Neither team will want to be playing under pressure in their remaining fixtures and this is an opportunity to strike a bit of a blow against a team we could be playing either twice more, or at Wembley.
These are two even sides with similar approaches to the game, Lincoln are slightly more physical, we’re slightly more explosive. I can see this being a 1-1 draw.