City may go into tomorrow’s game with a one-goal disadvantage, but we have never been as close to a Wembley appearance. With the game played on home turf there is an advantage of sorts to exploit, and we’re far from out of the tie.
Danny Cowley has played up the importance of the fans, and whilst it may seem like the right thing to say, I believe that the 7,500 odd home fans will have a big part to play in the final outcome. This season we have already seen the difference the fans can make, never more so than the wall of noise that welcomed Tranmere back in December.
The team selection will be interesting, and it is that point I’d like to ponder on for a moment. The big question is whether the side will be made up of the ‘Lincoln Lizards’ team that has brought us within one game of Wembley, or whether he will put his faith in the ‘old guard’ that have fired us to the top of the National League.
If Danny were one for sentiment I suspect we’d see the unfamiliar line-up rolled out, especially as we have Boreham Wood and the small matter of FGR at home in the coming eight days. Adam Marriott’s run out at Arsenal perhaps had an air of emotion about it, but I don’t think DC will risk the tie by playing a ‘weakened’ squad. He’s a winner, Nicky is a winner and tomorrow they are going to want to secure another piece of history. I’m not saying they need to play a full first eleven, but we will need one or two of the main faces on the pitch from the start.
I suspect in goal will be Paul Farman, if he shakes off the injury that forced him out of the first leg. Ross Etheridge has come in for some criticism for his role in the two goals, and I would bet my house on Farman being reinstated if he is fit. The keeper is one position that doesn’t suffer from fatigue as much as the outfield ten, and there seems little reason to stick with the youngster from Doncaster if we have our first choice available. One of my main concerns is with our tactic of knocking the ball back to the keeper. It has been effective over a long period of time, but Etheridge showed his kicking is really one-footed, meaning more thought has to go into hurried balls back. I ear that tactic will lead to us conceding at some point soon, and I’d hate for the young lad to be the victim and become the focus for short sighted vitriol.
Across the back I think we’ll see Bradley Wood and Sean Raggett from the usual starters, with Riccardo Calder in at left back and Callum Howe at centre half. Callum deserves another run out, and although I suspect we’ll revert to Waterfall and Raggett for the next two league games, I think he will keep his place for the cup run. Howe is still arguably one of the best central defenders at this level, and of the three he is perhaps the most able footballer. He won the Jimmy Bullard challenge ahead of the Burnley game, and although he isn’t as dominant in the air as either of his peers, he can play a bit with the ball at his feet. His presence wouldn’t weaken the side too much.
I think Calder will play purely because I think Sam Habergham will be required fully fit for the next two matches. Make no mistake, Boreham Wood and Forest Green are two games that will define our league season, and ‘Steady Seven Sam’ will be crucial to winning those two matches. Calder hasn’t been brought in to sit on the bench, and there are no smaller games to break him in gently.
I think we’ll recall Alex Woodyard in midfield. Aiden Connolly made a real difference when he came on in the week, and I think Alex would have helped nullify that far more efficiently that any of our other midfield players. If we want to win the game (which we do) then we will need our very best players to be around the squad. York do like to try to bypass the midfield if possible, but we prefer to get the ball down and play. He’ll need to be patrolling in front of the back four to pick up the scraps and create something on the floor for us.
I’d suspect Elliot Whitehouse will be his midfield partner, again partly because Alan Power will be needed in the next two games, but also because he is more in tune to our ‘method’ than Billy Knott. I know Knott is a good footballer, but at the moment I haven’t seen enough from him to suggest he is a potential match winner. I can also imagine we’ll look to breach York’s defence from out wide and by getting in behind, and for me Elliot will compliment that far better.
Out wide I think we’ll see Arnold and Ginnelly, although Joe Ward might get a sniff as well. Our pace terrified York in the first half on Tuesday, Ginnelly in particular has looked dangerous in almost all the games he has played. We have an embarrassment of riches at our disposal from the flanks, and that is where we can find some real joy tomorrow. We need to score early to lift the crowd and panic York, and we won’t do that by engaging in an all-out battle. Pace is our not-so secret weapon and it’s where York are weakest defensively.
Although I fear the diagonal ball we favour won’t be effective tomorrow I still think Rheady will start up front. He offers much more than a target to aim at, if he drops deep he can collect the ball and distribute it cleverly. I expect to see him doing that where he can, but also offering the physical presence we lacked in the opening exchanges of the second half at Bootham Crescent. We know York will look to lump it towards Oliver and Parkin, and we will need the Rhead outlet at times when the only option for the defender is a hurried clearance. If that ball can be held up for a moment it will give us the chance to utilise the pace on the overlap.
I fully expect Lee Angol to partner Rheady, and I expect that to be our favoured option over the coming weeks. One will miss out against Boreham Wood I suspect, Jonny Margetts will almost certainly feature in that game. After Margetts turned out for the U21 side I don’t think he’ll figure much tomorrow. I may be wrong, but Angol offers both height and of course blistering pace, and those qualities will be needed in abundance. Angol also has an arrogant swagger to his game that I think concerns opposition defences, and he’s bang in form with four in two games. I wouldn’t bet against him bagging one in the first half to set up an exciting and tense finale to the tie.
York won’t be a pushover though. They are beginning to look like a decent mid table side, hard to beat and growing in confidence. I expect Hamza Bencherif will be about sick of playing against Lincoln though, this will be his fifth appearance against us in just sixth months. He’ll be crucial to their game plan, as will Public Enemy Number One, Sean Newton. We know of Newts quality on the ball, and if he can get into space and provide ammunition for the two big men then we’ll have a big task on our hands at the other end of the pitch.
There is no doubt it is a massive day for Lincoln City, bigger possibly than last weekend but not quite as important as next weekend. A visit to Wembley would be a treat though, and it is no less than the side deserve after a sterling eight months. Whether the league is more important or not is completely irrelevant, especially for a pair of born winners like Danny and Nicky. They won’t be thinking about Boreham Wood or FGR when they wake up tomorrow, they’ll be thinking about visiting the now-iconic arch of Wembley as managers. They’ve ben there as West Ham fans, and it is every kids dream to play or manage at Wembley. DC and NC may be grown up, but the child in all of us still lurks in their somewhere, and I guarantee they’ll be doing everything in their power to ensure they get (yet another) special day out in the capital.
As for the home fans, we can play out part too. We can help earn ourselves another big day out by joining in with the 617 squadron and singing until our throats are dry and our ears are bleeding. We have our role to play, we’ve been playing it all season. Other managers have spoken of how wonderful our fans have been at times, but it’s always had a lack of sincerity. Managers have to say fans are different class, but this season we have been and DC is right to say it. Whichever eleven players he selects tomorrow, it might just be the twelfth man, the one that is always out there fighting for the team, that gives us the real edge.