Michael Bostwick’s suspension leaves Danny Cowley with an interesting selection problem ahead of the trip to Cheltenham on Saturday.
We’ve seen Bozzie alongside Alex Woodyard in midfield this season, both offering lots of protection to the back four, resulting in some solid performances. Tuesday night was a classic example of the current Lincoln City side, organised off the ball and unlikely to concede a goal. However, with the former Stevenage man suspended for the trip down the M5, our options are somewhat limited. It could be that in order to simply put eleven men on the field, we later the focus from defence to attack.
Who is in line to replace Bostwick? The obvious call is for Billy Knott to play in central midfield along with Alex, and to bring in another centre forward, possibly Palmer, to partner Matt Green. The flanks stay the same, Arnold and Ginnelly, but the overall feel of the side is immediately changed. Billy Knott isn’t the same type of midfielder as Bozzie, you won’t see him sat in the hole mopping up the loose balls. He’s the type of player to get his head up and look forward.
We do know though that Billy is preferred in the number ten role which may clear the way for Elliott Whitehouse to come into the midfield. Elliott has been unfortunate this season, with all the chopping and changing up front he hasn’t really had a stab at the first team. He played up front for England C team, grabbed a goal, but is not deemed suitable to play the same role at City. His cameo on Tuesday night was impressive, surely his time must come soon?
I’ve heard lots of good things about Elliott’s attitude and over demeanour around the club. He’s a grounded lad, willing to work hard to prove what he can do and never down when he isn’t selected. I’m told he trains with the same intensity and ferocity that he plays, that isn’t always the case with players. I guess when you’re trying to win your place back in the team you’ll do anything you need to, but with Elliott there is no lower gear, it is (I’m told) all or nothing. Think Jack Muldoon in a different position and (dare I say it) a little more effective.
There will be calls for Elliott to be included, but similarly there are plenty of options available that do not bring the former Sheffield United man into the side. Danny is open to moving away from 4-4-2 if possible, but our squad and the ‘don’t get beat’ attitude we have favours the basic formation. With an injury to Harry Anderson and the loss of Bostwick we might have to be a little more radical though. Anyone for 5-3-2?
Keith really made five at the back work during his spell and if Danny wants to keep the numbers in front of Vickers constant he may opt to bring another defender in instead of a midfielder. Dickie, Waterfall and Raggett across the back, Neal Eardley and any one from Sam Habergham or Sean Long making up a back five, with emphasis on the full backs getting forward. Drop Alex in midfield along with Billy Knott on his left and perhaps Nathan on his right, with two up top, inevitably Green and Palmer. It would be very much a makeshift line up, but it is a possibility. The main weakness there is the midfield, Nathan is incredibly attacking and let’s be honest, Danny loves a wide player. Would he be open to not actually starting with any? Would he be so adventurous as to play Billy with Matt Green up front and have Josh and Nathan playing either side of Alex?
I wouldn’t be surprised to see something akin to a 4-5-1 with two attacking midfielders both with instructions to drop back and cover when needed. It would see Alex dropping back in front of the defence and then two players ahead of him, possible Elliott and Billy Knott. We’d have the wide players looking to tuck in and offer the lone striker, inevitably Matt Green, the support he desperately needs. I ‘get’ Matt Green, all this talk of ‘he’s a striker not doing what he needs to’ doesn’t really wash with me. Has he genuinely had a bad game since the goal drought started? No, not once. Strikers are not just there to score goals, everything else about Matt’s play is excellent, his movement, ball retention and work rate. Trust me, the goals will come, but I suspect they’ll come when we find a partner that works with him. I like the look of Green most when Matt Rhead is flicking the balls on for him, if we can find a way to compensate for Matt’s limited mobility we’d be laughing.
I might have been critical of Maguire-Drew on here but it is only because he can be so much better than he’s shown so far and if he is a confidence player then maybe that wicked corner for the goal on Tuesday is the catalyst he needs.
I’m also interested to see if the assist on Tuesday fires Jordan Maguire-Drew on to achieve his potential. He hasn’t had a great start to the season, but his delivery is a different class when he gets it right. He’s a left-footer playing on the right, is that causing him problems? Or are we hoping he’ll be cutting inside and unleashing hell? I might have been critical of him on here but it is only because he can be so much better than he’s shown so far and if he is a confidence player then maybe that wicked corner for the goal is the catalyst he needs. If he does start performing to the levels he did last season with Dagenham then we’ll be much better for it.
Cheltenham have lost three of the last four games, although one was a Football League Trophy match with Forest Green which hardly counts. Their one win, rather ironically, came against Swindon Town. They lost 3-2 at home to Grimsby on Tuesday night and shipped three away at Port Vale on Saturday. Winning is an easy habit to get into, but losing is also and Cheltenham currently are in the habit of losing. Does that mean that a switch to a more attacking emphasis might just produce another three points for City? Cheltenham are conceding goals too, although a 3-0 win against Mansfield at the end of September demonstrates they’ll be no pushover.
Whatever line-up we go with, rest assured we’ll be competitive, robust and hard-working. We go to Cheltenham as slight favourites in most people’s eyes, the football world are beginning to look at our run and call us out as dark horses. It was inevitable that would happen, apparently taking a small amount of time to acclimatise before finding our feet. It’s a ‘paint by numbers’ form of punditry really, ignoring the complexities of a league season and summarising them in the easiest way possible. I’m not sure we needed to find our feet too much, no more than anyone else in this league. Luton, play-off semi-finalists last season, didn’t start well, were they finding their feet in a new league? No, new players were blending and gelling, just like at City. This team was always equipped for League Two, we were never going to storm it but I didn’t for one second think we’d be in the bottom six or seven at any point.
What we as fans must be aware of is managing our own expectations. Yes, with a few extra bodies and a little bit of luck we’re top seven material, no doubt. However, that won’t come easy nor is it a given. We will lose games and we must remain on board at all times. I don’t like the look of Saturday’s game, Bozzie has been a real asset so far and without him I feel we’re going to concede more chances. Cheltenham might not be in great form but they score goals, eight in their last five games. The last time they failed to score in a game was 12th September, so they’re no slouches in front of goal. If we come away with no points it is vitally important to keep some perspective. There’s no prizes for being top seven in the middle of October, so there’s no need to get upset if we remain tucked in just outside the front-runners. We’ve got 3/4 of a squad at present and an emerging back-room set-up that won’t fully take shape for several months. If we’re in 9th now, just imagine what we can achieve when everything falls into place.
Believe, but don’t expect.