Tomorrow sees the resumption of football for Lincoln City after a ten-day break, although it feels more like ten months. The excellent 3-1 win against Port Vale capped off a tough week for the Imps and tomorrow is the first chance to capitalise on that.
Before you start, there’s a YouTube video at the bottom of the blog. May I suggest playing the tune whilst reading the blog? It has been going around in my head ever since Matt’s opener against Port Vale and makes a perfect accompaniment to
There are pros and cons to not being in action, many feel by winning and then having a break the negativity that had begun to sprout after Colchester and Coventry has dissipated somewhat. The angst over our perceived inadequate summer has also subsided, Matt Green’s goal helping to quell if not quash the mutterings of discontent. Indeed, even vocal critics of the club on social media are finding it in themselves to feature tomorrow night as guests. Who would ever have thunk it?
Usually these nondescript cup games bring a raft of changes for City, but having a ten-day break does add some mystery to Danny’s selection. The lure of Wembley might be a factor in keeping bums on seats too, so will our erudite manager once again surprise many of us with his selections. Here, as I usually do, I attempt to second guess his team selection from the comfort of my keyboard, hopefully providing some insight into what may or may not happen.
Formation: We know from experience Danny likes to play a 4-2-3-1 although he does feel we (proper media and indie media) tend to get too hung up on formations. What difference is there between a flat 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1 if all your number ten has to do is drop deeper pushing the central midfielders back ten yards? How often during a game of football does a formation change fluidly, not even by the managers doing?
That said the player selection will dictate whether a formation is seen as a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1, specifically the number ten. If it is Matt Rhead, or Matt Green with Ollie Palmer ahead of him then it’s a 4-4-2. If we see Elliott Whitehouse of Billy Knott in the role, its a 4-2-3-1. We’ll come to that further on in the analysis.
Thus far in the competition Paul Farman has played twice, Mansfield and Everton, with Vickers coming in once. Interestingly Farman played at Mansfield when it seemed Vickers would appear as he’d been the ‘reserve’, similarly Vickers played against County when it was thought Farman would play. We’re told in both instance the other was injured.
Tomorrow I’d be surprised if Farms played. I think Danny will want to play many of his first team to shake off any match rustiness as well as giving us the best chance of proceeding to the next round. Vickers is proving to be a superb acquisition and, as shown last season, a keeper can be virtually ever-present bar the odd knock or strain. It’s unlikely Vickers has a knock or strain and I suspect he’ll be involved tomorrow night.
We have to select two from three, Sean Long has already played all three games and I suspect he’s a dead cert to start tomorrow. Sam Habergham has only just recovered to full fitness, he started the Mansfield game but came off for Eardley after 65 minutes. Eardley started the Notts County game but Sam was injured and unavailable.
I think we’ll start with Sam and Sean at left back and right back respectively. The options Neal Eardley gives us makes him incredibly valuable in the league and I suspect he’ll be kept back for that. This choice is purely based on the fact we have three players where Danny would probably like four, but Eardley is his ‘Phil Neville’ and vital to our league success. If you need further proof of this, Neal Eardley has started 20 league games this season, Sam and Sean have started the same amount between them.
Sam played really well against Port Vale, bombing on down the line as he did for much of last season. He’s been on the fringes this campaign, the form of Sean Long coupled with his injury battle left his third in the pecking order for a while, but Sam is a classy player. Having him and Sean on the pitch is essentially pitting them against each other for a starting place on Saturday with Neal taking the other’s spot. Don’t bet against Sam or Sean getting an assist tomorrow night either, Sean has two in the competition already.
Again, it’s going to be two from three here. Port Vale saw Luke Waterfall return to the starting line up alongside Sean Raggett, the same pairing that started our last FLT Trophy game against Notts County. I think it’s a safe bet to suggest Luke will also start tomorrow night as he’s started all three games in the competition.
The smart money would be on Rob Dickie as his partner for a number of reasons. Dickie has started two of the three matches in the Trophy this season and, having missed out on Port Vale, he needs to stake a claim for a starting place on Saturday. Luke and Rob have vied for the space next to Sean or the duration of the season so far and are likely to do so again tomorrow. Danny may also have one eye on the January window as it looms large, Sean is due back at Norwich and rumours suggest he’ll definitely be back there for the New Year’s Day trip to Luton. This match might be the last chance Danny gets to see Luke and Rob together, without dropping Sean, before the changing of the guard at the start of 2018.
As I said in the tactics bit above, much depends on the formation Danny decides to use. I think he’ll most likely look to play either Billy or Elliott in midfield to give us a diamond 4-4-2 formation, thus meaning he’ll rotate Michael Bostwick and Alex Woodyard. Expect him to start with one and introduce the other at half time, assuming both are fit. Which starts first is a lottery, perhaps Bozzie to ensure a tight first half then Alex with his industry to tire them out in the second.
Up ahead of them I’m going to go for Billy Knott, but he’s surely one of the players that needs a big performance soon. I’m gutted for Billy, he’s such a gifted player but we’ve seen little of it this season. He’s had more chances than Elliott but something tells me he is likely to get more in the future. I’m sure Danny doesn’t have his favourites, but Elliott is a more workman-like when playing in midfield whilst Billy has that special something. If only he’d let us see it once in a while. That said, Billy did get an assist against Mansfield and so has a bit of form in the competition.
One thing is for certain, Danny will play two out wide. With no Jordan Maguire-Drew we have four to choose from, three if you consider it likely that Harry Anderson will be saved for a league game, which I do. Also, if you look to previous appearances as an indication of who will play, rule out Nathan Arnold. He has been an unused sub in all three of our Checkatrade Trophy games so far this season. Does that mean he is less likely to play tomorrow? No, not given that he missed the Port Vale game. The case of Nathan Arnold is a strange one, for me he should be first-choice on the flank with Harry on the opposite side, but he’s been in and out of the team. If (and I’m not saying it is) he’s been struggling a bit for fitness then a match like tomorrow will be a no-go.
So, will it be Josh and Cameron Stewart by default? Josh had a rough ride on the back of his first-half display against Port Vale and overall he hasn’t enjoyed the sparkling form many expected after his strong start to the season. He’s a confidence player and at present he looks to lack that, I haven’t seen him motor past a full back for a couple of weeks now. That used to be his trademark, that blistering turn of pace and element of surprise. I’m pretty certain he’ll start tomorrow and get a chance to build on his good second half showing against Vale.
As for Cameron Stewart, he’s been out of the game for a while and at the moment, that shows. He needs games under his belt if he is to add value in the final six months of the season and a FLT game against Accrington looks like the perfect chance to do that. His only start came in the match against Notts County and I firmly expect he’ll get to add to that tomorrow night.
Given that I feel Danny will go with two in midfield, that also means two playing up top. Matt Rhead and Matt Green? Well, that is the ‘dream team’ for many, the most effective pairing we’ve managed to find in our threadbare squad, but the Checkatrade Trophy is made for Ollie Palmer too. I’ve been really critical of Ollie, something I do regret a little. He’s not my cup of tea, he’s a big man who can’t head and is too single-minded with the ball at his feet. However, he does have qualities which perhaps, just perhaps, I’ve been too quick to gloss over. He is a unit but he’s not bad with his feet and he scares defenders by virtue of his unusual arrangement of attributes. Despite me feeling (strongly) Rheady and Matt Green are out front pairing, I think Palmer will start tomorrow.
If he does that means one of those two has to partner him. It’s a catch-22 for Danny, he’ll want both fresh and raring to go in the league on Saturday at Yeovil, especially as Yeovil like conceding goals. That game is set up for Matt Green to register again and truly kick-start his season. That said, can Matt Rhead and Ollie Palmer operate effectively enough together to take down Stanley?
There is one more option, one that switches us back to a 4-2-3-1 of sorts. What if Billy played a slightly more holding role alongside one of the two defensive midfielders we had, and Elliott pushed into the forward position? Or, what if Elliott played as a traditional centre forward, just behind Ollie looking to use craft and guile to feed him rather than the route one we usually find effective? That way, Danny gets to see both Billy and Elliott again before the transfer window opens, just a final chance to assess his options there before the inevitable arrival of another attacking midfield player. I’m not going to call this one.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading that, the harsh truth is probably all of it is going to be blown out of the water. Having not played for ten days Danny might just bang the whole first team out there, the same eleven that turned over Port Vale looking to get the job done and haul Wembley one match closer. I’ve based much of my thoughts on his ‘Lincoln Lizard’ strategy of last season but we were fighting on three fronts come January back then, now it is just two. Maybe, just maybe, he can afford to stick the full first team out there and look to blow the Accrington second string away. After all, how would it look if promotion-chasing Accrington came here with Billy Kee and Kayden Jackson up front and we’d gone with the reserves and fringe players? The doubters would be out in their droves citing a lack of ambition. If we went full first team and they bring the stiffs, Danny leave himself open for to criticism for taking a crap trophy too seriously and risking key players ahead of a busy league schedule.
Danny did say in his pre-match interview that he’ll ‘look to move the team around’ which was unlike Danny. He doesn’t usually say what his plans are, is he throwing a red herring out there to put John Coleman off the scent? Who’d be a Football League manager eh? I’m going to leave you today with a YouTube video, the song that would have passed through my head immediately after scoring against Port Vale, had I been Matt Green.