City face a fourth game in eleven days tomorrow evening with the visit of Gary Johnson’s Cheltenham Town. The visitors will be buoyed by a fine 5-1 win against Port Vale at the weekend and hunting more points as they look to mount a late (ish) challenge for a top seven spot.
Cheltenham are 16th, 13 points adrift of City and seemingly destined for nothing more than mid-table obscurity. That said, their win this past weekend shows they’re a formidable opponent on their day. We lost 1-0 there earlier in the season and they’ll be hoping to be the first team to do a league double over Danny Cowley since Barrow last season.
They’ve got good players, although you know that is going to be the case. Danny will tell you in his press conference later how they’ve got good strikers who are lethal in front of goal. He may even pay direct tribute to former Greenwich striker Mo Eisa, not to be confused with his brother Abu Eisa who recently signed for Shrewsbury.
Mo Eisa has 15 goals from 31 starts and looks every inch the ’20 goal’ striker which many fans crave at Sincil Bank. He’s had 97 shots at goal for the Robins, more than double any other player in their squad, with 46 on target, more than treble anyone else in their squad. Whilst we must keep him quiet, midfielder Harry Pell is another danger man, he’s had 44 shots from midfield. Pell is also the midfield dynamo, he’s committed more fouls than any other Robins player (39) but has also been fouled a few times too (42). Lincoln lad Jerrell Sellars is having a decent season for Gary Johnson, his trickery is clearly causing problems for opposing defences as he’s been fouled 47 times, only Eisa (54) has been fouled more.
Our most fouled player, for the record, is Alex Woodyard on 38, followed closely by Matt Green on 36. Michael Bostwick has committed the most fouls for us, 60 but Woodyard (52), Green (53) and Rhead (50) are all up there. I fail to comprehend how a striker like Matt Green can have committed that many fouls, but looking at those numbers we do seem to be significantly more robust than the visitors, or perhaps we’re not getting the benefits of good refereeing decisions.
That brings me to the next ‘situation’ we’re facing tomorrow. Unfortunately we’ve got to endure one Seb Stockbridge officiating the game. You might remember Seb from Notts County away when he sent off Billy Knott for a high kick, but then failed to do the same with Jorge Grant because his even higher kick was ‘controlled’. He then ‘graced’ Sincil Bank in December as we defeated Accrington, this time sending one of their lads off for a foul which was later over turned, but also putting in another thoroughly inept performance.
He’s been flashing the red since too, he sent off Sam Edmundson of Oldham against Peterborough three weeks ago, then this weekend also dismissed Matt Killgallon of Bradford as they drew with Bury. Both were for second yellow cards, but we know this ref likes to get his cards out. I wouldn’t bet against a dismissal but if you’re a betting person go for more than four yellows in tomorrows game. Half of his games have produced four or more yellow cards.
From the things we can’t control to the things we can, Danny will have doubtless done his homework on the visitors and the outcome is likely to be this: Isolate Eisa and you nullify their threat. After their 1-1 draw with Barnet in January one of their own fans commented in their local media that Eisa often looks isolated and that Cheltenham simply don’t play attractive, attacking football. If we can keep their front man isolated, maybe by sticking Michael Bostwick to him like chewing gum in a kid’s hair, then we can control the game from there.
Cheltenham have won two in nine, but they seem to magic up a resounding win out of nowhere. They won 4-1 at Colchester in December and 5-1 against Port Vale this weekend, but have also drawn with Barnet and lost to Stevenage (4-1) in the same time period. They inconsistent, but unpredictable. The probability table from www.footystats.com has us as likely to win the game 1-0, most likely from an early second half goal.
They say you can make statistics say anything you want to, but one thing is fact: over the last ten games the two sides clashing tomorrow have been amongst the most accurate in League Two. It may surprise some to find out that Lincoln have had more shots on target in the last ten games than all but one of our League Two opponents, whilst Cheltenham are also in the top four. It might not have seemed like it on Friday night, but we’re looking very accurate in front of goal.
Finally, we move on to past meetings between the two sides. The first pair of meetings between us came in the 1987/88 season as we dropped into the GMVC. City won the first tie 5-1, although Mick Waitt suffered a leg break to dampen the mood. Towards the end of the season we drew 3-3 at Whaddon Road, Trevor Matthewson, John McGinley and Mark Sertori scoring our goals.
In 1998 we met for the first time in the FA Cup, John Finnigan played in our midfield as we ran out 1-0 winners. Finns would later move to Cheltenham and remains at the club to this day. Finns scored in the first Football League clash between the two as we won 2-0 there in January 2000. They gained revenge just three months later, winning 2-1 at Sincil Bank despite Steve Holmes 76th minute goal.
All in all, they’ve got a far better record against us though, winning 12 and drawing four of our 20 matches. Our last win against them was in 2011, Stephen Hunt and Josh O’Keefe scoring first-half goals that set us on our way to a 2-1 victory. Sadly, they were also one of the teams we faced in the infamous run in to relegation, Josh Low and Danny Andrew scoring as a woeful City lost 2-0 on April 25th 2011.
One game against Cheltenham that sticks in my mind took place in 2009, Aaron Brown and Ian Pearce were sent off for City along with Cheltenham’s goalkeeping coach and former Imp Barry Richardson. We drew that game 1-1 after Jamie Clarke cancelled out a Cheltenham opener, but perhaps most notable for me was the substitution that took place on 22 minutes. Sergio Torres, a fine footballer capable of turning a game with a moment of brilliance came off. Khano Smith came on. That’s how far we’ve come
Many fans will be insisting we need three points tomorrow night and many fans would be right. Our recent form has kept us unbeaten and we’ve remained in touch with the top seven, but if those draws are going to be valuable we need to wrap up a few wins too. Wycombe play Swindon tomorrow, Coventry play Colchester, Luton play Crawley and Mansfield play Newport. Sides below us could drop points, sides above us could do the same and we have to make sure we begin to turn the screw as we approach Valentine’s Day. It would be nice to have daylight between us and Harry Kewell’s Crawley tomorrow night, because they’re going to be a really tough prospect on Saturday.