There’s no doubt at all that tomorrow night has presented Danny Cowley with something of a problem. In truth, the last three matches have presented him with a problem, a nice problem and one Lincoln City are not used to.
When Lee Frecklington was dismissed against Crawley I’m sure there were some who went home agitated. Our captain was out for three games, a player back to his best, running the midfield and chipping in with goals. Without Freck, we were sure to drop points.
Macclesfield, MK Dons and Cheltenham were all beaten, City bagged two goals in all three games and without sounding too harsh, we’ve not missed Freck at all. It seems ludicrous to say it, but Tom Pett and Michael O’Connor have covered adequately. More than adequately.
In Pett we have a wonderful player who shows guile and craft further up the field, but determination and resilience in a deeper role. I remember when ‘midfield’ was one position, but these days players are urged to specify. I often hear ‘such and such’ isn’t a holding midfielder, or that another player can’t play advanced. Tom Pett can do both, he’s just a midfielder. Ask him to fight in front of his own box, he can. Get him to overlap the centre forward in true Freck style, he does that too.
Then there’s O’Connor, a man who has history in battling Freck at various clubs. He played with him at Rotherham, he replaced him, albeit for a short while, when he arrived here on loan the first time and it may be he missed out again. O’Connor is a fighter, hot-headed at times but combative and energetic. The years have done him little damage, he’s still as angry and aggressive in the tackle now as he ever was. there’s a calmness to his possession now, a result of plenty of first team football. He’s still got that streak of ‘something’ that made him unique, we saw that against Mansfield, but he’s an asset.
Then there’s Lee Frecklington, a player who has gone from having a question mark over his head to being key within a handful of games. Last season some questioned his contribution, certainly in the tough period after the EFL Trophy final. I went to Port Vale and he looked to be fighting a losing battle that day. All that has changed now though.
I think it is a case of being ‘on method’. Some teams play a very simple game which players slide into with ease. Those teams, whilst easy to drop in and out of, do not win football matches as regularly as the really good teams. Look at Luton, case point. Last season Elliot Lee started just 16 games for the Hatters, coming off the bench a further 16 times. This season, he’s up to speed and already has ten starts to his name. It’s taken time to bed in and settle because Luton are not a basic side, they’re not a side with an approach simply lifted from one squad to another. Nathan Jones is a thinker and philosopher and he’s tailored his side’s approach to their strengths, moulding them over time.
That’s us too. That is what Danny has done, over time he’s crafted a side and developed it. We started with one approach based around the players we had, but he’s manipulated those players to perform other tasks. He’s developed a style of play unique to us, high pressing, quick width and incredible depth. He mixes it up, going long into the channels, sometimes direct to the striker but also into feet and looking to overlap. It is constantly evolving and changing and no footballer can simply drop into our squad and play the Lincoln way.
That is why Lee Frecklington looks so good right now. His role is the advanced midfield position and along with Tom Pett, it has taken time to adjust and fit in. Both players have become fitter than they were, one is growing as an individual, the other rolling back the years. When I watched Freck grab that goal against Notts County, I could have wept with joy. I was gutted when he left and I thought we’d never see him playing at the top of his game. Right now, his impact is as good as it has been anywhere else in his career. This season, he could carry us through League Two like he did League One with Rotherham.
Where does that leave us? With three incredibly good central midfielders, all fighting for two positions. There is a suggestion we could fit them in by going 4-3-3, but then we lose that width from Andrade and Anderson. There’s been talk of Green and Andrade playing either side of Akinde, but to lose Shay McCartan right now would be utter madness. McCartan is on fire and every time he steps out in an Imps shirt, he gets better.
Normally, I come at you with a suggestion now, but I don’t know what to say. Genuinely, the quality of this Lincoln squad has me scratching my head. My choice would be to play Pett a little deeper and bring Freck back in alongside him, with the front four (if you like) remaining the same. It would be harsh on O’Connor, but I had imagined him and Freck rotating to a degree all season.
My gut feeling is Tom Pett will make way for Freck, leaving O’Connor protecting the back four as he has been doing and just swapping Pett’s energy for Freck’s guile. If that doesn’t work, Pett comes on and can replace either of the two midfielders. It would be very harsh on the former Stevenage man though, he’s been one of the stand out performers this season.
What it does mean is we have such wonderful depth that Tranmere cannot possibly plan effectively against us. We know if we stop Norwood, we an nullify their threat, but what do they implement to beat us? Who do they stop? Andrade? Akinde? Pett? Anderson? I could write a list of ten players with question marks after their name. It must be daunting and it is why we won’t lose as many as we did last season, not this time around. We will lose games, we will start dropping points, it is only natural, but it will either be down to us getting it wrong (Crawley) or one of the better teams in the division finding a way to match us.
Who starts for you tomorrow? I’ve got a Twitter poll going here where you can have your say.
Which midfield pair should the Imps go with tomorrow?
— The Stacey West (@Staceywestblog) October 1, 2018