It’s derby day! There’s more than bragging rights on offer too. Lincoln know a defeat could see them slip off the top (albeit with games in hand) and want to tighten their grip on promotion as Mansfield and Bury face tricky away trips. Grimsby, meanwhile, know that a victory could leave them in the top half. Here are some things to look out for:
1) The Mariners (All Grimsby Town stats are League only)
Recently, Grimsby went on a run of 6 wins from 8. Unfortunately for them, it came to an end immediately in 2019 with a disappointing but by no means disastrous 1-0 defeat to promotion-challenging Mansfield Town. More worrying was the game that followed. Seemingly cursed by Jolley’s Manager of the Month accolade (and by me betting on them) they suffered a second successive defeat at Blundell Park to lowly Macclesfield.
In total this season, the Jolley revolution has been pretty stop-start. Despite the aforementioned terrific run, they’ve failed to beat any of the 4 major automatic promotion candidates and have lost to Morecambe, Yeovil and Cambridge as well as Macclesfield. Their away record is nothing to write home about, losing over half games on their travels. This plays in well with our own form, unbeaten in 9 at Sincil Bank in League Two.
Some more good news is that they’re susceptible to late goals, 62% of their goals conceded have come after the hour mark. In all competitions, the Imps have already scored 23 goals in this period. However, despite anything the form book may indicate, derbies are rarely easy as we found out in the reverse fixture. It was a tightly contested affair where a volatile atmosphere which can lead to frenetic games punctuated with moments of folklore-making brilliance.
So, does anyone fancy taking Charlee Adams’ crown?
2) The backline
The Imps first-choice defence has been a pretty settled affair since Jason Shackell came in, much to the frustration of James Wilson and Scott Wharton I’d imagine. However, we will be without Jason Shackell for the first League Two game since October and it will be really interesting to see how it plays out. As I see it, there are 5 possible solutions.
Solution 1: Straight swap with Scott Wharton. There is a lot to like about this idea as Scott can also provide the balance of Shackell with both being left-footed, something that could prove important as feeding the marauding runs of Harry Toffolo has been a lucrative outlet this season. Furthermore, despite being a slightly more peripheral figure this season, Wharton has actually appeared in 6 of our last 9 games meaning that, despite stiff competition, he should be match fit and switched on. The real question mark with this idea is there seems to be a bit of uncertainty about where Scott’s future lies, understandable with him surely slipping further down the pecking order with Cian Bolger’s arrival.
Solution 2: Straight swap with James Wilson. Another familiar face could fill the gap, James has played a similar amount to Wharton so far this season in a variety of roles, often coming on to plug games and help the team muck in. I personally see this as the least likely straight swap option as it lacks the benefit of a left-footed centre back and has the same drawbacks of a lack of minutes and it being unclear (at least on this side of the fence) whether he’ll still be here come February.
Solution 3: Straight swap with Cian Bolger. No doubt our new man will be itching to make his debut in this big fixture. Despite coming in the door recently, there’s little doubt Frecklington and the others will be quick to ensure he’s aware of what this game means to the fans. It may seem a tad foolish in these days of hyper-professionalism but a defensive debut on derby day does make me a tad nervous. Furthermore, he’s not had much time to integrate into the method and he’s right-footed which could harm the chances of directly filling Shackell’s role.
Solution 4: 3 centre backs. The system that generates such fierce opinions whenever a team decides to adopt it. It can be gung-ho or a prelude to parking the bus, depending on the shape and does seem to naturally suit itself to a squad packed with defensive talent and dangerous full-backs. I see 2 primary benefits. Firstly, it could help alleviate the problems of the straight swap options and include left-footed Wharton as well as the qualities of two of our other options. Secondly, it could catch the visitors off-guard. While much of Danny and Nicky’s tactics are familiar, they do have a history of making changes to surprise in big games, like at the Ricoh last season. A downside is obviously a lack of in-game practice but there’s no doubt that if it is chosen, it will have been thoroughly drilled on the training ground (hopefully without a bloke in a trench coat behind a bush nearby).
Solution 5: Bostwick into midfield. For this game, I see this option as unlikely as it’d be a risk to start a game without either of our established partnership at the back. However, I thought I’d include it as Danny did mention Bolger’s signing making this an option. No doubt it’d be a better option if Shackell was available but the benefit of Bozzy’s bite in the middle of the park could help swing things in our favour in what could be a bit of a battle.