Crunch Time: Enjoy the Ride

Courtesy Graham Burrell

Thanks to Lewis Kelly for his contribution to the site on the final few months of the season

I’m writing this pre-Yeovil, so let’s see how completely wrong I am.

In less than 60 days’ time the Imps will walk out for the final time in the regular season, hopefully with little to decide. We play Colchester, a team chasing the play offs and a team that we struggle to beat. It’s fair to say that both of our visits to Essex since our return to League Two have been shambolic, succumbing to successive 1-0 defeats.

At the Bank, we needed a 94th minute Luke Waterfall header to secure all 3 points and keep out play-off hopes alive in late April of last year. Of course, our hopes were realised on the final day as we saw Tom Pett equalise against Yeovil, to ensure it was us and not the Stags who would claim that elusive seventh spot. Nobody could forget the season before, where we clinched the National League title in our last home game against Macclesfield.

Luke scores against Colchester (courtesy Graham Burrell)

Did you know only four players in our squad that day are still with us? Albeit Lee Angol is only in on loan and Sam Habergham has struggled with injury. The point here is that, when we need to get it done on the last day, or the last home game, we get it done. But what are the chances we WILL need something?

We’ve got three of the bottom eight at home, so that sounds straightforward, right? Not really, the only game we’ve lost at home this season is Crawley (18th). We struggled to break down Cambridge (19th) – admittedly with ten men for 70 minutes and Port Vale (22nd) denied us late on with that brilliant strike from Manny Oyeleke. Teams like that come to Sincil Bank and stop us playing. They often park a bank of five in defence, four industrious midfielders in front of them and often a lone figure up top (Alex Revell, Tom Pope or Sam Hoskins). Perhaps this is why we do well at home against the better teams. When Bury, MK Dons and Forest Green came to Lincoln, they attacked us and played lovely football. That’s great, but when you give Harry or Bruno any sort of space in behind or let Jason Shackell win a header anywhere in the 18-yard box, we will punish you.

 

Yeovil come to Lincoln on the back of 2 important wins that leaves them 6 above the trap door but they were awful at Huish Park. With Bury dropping points to Cheltenham, this is a fantastic opportunity to get a tiny bit of breathing space. After that Paul Scholes brings his Oldham to Sincil Bank. The reverse fixture was pretty dire. Boundary Park is statistically the coldest stadium in the country, I’d agree with that. Remember Josh Vickers getting assaulted by Ishmael Miller and then Sam Surridge coming on? Neither of those are at Oldham now, with Miller moving onto Tranmere and Surridge going back to Bournemouth. Jose Baxter has been getting the goals, though, with three in his last five – keeping him quiet will be key in that one.

We’re then on our travels, with two difficult away games – for different reasons. Mansfield away comes first, a Monday night live on Sky. Tyler Walker will be back, and Jorge Grant is a good player, in good form – claiming their official goal of the month for February for a sublime ten-yard tap in after the Macclesfield keeper failed to hold onto a Nicky Ajose cross/shot – seriously, take a look at it on YouTube, its comical. Defensively they’re resolute, with their 3 centre halves Matt Preston, Krystian Pearce and Ryan Sweeney boasting the best defensive record in the league, with only Middlesbrough conceding less in the football league. No surprise there though – Tony Pulis is their manger.

Crawley away offers a different challenge – since gaining promotion to League Two, Crawley are the only team to have beaten us twice. A sombre 0-0 at home was followed by a 3-1 defeat last season, and an unfortunate own goal from Michael Bostwick this season remains our only home defeat so far. Surely, Ollie Palmer won’t score against us. He did all he could to avoid getting on the score sheet at Sincil Bank, heading wide from a yard his individual highlight.

Bound to score past us (courtesy Graham Burrell)

MK Dons away is sandwiched between two winnable home games – Macclesfield and Cheltenham. If we can get seven points from those three, that’s fantastic form. The Dons dipped massively after their 6-0 massacre of Cambridge, losing five from the next six. Since then, however, they’ve won four on the bounce and a top three finish looks within sight for them again. It has shades of Coventry away last season for me, a big, empty stadium against a promotion rival – these are the games we turn it on for. We’ll probably beat Macclesfield and MK Dons then lose to Cheltenham.

The Easter weekend is pivotal. That weekend will determine whether we can all relax and have a party against Colchester on May 4th. Carlisle are in the play-offs as it stands, but they’ve not got Ashley Nadesan – who ran us ragged in the 2-2 draw in October. Last year’s game – also over the Easter weekend – was settled by a single Matt Green goal from that sneaky free kick routine that worked two games on the bounce last year and hasn’t since. It’s a difficult place to go, Brunton Park, and if we win there surely there’ll be the chance to get promoted on Easter Monday at home to Tranmere, bar any disasters. James Norwood will score his 58th (or however many it is now) of the season for sure, but we’ll seek revenge from the defeat at Prenton Park and hopefully be buoyed by the possible promotion prize.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

If we’re in the face of adversity post Tranmere, then there’s a battle on. A trip to Rodney Parade is always tough, the flip-side of that is that Newport probably won’t have much to play for then. They’re too far off the play offs to start a late surge and they aren’t getting relegated. However, with two former Cods leading the line, they won’t roll over. Finally, then, Colchester – let’s hope its all done. If not, think Macclesfield. Think Yeovil.

Enjoy the run in – seasons like this don’t happen often. Forget the play off pushes, forget the relegation battles. This is promotion to the third tier. This is a battle to win a league for the second time in three years. Enjoy the ride.

UTI.