Tom Williams returns from a short break with his excellent previews for the site
Hi all, nearly a month later I’m back from a little break enforced by a lack of internet. A lot has happened in that time, including Lincoln City making some giant steps towards promotion and, hopefully, the title of League Two Champions. Another team with those aspirations is MK Dons, a side that over 5,000 Imps are visiting this weekend. Here are some things to look out for:
1) MK Dons (All MK Dons stats are League only)
Throughout the season, MK have looked like one of the strongest sides in the division and that’s reflected with them currently sitting 2nd. In fact, they’ve only won one game fewer than the Imps. What has really separated them from Danny Cowley’s men is that they have been easier to beat, failing to pick up points when playing poorly. That is perhaps best reflected in their alarming run from the festive period to early February. In 10 games, they managed just a couple of wins (including a 6-0 hammering on New Year’s Day of Cambridge who must have been on the heavy stuff). What’s really telling is that they also managed just a solitary draw.
That’s right, in those 10 fixtures, they had a 70% loss record. Think back to the times in this season when we’ve played poorly, we’ve had some fans lose their heads but we’ve always chugged along nicking points and grinding out results, a run of 7 losses in 10 never looked likely from a side unbeaten in the League in 2019. However, they’ve managed to steady the ship and get their promotion push back on course and this obviously won’t be an easy tie. The fact that they were 8th as recently as February tells you they’ve hit form recently. A run of 5 straight wins followed and last time out they overcame playoff challengers Forest Green 2-1 away.
A real danger in their team is Kieran Agard who has grabbed 19 goals in 37 matches so far. Agard is supported by a fellow former Arsenal trainee in Chuks Aneke who has picked himself up 16 goals in fewer minutes than his colleague. While Lincoln’s strength is goals from all over and our forward line is as much about enabling the team to succeed, MK rely on their red-hot strikers. In fact, 53% of MK’s goals in League Two have been scored by one of this pair. Contrastingly, Lincoln’s top League Two scorers have a combined total of 23, 33% of our higher goal haul.
While their attackers may grab the headlines, their ability to win games is only worthwhile if you can keep out goals, something MK have done quite successfully. They currently hold the 5th best defensive record in League Two, conceding 41 times in 40 games. However, what is particularly noteworthy is that they have the joint 2nd best clean sheets record in the division. Despite conceding 7 more goals than Mansfield, who have the best defensive record, they’ve managed the same number of clean sheets. Perhaps the tactic is to keep out the opposition and hope one of their talented forwards pops up with a winner in tight games? As an interesting aside, despite holding the division’s best goal difference by a long way and an admirable goals against tally, the Imps are actually in the bottom half in terms of clean sheets! Who’d have thought it eh? Gung-ho Danny Cowley.
Finally, Saturday also pits League Two’s best home side against the best travellers. MK have averaged over 2 points a game on their own turf and are clearly confident in front of their own fans. What they will not be used to, however, is the kind of fantastic visiting support Lincoln will bring. Taking over 5,000 is a tremendous achievement that cannot be ignored. Some sides in the division would kill to get that at home. Actually, I wrote that last statement without looking at the numbers. I’ve just checked and on Saturday, Lincoln will be taking a higher amount of away fans than the average total attendance of at least 19 of League Two’s 24 sides. Hopefully that kind of support can inspire the team to what could be a huge step towards League One football.
2) Matt Gilks
Another thing that has happened during my absence is the emergence of Matt Gilks as our first-choice goalkeeper. I’ll admit I was surprised. As Danny has pointed out, we already had a couple of excellent ‘keepers and I personally didn’t expect to ever see Gilks between the sticks in League Two. My surprise has, however, been a pleasant one. Gilks’ numbers are very impressive. In his 8 appearances, he’s conceded just 4 times with 4 clean sheets. That also means that during his tenure we’ve never shipped more than one, this is vital because, as mentioned above, our title challenge has been built on scoring at least once and keeping the opposition score low, rather than scrapping for a clean sheet. It’s clearly working, we’ve scored in every game since November (29 games and counting).
With Matt in net, we’ve conceded a goal every 198 minutes (the best score in the squad by over an hour). His Minutes Per Goal Against minus Minutes Per Goal For (which I use as a primitive method for calculating how well we’ve played when a player is on the pitch) is almost double that of his nearest challenger (fellow newbie Bolger scores 77.9 compared to Gilks’ 137.1). He’s not had it all easy either, facing marginally more shots on average than Grant Smith (although both round up to 3.5 on target per game). While both of our other custodians have very respectable save percentages of 73%, Gilks has so far been a class above with a whopping 86% – by comparison, Liverpool’s Alisson leads the way in the Premier League with 77.1%.
3) Who will score
As I mentioned above, Lincoln have gone 29 games in a row scoring at least once and we’re all praying that gets made a nice 30 at the weekend. However, this week it looks a bit tricky to predict who will net for City. 5 games ago, it was pretty simple. For 6 games and 9 goals, City relied on Akinde and Andrade with the winger coming back with a bang and incredibly scoring 6 uninterrupted and Akinde following up with 3 on the bounce. However, it’s all got a bit varied since then. The last 5 games have brought 8 goals, each from a different scorer and 5 different assisters (Anderson has grabbed 3 and O’Hara 2). While MK will no doubt see the key man to keep quiet as Andrade and Akinde, Paul Tisdale will be wary of goals from unlikely sources.
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