Ah, the end of May. A time when the manager and his family take a well-earned break to Dubai and all we have to look forward too is a sweaty kid is his (or her) bedroom pretending to be an agent linking us to every player and his Dad.
It’s not a golden period for us part-time hacks, wanting something to write about but given nothing to work with. You get quizzes, speculation and when all of that runs out, you get ‘looking back’ articles. How cute.
I’ve gone back to the first issue of ‘A City United’, the magazine that attempted to cover all football in Lincoln. We had a good run, sold almost 1000 copies in total, but in the end logistics and time did for it. I couldn’t get to a Saturday game with City, a Sunday game and then wave my partner off on a Monday to work knowing she wouldn’t be back until Friday.
Still, we had some great content and much of it has laid unseen behind the pages of a magazine with a circulation of around 500; until now.
Over the coming days, as well as the usual stuff you get on here, I’ll be bringing you the best of A City United, mainly Imps related but we will be running the ‘Secret Sunday League Footballer’ which went down really well. There is going to be a brief history of the Lincoln Sunday League as well, courtesy of a great afternoon I spent with RICT member John Wilson.
We begin by looking at the signings from the summer of 2017; not only do you get what we thought then, but also how it eventually panned out.
Taken from ‘A City United’ issue 1, July 2017
With the fresh season upon us we will inevitably see lots of unfamiliar players in Lincoln colours. No pre-season is ever perfect, and for every Scott Kerr or Simon Yeo there’s also an Omari Coleman or Steve Robinson. Players heralded as great signings flop, and sometimes those who arrive with little fanfare go on to be club favourites. Who could have precited the remarkable impact of Luke Waterfall when he arrived two years ago? Similarly, the much-heralded signing of proven goal scorer Liam Hearn looked to me astute business, but that also proved to be wrong.
This season City have been cautious in the transfer market, moving slowly and surely to capture the right players. If rumour is to be believed we missed out on a few due to our stringent wage structure, the names Jordan Williams and Ade Azeez were linked heavily with Lincoln until their unveiling at Rochdale and Cambridge respectively. Whether we ‘missed’ those players or not is irrelevant, the ones that are here are the ones Danny pursued to a positive conclusion. They are the players who will make or break the season, so here is a breakdown of the new faces at Lincoln City, and what we can expect from them.
Matt Green is definitely the ‘marquee’ signing of the summer, the household name (in lower league circles) that will guarantee you that all-important currency; goals. He’s 30-years old but still has the energy and raw power to make a difference at this level.
His release by Mansfield Town raised a few eyebrows, not least because he had been their leading scorer last season. The goals dried up soon after the arrival of controversial manager Steve Evans, and that must be a factor in his release. Publicly he wished them well and Evans wished him the same, but privately the chemistry simply wasn’t there. The Stags have made quite a statement releasing their top-scorer, especially as his replacement is non-other than former Imps loanee Lee Angol, a player who has struggled for goals outside of non-league.
Matt Green isn’t the first true ‘big name’ striker to arrive at Sincil Bank in his prime, and history tells us it doesn’t always work out. Joe Allon scored goals for fun everywhere except City, Leo Fortune-West managed one in an Imps shirt but barely made double figure appearances before he was released, and more recently Nick Wright, like Green, scored a lot of goals in the National League but failed to make an impact at Sincil Bank.
All of that is irrelevant, history is simply something that has happened in the past, and Matt Green is the future. His debut against Lincoln United brought him a brace before fifteen minutes had elapsed, and as he came off at half time he’d proven that a goal scorer, a true goal scorer, will find the net anywhere. Stick him in a park with a group of kids, he’ll score. Put him in a pre-season friendly against non-league minnows, he’ll score. Stick him in a League Two side next to Matt Rhead and he’ll score.
Matt Green is the one player we didn’t have last season, the out and out striker who feeds off scraps from his partner, who converts crosses and diagonal balls, and who can magic goals up from nowhere for himself. If he is kept fit, which he will be, then I have no doubt Lincoln City have signed a 20-goal striker and someone whom Imps fans will cherish for at least the next two seasons.
He almost reached 20 goals in his first season, but he did help us to EFL Trophy glory and by the end, was a cherished member of the Imps squad. Had he not been employed wide in a 4-3-3 at the tail end of the season, I suspect this analysis would have been 100% accurate.
Ollie Palmer is a giant of a man, 6’5” and built like a Greek god. He’s been described as a ‘fine physical specimen’ by Danny Cowley, and if you stand next to him you can see why. He’s as lean as he is strong and when he ducks down to enter a standard sized door you know you’re in the presence of a unique human being.
All that is fine, but is he a good signing? He’s only 25, so he certainly has the best years of his career ahead of him, and he comes to Lincoln with 150 professional games under his belt, all of them in the Football League. He’s plied his trade with Mansfield, Grimsby, and Leyton Orient before landing here, and last season he spent six months on loan at play-off chasing Luton Town whilst his own side, Orient, battled against relegation. It is his spell at Grimsby which gives us hope for a prolific forward, six goals from 12 starts was by far his most fruitful return.
We’re told there is more to Ollie than just a physical presence, although on first glance he does look like a long-term replacement for fans-favourite Matt Rhead. He has been described as having much more in his locker than just strength and height, but a word of caution. We were told the same thing about Sam Smith whom some Imps fans might remember as being wildly over rated. If Ollie Palmer is a physical presence and he can offer the Matt Rhead cover we desperately needed last year, then I sincerely hope we try to play to his strengths.
Ooooh, a word of caution before he’d kicked a ball. I’m quite proud of myself now because I definitely fell down on the right side of the Ollie ‘Marmite’ Palmer fence. He was a big unit, but he wasn’t a physical presence. I know he had his fans, but I wasn’t one of them.
Young Josh was a player we saw last season, a raw and energetic winger who loved to run at players. For some the jury was out, but most were pleased to see him sign a season-long loan from Premier League side Burnley. Danny Cowley sets his teams up to attack down the flanks, but the high pressing game also requires his wide players to track back. Josh is a bundle of energy, a player with phenomenal speed but also a very good work rate. He’s tricky and often came on to turn a game last season. In the FA Trophy semi-final against York it was his introduction on 58 minutes that gave us an attacking option, and it was no coincidence we scored just moments later.
There is a down-side to Josh, and that was his final ball. At times, his decision making was poor, he often went for the spectacular rather than retain possession sensibly, and for a play who was so direct it was surprising he didn’t manage more goals. His deflected effort just moments after coming on against Woking has been attributed to him now, but he didn’t add to that tally.
Josh is still a very good addition to the side, he is young and desperate to make an impression in the Football League. Giving Danny and Nicky the chance to work with him for a season is a wise choice too, it can surely only improve his game. He described the Championship winning game against Macclesfield as ‘the best day of my life’ (didn’t we all), and it is clear he holds a strong affinity for Lincoln City. If he develops an eye for a final ball then we might just have a very special player this coming season.
He didn’t turn into a special player for us; his second spell was far less fruitful than his first. He drifted in and out of the side before returning to Burnley in the winter. He’s since been with Tranmere, Walsall and is now a Championship player at Preston North End. I’m impressed again, I did shout him to be a big player if he developed, sadly that just didn’t happen at Lincoln.
Did someone say, ‘very special’? Billy Knott can absolutely be described in that manner, and whilst his career progression has been disappointing, his potential is anything but.
Billy started his career at Chelsea and after an ‘incident’ at the Cobham training ground he was released. Since then he’s played for Sunderland, Bradford, and Gillingham, slowly dripping down the leagues. He’s revered as a special talent wherever he has been, but that hasn’t been enough to keep him in one place for too long. There’s a hint of troubled genius about Billy, a player who perhaps could achieve so much more with the right manger.
The good news for Lincoln City is that Danny Cowley is that manager. He’s known Billy and his family for years, he had him on work experience at the Fitzwimarc School and he’s tracked his progress ever since then. He’s been described as having the potential to ‘be whatever he wants to be’, and in flashes we saw that for ourselves last season. Billy arrived on loan half-fit and cast aside by yet another club. I’d imagine he was at a low ebb, wondering how he’d made his way into the National League yet again. As his fitness and confidence grew we saw glimpse of his talent, his range of passing and his eye for goal. His winner against Bromley helped push us on towards the league title, and he earned the right celebrate with Imps fans.
Billy Knott should not be a Lincoln City player. He has had a to-flight upbringing, he’s represented his country and different youth levels and, at worst, he should be sitting in a Championship’s side midfield this season. He can play at the head of a diamond, he can play as a number ten and I suspect if we need him to drop deeper he can do that too. He’s here as a victim of circumstance combined with a couple of poor decisions.
I suspect many managers have seen his talent and drafted him in, only to fail how to manage him as a person. Billy needs a father figure as well as a manager, he needs someone who puts an arm around him when he’s low, and keeps him grounded when he’s doing well. If Danny manages this then I firmly believe come May, Billy Knott will be fending off offers from the second tier.
Awkward… I didn’t quite call this. Behind the scenes, as we now know, Billy had his demons and they couldn’t be shaken off. His Imps career did take a battering, he only started to get played in the ten role away at Notts County and as we know, Seb Stockbridge put paid to that. He never recovered from that red card and has since drifted down into the National League South. It’s desperately sad, Billy was such a talent and could still be.
A return to the Football League means a return to a minimum of two keepers in the squad, and not just a goal keeping coach as back up. Josh Vickers arrived as our second keeper, and although he’ll be battling for a starting spot he’ll have to be patient.
At 21-years of age he is still a young man, and he’s come through the ranks at Arsenal before moving on to Swansea. After a spell on loan at Barnet last season he found himself released, and that’s where Danny stepped in. Danny had him for a short spell at Concord Rangers so he already knows what the lad is capable of.
He stands just over six-foot and ironically has more Football League experience than our own Paul Farman. Vickers has made 22 Football League starts whilst Farman hasn’t gotten a single one to his name, although Farman does have over 200 Lincoln appearances in the bag.
Josh Vickers might be a name we recall in the same breath as Paul Pettinger, Simon Rayner and Tony Bullock, a bit-part player who only features in EFL Trophy games and when Farman is injured.
He might be another Alan Marriott too, a former Premier League youth who eventually fights his way into the first team and stays there. Much will depend on the form and fitness of Paul Farman, such is a reserve keeper’s life.
My blind loyalty to Mr Farman hampered my judgement here, almost certainly. Josh has proven himself to be a top keeper for the Imps, if only he can stay fit. The distinct irony here is that Farman now has almost as many Football League appearances as Josh following his move to Stevenage. Funny old game, isn’t it?
Just in time for the pre-season trip to Portugal the Imps captured Jordan Maguire-Drew on a season long loan from Brighton. Maguire Drew spent last season at Dagenham where his 15 goals helped them mount a play-off challenge.
Maguire-Drew is another that Danny has described as having the potential to be ‘whatever he wants to be’, and his capture is something of a coup for City. Lots of teams were interested in him, some rumoured to be in League One as well as our league. However, Danny sold him the club and he chose to ply his trade here, bringing our winger tally to three of the four Danny wants for the new season.
He offers a little more than Josh, as well as the direct running and trickery he has a tangible end product too. 15 goals are not to be ignored, especially not as our own star winger, Nathan Arnold, only grabbed 12. Nathan had a great season, and if we can find the same input from the left as he gave on the right, then we could see City become a potent attacking force in League Two next season.
I was so excited by this capture. JMD had terrorised defences in the National League and I thought we’d grabbed a real talent. We hadn’t.
He had no positional awareness, drifted out of games that he started badly anyway and had less of an impact than Lee Angol did this season (probably). He went to Coventry next, they didn’t rate him, so he wound up at Orient where he’s now a Football League player.