Could the Imps draw inspiration from Leeds United this season?

Courtesy Graham Burrell

In a little over a week, the Imps have added three players to the squad; Joe Morrell, Jack Payne and Jorge Grant.

All three are of a similar ilk; they’ve been on the books of a now-Championship club, they’re a similar age and they’re composed, ball-playing midfielders with poise and skill.

All three, dare I say, would make the matchday squad of any side in League One, Ipswich and Sunderland included. They might not first XI, but looking at the potential line-ups of those sides suggests to me these players could easily make the bench at Portman Road or the Stadium of Light. Pyne would almost certainly start in any other side in this division as well. Arguably, of the three, Jorge Grant is the so-called weakest of the three and he started a quarter of Luton’s matches as they won the League One title. That says it all.

What I’m perplexed about now is how we intend to set up with them all in the squad. There is little doubt why Danny has gone with these players; they’re exactly what we didn’t have enough of last season. Most of our midfielders were hard workers, the likes of O’Connor, Frecklington and O’Hara. They fight, they scrap and they play football a simpler way.

When it came to unlocking tight defences we had Danny Rowe and Tom Pett, but they couldn’t always find the key to the gate, not on their own. It led to some frustrating afternoons at the Bank against sides who didn’t want to be beaten. Cambridge, Carlisle, Exeter, Colchester, Cheltenham, Tranmere and a host of others. I’m not counting Stevenage though, we unlocked them twice and were undone by Ilias Chair, exactly the type of player we’ve signed this week.

I can see our 4-2-3-1 formation being used regularly this season, but I also wonder if perhaps we might see a bit of the 2006/07 season this time out, combined with Leeds United. Firstly, the Whites use a 4-1-4-1 formation in the Championship with a lot of emphasis on the holding midfielder, usually Kalvin Phillips. They did tremendously well on it and ran out of steam because there was no plan B in the latter stages of the season.

In 2006/07 John Schofield’s brand of football caught everyone out, certainly early doors. Analysis has moved on a long way and we’d be naive to think a style change will catch many out but I can see something similar happening in September. I just don’t understand how these players who have joined the club would fit into a side that is allegedly ‘direct’. It wouldn’t happen. One maybe, which is what we saw with Peter Gain back in 2002-05, but not two.

That’s why I wonder if we might just be planning to have the 4-1-4-1 in our locker. If we do, it’s going to look something like this:

The back four are, in my mind, very settled. Cian Bolger might be looking to break into the middle two with Bozzy pushing further forward into the midfield role but it’s largely settled. The same will remain in place if we do sign Ben Coker – he’ll be looking to prove his worth but would have a real time pushing Harry Toffolo out. I suspect Danny might use the loan market to bring in a young right back from elsewhere as he did with James Brown last season.

The key to this formation is the holding midfielder. Last season I got into a bit of hot water wondering if Michael O’Connor might not get a deal as we had too many midfielders. This season, if we play this formation, he’s the natural choice to sit in front of the back four. As I understand it Frecks is working hard on his fitness currently and Tom Pett is a more attack-minded midfielder. Ellis could certainly fit into this side, but in terms of a key role, I see O’Connor filling the ‘Kalvin Phillips’ role as his attribute set is perfectly suited to that position.

The beauty of this formation is the pace with which you can attack, but it does mean those attacking midfielders have to track back hard at times. I’ve shown here how Grant and Payne might pair up in the middle behind Akinde, but equally it could be Morrell and Payne, Pett and Payne, or even someone without Payne if he’s injured. In my opinion, Jack Payne will play 46 matches in the league if fit and he will play those matches behind the striker. How we set up around him is the key.

Jorge Grant can cover on the left which is where I see Bruno playing at present, but again we have a great option on that side of the field. If we do sign Coker that will be at least four players of real quality vying for a spot on the left, with Ellis possibly making five after his Chesterfield exploits.

Leeds’ relied heavily on the creative influence of Pablo Hernandez last season and he operated both on the flank and through the centre. I can see Grant or Payne being a similar figure. I know there is a clamour for a new striker and I do believe we’ll sign one, but in this formation John’s strengths come to the fore; holding the ball up, letting others get beyond him but also running channels and taking up positions when the bank of four move forward.

I’m keeping Harry on the right; I see him developing into a fine player and firmly believe this is his season to truly shine, which isn’t bad considering how well he did last season. With Harry, you can see a maturity coming through. He’s looking up a little more, increasingly getting shots away across goal and yet he still has that bullish strength and determination you don’t always see in a winger.

I believe that Danny will go more attack-minded against teams he feels we ‘should’ be beating; those on a par with us. I’m thinking Southend, Accrington, Gillingham, Rochdale and the like. That’ll need to unlock those teams if they come for a draw and perhaps the Leeds United way will help us do that.

Let me know what you think about this line up in the comments below.


  1. Gary
    Agree that a 20+ goal striker is what we need. But we don’t have to sign a striker – a Norwood. Ready made ones cost the earth.

    We can turn one of the squad into one. Payne or Grant perhaps

  2. There is a lot of room for squad rotation in midfield if done properly. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. The correct balance has to be found. Then there is the thought of certain players that might be sold. After all Danny did say there will be exits as well as incomings. There has to be room for at least one more striker.

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