Imps close in on Appleton: Here’s what to expect

It’s official, or at least as official as it can be. Michael Hortin has tweeted out that the Imps are in advanced talks with prefered managerial candidate Michael Appleton.

It’s been on everyone’s lips since he was spotted at our game with Rochdale, but a manager I first mentioned as far back as September 9th now looks likely to rock up at the Bank as our new man in charge. It’s an interesting shout from the Imps, a man who has had management four roles before this but only really one which leaps out.

I’ve written before about his past and if you need a refresher, check this out.

I thought I’d have a look at his time at Oxford United. That’s the one I feel is most relevant; he took them from the bottom of League Two to the top of League One, as well as two Wembley finals. What I would say is EFL Trophy knockers might want to look away now; he’s a fan of the competition. Speaking to NTT20’s George Elek, a pod I’m sure you’ve all listened to by now, he said he always told players it was a chance to play at Wembley. Perhaps, in terms of legacy, another trip there might get him off to a good start.

Appleton playing for City in 1995

Anyway, what sort of man are we getting if this goes ahead? We’re certainly getting a coach, there’s no doubt about that. Last season he was heavily linked with Scottish Premier League side Hibernian and their press profiled him heavily. I found one comment very interesting; it’s linked here but says the following

“He’s a head coach, not a manager as such. He invests his time in the coaching and relies on [others] for scouting. As such, Oxford built a reputation as a means of developing young talent and playing good football.  He needs time to build his empire.”

That involved turning the Oxford squad from a collection of journeymen to an attacking, passing side full of vigour. Elsewhere in the report it says that his football was ‘like watching Brazil’, which to a degree fits with our early ethos this season. The empire, in our case, has already been half-built and merely needs a safe pair of hands to carry it on.

If Appleton wants to play ‘tika-taka’ football, a saying I despise, he’s got the right sort of players to be doing just that. Jack Payne, Jorge Grant and the like are accomplished footballers hoping to play a nice passing game. That fits with what Appleton did at Oxford.

Another thing that fits is his formation. In 2016/17, his final year at the Kassam, three set-ups stood out; 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1, 4-2-3-1. All are variations on a theme and all have been seen at City in recent seasons. I argue 4-4-1-1 and 4-2-3-1 are very much the same and they accounted for 35% of Oxford’s time on the field.

55% of the time was spent in a 4-4-2, with a number of different players up top. Kane Hemmings, Tyler Roberts and Chris Maguire all did well up there, but Appleton will almost certainly be wanting to bring in an additional striker over the winter window. I can also see it being great news for Jordan Adebayo-Smith; both Kemar Roofe and Roberts were moved from Oxford to Leeds United after being given a chance under the manager.

Could benefit: Jordan Adebayo-Smith -Courtesy Lincoln City FC

In that final season, they averaged 15 shots per game, 37% of which were on target, and played 386 passes per game (on average again), with 75% accuracy. They edged possession over the course of the season too, coming out 52% to 48%. It shows a nice brand of football, not over-complicated with passes but heavy on chance creation. Their xG, over the whole season, was 1.54, meaning they were expected to score 1.54 goals per game.

To compare with us this season, we average 12 shots per game, 36% of which are on target. We’ve made 347 passes per match, with 79% accuracy. We’ve had less possession, 47% to 53% and our xG has been 1.5. The numbers are certainly comparable, as are the approaches. In terms of a fit, both style, tactics and even effectiveness, 2016/17 Oxford and 2019/20 Lincoln are not a million miles apart.

How is he rated at Oxford? Anyone wanting to read a great bit of debate on him should check out the Twitter thread below. George Elek is a knowledgeable Oxford fan and respected voice and he’s essentially ready to name his first born after Appleton by the sounds of things; on more than one occasion he’s classed as a ‘great guy’.

Their fans were gutted when he chose to leave for Leicester City. “He made Oxford United such a good football club again,” said one fan after he left. “That’s the hardest thing to take. We had an identity and a way of playing football. I’m completely disappointed, really gutted to be honest, that it’s happened the way it has. He was an absolute gentleman, a lovely bloke to talk to and a lot of people respected him.”

Sound familiar?

A vote on this site shows 62% of those polled are in favour of his appointment, with the rest not. That’s an interesting number for a manager who does have a record that can be questioned, if not the quality of his chairmen at Pompey, Blackpool and Blackburn, but the choices he made in picking those clubs.

However, since then I’m impressed. He waiting until the Oxford job came up and picked the club, not the division. He’ll do the same with us; the links with Hibernian are also ones we should consider. He was being mentioned as a possible manager in the top flight of Scottish football last year and he’s now looking likely to join us.

He does have seemingly good contacts, loaning players from Manchester United, Everton, Arsenal and West Ham. I do wonder if he’ll look to bring in a recruitment guy and have an assistant from the current staff; how he chooses the backroom people will be interesting. If he goes for an assistant himself, it might leave Jez George with responsibility for bringing players in.

Jez George (Middle)
Picture: Chris Vaughan Photography for Lincoln City Football Club
Date: July 1, 2019

That’s one area I’m cautious. The previous managers signed good characters and (Ollie Palmer aside) reaped the rewards of that. However, I do feel our current recruitment is geared towards finding a gem and shifting them on, something Appleton certainly did with Roofe and Callum O’Dowda. He does like to spend a fee though; according to transfermarkt sold O’Dowda for £1.2m, as well as loaning played such as Dan Crowley, Tyler Roberts and Toni Martinez. He also signed Marvin Johnson who later left the club for £2.7m.

I wonder if he might be hoping to cash in on a few players in order to progress the squad; it’s certainly the plan Danny had put in place before he left.

Overall, this is an appointment I would have welcomed the day Danny left and it’s one I welcome now. Yes, there are questions about those early spells with clubs and perhaps whether he’s more of a head coach than a manager, but his pedigree can’t be questioned. He plays football a certain way, the way we’re now trying to and he clearly gives youth a chance as well; O’Dowda came from the Oxford academy to make his big-money move.

Those players that like to play good football will thrive under him, those younger players looking for a chance will too. The likes of Joe Morrell and Callum Connolly are the sort of loans he made in the past as well; on closer inspection, this looks like a very good fit.






1 Comment

  1. He was well thought of and respected in his role as assistant to Craig Shakespeare at Leicester City – Shakespeare was one of the brains behind the Foxes Premiership title and took over from Ranieri, when he finally got found out. When Claude Puel was appointed (poor choice) Shakespeare, rather unfairly got the push and Appleton took over as caretaker for 2 games – both won. Then Appleton got kicked out as Puel brought in his own ‘team’

    Good sound choice, with scope for good long term loyalty

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