On another good night for Michael Appleton’s Imps, a routine victory against Mansfield Town has ensured qualification for the next round of the EFL Trophy with a game to spare.
The EFL trophy gets a lot of stick, rival managers seem to think it is a distraction, and yet Lincoln City take it seriously. Whatever your politics, I think it is encouraging that our club wants to win every match, instead of having a Steve Evans style ‘I don’t care’ attitude. Our desire to win football games was evident last night in a game we completely controlled for a good 75 minutes.
The benefits of such a win are multiple, from the £10,000 prize money to the chance for some of our fringe players. I cannot fathom, for one second, how clubs apparently ‘suffering’ from Covid restrictions are happy to say they’ll take the fines incurred for fielding weakened teams. For me, that is a gross affront to the very fans they are supposed to serve. I know some of those EFL trophy detractors will welcome the stance, but right now finance is important and I would be appalled if my club would rather payout £15,000 in fines than collect £10,000 in prize money.
This is a competition that both The Imps and Michael have a bit of a love affair with. It delivered our first shot at Wembley glory, a memorable day for those who chose to attend and a day which provided the sort of income that allowed us to win the league title the following season. Michael has been there twice as a manager, losing on both occasions, and I suspect he sees this as a chance for some silverware to add to his growing reputation as a manager. I say ‘growing’, he already has a good pedigree from Oxford, but a second spell with a League One side at the right end of the table will be just the job for him, as would a successful Wembley appearance.
I think our team selection represented two sides to the competition. We had to play some senior players and the ones we saw appear were ones who perhaps haven’t had injury issues. Jorge Grant, Connor McGrandles, Harry Anderson, TJ Eyoma and Sean Roughan are all what I would consider first-team players and they all got 90 minutes last night. In addition, some of the exciting players just outside the first XI had a great chance to shine, none more so than Anthony Scully, Remy Howarth and Theo Archibald. If this was a test for them, they certainly passed it in my eyes.
I did a video on team selection, so rather than go too in-depth on that now, I’ll put it in the text here.
The biggest news was probably the inclusion of Jamie Soule, which meant the game broke new ground for a number of reasons. It is probably the fastest transition from rumour to the first team we’ve seen for a new player, and almost certainly the youngest centre-back pairing we have ever put out in a competitive fixture. The team certainly had an ‘EFL trophy’ feel to it, but the game had anything but.
The Imps started with intensity and vivacity that hasn’t been seen for some time in my opinion. We’ve often given our opponents respect, letting them have their cake and waiting until we can snatch a piece and eat it. Last night, against an experienced looking Mansfield side, we took the cake and ate it right in front of them. The Imps passing game was slick, our possession always seemed to be with purpose and the players who had a point to prove looked eager to do just that. In the early stages, Connor McGrandles impressed me for his harrying and hard work, whilst you could see glimpses of Theo Archibald’s unique talents. We have some great wide players, but Theo is markedly different; he takes players on with skill and a sharp turn of pace, as well as being naturally left-footed. When we need to drop Jorge Grant back into the midfield, I expect the former Celtic man to be our first choice on the left.
We knocked on the door a bit and whilst I’m not going to dissect the whole match, I’ll talk about the goals. The first was created courtesy of Remy Howarth, a driving run into the area saw him have an effort at goal which fell to the feet of Soule, who calmly poked home. It was a striker’s goal, instinctive and natural. The youngster had a good game too, he faded towards the end but certainly didn’t look out of place in the first-team and that bodes well for the future. He did get thrown around by the big lump Menayese at the back, a player I quite liked up until his second-half howler.
I always felt from there the game was in the bag and I went into half time wondering if we might score again, or might have scored again, given that iFollow froze just as Anthony Scully was preparing a shot. Thankfully, it froze for everyone, so I couldn’t be accused of having bad internet or whatever else the iFollow people tend to blame substandard service on. At least all we missed was a bit of the halftime break.
The second half was very much like the first, with us on top. Jorge Grant was simply outstanding, pulling the strings from deep, pinging passes around like he was David Beckham down the park with a bunch of local kids. Our wide players were lively too, Anthony Scully bullish and strong, Theo graceful and elegant. I tell you who Archibald reminds me of a bit; Peter Gain. He has that natural ability that I always love to see. He was working hard for a goal, a little too hard at times, but he wanted to make his mark.
Anthony Scully wanted to do the same and he seemingly squandered a great chance to do so in the second period. A sumptuous ball from Archibald sent the former West Ham man free, he went one-on-one with the keeper and maybe just had too much time. His effort was well saved by young Aidan Stone, with Soule not quite able to steer the rebound in. Minutes later he got his chance to make amends.
This time it started with McGrandles winning possession well, and finding Tayo Edun. The left-back surged forward, made up plenty of yards and then slid another great ball through the defence for Scully, who finished a harder effort than moments before with aplomb. With service like that, our strikers should all get fifteen goals or more. We seemed to just have a killer pass for every occasion and although they didn’t all come off, not one player made two or three bad ones in a row.
Scully then turned provider, with another great example of our football philosophy. Mansfield’s attack broke down and TJ Eyoma nodded out to Scully on the right, deep in his own half. He chested the ball away from his marker, moved fifteen yards forward and lofted a sixty-yard pass in the direction of Archibald. The winger gambled, and Menayese got in a horrible mess with Stone, leaving Archibald with a cool chance to loft home. 3-0, game over, turn out the lights when you’re done, Mansfield.
To be fair, the Stags had a decent period after that, Nicky Maynard and Stephen McLaughlin came on and added something to their forward line. Couple that with a few tired Imps legs, and you have the recipe for a comeback. Mal Benning’s drive needed turning away by Ethan Ross, who had a solid night on his full Imps debut, Menayese made amends for his earlier mistake by arriving for a free header in the area to make it 3-1, but that was the sum of their endeavour. I do wonder is Harry Anderson lost his marker watching it back, but overall Harry had a solid game at right-back.
It could have been four, a great ball from Eyoma, another forty-yard ping into feet, saw Remy Howarth get free, but he couldn’t quite find the space for a shot. He worked his way across the area before laying it off to Soule, who saw a smart snapshot saved. It was the last meaningful action of a really solid outing for City.
Let’s be honest, Mansfield have something missing (something BIG according to their blogger, Mansfield Matters) but you have to beat what is in front of you and whilst they were poor, they weren’t utterly woeful. However, the players we had all showed their qualities. The first-teamers starting showed fitness and application, the hungry fringe players showed they could do a job in league action and those out of position (or in position I suppose for Eyoma and Roughan) all adapted really well. Jamie Soule settled quickly too, providing plenty of positives for Michael to enjoy.
We now face Man City’s kids with nothing to play for other than pride and £10,000, both of which are hugely important to this Lincoln side. We are now nine games in, boasting seven wins, one draw and one defeat, which is a phenomenal start to the season. Last night probably told us more about the side than a league game, because it turned the stone over and showed us what is underneath, those knocking on the door, and the capabilities of those in other positions. I liked what I saw and if five or so of those lads are the so-called back-up brigade, we’re in a great spot.
Also, huge kudos to Hayden Cann for coming on and making his debut. this tournament is where the young lads often get their debuts and it was in the EFL Trophy we first saw Lee Frecklington, Shane Clarke and Ellis Chapman for the Imps. All progressed to the first team and hopefully, young Hayden can do the same and keep the flag flying in the academy for local talent, as well as those we bring in from further afield.
Don’t forget, people are discussing this game on our forum right now. Please, make sure you go along and visit, maybe leave a comment and get involved. The more you interact, the more we can raise for the club, which can only be a good thing.
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