The Imps breezed through the second round of the EFL Trophy with a superb performance away at Shrewsbury.
On the back of a fine 2-0 win at Rochdale, City were forced into changes, but that didn’t affect the processes one bit. If anything, the players coming into the side rose to the occasion and left Michael Appleton with some nice selection problems going into the busy Christmas period.
As is par for the course in this competition, both teams made changes to their sides, the Imps bringing in six fresh faces from the weekend’s win. That included including Zack Elbouzedi for only his third outing of the campaign, and his second start of the season. Remy Howarth also returned, having limped off in the final group game against Manchester City Under 21s. Shrewsbury made ten changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Charlton at the weekend, and it told as they looked completely disjointed.
The Imps started brightly, with the front three causing problems with pace and movement at all times. Shrewsbury struggled to get out and it came as little surprise when the Imps had the best chance of the first ten minutes.
City won the ball at the back and swept forward with a series of slick passes, with Anthony Scully breaking into the right channel. He lofted a ball up, over the defence and onto the head of Zack Elbouzedi, who saw his header saved. He composed himself to pick up the rebound and deliver a cross towards Scully, looking to return the favour, only for Harry Anderson to nip it off the former West Ham forward’s head.
Elbouzedi was certainly impressing on his rare start, and he looked to unlock the defence with the next chance. His smart pass towards Scully was cut out, with Remy Howarth picking up the ball. He was felled on the edge of the area, and Scully shaped to take the free kick. His delivery was almost inch perfect, almost. It struck the outside of the keeper’s left-hand post.
It was Ireland Under 21 Elbouzedi causing problems again before fifteen minutes had elapsed, cutting in from the left flank and driving a relatively tame shot at the keeper. Across on the right-hand side. Robbie Gotts steamed down the flank, cut into the area and managed to get a shot away after a fortuitous bounce which the keeper saved.
The Imps were utterly dominant and it came as no surprise when we took the lead. It was Elbouzedi again, breaking at pace from inside his own half leaving his defender for dead. He fed a smart ball into Scully, who made no mistake with a first-time finish from inside the left channel. The home side looked shell-shocked as chances had been coming from both sides of the pitch.
When they did get the ball at the back. Salop struggled to play out as City’s front three went man for man on the back three. They did manage a rare foray on 22 minutes, Alex Palmer saving Scott High’s effort, palming it away and to safety.
Still the chances came for the Imps, with Remy Howarth having two good opportunities. Howarth, like Elbouzedi is on the fringe of the attacking picture, but he drove through the middle on 25 minutes and shot straight at the keeper. Ten minutes before the break, Scully broke in the channel and cut the ball back for Howarth, who took time to control and shape away from his defender, but his effort was easy for the keeper.
In between, Conor McGrandles picked up the most obvious yellow card you’ll see, indulging in five-second shirt pulling on Shilow Tracey. The young winger was by far the biggest threat in a lacklustre Salop attack and he had looked to get away from McGrandles, who took one for the team.
The Imps were relentless, with Scully finding space 20-yards out on the left from Roughan’s throw. He fired a wonderful shot across goal which the keeper clawed away, another superb save to deny the Imps.
There was no denying us on 40 minutes as the lead got doubled. Brennan Johnson started the attack, driving through the middle of the pitch and finding Harry Anderson. As Scully had at the start of the half, he lifted a delicious ball over the defence for Elbouzedi, who this time made no mistake with a smart header. 2-0, and the Imps were seemingly coasting.
The advantage lasted for just three minutes, as a rare Salop break pulled one back. T was Spurs loanee Tracey who found Eyoma and Melbourne too close in the area, turning both and firing past Alex Palmer. Despite conceding, it wasn’t the last chance of the half, with Robbie Gotts getting a shot away which just went over the bar.
Half time saw McGrandles leave the pitch with a knock, which Michael later confirmed we’ll know more about on Thursday. In his place, vice-captain and leading scorer Jorge Grant came on. Not a bad change to make, even with Sunderland coming up at the weekend.