Could This Be a Pivotal Week in Imps History?

Credit Graham Burrell

There are always moments, short periods of time that you point to and claim were pivotal in the recent history of our football club.

The weeks after Christmas in the 1982/83 season spring to mind, when our best chances of getting into the Second Division for a generation disappeared with the board’s refusal to sign players. There was the transfer window of 2006/07, when a scintillating Imps side appeared not to have been backed and fell away drastically. You could point to Easter 2017 too, those last-gasp, back-to-back wins against Gateshead and Torquay the difference between play-offs and the Football League.

I’m looking at the next three games, coming in the space of eight days, and wondering if maybe this might be one of those moments. When I say that, I don’t mean failing to win matches will affect us adversely, I mean that a certain set of outcomes could suddenly cement us as automatic promotion contenders.

Before I look at that, let’s talk about the 2018/19 season. Luton Town had just been promoted to League One and were in a division boasting Charlton, Barnsley, Sunderland and Portsmouth, as well as Coventry City, Peterborough and Doncaster. They were expected to be midtable also-rans, much as we were this season, and instead, they went for it. After 21 matches they had 41 points (one fewer than us), but they lost manager Nathan Jones to Stoke and turned to Mick Harford as caretaker. From that point on, I kept watching and expecting them to fall away, expecting the Jonny-cum-lately gatecrashers to collapse. They didn’t, they kept on, relentlessly picking up points, hauling in Pompey who had a six-point advantage until finally securing promotion and the title.

Coming back, maybe for a play-off push – Credit Graham Burrell

That reminds me a lot of us, not in the manager change, but in the way few expected us to be where we are. I’m sure 90% of other club’s fans expect us to start tumbling, to drop points against the so-called big boys and maybe scrape a play-off place by the end of the season. I found in interesting in an interview with local media earlier, Michael mentioned getting Callum Morton back and us hopefully still being in play-off contention. Right now, play-offs might seem a bit of a letdown, but it would be a massive achievement if we were to pull it off.

This week, we have a chance to really state our case as a proper contender, but on what level? We have three games that, in my eyes at least, test us on three different levels. We have Northampton, a side we beat with ease at their place and a team you would expect us to beat this weekend. The trouble with expectation is that it doesn’t always go your way, and they are an organised and powerful outfit. Still, if you want to go up, you have to beat the likes of Northampton at home, right? Right. Especially when Hull City meet Portsmouth. Bearing that in mind, we could go into Tuesday’s game with Pompey with a four-point gap – if we win and they lose. The gap will be three points if we win and they draw, and if we both win then we’ll have a one-point advantage, but will have gone three clear of Hull. It is why getting a result tomorrow is huge, because we know one of those chasing us will drop points.

Our cause is helped tomorrow by Tom Hopper, Harry Anderson, Conor McGrandles and James Jones all coming back into the squad. Remember, Morgan Rogers is almost certain to feature too, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t start, giving us pace and grace on both flanks. If we are on form, score early and keep the pressure on, we could send a big statement tomorrow. That said, don’t forget Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury, two matches where we thought we’d get a result at home and didn’t.

That takes us into Tuesday and the biggest test of the season,. Portsmouth were infinitely better than us when we met last year, and a draw would be a great result in my eyes. Pompey have lost three at home this season and we have only lost once away, so the form book may give us a chance. On the same evening, Hull play Accrington so there is another tough tie for our promotion rivals to come through. By then, Peterborough could have forced themselves into our little trio of leaders, as could Donny who are in FA Cup action tomorrow.

Our game against Portsmouth will say a lot about where we are. Anything other than a loss will be a bold statement I feel, and it would be a first win at Fratton Park in my lifetime. I guess how they do this weekend will make it vital too, and whilst our season doesn’t hinge on the game, it will still be a proper six-pointer, and hopefully one in which we give a better showing of ourselves.

Donny face West Ham tomorrow – Credit Graham Burrell

That takes us to next Saturday and Donny at home. I think there are huge parallels between us and them, not least the colour of our kits and the former West Brom men in charge. In terms of club size, I think we’re about on a level too and whilst they have been established in this division for a few seasons, we do feel very much on a par right now. That means it is a game that could go either way and yet if it goes our way, we are effectively hindering another team’s promotion push.

Imagine this scenario: it is 5.45 pm a week tomorrow and we have 49 points from 24 games (two wins and a draw). The halfway mark will have been passed and we will have played two promotion rivals in the space of five days. Even if we do not take two wins and a draw, even if we take five points from the next three, we know those around us meet each other and we will still be in a good position. However, history is in the player’s hands because let me tell you this – if we were to win all three it could be another of those moments from history that you look back on as absolutely crucial in our push towards the Championship. If it doesn’t turn out that way, then no bother, because we have already exceeded expectations and if we do finish in the top six, we will have done far more than even the most optimistic of fans might have hoped for a year ago.