Michael Appleton welcomes back two key players this week as in-form Blackpool visit Sincil Bank.
It’s no secret the squad have been ravaged by injury in recent weeks, with no fewer than seven first-team players missing from the line-up against Oxford United. It seems there may be light at the end of the tunnel though, as two players are set to return this weekend against Neil Critchley’s side.
Neither are expected to complete 90 minutes, but Max Sanders and Joe Walsh are likely to play some part in the game. Sanders, who hasn’t been seen much since his January move from Brighton, will almost certainly be amongst the subs, and whilst the benefits of his return may seem negligible at this stage, he could offer some much-needed cover in the holding midfield role.
Don’t forget, the Brighton man was earning rave reviews earlier in the season and was widely tipped to break into the Seagulls first-team squad, so he is going to be a big player for us. I think with him there is a bit of the ‘Tom Pett’, in that after six months we’ll struggle to see the value, but 18 months in he’ll be considered a key part of the squad. he played little football through the autumn and early winter, meaning he was always playing catch up. However, he looks tenacious in the tackles and controlled on the ball, and having quality bodies back, even on the fringes at this stage, is a big bonus.
The big news is the return to fitness of Joe Walsh, a key defender for the Imps. Walsh has been missing since our 2-2 draw with Accrington, the game after which our title charge fell apart, and his absence cannot be understated. Yes, losing your captain, vice-captain, leading scorer and number nine isn’t ideal, but when Walsh also dropped out of the team we started to concede goals. In this morning’s press conference, Linc Sport report Michael Appleton as saying: “[Walsh’s] recovery sped up over the last two weeks. He’s not ready to play 90 minutes, but he’s ready to play a part over the next week or so where we’ve got three games.”
How important is that? Well, in the 19 games Walsh has played this season, City have lost just four, keeping nine clean sheets. In his last eleven matches, the Imps conceded just eight, two of which came in the Accrington draw. To contrast that, in the eleven games since Walsh dropped out of the squad, we have kept just one clean sheet (3-0 v Crewe) and conceded 19 goals. Numbers don’t lie.
Walsh won’t play a big role tomorrow. He might get an hour and come off, he might get 20 minutes at the end, but one thing is for sure – if he is back in defence for the last seven or eight matches, then it is a huge boost for our chances of the play-offs.