Michael Appleton’s excellent Imps made it three wins from three as the play-off push got firmly back on track with a fourth successive win against Burton Albion.
With other results going our way, it would take a monumental collapse for City to not make the top six now, and with players coming back and confidence seemingly high, few would want to face this side in the end-of-season lottery. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but a fine performance with half of the team still missing underlines the potential this squad has, be it this season or the next.
The Imps were forced into a change, with Cohen Bramall succumbing to an injury he picked up against MK Dons. James Jones came into midfield, with the versatile Tayo Edun dropping into the left-back slot. Regan Poole, who clattered a post in the win against Bristol Rovers, passed a late fitness test. Burton boasted several ex-Imps, or players with Imps connections. Michael Bostwick and Danny Rowe both started for them, veterans of our EFL Trophy and League Two triumphs, whilst Michael Mancienne also started after spending time training with the club earlier in the year.
The home side started very brightly, with Ryan Edwards one player who caught my eye. Their midfield three certainly looked comfortable in possession, and with the long throw on Tom Hamer that had a real threat from anywhere in range of the 18-yard box. The best chance of the opening ten minutes or so fell to the Imps with Brennan Johnson surging forward and driving a shot at goal, which was deflected wide. Sadly, two early Imps corners came to nothing, one under hit and the other given too much power.
As the game wore on, the Imps began to settle and play some lovely possession football. Just before the quarter hour mark, Morgan Rogers fed the ball out wide to Scully, who in turn pulled it back to the edge of the area for McGrandles to strike. His effort was blocked and went out for a corner, which came to little.
Burton certainly began to go from back to front quickly, with Hemmings doing plenty of running but with little reward. They still looked dangerous on the break though, and Alex Palmer had to be smart of dive at the feet of the onrushing Akins on 18 minutes.
With Rogers and Johnson both a constant thorn in Burton’s side, it didn’t come as a huge surprise when City scored. The goal came from a sustained spell of pressure, Scully seizing on the ball in the area, shifting his balance and shooting at the goal of Ben Garratt. The former Crewe man didn’t get a chance to save as the Brewers blocked it for a corner. The first corner was taken quickly, with Edun reacting to win another corner.
This time, City made the home team pay. Another quick corner found Edun on the edge of the area, and his weighted ball evaded Hayden Carter, with TJ Eyoma arriving with a superb diving header to give the Imps the lead. It was Eyoma’s first goal of the season, his first in the professional game and it gave a lively City side something to defend.
Defending wasn’t seemingly a problem for the Imps, with Eyoma and Montsma both looking assured against the Brewers’ attack. Poole and Edun played a part too, with very few scary moments to report on after the goal. Edwards did lash over from range on 28 minutes, but it wasn’t any real danger.
City could have extended the lead as the half wore on. On 34 minutes, a good spell of passing saw City go from side to side, forward and backwards, before Poole’s smart ball found Rogers just around the centre circle. He turned and spread the ball to Edun, revelling in his role at left back. The former Fulham man pulled the ball back to Johnson, who saw his shot once again blocked by a dogged Burton back line.
The Brewers suffered a further blow just before half time, when Mancienne pulled up with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. It was a huge blow for them to deal with, the former Forest man was labelled a key player for them during Match Day live by Jack from Brewers TV and it had been easy to see why. Terry Taylor, a former Grimsby loanee, replaced him.
City could have bagged just before half time, when Johnson broke away at pace down the left. He had acres of space, and rolled a gentle ball to Jones. He shifted to one side and struck an effort with his right foot, which once again was deflected over for a corner. The half time lead looked very good in the context of other results, particularly at Swindon, where Brett Pitman’s double gave them a surprise 3-1 win against play-off hopefuls Portsmouth.