Last night’s fine 1-0 win against Burton kept the Imps good form up, with a four-match unbeaten run and three wins on the spin.
Each of those games has been different, coming back from 2-0 down against Blackpool took courage, whilst the 4-0 rout of MK Dons showed patience and a clinical edge. The 1-0 win at Bristol Rovers demonstrated our ability to battle, even with crippling injuries, whilst last night was us back at doing what we do well, playing nice football and creating chances. It wouldn’t have been unfair if we’d beaten MK Dons 1-0, and won last night’s 4-0 such were the chances we created. That said, Burton were a good side, putting their bodies on the line and we had to work incredibly hard against two vastly different approaches in each half.
Results really did go our way last night too. Good ‘ol Steve Evans did what he does best, stuck it to a former club with Peterborough losing to the Gills. Brett Pitman did the same, bagging a brace as Portsmouth were beaten at Swindon, whilst Oxford were set back in the play-off race thanks to Alex Woodyard’s goal for Wimbledon. Hull and Sunderland shared a point apiece, whilst Rochdale even beat Blackpool. Doncaster and Ipswich, neither looking like serious contenders, were also beaten. The only way last night could have been better is if we were given six points for the win instead of three.
What do the Imps need to do between now and May to be in the play-offs, and what else could happen before the season’s end? Let’s start by looking at the league table.
City could still finish as League One champions, although it is unlikely. The gap between us and Hull City is 11 points, but we have two games in hand. If we were to beat them on Saturday, and win our two games in hand, then the gap would be just two points. Our games in hand are against Shrewsbury and Charlton, so we’d need to also better their points haul in matches against Peterborough and Wimbledon. Their corresponding matches are Wigan at home and Charlton away. That said, we would still need to also go above Posh. So technically, we could overhaul the Tigers, but we would need a bit of a late collapse from them, which I don’t think we’ll get. If we draw on Saturday, our title ambitions are over. Boo.
Let’s assume that Hull are just a bit too far away to reel in. Maybe, if there were five more matches, it might look possible, but the ifs and buts are immense. However, getting close to Posh is not impossible.
Let’s assume for a minute that we draw our game against them, and win our game in hand. The difference would be four points needed from three matches. Could you see us winning against Shrewsbury and Wimbledon? Yes. Could you see us drawing with Hull City? Yes. That’s seven points, meaning they’d need to take just two, given the goal difference, from a Doncaster double-header and the Charlton game. Is it feasible, but only on one occasion this season have they gone three league games without more than two points, so it is a big ask. The key is beating them in our game.
If (and this is all conjecture) we beat them and win the game in hand (away at Charlton so not easy at all), then the gap is one point with three matches to play. Again, IF we could take seven points from Hull, Shrewsbury and Wimbledon, they would need six from Doncaster twice and Charlton. With Doncaster still in with a faint play-off shout, and Charlton in the same boat, that might not be as easy, especially if they had also lost to us.
In terms of form and mindset, what if we were to beat Hull this weekend, and a desperate Charlton beat them? The gap is then four points, we have a game in hand and we still have to play them – it is then in our hands. That’s how close this Imps side is to automatic promotion and whilst it is all ifs and buts, I can’t help but be immensely proud of the fact we can even talk about it. We’ve had half a squad for two months, two bouts of Covid, a complete loss of form and have the youngest starting XI of any other side in the division, and we’re still able to talk about reeling in a team with strikers that cost seven figures. Well done City.