What We Need To Qualify For The Papa John’s Knockout Stage

Courtesy Graham Burrell

There seems to have been a little confusion around the Papa John’s knock stages; some fans felt we’d already qualified. 

With two wins, six goals and a plus four-goal difference, it would take a unique set of results for us not to qualify. However, Sunderland have yet to play a game, which does leave a few unknowns. With that in mind, for those who don’t boycott or whatever, this is the state of play.

As a reminder, we have already beaten Bradford City 3-0 and Manchester United Under 21s 3-2. The only other game in the group so far ended Man Utd U21s 3-0 Bradford City.

Credit Graham Burrell

Lincoln Win

If we win, we’re through, no questions asked.


If we draw, we’re through. That includes going to penalties, and either winning or losing that way. Whatever happens, if we avoid defeat, then we go through to the knockout stages. We’ve only failed to get out of the group once in our time back in the Football League, during the Danny Cowley / Michael transition.

Credit Graham Burrell

Lincoln Lose By One Goal

This is where it gets complicated and I’ve had to look at the rule book.

Progress is decided on points, then goal difference. If teams are level on both, it goes to goals scored, and after that the record against each other.

If we lose by one goal, we then finish on six points, with a plus three-goal difference. It would leave Sunderland having played one with a plus one goal difference and three points, and Man Utd U21s with a plus-two goal difference and three points.

Man Utd U21s and Sunderland still have to play, and the U21s would have to win that game. Man Utd would have to win by two goals or more to go through on goal difference. Now, it does get complicated, because after goal difference, the table turns to goals scored. So, if we lost 3-2 to Sunderland, we’d have scored eight goals. If Man Utd then beat Sunderland 1-0, our records would match, but we’d go through as they would have scored six. If they won 4-3, they’d go through.

This outcome would leave Sunderland on minus one goal difference, and therefore needing to beat Bradford City by five clear goals, to beat our plus three. They could get away with four clear goals if they scored more than our six. Still with me? i doubt it, I’m lost too.

Credit Graham Burrell

Lincoln Lose By Two Goals

If we lose by two goals, we then finish on plus two, with six points. That would mean Man United U21s would only need to beat Sunderland by a single goal, as it would put them on plus three, more than us. Sunderland would be on plus one in that set of results, meaning they would need to beat Bradford by three clear goals to better our goal differences level. However, if they won by three clear goals, it would all depend on how many they’d scored – it would need to better our six, plus however many we scored past them in losing by two clear goals.

Got it? Clear as mud, right?


Even if we do lose, by any number of goals, only a very specific set of results knocks us out of the trophy; a outright Man Utd U21 win against Sunderland and then a Sunderland win against Bradford. Even then, goals scored and goal difference would come into play. Dare I say, I think even a defeat tomorrow would leave us going through, as I think Sunderland have enough to beat Man Utd U21s, or at least draw, making goals scored academic. If Man Utd beat Sunderland something mad, like 3-0, and our result was a 1-0 defeat, Sunderland would need a huge win against Bradford City.

It speaks volumes for the integrity of the competition that the final matches are not played on the same day as each other, and that our games will be completed with Sunderland still having two to play. Because of that, and a host of other issues, I won’t be attending the game tomorrow. I’m a hypocrite, if we go deep into the tournament I’ll go, but I’m not turning out for this I’m afraid.