As we enter a full week off, it’s time for a few broken bodies to come back to full fitness.
There’s no doubt we haven’t been at full strength at all yet this season; Joe Walsh being out is testament to that. I’m hoping he can drop back into the side, injury-free, and have a serious impact, because, in my mind, he’s one of our better players. I suppose it is subjective; a full-strength Lincoln City side might have had Hakeeb Adelakun in it a couple of weeks ago, but would it now? Where do you stand on the Tom Hopper / Dan N’Lundulu debate? What is a full-strength City side?
As we’ve had nothing to discuss over the last few days, here’s something to get you all talking; my full-strength Lincoln City XI.
I really don’t think there’s any argument here, is there? Josh Griffiths is our number one; he should be England Under 21s number one. That means, for the first time, the chant of ‘England’s Number One’ would actually be accurate, rather than an honour bestowed upon a keeper by our fans.
I’m afraid I might trigger one or two by picking Regan Poole as our starting right back, rather than TJ Eyoma, but that’s what I’m doing. When I hear people criticising Poole, I’m inclined to stick my fingers in my ear and make fart noises with my tongue until they disappear. It’s my opinion, but I think Poole is a more solid, dependable right back, which we need right now. I’ve seen criticism of his role in goals against Wycombe and Ipswich, but he’s been left woefully under pressure by the right-winger on both occasions. I think he’s looked worse because he’s often been coping with two players whilst an injured Maguire ambles back, or whilst Adelakun goes missing. Give him a fit and willing player ahead of him, and he is ten times better.
It is harsh to say we’re going with the lesser of two evils here, but it feels a little that way. I don’t mean either Robson or Bramall are bad players, they’re not, but there are reasons why you wouldn’t pick either at left-back. With Robson, he’s settling into the Lincoln City way and whilst certainly committed; he isn’t quite on the wavelength just yet. However, Bramall is more attacking, more prone to being caught out at the back. In a conversation yesterday, he was described to me as a half back, or maybe he’s a wing-back in modern terms. That’s great with a wide left player who can fill in, like Tayo Edun was, but we don’t have that right now, so Robson gets the nod.
I change my idea of best centre back pairings more than I change my socks, and I get through two pairs of those per day. We’ve got the same choice as last season, the same dilemma and yet here I am with a different pairing. There are three viable right-sided centre backs and all three have a shout for being included; but all three have shortcomings too. Lewis is a stylish footballer, but he worries me at the back. He can jump in early and often gets caught wrong side. TJ would get the nod, but he’s been nowhere near as comfortable this season as he was at the end of the last. Yes, Bonne shoved him over for the goal, but he wasn’t in a great position to defend the ball in either. Adam Jackson is good in the air and I think a more experienced centre back is what we need if we’re to finally get the long-awaited clean sheet.
Writing this feels a bit like writing about the New Guinea Singing Dog. It was a species of dog that was thought to be extinct, only for it to suddenly reappear in 2016. Part of me thought we’d seen the end of Joe Walsh, so to see him back on the field against Sunderland was a great moment. He’s a great defender, and in the few games he has played since signing for us, he’s proven that. In my eyes, he makes the left-back better by being naturally left-footed and using his experience to guide them. If he’s fit, he’s my number one pick at centre half.
Genuinely, if you’re picking the strongest Lincoln City XI, and you don’t pick our leader, captain and most gifted footballer, you’re following the wrong sport.
I’ve gone through so many midfield combinations in my mind over the last few weeks; it feels a bit like the defence. Ted Bishop was a shoo-in, but he’s been largely disappointing since the opening month. McGrandles didn’t impress me hugely in the opening fixtures, but when he’s not been playing the midfield looks much weaker. I’m off the impression that as many of last season’s players s possible should be around the first team, and when Conor is fit, I think he’s sure to get in. He did have a great game against Cambridge, and I hope his return to the side is as spectacular as it was in the second part of last season.
If we go McGrandles and Bridcutt in midfield, it leaves space for one more. That means either Sorensen, Sanders, Bishop or Fiorini. I like Sanders and I hope he’s going to keep settling in, as it appears to have taken some time. In Fiorini, we have a threat in attacking areas and he gets my nod. Bishop has struggled to impress himself on the side, and whilst Lasse played an important role in both goals against Plymouth, overall I don’t think he’s been impactful. Lewis has; he’s got three goals now and in a midfield where covering and tracking is looked after by McGrandles and Bridcutt, I think he can be our free-spirited creator. He needs to be bolder, more attack-minded, but he has the quality, for sure.
My automatic inclusion of Anthony Scully means one of two things; we’re either worse than last season, or he has improved significantly. Last year, he was always the twelfth man for me, the one you wanted to find a spot for, but probably couldn’t at full strength. This season, with so many goals and assists already, he’s an automatic inclusion. I don’t buy the ‘stop Scully, stop Lincoln’ shouts, but he has seemingly matured somewhat over the summer. Maybe in a team full of bright lights last season, his didn’t quite shine as bright, but remember he was joint leading scorer without ever being a regular starter. Now he’s outright leading scorer, and will always play when fit. Fair play to the lad; that’s what you want to see as a fan.
I tell a story about the first time I met Michael Appleton, and he claimed his first move at Oxford was to sign Alex MacDonald, a player I always describe as a horrible bastard, because his character was right for the dressing room. Michael called Danny’s squad, the one he inherited, ‘too nice’, and has stated recently we need someone to get under player’s skins. That’s Maguire, no doubt. We saw it against Plymouth; we’d barely been in the game, bullied in places, but on comes the former Sunderland man and everything lifts. He’s also neat and tidy on the ball and will score goals for us. If he’s fit, he starts in my eyes, over Adelakun, who runs less consistently than my internet.
It’s the big Hopper/N’Lundulu debate, and whilst part of me thinks Dan is the man to take us forward, right now, I have to go for Tom. I don’t think he’s been great this season (who has, really?) but I do think he fits the way we play more. These opinions are subject to change, without a doubt, and with Tom out until January, Dan will get ample time to show us he’s the goalscorer we need. Right now, as things stand, I do think we’d be better with Tom fit.
Of what I’d term a full-strength City XI, seven are either injured or returning from injury: Griffiths, Walsh, Jackson, Bridcutt, McGrandles, Maguire and Hopper. Of those who remain, only Poole and Robson have not been out this season. Maybe, just maybe, that’s worth considering the next time you’re on social media and want to say we’re ‘not good enough’. Also, of the seven I class as the first XI and who have been injured or are coming back, five were here last season. Maybe we don’t ‘just sign crocks’, either.