This Saturday sees us kick off our 22/23 campaign against one of the newly promoted sides, Exeter City, writes Tom Morton.
It’s good to be back and I hope everyone has had a great summer so far. I love the excitement of the first game of a season. The last 12 months have been wiped away and we are expectant of something new. Certainly no more of the same old. New manager, new players, the potential is sweet. Of course, you can’t put too much stock in the first game. Maybe we will lose, but that won’t define a season. I think, though, that most fans would agree we failed to start with a bang last year. A fumbling first few games where we felt disconnected and sometimes vague translated into a season where we struggled to get any momentum.
So, I won’t be looking for any kind of classic on Saturday, but I do hope to see a break from the past, some new tactics and the beginning of building some of that much-needed momentum.
Exeter City will equally be looking for a bright start. They are back in the third flight for the first time in a decade. They’ve been knocking on the door for a while having finished in the top 10 of League Two for five years running. Interestingly, Exeter seems to have gone with the tactic of consistency – retaining almost all of their core players and only bringing in two signings so far. The club media are pitching this as intentional, but the indication is they might have struggled to attract or find the talent they were seeking over the summer.
Either way, the Grecians are backing their young squad from last year to land well at this level. Their form over pre-season has been like ours – nothing to write home about. But as we all know pre-season is pre-season and not a good marker for the future.
Given there are few changes to their promotion squad, I feel reasonably confident saying Exeter’s starting lineup for Saturday won’t look too different to how they closed out last season (but don’t hold me to the formation of 3-4-3). New loanee Jamal Blackman will start in goal. However, the outfield feels fairly stable from last season. There are a few players doubtful for the match; with Sam Stubbs at centre-back and top-flight loanee Kegs Chauke apparently carrying knocks. Stubbs is a handy player from the back who got two goals last season, so he will be missed early this season if he is unavailable.
Form changes from season to season, so we have little to go on for Exeter’s performance on Saturday. None of the stats we all love to talk about this week! But last year’s danger men were Matt Jay and Timothee Dieng with 14 and 12 goals apiece. Jay has been with Exeter since 2013 and has really flourished in the last couple of seasons. He is feisty and tricky and likes to get the ball in the area and make problems. He scores a lot from around the six-yard box so will be an interesting first test for O’Connor.
What can we expect from Lincoln? I only managed to watch the pre-season game against Blackburn last weekend. Despite the narrow loss, it felt like there were promising signs from the lads as well as some clear areas of work. At the back newbie Paudie O’Connor seems to have settled well into a partnership with Poole, who appears to have retained his form from last season. One thing I think a lot of fans will be pleased to see is the return of “proper set pieces”. There was not one short kick, with Vernam stepping up to get the ball into danger areas either from the corner or outfield. Our best effort game from a set piece and I can tell you, it was a relief! Now, Vernam needs to get his eye in – some of the balls were a bit loose – but you can see he has huge potential.
More than anything, what was pleasing was the pace and positivity of our play. It might not be enough for the chap sat behind me who spent all of last season lamenting “forward, get it forward, no not that way”. But where last season we saw players turning back and playing into our own half, on Saturday I saw more aggression in moving the ball forward. Not all is positive; some players are clearly settling in and we are not yet “there” in our attacking half. We’re clearly missing a couple of clinical and innovative players to create opportunities (presumably something is in the works to fix this). Most worrying for me is that Scully is clearly missing his partnership with Bramal – he and Robson will do fine, but a partnership there is worth a lot of goals and will be key.
So, on to the weekend and hopefully a good start to the season – best of luck to the team.
After the match on Saturday, I am off to a field camping. So Gary will be doing the honours for Scout File next week, see you for the week after when hopefully we’ll have some lovely lovely stats!