Coming off the back of a string of three defeats, the Imps will be hoping to turn over struggling Cheltenham at the Bank today, writes Tom Morton.
The Robins have had an abysmal start to the season, scoring just one goal across all competitions (and that was an own goal) and so far failing to rack up a win. It’s a sudden shift in fortune for a club who spent their first two seasons, after promotion in 20/21, finishing mid-table. As a result, the club let go of manager Wade Elliot just over a week ago leaving assistant Kevin Russel in charge.
On the face of it, Cheltenham had a good bit of transfer business during the summer. That included signing Curtis Davies from Derby County. The 38-year-old has an impressive career across the Premier League and Championship and should bring important experience to any squad. They also secured a permanent move for goalkeeper Luke Southwood from Reading, having been with the club on loan last season. That said, in the same window they lost Alfie May to Charlton. May was worth 20+ goals and I guess that shows already this season.
One former Imp we’ll expect to see is Ellis Chapman. The promising midfielder came through our youth setup during the Cowley era and played a total of thirty-one times between 2017 and 2020. Despite the relatively small number of appearances, there was a lot of buzz about Chapman’s future at the club, until a somewhat surprise move to Cheltenham at the start of the 20/21 season. He featured a lot in their promotion from League 2 and then their first season back in the third tier, but seemed to fall out of favor – ultimately spending a lot of last season on loan at National League side Oldham Athletic. This season he’s appearing back on the bench and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the turf later today.
Given the change of manager, it’s hard to predict the Robins’ tactics or lineup today. Elliot seemed to play various versions of 3-4-3, but Russell switched to 4-4-2 for his single game in charge so far (a 3-0 loss to Stevenage).
Looking at clips, Cheltenham aren’t a team that looks dejected and without hope. There are some positives in their side going forward and, frankly, they were purely unlucky not to score last weekend. A nice move up the pitch was finished well but bounced off the inside of the bar.
It’s at the back and in the middle, you can see the problems. They seem a bit flat and far from dominating in the middle third. Two of Stevenage’s goals last weekend came from loose midfield balls. The other common factor is how static their backline feels for all three goals. Two came on the break and after saving the initial effort everyone seemed to stand still to allow a follow-up. Even in the first goal, a well-worked set piece, the back line seemed planted on the 6-yard line.
So there are clearly some structural problems in how they play. It’s the sort of thing that will give Mandriou, hopefully returning to the side today, a good opportunity to test the defence. It’s also a chance for the Ethans to dominate midfield and ideally dictate the game.
Our recent form against the Robins has been pretty good. You have to go back to 2017 to find a loss, and since then we’ve racked up four wins and three draws. Overall, though, since our first encounter in 1998, we’re on the losing end – picking up eight wins to their eleven.
Interestingly our history with Cheltenham is very short because they spent a huge amount of the 1900s in the lower leagues, only securing themselves in the Football League during the 2000s.
In principle, despite our injury woes you would fancy Lincoln to take the points today. Our home performance is strong and Cheltenham are in a terrible position (although oddly don’t have the worst away performance due to their 0-0 draw at Portsmouth). That said, they are a team who have the players to do well and will start to turn it around at some point. That means we can’t be complacent.