The Stacey West Podcast is going to stop saying how exciting it is when we have a full squad to select from because every time we do, players start dropping like flies.
Last week it was Jack Burroughs, and ahead of Saturday’s fixture, it was Freddie Draper and Ethan Hamilton. Now we can add a fourth name to the list of players missing out through injury – Adam Jackson. He took a Jayden Stockley elbow to the face during Saturday’s encounter, which went unpunished, and now has two black eyes and a broken nose. When asked how Jacko was, Michael Skubala confirmed he was unlikely to play this week.
“(He’s) not too good; broken nose,” said the Imps head coach. “So, two massive black eyes and a bit worse for wear. He’s going to struggle for this game. We’ll see how long that’s out for, really.”
Jacko is currently one of two or three players likely to be in the mix for the Player of the Season award, and Michael confessed he has been a big player, but his absence is one we should be able to cover.
“Yeah, a big player, been doing really well. But, I always say that’s why we need the competition for places. Paudie did well the other day coming on. Alex Mitchell’s now back, who’s been doing well, and TJ did brilliantly when he came on as well.”
As for Ethan Hamilton and Freddie Draper, there’s no more news on those, and it’s seemingly unlikely we’ll see Ethan back, possibly the same for Freddie.
“There’s no change with Ethan at the minute. We’ll see how that goes. Freddie, we’re not sure yet whether he’s going to make it tomorrow or not. He’s having more of a look-over in a fitness test today. Let’s wait and see on Freddie.”
Of course, it is a big change from a couple of weeks ago. The squad was looking fleshed out and Michael had difficult decisions to make, whereas for tomorrow’s trip to the Valley, it feels like we’re back to square pegs in round holes, at least in some areas of the field.
“Football changes quickly,” mused Michael. “My philosophy on that has always been to keep calm and keep to your processes because we know that players put their bodies on the line all the time and push themselves.
“It’s trying to manage the long-term injuries making sure we don’t make any decisions that make them any worse, but at the same time, you know that you’re going to lose people through injury and other situations.”
Another player who will not feature is loanee Conor McGrandles. He joined us on loan from Charlton two weeks ago and has since appeared twice, starting on Saturday. He’ll sit out of this encounter, as we’re facing his parent club.
“We knew this game would come because Conor’s obviously on loan from Charlton, so we knew that this game would come when we signed him on loan, so that’s not a surprise. We just thought we’d have a few more bodies there.
“Whether we change shape, whether we stay shape, or whether we just go with different personnel in that role, there’s people that I think are really chomping at the bit to come in and play. It’s for them to take their opportunity and do well on the day.”
One player who is fit, but may not start, is striker Ben House. Ben marked his first start since September with a goal and could have had two more in a lively performance. However, his appearance from the start wasn’t expected, and Michael confessed he may look to manage the former Eastleigh striker’s minutes carefully.
“I think that’s probably my toughest decision at the minute because we’ve seen how Ben’s come in and how well he looks and scoring goals, but you know, sometimes you have to make difficult calls, and I’ve got to make a difficult call with Ben, whether or not we want to risk or don’t risk.
“And that’s where the medical team does a great job here, looking after the players. Of course, everybody wants to see Ben every minute doing well, but again, we’ve got good players, and we’ve got good strikers that can come in and do that if we decide not to go with Ben or decide to go with Ben.
“With that type of coming back from injury with Ben, it’s more about his volume of minutes that we have to be careful with. It’s always my call. I want it to be that way, but you want all the available information and advice you can get from your team. I think in modern football everyone feeds into you, and assistant coaches and coaches support that decision, but ultimately you have to make a call about what’s short-term and long-term for the club and for the team.
“We’ve got 15 games left; we don’t want to do anything silly to compromise that if we can help it as a coaching staff.”
City travel to south London tomorrow hoping for at least a point, having had some success there in recent times. We won 2-1 in 2022, despite both teams having a man sent off, and Jayden Stockley (boo) scoring. That was our first victory at the Valley in our history, and only once have we taken a point, back in 1959. To balance those stats out, tomorrow will be the 20th meeting between the two sides, with us losing seven of the nine matches played to date.
Our last trip there saw us beaten 2-1, with a two-man midfield of Lasse Sorensen and Max Sanders. Danny Mandroiu scored a late goal for us against an average-looking Charlton side.