Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League Two - 7th; W 20 / D 15 / L 11 / F 64 / A 48 / Pts 75 (Lost in the play-off semi-final)
The Imps were back in the EFL after a six-year hiatus, that must have felt like an aeon to most of their fans. It’s hard to underestimate the impact Danny and Nicky Cowley have had since being manager and assistant respectively. By Christmas 2017, they’d suffered defeat on a mere five occasions, and whilst Lincoln City had found it slightly difficult to g on any winning streaks, they were consistently at the right end of table. A superb seventh-place finish meant they had a chance of gaining back-to-back promotions and they also won the EFL Trophy, neither of which were expected. A 3-1 aggregate defeat in the play-odd semi-final to Exeter City was disappointing, but far from a killer blow in terms of the confidence in the team for the subsequent season. The general mood remains buoyant.
Top Goalscorer: Matt Green (14 goals in 45 starts/3,800 minutes)
Top Creator: Matt Rhead (8 assists in 37 starts/2,855 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Danny Cowley; it’s very much a team effort from the brothers, but Danny is the one who’s in charge. He’s that rare breed of manager that to this date, has vastly improved the standing of every club he’s taken the reins of. He spent his playing career in the non-league, bouncing from southern sides until an injury at Concord Rangers forced him to retire in 2007. Soon after, he was offered the gig at The Beach Boys, enjoying three promotions in his eight years there, getting them all the way up to the National League South. Danny and Nicky made the move to Braintree Town, spending a single campaign with the Iron and missing out on the fifth tier play-off final as Grimsby Town overturned their first leg deficit.
The brothers excelled right from the off, winning the title with two games to spare and gaining international publicity with their memorable run to the quarter finals of the FA Cup whilst the Imps were still a non-league outfit. Last term only enhanced their reputations even further, and both are fiercely ambitious to continue their remarkable progression.
Ins: John Akinde (Barnet), Bruno Andrade (Boreham Wood), Grant Smith (Boreham Wood), Harry Toffolo (Millwall) & Michael O’Connor (Notts County).
Outs: Nathan Arnold (Boston United), Sean Long (Cheltenham Town), Elliott Whitehouse (Grimsby Town), Billy Knott (Concord Rangers), Alex Woodyard (Peterborough United), Richard Walton (Matlock Town), Paul Farman (Stevenage), Ollie Palmer (Crawley Town) & Cameron Stewart (free agent).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: The roster is relatively small in proportion to how most of their rivals will look by the season’s kick-off. Two of Boreham Wood’s key men have made the move to Sincil Bank, starting in goal with Grant Smith. It’s too close to call as to whether he or Josh Vickers will be #1, but together, they give the Cowleys options and plenty of reassurance, should one of them be unavailable.
Captain Luke Waterfall will continue to be a rock in the central of defence, and his partnership with James Wilson is a textbook example of controlled aggression. On the flanks, they have two individuals with the right attributes to play in a conventional flat four or as wing-backs. Neal Eardley has long since shaken off the injury woes that dogged him previously. He has been a reliable figure down the right, with no shortage of skill or ability both with and without the ball. His compatriot Harry Toffolo is another young, highly talented player, who adds strength and a sizeable aerial presence to the Imps out wide.
Lee Frecklington uses every bit of his experience to dictate the tempo of a game from deep areas. He has an eye for goal from range if given the time and space by the opposition to saunter up the pitch unchecked. Similarly, Michael O’Connor might provide a double pivot option to help out his teammates and soak up the pressure. Watch out for his direct free-kicks and positional flexibility – the latter is a coveted commodity in a tight-knit squad. He could also be asked to push out wide when they lose possession, mirroring the efforts of Tom Pett, whose agility makes him hard for defenders to track.
Bruno Andrade’s signature was desperately wanted by a plethora of teams in the EFL’s lower leagues and for good reason. 22 goals from attacking midfield is an astonishing return for Boreham Wood, and there’s little evidence to suggest that he can’t make the step up and be similarly impressive, especially when he has the threat and movement of John Akinde and Matt Green ahead of him.
Green had a more than respectable goal ratio last season, and his tireless efforts to chase down lost causes will continue to bear fruit, especially as he has the pace and stamina to do so all game long. On the occasions he is fatigued, Matt Rhead’s sheer size (in both directions) is intimidating, and he remains a potent super-sub to be called on as and when he’s needed.
Akinde is yet another player who has been in demand for quite some time. He too is very strong and loves nothing more than using that to back into his marker to shield the ball, but it’s his anticipation and movement which elevates him in comparison to other strikers of similar stature. A shoe-in to be top goalscorer in League Two.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Gunning for automatic promotion; this is quite unfamiliar territory for Lincoln and their fans. I can’t immediately recall a time when they were one of the favourites for promotion from the fourth tier for a multitude of reasons. With the Cowley brothers in charge and a squad that has retained the vast majority of their better individuals whilst augmenting it with yet more in key areas, there is now a bit of pressure on them to go at least one better and make the play-offs. I think that’s a conservative expectation of what they’re capable of. Although I’ve ‘banded’ my predictions into areas for every side, if someone put a gun to my head and asked me to name the champions for 2018/2019, the Imps would definitely be the first ones I’d think of. There are impressive individuals wherever you look in a group that has an extremely high level of tactical flexibility, and more importantly, a manager that can squeeze the very best out of them. Exciting times at Sincil Bank are sure to stay for a while longer yet…