Nickname: The Imps
Ground: Sincil Bank
Manager: Danny Cowley (previous clubs managed: Braintree Town, Concord Rangers)
Honours: Third Division North (1931/32, 1947/48, 1951/52), Fourth Division/League Two (1975/76, 2018/19), Conference/National League (1987/88, 2016/17), Football League Trophy (2017/18), Football League Group Trophy (1982/83)
Have we met? We certainly have – 18 times to date, all in the league. April 2018’s hard-fought goalless draw at Sincil Bank earned Wanderers an important point in the push for promotion, but without doubt our most significant meeting came on the final day of the 1998/99 season, when we pulled off our first Football League ‘Great Escape’ – Paul Emblem’s goal seven minutes from time pulled Wycombe out of the Division 2 drop zone and relegated the Imps.
When were they last here? That very season just mentioned. After just over a decade in the fourth tier, Lincoln dropped into non-League for just the second time in their history at the end of the 2010/11 campaign, their only previous spell in the Conference having come in 1987/88 – incidentally, Wycombe’s second season in that division. This time, the road back would prove to be a lot longer, with promotion to League Two finally coming as champions in 2016/17. They came close to achieving back-to-back promotions in 2017/18, finishing seventh and losing in the play-off semi-finals to Exeter, before coming back even stronger and taking the league title last time around.
What happened last season? Their second league title in three years but their first professional one in 43, since the late, great Graham Taylor led his side to the old Fourth Division title with 74 points (back in the days of two points for a win), 32 wins and four defeats – all league records at the time. 2018/19 didn’t quite match that, but the Imps took home the title by six points in the end, going unbeaten between mid-January and mid-April and suffering just two losses on their own patch. Away from league action, a 2-1 defeat at Goodison Park against a near full-strength Everton side in the FA Cup was a noteworthy achievement. Bruno Andrade was the key man in a thoroughly successful campaign, while fellow former Chairboy John Akinde top scored with 17 goals in all competitions – although a staggering nine of those were penalties.
Any connections to Wycombe? Loads of them! Andrade and Akinde played on loan for us from QPR and Bristol City respectively, while Lee Angol – who played all of 60 minutes for Wycombe after starting his career here – saw less than half an hour of action while on loan at Sincil Bank from Shrewsbury towards the end of last season. The legendary Keith Scott joined Wanderers from Lincoln in 1991, with Curtis Thompson, Ryan Allsop, Sergio Torres, Guy Branston, Graham Bessington, Matt Carmichael, John Cornforth, Tony Cunningham, Mark Foran, Stefan Oakes, Marc Stallard, Dayle Southwell and Barry Richardson all having turned out for both sides. Oh, and there’s the small matter of our mutual legend – see a youthful Wild Thing doing his thing below.
How will they fare? Under the Cowleys, the only way has been up for Lincoln. Departed loanees, sparingly used defender James Wilson and the infamous Matt Rhead – who’s dropped three divisions to join Billericay – aside, every member of the title-winning squad has remained. That continuity and togetherness will play a huge part in determining the Imps’ fortunes in 2019/20.
They’ve already made some encouraging additions, with the free transfers of Jorge Grant and Jack Payne the standouts. The former arrives from Nottingham Forest and split last season between loan spells at Luton and League Two Mansfield; the latter moves from Huddersfield and struck nine times for ultimately relegated Bradford last time around. Both should bring plenty of flair to proceedings – Blues fans might remember Payne particularly shining in February’s otherwise drab goalless draw with the Bantams.
Another striker wouldn’t go amiss, but all-in-all Lincoln look well set to compete at this level. While a mid-table finish would represent great success, it wouldn’t exactly come as a shock were they to break into the play-offs. Don’t expect them to do a Luton, but do expect them to steer well clear of a relegation scrap – which surely can’t be as outrageously brutal as it was in this division last season. Can it?
Fan Insight with Jake Tonge (@Jake_Tonge98)
You’re back in the third tier for the first time since 1999 – when, funnily enough, your last game was against Wycombe. You went up as one of the favourites last season, but have you been at all surprised by how far the club has come since the Cowleys arrived? The club has all of a sudden gone a huge trajectory up the football pyramid and the Cowley brothers have played a huge part in that success. Whilst we languished in the lower reaches of the National League, the future looked blank. I remember having to better Stockport’s result on the final day to ensure safety away to Hyde. Luckily we won 5-1 with Vadaine Oliver scoring a hat-trick. But I remember that journey home, I wasn’t optimistic. Once Gary Simpson left and Chris Moyses took over, you could see that the foundations were being set for the club to push towards the EFL.
At the end of the 2016 season, we had an average squad for the National League which made it more surprising to see us top that division a year later. With the recruitment that summer, a lot of fans quickly got on side with the board, particularly after they had head hunted Danny and Nicky from Braintree. Signings such as Sean Raggett and Nathan Arnold got us dreaming that we could return to the Football League. Perhaps what is the most surprising part of this journey was the amount of time spent in League Two. Most Lincoln fans would’ve taken safety during the 17/18 season, but to finish in the play-offs shows you what our management team are all about. I’m going into this season with the same mentality as the season before last, staying in the division has to be the aim.
What are your expectations for 2019/20? Considering the trajectory you seem to be on, is a push for the play-offs completely out of the question? League One is a different kettle of fish to League Two. The latter allows you to take a more bullish approach and perhaps those who play more direct benefit. As you go up the levels, players get that bit quicker, that bit stronger and most importantly a bit more intelligent. The style of football of sides who are successful at this level is perhaps different to what we are used to at Lincoln, but with our summer recruitment it looks like we are leaning towards a style that could see us achieve a high finish. I think a lot of our fans will be wanting to stay in the division and trying to consolidate ourselves at this level. Although a lot of supporters are perhaps worried that if we stagnate then we could lose our management team. Personally, I think we’re looking at between a 10th and 14th placed finish.
Who do you expect to be your standout players in the coming season and why? Assuming that he is still at the football club come the first game, it has to be Bruno Andrade. He has it all. He’s quick, he can pull a skill out of thin air and he has an eye for goal. He is so integral to the way we play. He puts defenders on the back foot when he drives at goal and causes them to panic, which allows our high press to get us into more advanced areas. He was sensational last year, with his best spell coming around February when he scored six goals in just four games. He’s attracted interest from other clubs but presently he’s an Imps player.
Players like Jack Payne, Jorge Grant and John Akinde all have something to prove at this level in my opinion. Especially with Payne being the standout player for Bradford last season.
How would you assess your transfer activity so far? Where do you still particularly need to strengthen? Our summer recruitment suggests a change in philosophy from Danny and Nicky. Payne and Grant are players who you might describe as a ‘luxury player’. They have endless amounts of ability but can sometimes drift in and out of games. Long gone are the days where Lincoln were known as a long ball side. You just have to watch some of the goals we scored last season, most notably, Danny Rowe’s goal at Yeovil. We’ve shown glimpses of being able to play a more fluid style of football in the title winning season and I feel like that is where we’re heading.
In terms of players that need to come in, I think we’ve still got a bit of work to do. In terms of the striking department we have Matt Rhead, John Akinde and Jordan Adebayo-Smith. The latter just a youth prospect from the academy. Rhead and Akinde are similar in the fact that they are a focal point. I think Danny will be looking for a striker who offers something different – someone with a turn of pace and obviously someone who can score 20 goals a season.
We also need cover at centre-half. We have Michael Bostwick, Jason Shackell and Cian Bolger in that position currently. With James Wilson leaving at the end of the last campaign, we need cover in case we pick up suspensions or injuries over the course of the year.
Full-back cover is another area where we lack. Besides Neal Eardley and Harry Toffolo, we’re very short. Perhaps some youngsters on loan could come in and push them for a starting spot.
What’s been your best moment as a Lincoln supporter? There have been so many memorable moments and that is just over the last three seasons under the Cowley brothers. Winning the National League after being nine points behind Forest Green has to be up there. Sean Raggett has a habit of scoring late important goals.
There was obviously the Checkatrade Trophy win but perhaps what was more special, in that competition anyway, was the fact that Lee Frecklington sent us to Wembley. One of our own, having just come back to the club, sending us to Wembley.
I think I’d be daft not to mention the title win last season, but it has to be Raggett’s winner at Burnley. To have held on for so long under such pressure showed you exactly what Dan and Nick are all about. I just remember us winning back to back corners and then seeing Luke Waterfall free at the far post. I thought his header had gone wide until Rags came in and headed the ball over the line. It not only sent us all into pandemonium but it re-wrote the history books. Everyone was on about Lincoln that weekend and rightly so.
Main image: Steve. via Flickr. Used under license.