As it stands: Wycombe (5th) P 6 W 3 D 3 L 0 Pts 12 GD 4 | Lincoln (2nd) P 6 W 4 D 0 L 2 Pts 12 GD 8
League form: Wycombe DWDWD | Lincoln WWLLW
The last time: Lincoln 0-0 Wycombe (17/04/18, League Two)
Coming into the Game
I don’t think anyone had League Two champions Lincoln down to struggle on their return to the third tier after 20 years away (when we relegated them on the final day – sorry), but I’m also not sure anyone expected them to be sitting pretty in second after six games, two points off top spot. Wycombe’s unbeaten start might be satisfying, but the Imps’ record of four wins and two losses ties with it on 12 points. Last time we met, we sat 8th and 3rd in League Two respectively. How times change. We come into this one off the back of that typically drab 0-0 draw away to AFC Wimbledon; Lincoln saw off Fleetwood 2-0 at home and lost 3-1 at Doncaster in the EFL Trophy on Tuesday.
In Their Dugout: Danny Cowley
Danny and his brother and assistant Nicky are legends at Lincoln in the same way Gareth Ainsworth is at Wycombe. Only about three years ago, the Imps were an average National League outfit, but they’ve not looked back since that inspired change of management. Previously PE teachers in Rayleigh, Essex, the Cowleys were brought to Sincil Bank from Braintree Town – then also of the National League.
With two promotions, a run to the FA Cup quarter-finals (which included knocking out Ipswich, Brighton and Burnley) and an EFL Trophy win under their belts, you could say they’ve been successful! Ulimately, they’ve played a big part in the city getting right behind its team again – to the point that they sold out of season tickets this summer and attract near sell-out crowds every week. West Brom, Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday have all come calling in recent months, but you get the sense the project isn’t complete yet…
The Danger Man for Them: Tyler Walker
Son of the legendary Des Walker – of Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and England fame – and older brother of QPR’s Lewis, Tyler Walker has taken to League One like a duck to water. The 22-year old striker, who’s on a season-long loan from Forest, has already notched four goals in six games – including both in that win over Fleetwood – with 89% of his shots hitting the target – the best record of any player in the division with three or more goals. A dynamic forward who can really punish high-pressing defences, his fine start to 2019/20 follows his 22-goal campaign for Mansfield in League Two.
The Opposition View with Gary Hutchinson, Editor of The Stacey West
Five games into the season, how would you assess things so far? Have the team exceeded your expectations even at this early stage?
I’m delighted with how we’ve started, but I can’t help but feel the unfair nature of League One has cost us too.
We’ve looked really good in some matches, passing the ball around nicely and making lots of chances. It’s a real difference to our League Two style and it’s winning plenty of respect amongst our fans. We’ve still not conceded in the league at home and we’re second, a great achievement even if it is only after six matches.
That’s massively exceeded expectations, but these postponed fixtures are beginning to bug me. We lost to Doncaster after they’d had a free midweek and we had to play; the game ended 2-1 but we were the better side for much of it. They beat us 3-1 in the EFL trophy ten days later, but they didn’t play in those ten days; we had two matches in between.
We come to Adams Park having played in midweek again – nine matches since the season started, whereas you have had a week’s rest. The fixture schedule has really done us over.
Just sum up the Imps’ footballing style/philosophy for those who perhaps aren’t aware.
I’d like to say we have a single philosophy, but we don’t. There’s an old saying ‘horses for courses’, which is true. If we can get away with passing and finding space, we will. It’s been more evident this season because other teams want to play football. We’ve got better players now too; Jack Payne is awesome in the ten role and will always look to create chances.
If we have to mix it up, go a bit longer, then we will. With Tyler Walker up top instead of [Matt] Rhead we won’t be quite as direct, but we’ll be tough if we need to be.
Looking at your stats I think the neutral would be very surprised this weekend; I can’t see either of us ‘going long’ all game, which the narrow-minded supporter might expect.
Who’s stood out for you so far and who would you expect to star today? Anyone we should keep an eye out for who might have slipped under the radar?
In terms of slipping under the radar, I’ve got to go for Harry Toffolo. He’s our left-back but he gets forward easily. He’s got a goal this season as well as an assist or two and last weekend his cross for our opener against Fleetwood was as good as any you’ll see in the top flight. He’s a nice lad too, very humble and focused on helping the community as well as the team.
The standout performers have been Jack Payne, naturally, as well as Walker. I did wonder if Walker would cut it at this level, but his movement will cause defenders problems. He roasted [Fleetwood centre-back] Peter Clarke last weekend and if a team plays a high line he’ll do them every time.
Joe Morrell is another who might have slipped under the radar, but you’ll not have to worry. He’s on international duty with Wales this weekend, but his energy and endeavour has been important in front of the back four. Don’t worry though; we’ve got England Under 21 international Callum Connolly on loan from Everton and he’ll be a more than adequate replacement.
Wycombe have been playing some really nice, attacking football on the deck, but can we still switch to aerial bombardment – with an extra weapon in that department now, David Wheeler. We’ve also, of course, got our shithouse side. Do Lincoln approach this game any differently with all that in mind?
Absolutely, as I alluded to above. Both our sides have been labelled as long ball merchants, picked on as anti-football, but I think we’ve got great managers. Gareth and Danny both know you have to be flexible, they’ve been taught the right way. Ainsworth is a hero at Lincoln, he’s a guy we’d love to see with our club one day. He’s not unlike Danny; he knows how to work the fans, he builds players up and he is tactically far more aware than pundits give him credit for.
I’m looking forward to seeing Shacks [Jason Shackell] and Bozzy [Michael Bostwick] dealing with Akinfenwa, but Wheeler and Kashket do worry me. Of course, seeing how Aarons fits in with your setup is going to be interesting too.
Finally, how do you see the game going? Feel free to make a prediction.
I’m interested to see how your 4-3-3 copes with our 4-2-3-1. We’ll be looking to get the ball out wide, causing your midfield to open up a little if the wider players have to pull out and cover. I think it’ll be an open game and I expect both teams to score.
I’m going to plump for 2-2, just like the opening day of the 2017/18 season.
A Deeper Look
Last time out, we were greeted by a typically robust, stubborn and ultimately frustrating performance by AFC Wimbledon – although we didn’t help ourselves with a couple of ‘what might have been’ misses. Lincoln will be no less solid – as you’ll see below, no side in League One has conceded fewer foals – but will come out and play with great intensity and creativity. They tried to take the game to a very strong Everton team last week, and anyone who saw that Carabao Cup tie will know that the Imps are a serious proposition.
Gareth Ainsworth arguably got it wrong down at Kingsmeadow – or he was happy with a draw (you know what, I think we all were really) – but Adebayo Akinfenwa could have more luck this Saturday; aerial duels are a weakness of the Imps’. The Beast has won, on average, 10.8 aerials per game – the best in the league by a margin, probably unsurprisingly. Just as a basic comparison, Lincoln’s likely centre-back pairing average 3.5 and 2.3 respectively.
If Bayo starts, it may well come down to how well the visitors ration the scraps; there’s the potential for there to be a lot of them. With Fred Onyedinma a doubt, Rolando Aarons could well come straight into the side for his debut – I think I’ve raved about him enough here – with David Wheeler keeping his place after another pleasing performance, only swapping to the right to allow the new man to have maximum effect cutting inside. Scott Kashket will play a part, you have to feel, but we know by now how well Wheeler aids the aerial bombardment.
While Curtis Thompson is probably still a week away from returning, the loan signing arrival of Nnamdi Ofoborh has bumped our viable midfield options up to six. Still, we’re probably looking at three from four again, although if we’re really going for it, you’d imagine we’ll set up as follows: Dom Gape will be Dom Gape, Alex Pattison will probably sit midway and Nick Freeman in that free-roaming 10 role. The new two-year deal for Nick was a hugely welcome show of faith in him by Gareth; hopefully it’s also the beginning of an extended run of starts. We can rotate in plenty of positions, but that shouldn’t be one of them. Have I banged a hole in that drum yet? Oh, detail worth noting: Lincoln haven’t fared that well against long shots, so don’t be surprised to see Gape and Pattison in particular having a crack.
Having shipped five goals in the last two home games, a clean sheet wouldn’t go amisss. Looking achieve that will, in all likelihood, be the same back four that’s featured the last two times out: Jack Grimmer, Anthony Stewart, Darius Charles and Joe Jacobson. Like Thompson, Sido Jombati played in the midweek friendly with Brentford B, but you sense he’s not going to come back into the side just yet – especially with Stewart and Charles in such excellent form. As alluded to by Gary in the Opposition View, Lincoln like to get the ball out wide and stretch the play. Grimmer and Jacobson will need to be wise to that and augment the midfield when not in possession, while the whole unit must take heart from their almost impermeable showing at Wimbledon and build on it against measurably tougher opponents.
You could say that Lincoln pack the midfield in the sense that they play five there, but it’s very much an attacking, 2-3 system with a sole striker ahead of them. The Imps arrive joint second top scorers in League One with 12. The respective sides’ six League One games have averaged 2.67 goals – just below the division average of 2.75 – although Lincoln have kept four clean sheets to Wycombe’s two, conceding a league joint lowest of four goals. All of the visitors’ fixtures have produced 1.5+ goals, although two of them were 2-1 losses. A score somewhere between 5-4 and 0-0 then?
I’d normally start at one end of the pitch or the other, but let’s examine that midfield first – the creative hub for Danny Cowley’s side. Jorge Grant, the left-sided player in the three, has provided four assists already this season – a figure bettered in League One only by the magnificent Marcus Maddison of Peterborough – while number 10 Jack Payne and holding midfielder Callum Connolly – an England U21 international on loan from Everton – have contributed one apiece. Grant spent the first half of 2018/19 on loan at Luton but then found himself dropping into League Two with Mansfield. Having left Nottingham Forest permanently, though, he’s wasted no time in showing that he’s more than up to third tier standard. Payne, you might remember, impressed for Bradford in that absolutely dire, bloody freezing 0-0 at Adams Park in February; he moved to Sincil Bank on after leaving Huddersfield.
Harry Anderson – who opened the scoring against Everton after just 18 seconds – completes that three, with the Imps channeling the largest proportion of their attacks down the right (41%, to be precise). Connolly went straight into the side last Saturday alongside Bristol City loanee Joe Morrell, but the latter is away on international duty with Wales so misses this one. That should mean that the experienced Michael O’Connor – who played all bar one game as Lincoln stormed to the League Two title – comes into the side, with 18-year-old Ellis Chapman another option. Jake Hesketh, a deadline day loan arrival from Southampton, misses out through injury.
Up top, Tyler Walker has started every game in all competitions bar that Everton thriller. There can’t be much doubt that he’ll cause problems, but if for whatever reason he’s not able find his groove, or if he runs out of steam, there’s a familiar face waiting in the wings: John Akinde. The 30-year-old target man knocked in 17 goals last season, his first at Sincil Bank – were penalties, but you need a trusty taker to tuck them away – and has played a part in every league game so far this time around. The penalty king’ tag he’s sometimes given, while probably well intended, does the big man a disservice; he’s an important asset to his team in a variety of ways. There’s also the small matter of another former Wanderer, Bruno Andrade… A star for the Imps last season, the versatile forward is yet to start in League One but has come off the bench five times – and did you SEE his goal against Everton?
As mentioned, Lincoln boast the joint meanest defence in League One. Consistency in personnel will have helped with that, of course. Full-backs Neal Eardley and Harry Toffolo have been on the pitch for every minute of league football so far – although West Brom loanee Max Melbourne now offers competition on the left – while in the heart of defence, Micheal Bostwick (proprietor of one of the finest beards in the game) has missed just shy of half an hour. Veteran skipper Jason Shackell – whose average of 2.5 interceptions per game ranks equal second in the league – and summer signing Cian Bolger have occupied the other centre-back spot. In goal, Josh Vickers has made a very solid start to life in the tier, having never played in it before and spending over half of 2018/19 on the sidelines.
The Man in the Middle: Christopher Sarginson
This will be Sarginson’s fifth game of the season. He’s refereed one apiece in League One, League Two, the EFL Cup and EFL Trophy so far, producing 13 yellows in total. His League One appointment was the 1-1 draw between Blackpool and Portsmouth last weekend. He’s not taking charge of a Wycombe match since the 2-1 home win over Grimsby in April last year.