This ones a monster read from 22 year old Jake Tonge a big Imps fan and he really knows his stuff, but don’t let that put you off as he gives us a real insight into Lincoln City, and his views on the game and how he sees the season ending up.
Many thanks Jake, all the best to you and Lincoln City for the rest of the season, and if you fancy a job writing for the MKDSA let us know….top work.
We are now at the Business end of the season; how do you assess how your season has gone so far and what are your hope’s for the run in?
This season has hugely surpassed any expectation that Lincoln supporters had going into the current campaign. It is Michael Appleton’s first full season in charge of the club, and based on the inconsistencies of last season, I think we were expecting a similar sort of season with a few extra wins thrown in there personally I think I had us to finish 9th, involved with the play-offs but not serious contenders. But if I’m honest, Mr Appleton has worked wonders both in the transfer market and then on the grass, we look a completely different side to the one that whimpered to a 16th placed finish last season.
We attracted some incredibly good players over the summer window, the likes of Brennan Johnson, Liam Bridcutt came back and Lewis Montsma (who was plucked from the Dutch second tier) who have all been huge for us this season. The clever recruitment and clear style of play was so effective during the first half of the season, we were so consistent. Picking up points at a much faster rate than last season. Wins over the likes of Oxford and Charlton gave us an indication that we might well have something special on our hands. The football was sensational, it was typical of what you would expect of an Appleton side. Quick, attacking, and dynamic.
The second half of the season, however, has been very different. I think teams have started to figure us out a bit, they realised if they doubled up on the likes of Jorge Grant and Liam Bridcutt, that they could keep us quiet and stand a chance of getting points. Injuries have decimated our squad at this current moment with a long list sat in the physio’s office, the likes of Grant and Tom Hopper who have been incredibly influential. Joe Walsh is another that has been excellent when he has featured. This injury crisis has really shown, with the lack of squad depth showing. It feels like ages since we beat Crewe, but we’re hoping that a positive point at Sunderland and decent performance at Oxford could kick-start our season with nine to go.
Where do you think your club will finish up in the league this season?
If you had asked me this at the start of the year or at the end of January, I would’ve said that we could well be going on a title charge with how consistent we were in the first 28 games or so. But after a rocky six weeks or so, we seem to have slipped out of the automatic conversation.
I think if you offered us a place in the end of season lottery that is the play-offs right this second, I think I’d bite your hand off. League One is extremely tight this season and I think clubs will be thinking that we are the club that they could try and catch up to and overtake, the likes of Gillingham and Blackpool could well sneak up on us. But it has to be said I’d rather be looking up towards this end of the table than looking over our shoulders like we were towards the end of last season.
What has been your best result this season, and of course your worst?
I think in terms of performance and then getting the result, I would say the 1-0 over Crewe, right at the start of the season. We absolutely dominated that game from minute one to minute 90 and the best thing was that we never looked like conceding. But, if you want a result that all Lincoln fans will look back at from this season as the potential reason we get promoted or into the play-offs, was our win at Fratton Park. Going to a club like Portsmouth, the players, and resources they have at their disposal, you know you’ve got to have a few things go your way, which we did. They had a man sent off pretty early which meant Pompey sat back and hoped for a point. Up popped one of our better players in 2021, Morgan Rogers, to clinch a crucial win to put more ground between us and Pompey.
In terms of the worst result of the season thus far, I don’t have to look too far back, the home defeat to Rochdale was a painful watch. Don’t get me wrong, Rochdale deserved the result, they were deadly in front of goal. It was the most unlike Michael Appleton team performance that we’ve had this season. There was no purpose to our play, we gave the ball away cheaply and were dually punished.
Has your club talked about season tickets for the 21/22 season? How are they navigating the possibility of no crowds or reduced capacity?
Normally at this stage of the season, our 7,000 odd season ticket holders would be getting ready to reserve their seats for next season, but at this moment we appear to be in the dark a little bit, however I don’t think that the club are purposely doing that, I imagine it comes from the government and the EFL.
Should we be allowed to return to Sincil Bank next season, the club have provided different offers for people who renewed their season ticket for the 20/21 season. One idea which I really like, is that you can enter into this huge draw and win a five year season ticket or other amazing extras such as messages from the playing and management staff.
We’re all itching to get back into the Bank, our home performances have been poor without the incredible atmosphere that we create on a matchday. Hopefully the situation clears up enough for some of our amazing supporters to return to LN5 come next season.
Which opposition team that you have played has impressed you the most this season?
This is difficult, Sunderland I thought were good when they beat us 4-0 at home, Doncaster have done the double over us this season too, but I won’t say either of those. I would have to say it was Portsmouth. They came to Sincil Bank very early in the season, back when we were decent at playing on our own grass. They came and controlled the game from start to finish, we never looked like we were in the game. We were right up there before the game too after winning most of our opening fixtures, but they came and taught us a bit more about the quality you need to be if you want to still be playing for a promotion come Easter.
They beat us 3-1, John Marquis and Marcus Harness ran our defence in circles the entire evening, it was a tough watch, but certainly an eye opener.
Which player has stood out for your team this season, and which player has come through the ranks and looks a real prospect?
With the club massively overachieving on the pitch, in terms of expectations, you could make an argument for almost any player who has been a mainstay in the starting 11.
I think the crown jewel that we’ve got at the club at the moment is our #10, Jorge Grant. He arrived on a permanent deal from Nottingham Forest in 2019 and straight away you could tell there was a player in there, the first few games of the season he linked up really well with Jack Payne and Tyler Walker. But Danny Cowley, one of the reasons Jorge came to the club, left the club, and joined Huddersfield Town. Appleton came in and demanded something completely different for our wide midfielders. He wants his wingers to put a shift in off the ball rather than just play when it’s at your feet.
The moment that really shaped Jorge’s journey at Lincoln came at AFC Wimbledon last season, he was hauled off at half-time by Appleton, who wasn’t afraid to criticise him indirectly after the game. This must’ve made something click in Jorge’s head, because his performances improved massively towards the back end of last year.
This season, he’s been a different animal all together. Appleton has given him responsibility around the training ground, he’s the captain when Bridcutt isn’t in the team. But in terms of a player that plays in his position in League One this season, there has been none better than Jorge. 15 goals and 11 assists in all competitions is unreal for a midfielder who has anchored the back four on several times this year.
In terms of players coming into the first team this season, we’ve had quite a few make the step up from our impressive U18 side to the senior squad. Sean Roughan was the first of many, recruited from Ireland (whom he plays for internationally). Roughan has been very good when he has featured at left-back or at centre-half, it is very obvious the kid is talented and will go on to have an outstanding career, we just hope that’s with us. The likes of Sam Long has also come into the side after his first pro-contract in the summer, a young goalkeeper who sits on our bench, who we believe will be our potential number one next season.
Our U18’s had an impressive run the in the FA Youth Cup this season, Hayden Cann and Freddie Draper have been exceptional in that run, which came to an end against Watford a couple weeks ago and with the fact we have no recognised strikers that can play against MK, Draper might well get a call from Mr Appleton.
Are you happy with the business you conducted in January transfer window? Who did you recruit and what are your initial impressions? Or was keeping certain players more key?
We were extremely happy with our winter window. First and foremost, Appleton put pen to paper on an improved and longer contract, which is superb news given the fact that he’s been linked with jobs like Bristol City, Preston North End and Sheffield United. Not only did Appleton sign a new deal, but Anthony Scully and Jorge Grant, who’s old contracts ended this summer, both signed long-term deals with the club which is pivotal for the development of the club. Both players will no doubt have Championship ambition, but given how this season has gone, it is obvious that they feel that they can achieve that with Lincoln.
Another bit of key business that we managed to do in January was to secure the services of Brennan Johnson for the remainder of the season. There were loads of Forest fans calling for Chris Houghton to cut his loan short and take him back to Nottinghamshire. We were in a similar position in the last January window with Tyler Walker, where Forest recalled him at the latest opportunity possible. But thankfully Forest have left Johnson with us, which will benefit the club and player in the long-term.
In terms of new players into the building, we signed four players, three on a permanent and one on loan. Cohen Bramall, Max Sanders, and the well-known Regan Poole arrived at the club and I’ve been impressed with all of them in the game time they’ve had. When you watch them though, you feel that they would benefit from having a pre-season with the club as they haven’t been playing the same style with their retrospective other clubs in the first part of the season. I’ve left one player to the end on purpose, I feel this man has been our best bit of business in the window. Morgan Rogers arrived on loan from Manchester City, a highly thought of talent at the club who have won the Premier League more than any other side in the last decade. It’s his first senior loan, it gives me very similar vibes to Jack Grealish’s move to Notts County a few years ago. It took a while for Rogers to settle into the group but now that he has we can see why Man City rate him so highly. He’s a cheat code for this division and it is very obvious to all those who see him every week, that he’ll play at the very top level.
Which MK Dons player stands out to you as a game changer in our clash?
I could’ve gone for the obvious with Scott Fraser, who has been unbelievable for you guys this season, how you managed to keep him in League One this year, I applaud your recruitment team and your manager.
But the player I picked out from MK Dons has been Harry Darling. He was a player that I watched over the first half of the League Two season and was thoroughly impressed by during his spell with Cambridge United. He’s certainly a player I wouldn’t have minded the Imps chasing this summer should Cambridge have not got promoted. He’s come into the MK defence and added some stability from what I’ve been told, he wins his aerial duals and can keep the ball well with his feet, a player Appleton would love to mould. I like Zak Jules from Walsall, a dynamic player who has a lot of potential.
What style of play can we expect to see from your team?
Regardless of what players take the pitch on Friday, expect us to play some good football for spells of the game. As I’ve mentioned, Appleton plays the game on the front foot with a solid base and then flair players up towards the top end of the pitch, your likes of Johnson, Scully, and Rogers.
I fully expect us to play a 4-3-3 of some kind, that seems to be the formation that we’ve gone for this season, but the huge injury list that we’ve got presently might force Appleton’s hand to play something a bit more conservative.
Bridcutt went off on Friday night with another calf issue, but if he’s fit to play then he will dictate the game’s pace, and if we go anything good going forward, it normally stems from him. Our full-backs like to push on to cause opposing defenders a few problems and with the pace of Poole and especially Bramall on the other side, we could well find a way round the side of your three man defence.
Have you ever been to Stadium MK, if so, what’s your opinion on it?
Stadium MK provided me with one of the best away days of the 2018/2019 season, the 2-0 win that day essentially gave us one hand on the League Two trophy. It was just a very good day, the ground was easy to get to, lots of options for food and a few drinks before walking in. I can just remember the tension in the ground because both sides were in the top three at the time and looked certain for promotion, but the order just hadn’t been selected at that time. We brought a fairly lively away end with us which erupted as Bruno Andrade stuck it in the net for the second. When that net rippled it kind of felt that we’d won promotion that day.
In terms of the facility, it was certainly the nicest ground we went to that season. If MK can keep progressing as a club under Russell Martin, you’d like to think that the town can get behind the team and fill the stadium, that would be a pretty intimidating atmosphere. One con I did have of the ground during our visit was the obsessive use of screens and a fancy light display. Maybe that’s the old man in me speaking, but it all seemed a big show rather than just a League Two fixture.
Where do you think the MK Dons will finish in the league table?
It’s so difficult to predict a finish for those teams hovering around mid-table this season because it’s so congested in there, if you can beat us and keep your winning run going, then you might well make a last minute charge for the play-offs, the league is unpredictable. I think for MK, anything above where you finished last season would show real progression. I think if you keep plugging away year on year, we could see MK put in a serious challenge for a top six run in a couple years.
At the start of the season I had you guys to come 14th, I think if teams around you win games in hand then you could drop down to exactly 14th which would make me look a football genius.
From what you have seen, who are your tips for the league title, promotion, and relegation?
As I’ve said on many occasions, League One is incredibly unpredictable and tight this year, you look from 5th down to Crewe in 14th, there’s just seven points between everyone. I think that makes for a more entertaining run-in though because it could really be carnage in a month’s time.
I think in terms of relegation, you’re looking at four of the current bottom six, it’s like a mini-league in itself. I can see Rochdale, Bristol Rovers, Swindon, and Northampton making the drop down into League Two next season, it just shows how big the gap is from League Two into League One and how well our club’s have done in the last 18 months or so.
In terms of the promotion race, again it’s tough because there’s way more teams that could well be involved and sneak in at the last second of the regular season. I think automatically it will be (and it pains me to say it) Hull and Sunderland with Posh dropping into the play-offs. I think we’ll be involved in them with Portsmouth under the Cowley brothers and then Blackpool. I can’t call the play-offs because I’m far too scared to, but those are the sides I think that will be in them.
Can you give us your match prediction?
Last time you came up here, it was a 1-1 draw from what I can remember with Rhys Healey and Liam Bridcutt both scoring two stunning goals in their own ways. You guys are in a bit of a purple patch in terms of form and could well be looking to replicate the likes of Gillingham, Rochdale, and Fleetwood by coming up to the Bank and getting three points.
I think after a disappointing defeat on the road we’ll be looking to get one of those four or five wins we need just to secure a play-off spot. I’m not confident though, I just feel MK’s willingness to attack us and play good football plays into our hands a little bit so we can hit you on the counter with the pace we got up top.
Lincoln City 1 MK Dons 0