League One Match Preview: Lincoln (H)
Doncaster Rovers get set to host league leaders Lincoln City this weekend knowing that they must improve after back-to-back defeats in the week prior. It is the second time in three home games that Rovers welcome the side top of the table to the Keepmoat Stadium, but performance standards have slipped considerably since the Reds sent Ipswich packing to the tune of four goals less than a fortnight ago.
Redressing The Balance
Darren Moore has overseen successive 2-1 defeats to newly-promoted teams over the past week, first at home to Crewe last Saturday and then away at Plymouth on Tuesday evening, and although Rovers can rue bad luck in key moments for losing to the Alex, they can have no complaints for the midweek defeat after turning in abject display against the Pilgrims. Moore will no doubt be as keen as anyone to put things right when the Imps visit Lakeside, and he is hoping to have increased midfield options at his disposal come 3 o’clock on Saturday.
Madger Gomes missed the Plymouth game through injury, his first absence of the season, but could be fit enough to return to the side against Lincoln, whilst Brighton loanee Taylor Richards is also working back to full fitness. Moore will be without fellow loanees Tyreece John-Jules and Rayhaan Tulloch for a little longer yet, but nevertheless does have decent options in attack still, with the likes of Ed Williams and Jason Lokilo pushing for starting berths.
Josh Sims will surely return to the first XI after being rested on Tuesday, especially as his creativity and determined style was sorely missed against a game Plymouth side. Fejiri Okenabirhie’s second goal in three games should also encourage Rovers as the striker looks to hit his stride after coming back into favour over the past few weeks.
Imps On The Up
Lincoln went top of the pile with a 1-0 win over Crewe in midweek, and manager Michael Appleton is really beginning to build an identity with the side he took over early last season. He is no stranger to Darren Moore, as the pair played together at West Bromwich Albion in the early 2000s and both cut their teeth as youth coaches at the West Midlands club before progressing into management, where they are now two of the foremost young minds in the game.
The similarities are plain to see, as both look to build good footballing sides with an emphasis on applying bespoke tactical plans to nullify opposition teams rather than adopting a catch-all strategy to deploy week after week. The Imps are on a hot streak and have won 10 out of 14 games in all competitions, losing only to Bristol Rovers - who Darren Moore’s side handily beat at home themselves - in League One and getting thrashed 7-2 by Premier League holders Liverpool in the Carabao Cup, which is perhaps understandable.
Lincoln line up in a 4-3-3 usually, but will be without veteran central midfielder Liam Bridcutt for the game due to injury, which meant Appleton moving top scorer Jorge Grant into the position for the win over Crewe. He may consider handing a debut to Leeds loanee Robbie Gotts in order to allow Grant more freedom in pursuit of adding to his six goals so far this term, but he may also wish to stick with the same side for consistency despite the fact his players may be tired as he elected not to make a single substitution in that midweek win.
Grant’s six-goal haul makes him League One’s top scorer going into the game, and if he is deployed centrally it may mean a busy afternoon for Matt Smith. Smith and midfield counterpart Ben Whiteman had their hands full with Danny Mayor in midweek and Grant poses a similar threat, but shutting him down could go a long way to earning victory for Rovers against Lincoln as they lack out-and-out goalscorers beyond the former Nottingham Forest man.
Tom Hopper is the primary striker in the side but his role involves a lot of work to link play with team mates which can lead to a lack of ruthlessness from the Imps in front of goal. Indeed, the goal burden has been shared between no less than 12 players already in 2020/21 and centre half Lewis Montsma has bagged six goals himself in all competitions, proving a revelation since moving to Sincil Bank from his native Netherlands in the summer.
This will be the 115th competitive meeting between two sides who have been battling it out for decades as quasi-local rivals, with plenty of animosity felt in their clashes over the years. Contrasting fortunes in the 21st Century however mean that Rovers went 15 years without playing Lincoln in a league fixture until last season, with Niall Ennis and Jon Taylor bagging their first goals for the club in a 2-1 win.
Indeed Rovers have won four in a row against the Imps, with the visitors’ last win coming in a 2-0 victory at Belle Vue in January 2004, with Gary Taylor-Fletcher on the scoresheet that night.