• Adam Stubbings

Opposition Talk: Lincoln (A)

Doncaster Rovers take on Lincoln City this weekend in what can only be described as a monumental game on the road to League One supremacy this season. The two teams are old rivals and come into the game in great form, with the Imps top of the table and Rovers closing in from 4th place with several games in hand.

Ahead of the clash at Sincil Bank, we sat down with Gary Hutchinson, who is the Editor of Lincoln City site The Stacey West, to get his thoughts on the game and his team’s season.

ITEN: Top of the league, unbeaten in seven games and looking like serious promotion contenders – it’s fair to say Lincoln are enjoying a good season. Are you happy with the campaign so far, and do you think the Imps can keep this up?

Gary: I think the word happy rather understates how most Lincoln fans feel right now. Last season was a challenge, seeing Danny Cowley leave and facing an uncertain future, but the appointment of Michael Appleton has been inspired. This season has been one of the best in 60 years – and it looks set to continue. We really shouldn’t be where we are, our budget is around 15th in the division and was reduced by 40% from last season. Many observers had us down as being challengers because of Michael, but I’m not sure our fans really believed it.

As for can it keep going, I don’t see why not. I don’t think there’s a Bristol Rovers-style collapse on the cards for us, but whether we remain top two or not is another question. We have to go to Sunderland, Ipswich, Oxford and Peterborough, all tough games, and we still have Hull City to play twice. Ask me again at 5pm on Saturday, because if we get something against you I might start to believe.

Rovers and Lincoln have a historical rivalry that many fans who have been around prior to the past 15 years or so remember well. Do you see this as a derby game or is it just another fixture to you and fellow Imps fans?

It’s not really a derby in my eyes, despite the proximity. We’ve had some cracking matches over the years, I remember coming to your old ground and winning 5-1 back in the early nineties, and a big 2-0 win there under Keith Alexander around 2003/04. I think we class our derbies as Scunthorpe and Grimsby, but they’re both in the division below, so our game is as close as it gets. Oddly, despite being further away, I think many fans feel Hull and Posh are more like derby matches than this.

Darren Moore and Michael Appleton know each other well and appear to have similarities in their approach to the game. What are your thoughts on Appleton and the job he is doing?

If I came home from work and found that man sleeping in my bed, I’d tuck him in and nip back out to buy bacon for when he woke up. The things Michael has done with us in such a short period of time are nothing short of a miracle. We had the highest squad churn of the summer, he worked on 40% less money than the year before and he’s conjured up a team that is as good as any Lincoln City side I’ve seen since I started watching in 1986. Nobody expected us to be play-off challengers, not really, and yet here we are bona fide title challengers. We did a live podcast with Michael back in December 2019 and he said then he wanted to put us in the Championship by the time his contract expires. I believe he will.

What do you think is behind the marked increase in goals from top scorer Jorge Grant this season?

He’s on penalty duty. He’s scored two or three from open play, the rest have been from the spot. Probably the best answer is ‘Brennan Johnson’, as he is the one most fouled in the area for Grant to pop them away.

Aside from Grant, which players do you think are the most likely to stand-out in this weekend’s game?

It is really hard to answer that because every week it is someone different. Brennan Johnson has been a star since coming in on loan from Forest and he’s one of our dangermen, but we’ve just loaned Morgan Rogers from Man City and he’s already got a goal despite only starting one game. Three months ago I wouldn’t have mentioned Conor McGrandles, but he had three shots on target, grabbed the assists and cleared an effort off the line during our Pompey win, so he’s bang in form.

Like you lot, we have seven or eight players who could do something special at any given time, it just depends if they turn up. Anthony Scully is worth a mention too, he came in from West Ham last January and this season he’s on ten goals, with four assists and two second assists (I love a stat). He’s got the potential to turn a game.

Both sides are reported to be busy trying to bring in new players in the final week of the transfer window – where do Lincoln most need to strengthen?

Rather arrogantly, we don’t. Any moves we make are either going to be with next season in mind or to just offer a bit of cover. We could do with a right back, but only to sit on the bench in case the excellent Spurs loanee TJ Eyoma gets injured. We’re rumoured to be looking at a left back, but Tayo Edun has been superb. We only have one dedicated number nine in Tom Hopper, but loanee Callum Morton is due back from injury after missing four months or so and when he comes back, any new signing might struggle for games.

I know you can always improve on what you have, but when a club like us are top of League One, there isn’t a lot wrong with the squad as it is.

What are your thoughts on Doncaster Rovers and their promotion hopes, from what you’ve seen in 2020/21?

Best team we have played away all season. We’ve lost once away, that’s it, and on the afternoon we had a strong side too. I think back to other defeats, Sunderland and Portsmouth at home, and we were makeshift. When we played you I thought Whiteman was the difference between a win and a draw, and so it proved, but Matt Smith impressed me and Taylor’s pace is awesome. I’m not sure about the signing of Bogle though, he’s always looked a bit pedestrian to me, but having said that he might score this weekend!

I think in terms of promotion, you have as much chance as any of the top six because the expectation isn’t there. Ipswich, Sunderland, Hull and Portsmouth all think they’re better than this level and Peterborough have spent more than most to get out of the division, whereas I think you’re like us a bit, in that doing well in League One isn’t a given, it is appreciated. Often, teams like that are the ones who do well, because they don’t heap expectation on themselves.

Finally, what are you expecting when the two sides meet on Saturday?

I’m expecting a good game of football, one with few clear cut chances as two managers who know and respect each other cancel out the threats the other poses. We have a decent referee too (Darren Bond), Championship level, so I can’t see too much controversy. The game won’t decide the title, nor the promotion race, but it will give the winner a huge confidence boost. I know our fans will be happy with a point, but the form we’re on we might nick all three. It could go either way and personally, I can’t wait. These are the games you live for as a fan, right?

We’d like to thank Gary for his time and insight into our next opponents. You can find The Stacey West on Twitter @Staceywestblog and don’t forget to follow our coverage of the clash with Lincoln on our social channels from 2pm on Saturday afternoon.