Gill: There Will Be Changes But We'll Still Be Strong
Friday, 8th Nov 2019 16:32
First-team coach Matt Gill says there will be a few changes when the Blues take on Lincoln City in the first round of the FA Cup at Portman Road on Saturday but insists it will still be a strong side which takes on the Imps.
Asked whether the squad is fit going into Town’s first tie in the opening round of the FA Cup proper since 1956, Gill said: “Mostly, we’ve got one or two knocks and bruises, which you do from a couple of away games on the spin. But we’ll be strong, really strong tomorrow.”
Will it be a full strength or close to full strength side? “As usual it will be a team to win the game. I think that’s been vital this year, making sure that we go into each game trying to win it, to keep that momentum going.
“I’ve spoken about momentum a lot but I think that’s vital. There will be a few changes, of course. But those lads that will come in are deserving of a place and, like we’ve said before, it’s a really strong squad and those boys deserve an opportunity to play.
“[England rugby union head coach] Eddie Jones mentioned it in the World Cup, about players changing their roles rather than being starters or subs.
“I think we see that the same here as far as the squad’s concerned. Each person in that squad has definitely got a part to play in this season.”
Gill says Saturday’s game is unlikely to be one in which teenagers such as Tyreece Simpson and Tommy Hughes will be involved with the pair having made their senior debuts as subs in the Leasing.com Trophy earlier this season and perhaps set to be included in the 18 in the final group tie in that competition on Tuesday at Colchester.
“Probably not in the FA Cup,” Gill said. “We want to take it seriously, of course, we want to win the game and we’ve got a lot of strength in depth, so there’ll be some boys that have played first team football, of course, and it’ll be a really strong team that goes out.”
One man who would have hoped to play on Saturday but won’t be involved is Jordan Roberts, who has scored three goals in the Leasing.com Trophy but has only fleetingly featured in League One up to now. The forward remains sidelined with a toe injury.
“He’s still out a while yet, that was a bad one, bit of a weird one in the Leasing.com Trophy,” Gill continued.
“It was a bad one, it sort of bent back and almost went both ways, so he’s still a little way off training with us, so he’ll be a no.
“His performances in the Leasing.com Trophy have been great. Disappointed for Jordan but it gives somebody else an opportunity.
“It’s the way it’s been at this club, everybody’s got to be ready to take their opportunity when it comes and tomorrow’s no different.”
The Blues first-team coach, who is celebrating his 38th birthday today, says that so far everyone has performed when they’ve come into the team.
“Which is all credit to them really,” he reflected. “I think that consistency in approach, consistency in motivation has been vital. We’re going to need everyone this season, it’s a long season.
“I think us as staff have got our part to play in that. Those lads train extremely hard, the whole squad trains extremely hard every day and they need to feel valued and, of course, they are. I think we do that by showing them that they’re extremely valued and deserve to play.”
Chatham-born Gill admits that the FA Cup is not the Blues’ primary concern this season with promotion the main focus.
“It’s below the number one priority,” he said. “But obviously it’s such a great competition with so much history and we want to pay it as much respect as we can.”
And ideally he, manager Paul Lambert and the rest of the staff would like the tie over by Saturday teatime with no replay at Sincil Bank.
“That is exactly right. A replay is probably the furthest thing from our minds,” he admitted. “Hopefully we’ll get it done in 90 minutes and move on, that would be great.”
Looking back at his own playing career, he has fond memories of the competition: “I really enjoyed playing in it as a player. I played in various rounds, I managed to play at Stamford Bridge for Peterborough in the third round.
“Early memories of playing away at Wrexham with Ian Rush in the opposition squad. That was for Peterborough again. My dad’s a Liverpool fan so I couldn’t wait to tell him.
“I’ve played against various people in that competition and you can find yourself anywhere, which is part of the love of the cup I suppose. I’ve got really good memories of the FA Cup and hopefully we can have more this season.”
He says that if Town win at the weekend, there’s a chance to progress, go on a run and perhaps take on high profile opposition.
“That’s right, a lot of non-league teams have done well and have got through and, obviously, we want to progress into the next round,” he added.
Gill admits it’s terrible that it’s almost 10 years since Town last won an FA Cup tie: “It is. It actually surprised me when I was told that last week. We need to put that right tomorrow.”
The former midfielder is too young to remember the Blues’ 1978 FA Cup win but admits to being a little starstruck when the heroes of that Wembley afternoon are in and around Playford Road.
“Seeing Warky around, I couldn’t wait to tell my dad with him being a big Liverpool fan,” he continued.
“It’s got such a rich history as a football club and to see those guys walking around is brilliant for myself being a young coach.
“The lads here are trying to create their own history and hopefully we can be a small part of the club’s history going forward.”
He dismissed suggestions that that history can be a millstone for the players in the current era: “No, I would say it’s fantastic. I think you want to play for clubs and you want to work for clubs that have got extremely good histories, and you want to be part of adding to that, of course.
“You respect what’s been done and want to move forward and try and create some of your own history while you’re spending some time at this club.”
Looking at players who could potentially be involved against the Imps, he says on-loan winger Anthony Georgiou is available to play in the FA Cup.
The winger won’t be away with the Cyprus squad during the international break and Gill confirmed that he is likely to start one or both games with the 22-year-old yet to make his first Town start.
“He is [looking sharp and ready], he’s come off the bench two or three times now,” Gill said.
“A really exciting young player, he’s settled into the group really quickly and will have an opportunity. Spurs have given us permission to be involved, which is great.”
Alan Judge also seems likely to be involved on Saturday before going away with the Republic of Ireland.
The 30-year-old was highly critical of his form earlier in the season this week, which Gill says illustrates the upstanding nature of the squad as a whole.
“It’s a really honest bunch, which is great,” he said. “I think that as coaches we reflect on how we’re doing, how the squad’s doing. If players are doing that as well, brilliant.
“I praise that and, obviously, minute by minute, game by game, everyone’s going to be sharper and Judgey’s no different.
“He’s shown [he can be a top performer at this level] but with a little bit of a stop-start pre-season he’s a little bit playing catch-up. But he’s training extremely hard as well as everybody else, so it’s good to have him back.”
Striker Will Keane may also play as he looks to get games under his belt to get to full match fitness having undergone hamstring surgery in the summer.
“Keano’s another one that has been waiting, getting fitter by the session, by the week and will get an opportunity,” Gill said.
“He deserves it, he trains hard and obviously he’s a very, very talented lad. A flying fit Will Keane can only strengthen us as a group.”
Young attacker Armando Dobra may also be included for the first time since being shown a red card in his league debut at Accrington.
Gill says the Albanian U19 international, who will go away with their squad after the match and won’t be available for the Leasing.com Trophy tie, has reacted well to the disappointment of what was a very harsh dismissal against Stanley.
“He is a very resilient young man and has done extremely well since,” the Town first team coach said. “He doesn’t say loads, he just gets on with his job and he’s very low maintenance as far as that’s concerned.
“He’s a really talented boy and he’s going to have a really bright future ahead of him. Those experiences you can only learn from. To have it early is probably better.
“It’s good to learn from [things like that]. ‘Fail fast, learn quick’, is that the saying? I think that’s an important part of Dobs.”
Moving on to Lincoln, Gill expects a difficult match, despite the Imps' recent poor form which has seen them win one in their last 12 in all competitions and slip to 17th in League One.
“It’ll be a really tough game, Michael Appleton’s a really experienced coach and it’ll be a really tough game,” he said.
“They’re not going so well in the league but they’ve got a good squad built there at the moment, so we need to be fully at it like we are normally.”
Gill says it’s probably not too much of a surprise that it has taken a little while for the Imps squad to adjust to Appleton’s way of doing things following the departures of Danny and Nicky Cowley, the manager and assistant who had been in charge for three years and brought them from the National League into League One.
“Yes, that’s right,” he considered. “Obviously I don’t know the approach at the moment regarding the way they train or play, but I think that it does take time normally and I’m sure he’ll get the best out of them.”
Jimmy Walker was on the Lincoln staff and was the sub keeper when they beat the Blues in a third-round replay in January 2017 and Gill says the ebullient Blues keeper-coach has made reference to that tie ahead of Saturday’s game.
“He’s spoken about it quietly,” he said. “Our main purpose tomorrow is getting through the tie and we’ve prepared exactly as we would for any other game. That’s our aim for tomorrow.
“He was [on the bench for those games], the tie and the replay. I was obviously an outsider at that point but I had a little look at what was happening. Hopefully we can get the job done tomorrow.”
Reflecting on the selection decisions to be made ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup tie and then the Leasing.com game at Colchester before a break with no league game until Saturday 23rd November, when Blackpool are in Suffolk, Gill says you can’t plan too far ahead.
“We’re looking at it on a game by game basis,” he said. “I think that it’s important that we don’t get too carried away too much with looking too far in the future because we could have picked up an injury this morning. We didn’t, but we could have done. Who knows who is going to come through tomorrow?
“You can do as much planning as you want but I think sometimes it’s best just to assess after each game.
“There is obviously a lot of planning that goes into squads and who’s going to start. We’ve adjusted some stuff around, scheduling, because of not having a game next week, the international break, making sure we go into the game following that as strong and as flying as we can.
“It’s trial and error, of course it is. We’ve tried loads of different stuff regarding how the boys train, how much load, squad rotation.
“There’s a lot of thought goes into a lot of things regarding different fixtures and different cup competitions, so we do put a lot of thought into it.
“But it’s one of those ones where, what is it, ‘Everyone’s got a plan until you get punched in the face’. I think that’s the probably the way we got.”
While not wanting players to play too many games, equally it’s not ideal for too many members of the squad to go two weeks without a match.
“That’s it, I think everyone understands that the game we’re missing [next Saturday’s scheduled trip to Oxford], we need to be at full strength,” Gill said.
“We’ve got a very strong squad but why should be go into any fixture without the full contingent of players available?
“You’re getting teams raising their game to play us, which is fair enough, that’s their prerogative.
“We have a consistency in our approach to every game and that’s going to be vital. And all credit to the players that they don’t raise their game for this game or that game, it’s that high all the time, as it has to be.
“So I think it’s we’re within our right to call the game off and we need to make sure we go into every game as flying as we can and at full strength. That’s the way we look at it.”
Second-guessing the team boss Lambert will select on Saturday is almost impossible but it seems likely Tomas Holy will return in goal.
Lambert could give Toto Nsiala a game as the centre-half continues his comeback from the hamstring injury he suffered in pre-season.
Skipper Luke Chambers may be rested, which would see either ex-Imp James Wilson or Luke Woolfenden take up the other central defensive role. Myles Kenlock will probably return at left-back with Janoi Donacien on the right.
In midfield, Cole Skuse could also sit out but Flynn Downes may well return having missed the Rochdale game as he was banned for one match.
Emyr Huws may also start - the Welshman seems certain to play one of the two cup games over the next few days - or alternatively Andre Dozzell may be in the XI before he goes away with the England U20s, along with Downes.
Georgiou and Judge could be handed the wide roles and Keane one of the forward positions alongside either Kayden Jackson or James Norwood.
Youngsters such as Dobra and Idris El Mizouni may play a part from the bench as the game progresses.
Imps boss Appleton, who says he’s going to field as strong a side as he can, believes a cup run can prove a benefit a team’s league campaign.
”They are doing so well in the league - the reality is they are one of the biggest clubs in the division,” he told Lincolnshire Live when asked about Town.
"A good run in the cup can be very important, from my experience. It's good for the club and the fans and you can take that confidence into the league.
"Some of the games recently have been against some of the bigger clubs in the division - we narrowly lost to Pompey and Blackpool away from home and matched Peterborough for around 80 minutes and were beaten by two outstanding finishes late on.”
Lincoln’s one win in their last 12 matches in all competitions, a 2-0 home success against Sunderland in early October, is their only victory since Appleton took charge on September 23rd.
Midfielders Lee Frecklington and Michael Bostwick and full-back Ben Coker all remain sidelined, while centre-half Cian Bolger is serving the third match of a three-game ban.
The tie is a rerun of the third round meeting between the teams in 2016/17 which the Imps won 1-0 in a replay at Sincil Bank following a 2-2 draw at Portman Road.
Back then the Blues were in the Championship and Lincoln in the Vanarama National League.
That game is the teams’ only previous cup meeting. Town have won five of the league games between the sides, all of which have been in the second tier, and Lincoln three with two ending in draws.
The teams are due to meet in League One at Sincil Bank on Sunday 29th December and at Portman Road on Saturday 25th January.
The tie sees Wilson face his old club - the defender spoke about his time with the Imps last month - while Roberts and Danny Rowe are previous Imps loanees.
Midfielder Jon Nolan was with Lincoln between June 2013 and January 2016, making 64 starts and 11 sub appearances.
Ex-Town loanee Callum Connolly is currently on loan at Lincoln from Everton, while the Imps’ Wales international midfielder Joe Morrell, who is on loan from Bristol City, was born in Ipswich.
The Blues are playing at the first round stage of the competition they won for the only time in 1978 for the first time since the 1956/57 campaign when they defeated Hastings United 4-0 at Portman Road.
Town last won an FA Cup tie back in January 2010 when they beat Blackpool 2-1 in the third round at Bloomfield Road during Roy Keane’s time in charge. Since then they have played 14 matches in the competition, four draws and 10 defeats.
Saturday’s referee is Kevin Johnson from Weston-super-Mare, who has shown 44 yellow cards and four red in 14 games so far this season.
Johnson’s only previous Town match was the 5-0 victory at Bolton in August in which he booked Gwion Edwards and one home player and also awarded the Blues a penalty - for handball - which Norwood converted.
Squad from: Holy, Norris, Edwards, Donacien, Garbutt, Kenlock, Clements, Chambers, Wilson, Woolfenden, Nsiala, Skuse, Dozzell, Huws, Nolan, Judge, Rowe, Georgiou, Dobra, Jackson, Norwood, Keane.
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