Blues Host Imps Aiming to Return to Top Two
Friday, 24th Jan 2020 16:16
Town host Lincoln City on Saturday in the season’s fourth game between the teams aiming to return to League One’s automatic promotion places.
The Blues are currently third, two points behind leaders Rotherham - who they visit on Tuesday - and second-placed Wycombe Wanderers with a game in hand on the Chairboys.
The Millers are at Peterborough, who beat Wycombe 4-0 on Tuesday, while the Buckinghamshire club have a weekend off as their scheduled opponents Coventry are in FA Cup action.
Town and Lincoln have got to know one another well since meeting in two FA Cup first round ties in November and then a league match at the end of December.
“It is going to be a tough game,” manager Paul Lambert said when asked what he had learnt about the Imps from their previous encounters.
“We’re at home and the onus is on us to make the running. We’re playing really well and we’ll go and try and do what we’ve been doing in the last four or five games.”
The Blues were beaten 5-3 at Lincoln in this season's first League One meeting with the squad and staff holding an hour-long discussion in the dressing room after the match as they sought to address what had been going wrong during a concerning downturn in form during November and December.
Since then, Town’s results have improved with the Blues unbeaten in four in the league having taken eight points.
However, Lambert says the result at Sincil Bank won’t provide additional motivation for his team: “No, I never look a defeat or use it against anything else or a win.
"It’s two different games, different scenarios. We’re at home, a big crowd with most of the crowd on our side and we’re playing well.”
He added: “I think in any given game you can win, and it doesn’t matter where it is. But to win a league, you’ve got to do it over a long period of time, and we’ve put ourselves in a good position at this moment. We’ve got a lot of games still to go, but at this moment we’re playing well.”
One familiar face on the Lincoln side will be ex-Blues loanee Tayo Edun, who departed Portman Road to return to parent club Fulham a couple of months after Lambert took over at Town.
“He got the eye injury, so he was only here for a short time when we were here,” Lambert recalled. “And then I think he had to go and get an operation on his eye. And then he went to Lincoln. A good footballer.”
Saturday sees the Blues return to Portman Road after back-to-back away games on heavy surfaces at Oxford, where the teams were forced off the field for 15 minutes due to the rain as they drew 0-0, and Tranmere, which was under considerable threat in the days running up to Town’s 2-1 victory.
Speaking after the game at Sincil Bank Lambert expressed frustration with the Portman Road pitch, which has long needed work which will cost in excess of £1 million.
“I think everybody can see it and it’s not just me,” Lambert said when asked about the condition of the Portman Road pitch.
“For the size of the club, as I say again, the finances dictate that, you want everything to be perfect if you can, but it is what it is. But it’s not any worse than Tranmere that’s for sure.”
Lambert seems likely to field the same team as at Prenton Park and says he knows which two of his three fully fit frontline strikers he’ll play on Saturday: “Whoever is playing well stays in, so it’s not hard. I know which pairing will play.”
He says those players who have been left out recently understand the situation: “You expect that anyway and it’s not something I’m going to worry about.
“It’s your job, your job is to get on with it and get in the team, so it’s up to you to get into the side.”
Lambert naming the same XI which won at Tranmere would see Will Norris continue in goal behind a back three of skipper Luke Chambers, James Wilson and Luke Woolfenden. Gwion Edwards and Luke Garbutt would be the wing-backs.
In midfield, Emyr Huws and Flynn Downes will continue behind Alan Judge with Will Keane again set to partner Kayden Jackson with James Norwood and Teddy Bishop likely to play a part from the bench.
Lincoln, who are 12th in the table, go into Saturday’s match having won four of their last six, but away from home have a poor record this season having won two, drawn three and lost 10.
The Imps beat Blackpool 1-0 at home last time out and thrashed Bolton 5-1 five days earlier, also at Sincil Bank, and manager Michael Appleton is looking to record three victories on the trot for the first time since he took over in September.
“We’ve got back-to-back wins quite a few times, but not managed the third game, whether taking a point or the three points. That’s the challenge to the players,” he told i>Lincolnshire Live.
“We’re going to a very difficult place on Saturday. We’ve been there already this season, played ever so well and got a draw out of the game.
“There’s not much we don’t know about Ipswich and not much they don’t know about us because of the three times we’ve played them.
“It’s important we go there and give a performance which gives us the opportunity to win the game.”
Appleton has signed Tom Hopper from Southend this week and the striker is set to go straight into the squad.
Another frontman, John Akinde, has left for Gillingham, while forward Bruno Andrade and midfielder Michael O’Connor have both moved to Salford City this month and full-back Harry Toffolo has departed to join his old boss Danny Cowley at Huddersfield Town.
The Imps' former Blues loanee defender or midfielder Callum Connolly recently returned to Everton after his spell at Sincil Bank and has now joined Fleetwood on loan.
Defender Michael Bostwick (back) and midfielder Lee Frecklington (groin) both remain sidelined.
Overall, Town have the edge historically having won six games between the teams (five in the league) with four (two) ending in draws and five (four) won by the Imps.
Lincoln's last victory at Portman Road was in September 1954 when Scott Duncan's Town side was beaten 2-1.
The teams last met at the end of December at Sincil Bank when the Imps won a topsy-turvy game 5-3.
Harry Anderson put the Imps ahead on six, Garbutt levelled for Town in the 32nd minute before Tyler Walker restored the home side’s lead in first-half injury time.
A Toffolo own goal restored parity in the 59th minute before Walker’s second made it 3-2 on 72, then Bostwick added a fourth in the 79th minute.
Keane pulled one back for the Blues four minutes later but Jake Hesketh cemented the Imps’ win in injury time.
The sides also faced one another twice during the previous month in the FA Cup first round with the Blues winning the replay 1-0 at Sincil Bank.
Judge’s first Town goal deep in injury time ended the Blues’ 15-match winless run in the tournament and avenged the defeat to the Imps in the same competition in January 2017. The tie appeared destined for extra-time when Judge swept home at the far post.
Ten days prior to that, the teams played out a 1-1 draw at Portman Road in the initial tie. Walker put the visitors ahead on 37 and, after the Imps goalscorer had seen a second-half penalty saved by Norris, Dozzell curled home an equaliser 79th minute.
Blues defender Wilson will be facing his old club - the defender having recently spoke about his time with the Imps - while Jordan Roberts, who is on loan at Gillingham, and the currently-injured 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.
Town keeper-coach Jimmy Walker was with Lincoln in the same role prior to his stint with Sunderland before joining the Blues.
Former loanee Edun, who joined the Imps from Fulham a fortnight ago, made four starts and three sub appearances for the Blues in the first half of last season, netting a debut goal in the opening day win against Blackburn Rovers.
The Imps’ Wales international midfielder Joe Morrell, who is on loan from Bristol City, was born in Ipswich.
Saturday’s referee is Lee Swabey from Devon, who has shown 71 yellow cards and five red in 21 matches so far this season.
Swabey’s only previous Town match was the 1-0 win away against the MK Dons at Portman Road in September in which he booked Downes, Huws and one home player.
Squad from: Norris, Holy, Edwards, Donacien, Garbutt, Kenlock, Chambers (c), Wilson, Woolfenden, Earl, Skuse, Dozzell, Downes, Huws, Judge, Bishop, Nolan, Jackson, Keane, Norwood, Sears.
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