|Lincoln City 0 v 1 Ipswich Town|
SkyBet League One
Saturday, 18th September 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Cook: Until We Can Become a Strong Team, You'll Not See Our True Colours
Friday, 17th Sep 2021 13:29
Town visit Lincoln, hardly a happy hunting ground in recent seasons, on Saturday still looking for their first win of the season with manager Paul Cook admitting that the Blues are currently their “own enemy”.
Cook’s team have had a difficult week, losing 5-2 at home to Bolton in League One, then 2-1 to West Ham’s U21s in the Papa John’s Trophy.
The Town manager, whose side will be watched by a sell-out 1,800 away following on Saturday, knows that Lincoln will be tough opponents having reached the play-off final last year where they were beaten 2-1 by Blackpool.
The Imps have made a middling start to their 2021/22 campaign - won two, drawn two, lost three - and are currently 17th in the table, seven places and five points above the Blues.
The teams hadn’t played each other since the early 1960s until the 2017 FA Cup meetings which saw then-non-league Lincoln giant-killing the Blues 1-0 in a replay at Sincil Bank with the goal coming in injury time.
Since then, Town have had two more tough afternoons on Lincolnshire turf in League One, a 5-3 loss just after Christmas 2019 and last season’s 1-0 defeat inflicted by a controversial penalty.
On the plus side, the Blues’ long wait for an FA Cup came in another replay at Sincil Bank in November 2019, Alan Judge scoring a late winner on that occasion.
Town boss Cook says his Lincoln counterpart Michael Appleton has done a fine job since taking charge of the Imps in September 2019 and also at his previous clubs, sometimes in less than ideal circumstances.
“Michael’s done a really good job at all his clubs where he’s been,” Cook said. “He’s had different goes at different clubs, probably a couple at really difficult times.
“At Pompey it was obviously difficult with what was going on, possibly at Blackburn and Blackpool at difficult times where you have to manage problems off the pitch.
“I think one of the good things Michael will probably speak about is that Lincoln’s a very solid, good football club. Around that, Michael’s been allowed to manage and bring players in, some fantastic loans, some fantastic signings, a really strong identity in how they play the game, and they’re a massive threat to us in the game tomorrow.”
But says at present Town are causing themselves more issues than their opponents: “It’s the same. At the minute, the opposition is not our enemy, we are our own enemy at the minute and until we can become a strong team together, then you will not see our true colours.
“Our true colours will be revealed eventually, tomorrow we will be taking a big step closer towards getting to where we want to be. Lincoln are a really good side and it will be a really difficult game.”
Cook says he was criticised by a fan following Tuesday’s defeat for not naming a consistent side, but he says that’s something he’s not really been able to do.
“With the six weeks we’ve probably been going for the season, a fan commented to me about changing the team on Tuesday night, a lot of the time I’ve had no choice but to change the teams,” he said.
“And that can be difficult as a manager because you want to pick the same team, you want the same people available.
“James [Norwood] picked up a hamstring, he was out for a few weeks, Conor Chaplin’s had a [hamstring], so there’s no excuses about it. The brutal reality is we’re working very, very hard to get better.
“Around that we want lads to come into the team and say ‘I should be playing, what is our best team and I stake my claim for it’.
“Within that, the quicker we get [Bersant] Celina on the pitch, Kyle Edwards back, Samy Morsy back, Toto Nsiala back, then the competition for places will clearly be there.
“But what we do know is that we’ve got to start picking up more points than we are. And I’m not putting pressure on myself and the team to do that because at the minute we’re not a team, we’re a group of individuals that’s come together.
“My job is to develop that and integrate that as quickly as we can and that only comes from training ground repetition, going into games.
“What we did wrong against Bolton we must do a lot better, we were a non-aggressive team.”
The addition of Samy Morsy to the squad was intended to add aggression and bite in midfield but the Egyptian international is suspended for another two games. Can Town play with the required aggression without him in the meantime?
“We’ll know at five o’clock tomorrow night, won’t we?” Cook reflected. “I think that’s the big thing for football - when you make mistakes, the biggest privilege you can be given is the chance to put something right.
“As a manager at previous clubs, I’ve always quite enjoyed when we’re really low picking the same team again. Unfortunately for us, at the minute, picking the same teams is difficult for whatever reason.
“I’m a great believer in loyalty, I trust my players, and there are so many qualities that I want to give the players.
“Sometimes these decisions are taken out of your hands. As a club now, we are searching to see our identity. We must find [that] out, myself, the staff and the players together, and that’s the challenge because Samy will be out for more games, someone else won’t be playing.
“But we’ve brought in George Edmundson, we’ve brought in Cameron Burgess, they are aggressive people who weren’t aggressive last Saturday, and that’s not a criticism.
“It was George’s debut at Portman Road and we’ve got to be better. George is a man. And you can go right through the team, Christian Walton, everyone is new and when you’re new, you get periods of time to be better.
“My world is to make sure these lads are aware of what we’ve done wrong, and the same mistakes don’t keep happening again.”
Having said what he’s said, Cook seems likely to stick with most of the side which started against the Trotters last week.
Walton will be in goal with Janoi Donacien perhaps coming in at right-back with Kane Vincent-Young having played the full 90 minutes on Tuesday. Hayden Coulson will continue as the left full-back with Edmundson and Burgess the central defenders.
In central midfield, Cook could opt to give Tom Carroll his first league start for the Blues, although again the former Tottenham and QPR man played the whole game against West Ham’s U21s and so Lee Evans, who has captained Town in every league game so far, and Rekeem Harper may again get the nod.
While not confirming whether he is fit or otherwise at his morning press conference, Cook appeared to hint that Kyle Edwards is not yet ready to return.
The Blues boss could still have options for his wide roles, however, with Bersant Celina considered fit enough to be involved if confirmation regarding his work visa is received in time.
It may be that the Kosovan international is given his second debut from the bench with Sone Aluko, one of Town’s best performers against Bolton, continuing on the left with Wes Burns, who recorded two assists against the Lancastrians, on the right.
Cook could again opt to start with Conor Chaplin as the number 10, although it is possible Scott Fraser is available again having missed out last week with a niggle.
Macauley Bonne, who has scored four times, all in the league, looks certain to start as the lone striker.
Lincoln will be without midfielder Conor McGrandles due to a knee injury with ex-Blue Teddy Bishop set to come into the side. The 25-year-old was on the bench for Tuesday’s 1-1 home draw with Rotherham having been ill and after suffering a minor ankle problem in last Saturday’s 5-1 away win against his hometown club Cambridge United.
Centre-halves Adam Jackson (thigh) and Lewis Montsma (ankle) are considered doubts with knocks suffered against the Millers.
Imps boss Appleton says he’s not entirely surprised by Town’s slow start to the season given the turnaround in personnel.
“I am and I’m not,” he told Lincolnshire Live. “Signing 19 players, that’s a helluva lot of players to bring in at the same time.
“At some point they are going to click, a lot of people have said that. I hope it’s not Saturday. I hope we can perform to a level where, one, we can compete with them and, two, beat them.
“I’m sure, at some point, they will perform really well. I’d be surprised and shocked if they’re not in the top six come game 46.”
Town just have the edge historically having won seven games between the teams (six in the league) with five (three) ending in draws and six (five) won by the Imps.
The teams last met at Portman Road in March in manager Cook’s first game in the Portman Road dugout following his appointment.
Defender James Wilson netted against his former club as the sides drew 1-1. January Town target Morgan Rogers gave the Imps a 29th-minute lead as the visitors dominated the first half, however, Wilson nodded in his second goal in three games to claim a share of the points as the Blues improved after the break.
At Sincil Bank in October last year, Jorge Grant’s 77th minute penalty saw Lincoln City to a 1-0 victory over 10-man Town and to the top of the table.
Grant netted his sixth goal of the season from the spot after Nsiala had upended Brennan Johnson, the son of 1990s Town striker David.
Late on, Jon Nolan was dismissed for a wild challenge on Harry Anderson, while Blues boss Paul Lambert was also red-carded after the whistle for remonstrating with referee Kevin Johnson.
Following the match, Town were fined £2,500 by the FA for a mass confrontation after Nolan’s red card with the Imps receiving a £2,000 penalty for their role in the incident.
Then-boss Paul Lambert was given a one-match touchline ban for his dismissal and was fined £1,750 having admitted an FA charge relating to his post-match media comments aimed towards the referee, to whom he apologised.
Blues midfielder Nolan was with Lincoln between June 2013 and January 2016, making 64 starts and 11 sub appearances.
Striker Bonne was on loan at Sincol Bank between August and October 2016, scoring once in five starts and two sub appearances.
Lincoln midfielder Bishop moved to Sincil Bank in the summer from the Blues for a feee understood to be £220,000 after joining Town as an U8. He went on to make 81 starts and 51 sub appearances, scoring five times. Since joining Lincoln he has made five starts and three sub appearances, scoring once.
Imps assistant manager David Kerslake was with the Blues as a player between August 1997 and March 1998. The right-back made three starts and six sub appearances.
Manager Appleton previously worked alongside Blues CEO Mark Ashton and chairman Mike O’Leary at West Brom and Oxford and is believed to have been eyed as a potential Blues boss prior to the takeover.
Saturday’s referee is Ben Speedie from Bootle, who has shown 24 yellow cards and no red in eight games so far this season. Speedie will be taking charge of his first Town match.
Squad from: Walton, Hladky, Holy, Vincent-Young, Donacien, Coulson, Penney, Edmundson, Burgess, Woolfenden, Evans (c), Harper, Carroll, Fraser, Burns, Chaplin, Aluko, Celina, Edwards, Bonne, Pigott, Barry, Jackson, Norwood.
Photo: Matchday Images
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