Blues Host Lincoln in First of 10-Game Block
Monday, 7th Mar 2022 15:19
Town host Lincoln City at Portman Road as they go into the final 10 games of 2021/22 on the coat-tails of the play-off places.
The Blues go into the visit by the Imps ninth, as they have been for some weeks, five points from the top six having moved a point closer via Saturday’s 2-0 win at Fleetwood. Saturday's win took Town ahead of last season's points tally at the same point in the campaign for the first time.
Tuesday’s game was originally set to be played on New Year’s Day as one of the three discounted #PackOutPR games over the holiday period but was postponed due to Covid cases among the visitors.
Town are anticipating a crowd around the 25,000 mark for the match with tickets still on sale at the reduced rates.
While not having set a specific points total, manager Kieran McKenna knows broadly what will be needed between now and the season’s end on April 30th.
“I know where we’re at in terms of what’s normally expected for promotion places and play-off places and stuff like that, so we know where we’re at,” he said when asked whether he has anything in mind in terms of what might be required from those final 10 matches after Saturday’s win at Highbury.
“I know where we’re at in terms of what’s normally expected for promotion places and play-off places and stuff like that, so we know where we’re at.
“It’s not something we’ve spoken a lot with the players about. We did spend last week just reinforcing certain things about our performances and our points total that we’ve picked up over the run of games.
“We had an 11-game block, now we’ve got a 10-game block, we’ve ticked one off. We’ve got to keep performing well and we’ve got to try and win games.
“What we have is a run of games against teams towards the top of the table, good footballing teams, starting with Lincoln on Tuesday night, who are not at the top of the table but are certainly a very good footballing team.”
Four of Town’s next five matches and six of the final 10 are at Portman Road and McKenna knows performances on the Blues’ own turf will be crucial.
Following 18th-placed Lincoln’s visit, Portsmouth, one position and two points behind the Blues with two games in hand, will be in Suffolk on Saturday.
“We’ve got quite a lot of home games and I think we’re going to see where we’re at, to be honest,” McKenna, who dropped his first two home points when the Blues drew 0-0 with Cheltenham a fortnight ago, reflected.
“It’s been a couple of weeks of long travel, playing on really difficult pitches against difficult playing styles to play against but now we’ve got a run of games at home against good teams, who are going to come and play their football as well and it’ll be a good indicator for where we’re at.”
McKenna will almost certainly stick with goalkeeper Christian Walton and the back three of Janoi Donacien, Luke Woolfenden and George Edmundson, the defensive trio now having played 14 successive games, McKenna’s 13 plus the final match of John McGreal’s stint as interim boss.
The backline kept their ninth clean sheet of McKenna’s time in charge on Saturday, their sixth in seven matches.
Wes Burns and Dominic Thompson look set to continue as the wing-backs with skipper Sam Morsy in the centre of the midfield.
Bersant Celina started alongside the Egypt international at Fleetwood on Saturday but McKenna could bring in either Tyreeq Bakinson or Tom Carroll, particularly if he wants to use the Kosovo international, who was involved in both goals at Fleetwood, further forward.
McKenna again seems likely to switch around his front players with some or all of Macauley Bonne, Sone Aluko and James Norwood perhaps in line to return to the XI with Joe Pigott having started with Conor Chaplin and Kayden Jackson to his right and left respectively against the Cod Army.
Lincoln’s first-choice keeper Josh Griffiths suffered an ankle injury and a concussion in the closing stages of Saturday’s 3-1 home victory over Sheffield Wednesday with the latter expected to rule the on-loan West Brom man out of the visit to Portman Road.
Jordan Wright, 23, who joined the Imps from Nottingham Forest in January, made his debut as a late sub against the Owls and is expected to make his first start for his new club against the Blues.
Another keeper, Sam Long, is currently on loan in Ireland with Drogheda United but won’t be recalled ahead of Tuesday’s match as he has a thigh problem.
Former Colchester full-back Cohen Bramall is rated at 50/50 to make the game, while midfielder Liam Bridcutt and defender Lewis Montsma are long-term absentees with knee injuries.
Following Saturday’s victory over Wednesday, their first win in five matches, manager Michael Appleton hailed his side’s spirit.
“They have got character,” he told his club’s official website. “I think that’s a good thing and I’m pleased that they’ve been able to show that.
“If you look at the majority of our points this year, they’ve been against sides at the top of the table so that makes it a bit more frustrating.
“There’s a belief that we can beat the better teams in the division but one thing we need to improve on is obviously playing the sides nearer the bottom half of the table.”
Regarding the visit to Portman Road, Appleton continued: “It will be a massive test. I think Kieran McKenna has done a great job since he’s gone in and it just goes to show that the 19 players or so that they signed in the summer are really coming to the fore now.
“They’re a good side, they change formation quite regularly and they’ve got a lot of options in a lot of areas so it’s going to be a tough game.
“But Saturday was a tough game against a side in similar form, we went toe-to-toe and I thought we thoroughly deserved it with a good performance.”
He added: “One thing we do know, we have to play really well to win the game but we know we are capable of that. The confidence the players will have off the back of Saturday will give us a good opportunity.”
Away from home, the Imps have won five, drawn four and lost six this season with their most recent victory on the road a 2-1 success at Plymouth in mid-January. Earlier the same month they beat Sunderland 3-1 at the Stadium of Light.
Town have the edge historically having won eight games between the teams (seven in the league) with five (three) ending in draws and six (five) won by the Imps.
At Sincil Bank in September, Town’s wait for a first win of the season finally ended as Bonne’s 30th-minute goal saw the Blues to a 1-0 victory over his former loan club Lincoln.
The on-loan QPR striker headed home Hayden Coulson’s left-wing cross with the Blues withstanding Imps pressure in the second half to claim their first three-point haul of 2021/22.
The teams last met at Portman Road a year ago on Wednesday in former manager Paul 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.
Morgan Rogers, who had opted to join Lincoln on loan rather than the Blues two months earlier, 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.
Striker Bonne was on loan at Sincil Bank between August and October 2016, scoring once in five starts and two sub appearances.
Lincoln midfielder Bishop moved to Sincil Bank last summer from the Blues for a fee understood to be £220,000 after joining Town as an U8.
The Cambridge-born schemer went on to make 81 starts and 51 sub appearances, scoring five times.
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 last year’s takeover.
Tuesday’s referee is Tom Reeves from Birmingham, who has shown 94 yellow cards and four red in 28 games so far this season, his first as an EFL official. Reeves will be taking control of his first Town match.
Squad from: Walton, Hladky, Donacien, Edmundson, Woolfenden, Burgess, Burns, Vincent-Young, Thompson, Penney, Morsy, El Mizouni, Carroll, Bakinson, Celina, Aluko, Chaplin, Bonne, Norwood, Pigott, Jackson.
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