Lincoln City FC

Key player: Jorge Grant

There was a lot of fuss when Jorge Grant signed for Lincoln last season. 24 years old and having excelled at Notts County and then Mansfield, it was considered quite the coup for the club, a club heading in only one direction under the Cowley brothers.

He had failed to live up to the billing when he joined Luton on loan the season before – the season that the Hatters stormed League One to win back-to-back promotions, but 4 goals and 2 assists from 22 appearances isn’t a terrible return and there was definitely a question of whether he suited their narrow midfield given how he’d succeeded in a wide role at Notts. Yet, dropping back down to League Two for the second half of the season saw him rediscover his form, grabbing 7 goals and assists in 18 games as he suffered play-off heartbreak for a second successive season.

Back in League One, and in a wide role under the Cowleys, he started last season in superb form, assisting in each of the first four games, going on to amass a total of 2 goals and 11 assists come the end of the season, finishing the season as the League’s fifth highest assister.

Grant is now set to become a key part of Michael Appleton’s setup. His latest manager loves smart wingers like Grant, who play between the lines rather than as a traditional wide-man, have the skill to take the ball inside or outside their defender, and have an eye for a finish. Grant is already off the mark for the season and will hope it’s the first of many.

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Manager: Michael Appleton

Ten years into his managerial career, Michael Appleton is yet to win a title, but that doesn’t mean his career has been a failure to this point. Far from it. But, that’s not to say it started well.

Appleton’s playing career was cut short when he was forced to retire following a knee injury in a training ground collision, however he remained with West Brom as part of their coaching set-up. He got his first permanent managerial role at Portsmouth as they were being run into the ground by a series of owners. Following administration, he was unable to keep the stricken club in the Championship, but was offered an opportunity to jump back into the Championship with Blackpool. His time there was short and unhappy: with just two wins from twelve he resigned, making him the shortest serving manager in their history. He then jumped ship to Blackburn, seemingly having a knack for failing upwards, but ended up joining another club in a behind-the-scenes mess. He lasted just two days longer in Lancashire than on the coast before he was sacked.

With his career in a tailspin, he joined a promising Oxford United side but started awfully, winning just one of the first ten league games, but eventually turned it around. The next season saw Oxford confirm promotion on the final day of the season after a year of exciting attacking football and he maintained the same style, promoting young talents and getting the best out of them as the club fell four points short of the play-offs in their first season in League One for fifteen years.

Surprisingly, he left for Leicester City to join as their assistant manager during the summer but left the next summer and just over a year later he took over at Lincoln following the departure of the Cowleys.

Shot stopper: Alex Palmer

Lincoln have built a promising squad this season and a number of others could have been highlighted here, including the thus-far impressive Lewis Montsma, who is one to keep an eye on as the season progresses. Yet, as any Argyle fan will tell you, Alex Palmer is quite the signing on loan from West Brom. The best ‘keeper in League Two last season, nobody kept more clean sheets and few were probably as influential. In countless big games, he provided decisive moments that swung the game Argyle’s way.

Given how attacking Ryan Lowe’s system can be, it was not surprising that the defence was often opened up, but Palmer was the perfect last line of defence. His strength and ability to judge the flight of a cross makes him dependable from set-pieces. His hand-eye-coordination is excellent, reducing the number of rebounds by catching powerful shots or pushing them safely away from goal. His distribution is very good, though can be patchy at times. Most importantly, he is a player who is fearless and technically excellent when facing one-versus-one situations.

If Palmer does as well as expected in League One, he’ll surely have earned his shot at the Championship within the next two years.

Last season: 16th in League One

After an impressive transfer window saw Lincoln add a series of quality players, the Imps shot out of the traps last season, finishing August second in the table under the leadership of the Cowleys. Their departure for Huddersfield saw their season implode, with just one win in ten following.

By the end of November, only their fast start – combined with Bury, Bolton and Southend having awful starts to the season, some worse than others – was keeping them out of a relegation battle.
A run of six wins in ten saw them pull away from any lingering threat of relegation, but that didn’t stop them going on a further seven-match winless run. After a season started with so much promise, it was a thoroughly disappointing end that saw them play some poor football and struggle to pair up the quality of the squad with the way the manager wishes to play.

Key transfer: Jamie Jones

When Appleton arrived at Lincoln, he was not short of attacking midfield talents, but a lack of central midfielders who were comfortable on the ball and could influence the team going forward. With most of the attacking midfielders deemed surplus to requirements, he has now brought in a new core of central midfielders. Among them, the headline transfer must be Jamie Jones.

Jones had a stellar season at Crewe, regularly forming part of their skillful and energetic midfield triumvirate along with Ryan Wintle and Tom Lowery. Jones may not have been the jewel in Crewe’s midfield crown, but a goal or assist every two-and-a-half games for a 24-year-old central midfielder is not to be sniffed at – it’s exactly why Appleton was so eager to sign him on a free transfer.

Jones will now be tasked with playing the same role that Liam Sercombe did for Appleton at Oxford: retaining possession, high-pressing, box-to-box, goal-threat. He’s an astute signing, and an important one for the system he intends to play.

Target: Top-half

It’s been a summer of change for Lincoln City. 15 players out, 12 in, as Michael Appleton attempts to shape the club to suit his requirements. Battle-hardened veterans of the Cowley era have departed, with a new class of players – more comfortable in possession, though maybe less hard-working – have arrived in their stead.

The clear-out was probably needed. The success of players like Michael Bostwick, Neal Eardley, Lee Frecklington and Jason Shackell under Cowley made Appleton appear a comparatively worse manager. Managing a fresh team, the comparisons will be harder to draw for irate fans if the club goes through form as inconsistently as last season.

Yet, smart though they’ve been, Lincoln’s recruitment hasn’t been as polished as other clubs, at least on paper. A run at the play-offs certainly isn’t off the cards, but finishing in the top half would be an achievement this season.

Opposition view

(provided by Lincoln City fanzine The Stacey West)

This season is one of optimism and hope for the Imps. Losing manager Danny Cowley was a blow last season and new boss Michael Appleton did well in ensuring our collapse wasn’t severe. Over the summer, he’s recruited his own squad, resulting in the highest player turnover in the division. Pre-season has seen him try different formations and use players in different positions, but two cup games later we’re still unbeaten and looking a decent prospect. There might be concerns over our killer instinct in front of goal, but if 75% of our incoming players reach their potential then we could be a real dark horse. The more likely outcome is for us to sit upper midtable again, perhaps not troubling the top six but not spending too much time worrying about the bottom four either.


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League One Season Preview 2020/21