August has been a stupendous month for Lincoln City. Sat top of Sky Bet League Two by three points as well as going unbeaten.
Despite a tough opening to their campaign, the Imps have picked up wins against Northampton, Swindon, Bury, Notts County and Exeter City. The latter two being two of the sides who finished in the play-offs with Danny Cowley’s side last year.
What has led to this simply outragous start from the boys in red and white? Here’s five things we’ve learnt about the Imps in the first month of the season.
1) Hoofball is a thing of the past.
Last season there were many managers in the division that branded the Imps as a ‘long ball side’ who have to win the physical battle to earn the points. With strikers such as Matt Rhead starting 35 games for Cowley’s last season, it was obvious how Lincoln wanted to play. Of course, there were intelligent footballers in the side but the big man was such an outlet for the Imps.
It clearly worked to an extent as the Imps earned themselves a play-off place finish. But that season has been and gone, with Cowley changing his approach this time around. In the forward compartment, Danny has added John Akinde. Probably one of the better strikers in the division over the last five years. Akinde is almost the perfect blend between Matt Rhead and Matt Green. He has areas of his game that make him a much more complete forward.
If you watch any of the games that Lincoln have played in this year, you can tell that Cowley has swtiched styles. Cowley”s side are keen to keep it on the floor in a possession based game with the midfield pulling the strings. With Neal Eardley and Harry Toffolo bombing forward at every opportunity to support their wingers, it often leaves opposition full-backs outnumbered and shaking with fear.
A lot of the Imps goals have come from the flanks and you just have to see the goals from Exeter to see that. All three went down the left side with Toffolo playing a key role in starting the attacks.
2) Tom Pett looks at home.
Arriving in the middle of a busy season is always difficult for a player. They are often not match fit and it also uses valuable games to use them in to gel. So when Tom Pett moved to Lincoln on deadline day, it was always going to be an uphill struggle. Added with the circumstances that are a change in ambition. Stevenage were a fair way off the play-offs and were in no real danger of heading down a league, Pett was moving to a side who was already far in the Checkatrade Trophy and had ambitions of getting promoted.
A lot of Lincoln fans will also say that Pett looked far behind the rest of the squad in terms of fitness. One of the reasons for this is that he had not experienced a ‘Danny and Nicky pre-season’. The same could be said for Lee Frecklington. Pett often went missing in games and would often be the scapegoat for a lot of the supporters. The creative midfielder showed a glimpse of quality when his superb effort on the final day of the season secured the point that the Imps needed to finish in the play-offs.
Nowadays, Pett is almost undroppable. He has really bought into the new approach which suits his game and his attributes. In the games that I have seen of him, he looks a lot fitter and sharper. He dictates a game rather than sitting back and allowing other players to take responsibility. If you asked the Lincoln supporters who they thought has been the best player of the season thus far, a lot of them would to turn to Pett. I most certainly would.
3) Andrade settles into the Football League
Branded as the best player in the National League last season, there was always going to be interest in Andrade. The winger was sensational for Boreham Wood as he fired them to a play-off final, far succeeding any dreams of Wood fans.
The winger was snapped up by Cowley early on in the summer, but there was a lot of reported interest. Cowley saw a similar mind set between himself and the player. Rising through non-league and performing at a sustained exceptional level to earn a chance in the professional game.
Andrade looked impressive throughout pre-season especially in the fixture with county rivals Boston United. He was unleashed on the left, but often drifted infield and would cause problems for centre halves. His endevour that night earned him a goal, which he took sublimely.
Despite the positive pre-season, he was left on the bench for the opening day of the campaign at Northampton. He was reinstalled into the starting eleven against Swindon where he impressed hugely. His darting runs, his trickery gained him an instant rapport with the Imps fans.
Since that moment, he has not looked back. His most impressive display against Notts County has got all the Lincoln City fans talking. He had County right-back Matt Tootle shaking in fear every single time he gathered the ball. The winger had already forced the full-back into receiving a yellow card by the time he was substituted before the interval.
He was arguably the best player on the pitch that day, grabbing himself a goal and an assist as the Imps dispatched of a below par Notts side.
4) Cowley’s small squad contains quality in all areas.
Danny and Nicky have always been used to a tight budget at the clubs they have been at. Both Concord Rangers and Braintree Town offer a limited budget for the management team but the pair were able to work miracles.
Last season, the Imps had one of the smallest squads in the EFL and had injuries wormed their way into the camp, Lincoln may have struggled. The Imps had a clear starting 11 with the players on the bench strong, but perhaps not strong enough to make a positive impact. Don’t get me wrong, Ollie Palmer had a terrific run towards the end of the season but you don’t get promotion with the bench Lincoln had.
A lot of those players have been moved on and real quality has been brought in. The only players that left the football club that Cowley will be disappointed with are Alex Woodyard and Luke Waterfall. Both have gone up a level and haven’t looked out of place, especially with Woodyard earning the captains armband at Peterborough United.
However, the Imps quickly filled these huge holes with significant signings. Just 48 hours after the departure of Waterfall to Shrewsbury, the Imps had completed the signing of former Premier League defender Jason Shackell. That opitimises the transfer window Lincoln have had.
They have added real quality in areas that were lacking it last year. The bench for the game at Exeter included Scott Wharton, Kellan Gordon and Shay McCartan. Three players who could all make a huge impact on a game at any moment.
The transfer window was wrapped up with an excellent piece of business by Cowley who added former Watford youngster Bernard Mensah to his ranks. Mensah had been one of the better players in the National League the year that the Imps claimed the title. His impressive performances saw him earn a move to Bristol Rovers in January of 2018.
The squad this year sits a little bigger than last year with a lot more tactical versatility. Lincoln can play three at the back, add another body into midfield or switch up the players around Akinde to alter strengths.
Any opponent coming up against the Imps will be left guessing with the system that they can deploy at any one moment in a fixture.
5) Ellis Chapman steps up
A Lincoln lad playing professionally for his hometown club. Ellis Chapman must be living the dream at just 17 years of age.
Chapman had risen through the Imps academy before being pinched by Premier League champions Leicester City. However, with Cowley seeing his ability, the midfielder was brought back to Lincoln to turn professional.
Chapman was fast-tracked into the first team last season and played a part in the club’s route to the Checkatrade Trophy final.
This season however, Chapman has been given a lot more responsibility. The youngster looked superb in pre-season ties against both Norwich and Sheffield Wednesday, looking like a senior professional.
If it hadn’t of been for a small niggle picked up before the tie against Northampton, Cowley had admitted that Chapman would have started the game.
So far this year, he has played in the middle of the park next to Frecklington or Michael O’Connor who have given him extra support.
His impressive display at Port Vale in the Carabao Cup earned him a place in the starting 11 against Bury where he did not look out of place at all.
He played some intelligent balls inbetween the lines, and it was clear for all to see that he had the right ideas.
But with the Imps trailing at the break, Chapman was substituted which was the right move as Lincoln went on to win the game.
Chapman has an awful lot of potential for only a young lad, and this season appears to be his opportunity to show the Imps fans exactly what he can do. Manager Danny Cowley seems keen to give him the platform to start his career in the professional game.
Picture Credit: Lincoln City