Meet the opposition: Class of 2017 all gone, with Lincoln City adjusting to life after the Cowleys
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Ipswich Town host Lincoln City in the FA Cup first round tomorrow. STUART WATSON takes a look at the Imps’ rise since the clubs last met back in January 2017.
After relegation from the Football League on the final day of the 2010/11 season, Lincoln had five bottom half finishes on the spin in the National League (17th, 16th, 14th, 15th and 13th).
Then along came Danny and Nicky Cowley. The brothers, who had combined teaching with a long and successful stint of non-league management at Concord Rangers in Essex, were appointed following an highly impressive first season in charge of low budget Braintree Town.
And what a three years they ended up having at the helm. 2016/17: National League champions and a run to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. 2017/18: EFL Trophy winners at Wembley, plus a play-off finish in League Two. 2018/19: League Two champions.
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After being linked heavily to jobs such as Sheffield Wednesday, West Brom and Middlesbrough, they departed in September to join recently-relegated Championship club Huddersfield.
Lincoln turned to ex Portsmouth, Blackpool, Blackburn and Oxford United boss Michael Appleton, handing the 43-year-old a four-year deal after his most recent coaching roles at Leicester (assistant to Craig Shakespeare) and West Brom (U23s coach).
The Imps' upward momentum continued as they won their opening four games (Accrington, Rotherham and Southend in league, plus a Carabao Cup victory at Huddersfield) without conceding a single goal.
There have been just two wins - at home against Fleetwood (August 31) and Sunderland (October 5) - in the 16 games since then though.
Under the caretaker management of Jamie McCombe there was a 6-0 home trouncing at the hands of Oxford United.
AFC Wimbledon's stoppage-time equaliser last Saturday (1-1) means Appleton is still waiting for his first victory on the road.
LACK OF GOALS
Appleton says he is 'crystal clear' about where his squad needs strengthening in January. It doesn't take a rocket scientists to work out that his squad needs more firepower.
At present, talented young Nottingham Forest loanee Tyler Walker (son of Des) bears the burden of responsibility. He's scored seven of their 18 goals in the league. Journeyman striker John Akinde is the only back-up.
Lincoln have drawn a blank in six of their last 10 games and were left to rue their profligacy at Kingsmeadow.
"If we can be a little more aggressive, get across that near post and attack the ball with real meaning, I can see us scoring goals," said Appleton ahead of the game.
After he said: "The reason we only took a point from the game was because we weren't clinical enough. The game should have been out of sight before half-time and we had opportunities to finish the game off in the second half too.
"We've got to find a way of being more ruthless."
KEEN ON THE CUP
It looks like Lincoln's aim this season will be to establish themselves in the third-tier. And that could leave room for them to have a real go at another money-spinning run in the FA Cup.
Appleton said: "A good run in the cup can be very important, from my experience. It's good for the club and the fans and you can take that confidence into the league.
"Some of the games recently have been against some of the bigger clubs in the division - we narrowly lost to Pompey (1-0) and Blackpool (2-1) away from home and matched Peterborough for around 80 minutes and were beaten by two outstanding finishes late on."
He added: "They (Ipswich) are doing so well in the league - the reality is they are one of the biggest clubs in the division."
Remember Callum Connolly? The versatile Liverpudlian scored four goals in 35 appearances for Ipswich during a loan spell from Everton in 2017/18.
He spent the first half of last season at Championship strugglers Wigan (making eight start) and the second half of the campaign at relegated Championship club Bolton (making 15 starts). Now he's at Lincoln - the sixth loan of his fledgling career.
Connolly started the season in central midfield for the Imps, but has recently been playing at centre-back due to injuries and suspensions.
He said: "Under the new manager, I've learned a lot of different things and I think my game is improving. I'm enjoying my football at the minute.
"The lads have been disappointed with results recently but we're looking forward rather than back.
"A result in the FA Cup can be massive - it builds confidence. Going to Ipswich and beating them is a real statement and we're relishing the challenge."
Not a single Lincoln player who featured in either of the two FA Cup games against Ipswich back in January 2017 are still at the club.
Match-winner Nathan Arnold is now at Altrincham, big striker Matt Rhead is without a club following a short stint at Billericay, while defender Bradley Wood was banned for six years over match-fixing offences.
Old heads Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse, who both started on that infamous night at Sincil Bank, are both obviously still at Portman Road, but there's every chance they'll be rested this weekend. And Freddie Sears is still not ready to play after injury.
That means the only player likely to take part in the re-match is Andre Dozzell. He started the initial 2-2 draw at Portman Road three years ago and came on for the final 15 minutes of the replay.
DID YOU KNOW?
Ipswich Town goalkeeper coach Jimmy Walker was on the bench for Lincoln in those FA Cup matches of 2017.
He was 43 at the time, the Imps being the final stop of a playing career best known for a two long spells at Walsall.
MADE IN NORWICH
Jason Shackell is still going at the age of 36. The former Barnsley, Burnley and Derby centre-back made more than 100 appearances for Norwich after coming through their youth ranks.
He's not the only Canaries youth graduate in Lincoln's back line. Left-back Harry Toffolo was let go by the Norfolk club after making just two League Cup appearances and, after a short spell at Millwall, has proven to be a good free transfer addition.