It’s been a tricky season for Lincoln, with the departure of Danny and Nicky Cowley for Huddersfield, but their replacement Michael Appleton has managed to maintain a decent level of form while altering their style of play.
Despite defeat to Portsmouth this week, they’re only seven points from sixth place with still plenty of games remaining – so do they have an outside chance of making the playoffs?
“No chance, no chance,” Appleton told the Totally Football League Show this week.
“It’s one of them where we’re evolving this year, we just want to make sure that we’re competing again at this level next season. The squad will look very, very different in the summer. We’re in a little bit of a false position as it is at the minute: we’ve played a couple of games more than the teams in the top half the table, and we’re aware of that.
“But the at the end of the day, we want to win as many games as we possibly can because it breeds confidence and hopefully it gives people a little bit hope for next season.”
Appleton took over from the Cowley brothers in September, but given the success they achieved in just over three seasons at the club, was it intimidating for him to step in, or a big help that he was taking over a club in a good state?
“Probably a little bit of both. Obviously, the club had so much success over the last three years, but the realization, I think, from the football club was once Danny and Nick had left is that they’d been really, really competitive as a club from a budgetary point of view. They had one of the, if not the highest budget in the Conference and League Two, whereas you go into League One with your Ipswichs, your Sunderlands, your Portsmouths, your Coventrys, and these type of clubs.
“I think there was a realisation that we have to stabilise first and foremost in this division. I think it’s the first time for 21 years that the clubs been at this level.
“That was that was the biggest thing that attracted me to the job. It was more ‘right, OK, there’s an expectation to it to want to do well, but I think I’m going to get a little bit of time to do it.’”
The Cowleys obviously had what we’ll delicately call “a certain style of play”, but has Appleton tried to change that?
“I think it is important not to change too much. Having said that, what we’re trying to do in this style, I’m being told is very different to how it was.
“I think it’s one of them as a coach and manager, you go in somewhere and you try and stamp your philosophy and your style on the group of players. And if they seem comfortable with that, then obviously it’s easy to stick with.
“What we have done is we’ve brought in a few younger players and we were a little bit more athletic, slightly more energetic, which allows us to play a little bit more of an expansive style. Over time, that will only get better and better.”
Lincoln brought in Arsenal forward Tyreese John-Jules on loan this month, and while they didn’t quite have to jump through the hoops that clubs interested in loaning Eddie Nketiah did, they were expected to present their case to the Gunners.
“I think in a lot of the big clubs now, they want to know about the football club, they want to know why it’s a good idea to bring their young players to Lincoln as an example. So you tend to do have to present to the to the bigger clubs and give them a little bit of a bigger picture of why, in the long run it’s going to be beneficial to their young players.
“He’s an exciting player, he’s a good finisher, he’s very direct. And the thing I like about him is he’s an honest lad who’s prepared to put the yards in, he’s prepared to run and and do the ugly side of the game. Some of these young players who have earned a lot of money very, very quickly, they want to play when the ball’s at their feet and when they’re in possession of the ball, but they don’t want to do the work out of possession.
Another forward Lincoln have on loan is Tyler Walker, and his success – with 14 goals he’s the second-top scorer in League One – has meant the prospect of Nottingham Forest recalling him has been mooted. So is Appleton confident of keeping him?
“I wouldn’t say I’m confident, but I’m very, very hopeful. I’d like to think that we’d get an answer at some point, hopefully Wednesday, worst case scenario Thursday, just to give us a little bit time to do something about it.
“There’s been no indication really so far that they’re looking to bring him back, so that hopefully is a good sign. Tyler had a bit of a dead leg from the game on Saturday, and obviously with us having a three game week, it an opportunity to give him a little bit of a breather [against Portsmouth on Tuesday]. Obviously, we’ve got a very important game on Saturday away at Southend, which the amount of goals he’s scored for and the way he’s played this year. I think it’s fair to say that he’ll probably start.”
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