Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
After a record-breaking last two years, Lincoln City are hoping for more meteoric progress in 2019.
The Imps have established themselves as prime contenders for a second promotion – and possibly a second title – in three years.
They have evolved tactically in that time, too.
Last season, Danny and Nicky Cowley’s side reached the play-offs by playing a very direct brand of football, involving early balls into target man Matt Rhead.
This season, Rhead has been used as more of a Plan B due to the summer arrival of John Akinde, who offers some qualities of a target man but also has that ability to run in behind.
And, rather than play a 4-4-2 with speedster Matt Green, now at Salford, operating just off the main front-man, the system is more akin to a 4-2-3-1.
— Lincoln City FC (@LincolnCity_FC) December 31, 2018
The second striker, now either Shay McCartan or Tom Pett, undertake more withdrawn roles but there is more attacking freedom for wingers like Harry Anderson and Bruno Andrade, with the latter proving a hit since joining from Boreham Wood.
Lincoln’s play, therefore, is now quick and incisive, making them a major goal threat.
Their defence, meanwhile, is very strong.
Jason Shackell has won three promotions from the Championship and therefore possesses excellent pedigree at League Two level; his centre-back partner, Michael Bostwick, is an absolute gladiator capable of dominating most strikers.
Right-back Neal Eardley produces excellent technical quality, as we saw with his free-kick in the 2-1 victory at Cambridge last time out while left-back Harry Toffolo is a bright, young talent too.
In the reverse fixture, Lincoln were 6-2 victors but they did not have to work especially hard for most of their goals, such was the dubious nature of Port Vale’s defending on that occasion.
The Valiants have won just three league games since September and lost 4-1 at home to Oldham last time out.
While they were good value for the most recent win, 3-0 at Yeovil, they were very fortunate to beat Oldham away and Bury at home, mustering a combined three shots on target in those two 1-0 victories.
Natives have grown slightly impatient with the football on display.
Tom Pope is likely to start up top with the mobile, diminutive Ben Whitfield playing just off the target man in a 4-4-2.
That system though has not always worked particularly well and there is a danger that the midfielders – Cristian Montano, Anthony Kay, Manny Oyeleke and Luke Hannant – will be entrenched in their defensive third and thus unable to bring the front two into play with any accuracy.
That has been a problem on the road this season for Vale, who have scored only nine goals in 12 away games, with only Crewe and Crawley bagging fewer.
Lincoln have won their first two encounters with the Burslem outfit by a combined scoreline of 10-2 and look good value for another convincing victory on Tuesday.
Tip: Lincoln to win -1 handicap – 2/1