Premier League Matchday 35: Tricky Away Trip For Manchester United
Lincoln City’s 2-0 win at MK Dons last week, combined with a defeat for Bury at Carlisle, means that they are now on 83 points – and it is mathematically impossible for three of their promotion rivals to all accrue more than 85 due to MK and Mansfield playing one another on the final day.
The Imps can, therefore, rubber-stamp promotion on Saturday with a victory, regardless of other results.
If they draw, they can secure promotion if either Mansfield and MK Dons fail to win simultaneously or Bury lose.
If Lincoln lose, they would still go up if one of Mansfield or MK Dons loses and the other fails to win. Got that?
— EFL (@EFL) April 6, 2019
Ultimately, the mathematical details are only important in terms of defining when Lincoln secure promotion, rather than if: we all know they are almost certain to be a League One club next season.
Danny and Nicky Cowley’s side should feel quite at home there, too. When they were promoted from the division below in 2016-17, their seven most-used players had featured in a combined total of just 30 EFL games.
This time, they are going up with a squad that will be more than prepared for League One: the majority of their first XI have played predominantly at that level or above.
For example, aerial beast Michael Bostwick has recently played for Peterborough for five years and his centre-back partner, Jason Shackell, has even been a key part of three different promotions to the Premier League.
There are more exceptions further forward but powerful goalscorer John Akinde has been ready for third-tier football for five years, such is his consistency at this level.
Similar can be said of athletic right-winger Harry Anderson, a consistent 8/10 who provides the balance to free up left-sided magician Bruno Andrade, who is perhaps more likely to fluctuate from 6 to 10/10.
The fact they have such a strong group of players is testament to patient squad-building from the Cowley brothers. Many called for them to make more ‘squad signings’ midway through the previous campaign, but instead they stuck with what they had in order to preserve summer funds to bring in the right players, capable of performing a division above: this big-picture thinking has been key to consistent progression.
Lincoln are not the only team who can confirm their divisional status for 2019-20 on Saturday.
During March, the more anxious Cheltenham Town fans had occasionally been checking results of teams below them.
The Robins though can eliminate the mathematical but unrealistic possibility of relegation by avoiding defeat – alternatively, they can do so either if Yeovil and Notts County both fail to win, or if one of those two team fail to win in conjunction with defeat for Macclesfield.
In all but name, Cheltenham know they will be a League Two club next season and, considering how precarious things looked after they concluded October with a dour 2-0 home loss to Stevenage, that shows remarkable progress.
— Mr Running man (@mattyadders) April 6, 2019
Michael Duff went to the Jonny-Rocks Stadium with the intention of playing 4-4-2 – a system used at Burnley, where he had coached Under-23s – but the switch to 3-4-1-2 has paid dividends and it would be wise to stick to that.
The experienced Chris Hussey’s high-standard of deliveries have been imperative from a left wing-back role, while midfielder by trade Ben Tozer has adjusted seamlessly to playing in the back-three.
Chairman Andy Wilcox should also be credited: he was brave enough to make two difficult but correct early decisions on the managerial front, then give Duff the backing to bring in veteran striker Luke Varney at a time when the squad was already bloated.
Varney has been a revelation: not only has he scored 14 league goals, he has also set the tone with tenacious pressing from the front, shown a willingness to engage aerially at 5’11” – and if a 36-year-old is training impeccably, that sets an example for younger players.
Cheltenham look set for a period of steady progress – although Saturday may belong to Lincoln.
Tip: Lincoln to win 13/20