Following our brilliant 4-1 win at home to Doncaster, Sunderland welcome Lincoln City to the Stadium of Light on Wednesday for a 18:00 kick off, Live on SKY, but how will the game pan out?
I was joined by Lincoln City fan Ben Ward on the Red and White Podcast... here is what he had to say.
“To be honest, it’s that we don’t necessarily have a first team and some reserves; every single player in that squad is able to pick up and play where one of the first team regulars leave off. The key thing is that we don’t necessarily rely on one player to get goals, we’ve got goals throughout the squad. Tom Hopper, our striker, is not going to have 20+ goals at the end of the season to his name; he’s the type of player who will do the hold-up work and make sure that people around can get in and get in the positions to score. George Grant has been my player of the season so far. This season, he’s transformed as a footballer. The other one who could be player of the season is Alex Palmer. He’s kept so many clean sheets. We’ve only conceded two in the last eleven away games, and that is some stat”. It is also worth noting that Palmer currently holds the most clean sheets in the league, with 13.
One thing that may potentially play into our hands is Lincoln’s lack of squad depth. Despite the apparent flexibility that Ben touched on with players coming in to cover, Lincoln have named an incomplete bench on multiple occasions this season due to a lack of numbers. Because the Papa John’s Trophy is almost certainly less important to a side top of the league than the potential of promotion or winning the title, The Imps may look to use a few youth players within their match squad to ensure no important senior player is risked as injuries is likely to affect them more, given their thin squad. Aside from that, there isn’t much the Lincolnshire side appear to struggle with, or any notable weaknesses to exploit unfortunately.
FORMATION AND TACTICS
The 2018 EFL Trophy winners tend to alternate between 4-1-4-1 and 4-3-3, the common denominator always being ex-Sunderland player Bridcutt sat in front of the back four with the aforementioned Grant just ahead of him, who is League 1’s joint-third top assister, aiming to press and play quick attacking football to move the ball swiftly. Due to Bridcutt’s injury however, Grant may fill in as a holding midfielder, a position he is familiar with.
Dion Sanderson, Jake Vokins and Carl Winchester are all cup-tied, leaving Johnson with some difficult decisions to make. With Tom Flanagan still returning to fitness, it is possible Oliver Younger may make his third senior appearance of the season at centre-back (although he may not be match fit after being injured himself). Alternatively, Connor McLaughlin or Luke O’Nien are more likely to be preferred to fill in alongside Bailey Wright, causing Power to probably resume his slot at right-back. Callum McFadzean appears to be the only option at left-back and Winchester’s absence limits the potential for rotation in midfield. With Power likely to recover his role at full back, Leadbitter will expectedly come back into the centre of the park. It’s expected that Johnson will name a strong line-up, with, so starts for fringe or youth players are unlikely, but a few might make the bench.
It’s arguable that Lincoln are favourites and, as much as this game has its importance (given the financial and morale boost a cup final can offer) we can’t afford to risk anyone of real importance as every point matters in the league now. Lincoln, however, are in a fortunate position given they’re exceeding expectation already, allowing them to put more focus into this game.
A competitive game is to be expected, but unfortunately, I can see Lincoln just edging it and pipping us to the final, with a 2-1 victory.
EXTRA INFO: In the event of the game being a draw 30 minutes extra time followed by penalties will decide the tie. Prize money is £100,000 for the winners; £50,000 for the runners up…