Leaders Lincoln City in formidable form ahead of TV date at Mansfield Town
Lincoln City will hope to keep on course for the League Two title in Monday night’s televised local derby at Mansfield Town.
Having lost in the play-offs last season, their summer aim was to challenge for automatic promotion.
But the Imps surpassed that expectation by topping the table virtually all season and are currently 14 League Two games unbeaten.
The squad is undoubtedly stronger than last season with more goals, more experience and more strength in depth.
There hasn’t been one player who has made the big difference from last season, a fact underlined by 20 different scorers in all competitions and 18 in the league.
Lincoln are often labelled as a long ball term and were certainly quite direct last season.
But this season they’ve tried to keep the ball more and be more patient in their approach play, while still having the ability to go long.
That versatility is key. Unlike most teams in the League Two, they have several different ways of playing and the team is incredibly well-drilled by the Cowley brothers.
The Cowleys continue to have God-like status with the majority of fans, although Danny was stung by some criticism amid a run of draws at home recently.
Fans currently seem less worried they will lose them to a bigger club than they did a year ago.
There’s certainly been interest from other clubs, but the Cowleys have put roots down in Lincoln and, while they think they can take the club forward, they are likely to stay put.
They’ll probably move on at some point, but fans expect them to be around for another two or three years at least.
The away support has been phenomenal this season, with their 1,600 allocation for the game selling out quickly.
Stags will need to shackle winger Bruno Andrade – a summer signing from Boreham Wood – who is on course for player of the season and set up the Imps’ goal in the 1-1 home draw with Mansfield.
He was on fire for the first few months before having a quiet December, partly down to a niggling ankle injury.
He then got himself sent off for kicking a Swindon player in January. However, the three-match ban seems to have done Andrade the power of good.
He scored six goals in five games in February – including a few long-range crackers – to earn two player of the month awards.
Another dangerman is winger/forward Danny Rowe, who played a wide role during his loan spell from Ipswich last season, but since returning in January has generally operated just behind main striker John Akinde to great effect.
He is a clever player who is capable of conjuring something out of nothing.
And Stags will need no advance scouting reports to know the threat of their former target man Matt Rhead.
Jason Shackell should be fit to return after coming off with a hamstring injury against Yeovil last Friday.
Club captain Lee Frecklington could also be available again following a groin issue which has kept him out for the last month.
He is expected to resume training this week with a view to being in the squad on Monday, but may have to make do with a place on the bench.