Sunderland AFC Match Preview – Now is not the time for Impishness at Lincoln City

Jonny Lambert previews Sunderland's trip to Lincoln City on Saturday

As we enter the last eight (or hopefully 11) games of the season we go in good form to strugglers Lincoln City, seeking revenge on The Imp, Chris Maguire.

The Imps broke Mackem hearts last season when they came out victorious in the play-off semi-final, though it could’ve been a different story had the Lads not gassed by half-time in the second leg. Earlier in the season the Lads returned their best away result of the season, going to Sincil Bank at the start of Lee Johnson’s tenure and turning Lincoln over 4-0.¬†Sadly, results and performances like that failed to come often enough and we are where we are.

Back in January, Maguire was at his playing and shithouse best he scored a hat-trick to defeat the Lads 3-1 on his old stomping ground, humiliate Johnson in the process and wind up fans in a way only he knows how to. No matter how much it frustrated me on the night, you couldn’t help thinking, “I wish some of our players were as streetwise as him.”

The Imps won League One and Two way back when they were called the Third and Fourth Divisions, when players would celebrate goals jumping up and down on the spot with both hands aloft and all footage was in black and white.

In more recent times, they won the Checkatrade Trophy in 2018, defeating Shrewsbury Town 1-0 in front of a half-full Wembley. They also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in 2017, which is a relatively decent achievement given where they sat in the league structure. They lost in North London, conceding five goals at Arsenal – sound familiar?

Lincoln are currently sat 18th in the table, some eight points above the relegation zone, a position owing mostly to their inconsistent form. In the last six games they’ve won two, lost six and, over the course of the season, have only drawn eight games, meaning they’re never far from defeat.

That being said, they had a strong second half against Rotherham in midweek, only losing to the league leaders 2-1, and, prior to that, a good win a Wimbledon. The Imps have also turned over Sheffield Wednesday in recent weeks, who have been on promotion form for the last two months.

Michael Appleton isn’t confident they’ll get an emergency loan goalkeeper in before this weekend’s game, but if they do under league rules, that addition will start. It would mean Jordan Wright, who has had an excellent last three games, would drop down to the bench. Arsenal loanee Brooke Norton-Cuffy has had his red card against AFC Wimbledon overturned, so will be available to start in defence.

Current captain Regan Poole is waiting on a late fitness test to see whether he can be involved, while regular skipper Liam Bridcutt is out until next month having had a minor operation. Perhaps in the meantime the former Sunderland man could spend some of his spare time at the Stadium of Light, just to remind himself of how ‘toxic’ he apparently recalls it being. John Marquis leads the line for Lincoln and will be looking to make a nuisance of himself, along with pantomime villain Maguire.

For the Lads, we got an interesting insight into Alex Neil’s selection process through his interview with Frankie Francis and Danny Collins on the club’s Unfiltered podcast this week. It leans very much toward horses for courses and selecting players on form and fitness, essentially looking to have players in their most effective position. This hasn’t always been easy for him with a lack of available defenders, but having only conceded one in four – that one being an individual error by Bailey Wright – it’s clear Neil is showing the savvy side of his leadership.

There are no suspensions or fresh injury worries, so it’ll be a case of whether Danny Batth is ready and whether Neil is prepared to get Nathan Broadhead back out there. Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke are starting to hit their stride now and will both be hoping to start.

Leon Dajaku did himself a favour last time out too, showing great energy off the bench. That may be the best way for him to make a positive impact. Luke O’Nien and last weekend’s Man of the Match Dan Neil look far better options than the out of sorts Corry Evans, but it’s unlikely the gaffer will drop his captain.

The league table doesn’t really feel relevant anymore in this division, so the Lads will have to treat this game with respect. We’ve already been outwitted by Lincoln City once already this season, so that needs to be used as motivation to beat them this time around.

An early goal would be welcome. First half performances have been laboured recently, as the Lads have struggled to break down lesser opposition. Given our attacking options, I fancy the Lads to get a hard-fought win on the road and maintain play-off tenancy.

Ha’way the Lads.