Match Preview: The Imps V Boro U21's
Lincoln City step up their pre-season campaign with their first Saturday home game today, facing Championship club Middlesbrough's under-21 side. The Imps will look to bounce back from a 2-0 defeat to the young Boro side's North-East rivals, Sunderland, on Wednesday, a game which was blighted by the concession of two poor goals. Gary Simpson will surely have sought to improve defensive discipline from set-pieces, as yet another goal was conceded from a dead-ball situation against the Mackems. The Imps are stretched in terms of personnel in defence again, with Tom Miller, Nat Brown and Dan Gray still struggling, and so, fitness allowing, should start with the same defence as they did against Sunderland, with Jake Sheridan continuing at right-back, having put in some impressive performances already this pre-season, marauding forward and creating chances, as well as working incredibly hard at the back. Boyce and Foster will look to build a partnership at centre-back, as the latter's experience should have a positive effect on the performances of the former Gainsborough Trinity defender. Sean Newton will continue at left-back, in the absence of any other left-footed members of the squad, given Todd Jordan's injury.
A familiar face will be returning to Sincil Bank, with former Imp Jamie Clapham in charge of Middlesbrough's development side, who beat Darlington 2-0 on Tuesday night. Boro's goals came courtesy of Bradley Fewster, an England U-17s international, and a trialist. Prior to the Darlington game, Clapham's side was held 0-0 by Northern League Division One team, and FA Vase holders, Spennymoor Town FC, and so their young players have shown their ability to scrap against older, battle-hardened footballers. As such, Boro will be a difficult test for a Lincoln side that could really do with a win, and a clean-sheet, to re-affirm the positivity and optimism that is, perhaps, on the wane a little with some fans, given the defensive frailties - and personnel shortages - that have seen the club concede in each of its friendlies so far. Wednesday's game was the club's first without a goal, and Simpson's side will want to rectify that by helping themselves to a few against Boro.
In midfield and attack, Simpson has a lot of options, and will have to choose whether to stick with the side that, but for two poor moments in defence, matched a technically very able Sunderland team, or to mix it up and offer starts to Rowe - arguably Lincoln's best player this pre-season - and Nolan, a player capable of making things tick and providing a greater link between defence and attack, perhaps cutting down on the number of long balls forward that the Imps' forwards seemed incapable of winning on Wednesday. Waide Fairhurst didn't look entirely comfortable in a deeper role, and so it is likely that either Alan Power or Rowe will play in the hole, whilst Ben Tomlinson will be pushing for a start, having made his first appearance for the club from the bench on Wednesday. Adi Yussuf, who impressed with his direct running against the Mackems, will hope to shake off the knock that forced him to be substituted and retain his place on the left of the Lincoln front three. The number of potential combinations in midfield and attack, compared to the square-pegs-in-round-holes necessities of the backline, speaks volumes about where the squad is lacking, and the sooner the injured defenders return, the better. Ultimately, today's result won't matter, but a solid defensive performance, and some good attacking football, alongside the full squad of players remaining fit, would be a massive boost, as we head towards the final flourish of pre-season activity.