The EFL season is just three days away, and Lincoln City will be competing in the third tier for the first time in 20 years, a feat that no Lincoln fan would’ve envisioned after being in the National League as recently as 2017. Two promotions in three seasons under manager Danny Cowley has brought the good times back, and they now feel they’re where they belong.
After a dominating season that saw them crowned League Two champions, it’ll be interesting to see if they can replicate Luton Town and achieve successive promotions to the Championship. Bookmakers have decent odds on Lincoln to at least be challenging for the playoffs, with Sunderland, Portsmouth and Ipswich Town best tipped for promotion.
Keeping Cowley feels like a new signing
After guiding Lincoln to League One in just three seasons, it wasn’t a surprise to see that manager Danny Cowley attracted interest across the EFL. Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Ipswich Town and Barnsley all expressed their interest over the last two seasons with nothing materialising.
West Bromwich Albion opened talks with Cowley this summer after missing out on promotion to the Premier League. The 40-year-old was on a four-man shortlist for the vacancy following Darren Moore’s sacking in March. Any worries of Cowley’s departure were erased when former Slaven Bilic was appointed as the new West Brom head coach.
It’s perhaps surprising that the Cowley brothers have decided to stay at the club for at least another season. The uncertainty was worrying, but they’ve shown just how much Lincoln means to them, and that they want to push the club even higher.
When Lincoln City posted their retained list, the club surprisingly announced that no senior players would be leaving the club on free transfers.
That doesn’t mean that the squad is the same going into the League One campaign. Youngster Timothy Akinola joined Huddersfield Town, while striker Matt Rhead has dropped down to the National League South after joining Billericay Town.
Rhead made 43 appearances in all competitions last season, mainly as a substitute and only scored three goals. With Bruno Andrade and John Akinde having more prolific seasons, it wasn’t a surprise to see Rhead move elsewhere.
It’s been a quiet summer at Lincoln, with Cowley not needing to make wholesale changes. As of writing, every signing this summer has been a midfielder.
Wales Under-21 international Joe Morrell was the first acquisition, arriving on loan from Bristol City. Standing 6ft 1in tall, Morrell will be a good backup as a holding midfielder behind Michael Bostwick and Michael O’Connor.
Jack Payne was the next addition, with the former Huddersfield midfielder arriving on a free transfer. After loan spells at Oxford United, Blackburn Rovers and Bradford City, Payne will be hungry cement a place as Lincoln’s playmaker.
Perhaps the most exciting signing was the arrival of midfielder Jorge Grant for an undisclosed fee from Nottingham Forest. The 24-year-old was tipped for big things at Forest but lack of first-team football and loan spells at Notts County, Luton Town and Mansfield Town led to his departure. Often used as a left-winger that can cut across defences, Grant adds plenty of firepower to Lincoln’s attack.
Midfielder Alex Bradley has joined on a free transfer from West Bromwich Albion. Not much is known about Bradley aside from loan spells last season at Havant & Waterlooville and Burton Albion. Born in Worcester, Bradley represents Finland and was part of the squad at the European Under-19 Championship last summer.
The first two pre-season games saw convincing victories over non-league opposition. Youngster Jordan Adebayo-Smith scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 victory against Lincoln United, while Jorge Grant was among the scorers in a 3-0 win over Gainsborough Trinity.
Adebayo-Smith was also on the scoresheet in a 3-1 defeat at home to Sheffield Wednesday. The game will be remembered for a comical own goal from Neal Eardley, as his back pass was too powerful for goalkeeper Josh Vickers.
The next two games were also against Championship opposition. A 1-0 victory over Reading in Spain was followed by a narrow 2-1 defeat at home to Stoke City. Despite the results, the performances against three solid Championship teams was a positive sign ahead of the upcoming season.
In the only disappointing result of their pre-season, Lincoln would lose 2-0 away to Scunthorpe United of League Two. Their pre-season campaign ended with a 1-1 draw at home to a Nottingham Forest XI to share the John Reames Memorial Trophy.
Would a mid-table finish be a success?
Lincoln were dominant in League Two, remaining in the automatic promotion places from the second week of the season. Lincoln fans will want similar success but they know it’ll be unlikely in the third tier. Realistically, League One is a big hurdle to jump and the quality of teams are far greater.
There does tend to be at least one surprise package in League One. Last season the surprise were League One champions Luton Town, and Lincoln fans will be hoping to experience something similar. Lincoln will initially look to avoid relegation, which given the quality of their squad they should have no problems. A mid-table finish is realistic, and with the firepower of Akinde and Andrade, that should be comfortably achieved.
The prospect of another exciting season for Lincoln City starts this Saturday when they host Accrington Stanley at Sincil Bank.