This week could turn out to be one where Imps fans talk about for years, and I’m not just talking about the Arsenal game, but rather the league game on Tuesday night against Braintree. Two draws in a row against York and Aldershot respectively have altered the other teams in the title race that maybe City aren’t as invulnerable as they initially appeared, but a win against Braintree on Tuesday evening will change all that.
When you’ve only lost two in more than thirty-something matches in all competitions, not winning for two in a row (even though we didn’t lose them) can be considered something of a mini-slump for the Imps and whilst we still have games in hand over the majority, Tranmere have taken that mini-slump to their advantage and have moved within three points of City, and the men from the Wirral are the only side who City haven’t got games in hand over.
In theory they could overtake the Imps on Tuesday night, although it would take a massive swing of ten goals for that to happen, which will be even trickier for them as they travel to Barrow, who themselves will be desperate to re-enter the Playoff race after four games without a win in all competitions and only one win in their last six, compare that to Tranmere’s five wins (including one over Barrow) in that same period.
Whatever happens at Holker St, City will still fancy their chances of at least maintaining the three point gap as we travel to Braintree. The Imps and Braintree first met in September 2011 and it was Yiadom’s effort for Braintree that settled the tie in their favour. That remains their only ever win over the Imps, and a 3-3 draw at Sincil Bank in that same season was the only other point they’ve got against City. Since then it’s ten wins in a row for the Imps over the men from Essex, scoring at least twice in each meeting and hitting three in seven of those ten.
With all due respect to Danny Cowley’s old side, there are few better teams for City to be facing to get back on track. Braintree are in semi-decent form with just two defeats in their last six, although the highest place team from the other four teams they’ve faced are 12th placed Bromley, who had two players sent off very early in that game. They’re never easy opponents to face, and last season’s third place finish under Cowley shows that on their day they can be as good as anyone in the division, even if some of their better players have left for Sincil Bank.
But there is always the possibility of City suffering the shock. If City do lose against Braintree, all of a sudden two games without a win would become three, and let’s face it, we’re going to realistically lose at Arsenal. All of a sudden four games with a win would put pressure on, especially as failure to win against Braintree means that it is likely that we’ll be replaced at the top of the National League before our next league game on March 21st (albeit with three games in hand over Forest Green).
Realistically it is between ourselves, and the rovers of Tranmere and Forest Green for the title, and each has an interesting set of fixtures remaining.
Lincoln City’s Remaining Fixtures
07/03 – Braintree Town (Away)
21/03 – Boreham Wood (Away)
25/03 – Forest Green Rovers (Home)
28/03 – Sutton United (Away)
01/04 – Bromley (Home)
03/04 – Dagenham and Redbridge (Home)
08/04 – Eastleigh (Away)
14/04 – Torquay United (Home)
17/04 – Gateshead (Away)
22/04 – Macclesfield Town (Home)
25/04 – Maidstone United (Away)
29/04 – Southport (Away)
Chester (Home) still to be re-arranged
City have arguably the trickiest run in of the three challengers, and the two cup runs have played havoc with the fixture list, with City having four spells of two games in three days. It will certainly test the squad to their limits, but so far we’ve been fine in that respect.
We still have to face the teams sitting second and fourth at the time of writing, both at home. Out of the thirteen sides listed above, we’ve only lost to two of them this season.
Forest Green Rovers’ Remaining Fixtures
11/03 – Dagenham and Redbridge (Away)
14/03 – Sutton United (Away)
18/03 – Wrexham (Home)
21/03 – Solihull Moors (Home)
25/03 – Forest Green Rovers (Home)
01/04 – North Ferriby United (Home)
08/04 – Guiseley (Away)
11/04 – Tranmere Rovers (Away)
14/04 – Chester (Home)
17/04 – Southport (Away)
22/04 – Maidstone United (Home)
Whilst they have a favourable run in, Forest Green’s title challenge will ultimately rely on both City and Tranmere failing to take advantage of all of the games in hand and suffering bad form in the rest of the games. Realistically are the two sides with the best games:points ratio going to fail so dramatically at the same time? No.
Realistically Forest Green would have to win every single game for the rest of the season, and even then it probably won’t be enough. That game against Tranmere could kill of their challenge once and for all, but they would be exceptionally dangerous opponents in the Playoffs.
Tranmere Rovers’ Remaining Fixtures
14/03 – Torquay United (Away)
21/03 – North Ferriby United (Away)
25/03 – Braintree Town (Home)
28/03 – Dover Athletic (Home)
01/04 – Wrexham (Away)
08/04 – Solihull Moors (Home)
04/04 – Sutton United (Home)
11/04 – Forest Green Rovers (Home)
14/04 – Aldershot Town (Home)
17/04 – Guiseley (Away)
22/04 – Southport (Home)
29/04 – Maidstone United (Away)
Tranmere have, on paper, comfortably the easiest run in out of the three teams, especially as the majority of their remaining games are at home. The one thing that works against them though is that they face a lot of sides still in with a shout of the Playoffs, as well as a few fighting for their lives at the bottom. Near enough every week they are facing someone with something to fight for, and that could make their “easier” run in far more difficult.
The interesting game will be the one on April 11th as it is effectively a promotion six pointer if both are still towards the top by that stage.
On paper you’d say that Tranmere have the easiest run in, but with a mounting injury list you’ve have to question their legs during the run in. City on the other hand still have potentially eighteen games to play in all competitions if we continue to progress in the cups. Neither are going to have fully fit squads for the remainder of the season, regardless of how physically fit they are normally.
Despite sitting second, it’s hard to really take Forest Green as a genuine threat at this stage as they require too many slip ups from both us and Tranmere. However, if that does happen then Forest Green certainly have the squad to take advantage.
Rather interestingly, all three of us face Maidstone United in the final week of the season, and as well as all three playing Southport in the final two weeks. It could be interesting if both are still in with a chance of survival going into those weeks.