Lincoln City has led League Two nearly wire-to-wire this season, and after a 1-1 draw with Cheltenham Town on Saturday, they have officially clinched one of the three automatic promotion spots to League One with four matches to play. The Imps will join the relegated-from-the-Championship Ipswich Town and 22 other clubs in League One next season.
Here’s a quick look at how the Imps ended up in this position:
What Went Right
The Imps have lost four matches all season, and have not lost a match since last year – a Boxing Day match against Crewe Alexandra. Three of those losses were on the road, but that didn’t prevent the club from having a larger goal differential away from Sincil Bank. They are 11-9-1 at home with a +15 goal differential, and 12-6-3 on the road (+20 GD).
John Akinde leads the club in scoring, netting 15 goals while leading the club in appearances. The club has scored the second-most goals in the league this season, and has had 19 different goal scorers for their 73 goals to this point. But they’ve also allowed the second-fewest goals this season – with 12 clean sheets – which has helped them to a league-leading +35 goal differential.
What Went Wrong
It’s hard to find a something bad during such a dominant season, but the easiest thing to point to might be their home loss to Crawley Town back in September. It was only a 1-0 loss, but that one goal was an own goal by Michael Bostwick. What makes the loss worse, however, is Crawley Town’s current position in the league (20th), so it represents a match that Lincoln City probably would want back had the latter half of the season turned out differently for them. In the rematch a few weeks ago, the Imps won 3-0 in Crawley, so they managed to get a small measure of revenge.
Recent English Football League History
This season marked the second consecutive season back in League Two for Lincoln City. Last season, they finished in 7th place, qualifying for the promotion playoffs (where they lost to Exeter City). Prior to last season, however, they had toiled in the National League the prior six seasons, with an average finish of 15th… prior to winning the National League championship in 2016-17. They almost succeeded in earning two consecutive promotions, but instead had to settle for waiting until this season to return to League One.
This will be Lincoln City’s second foray into League One in the Premier League-era (since 1992-93), with their previous visit (for the 1998-99 season) ending in a one-and-done 23rd place finish. The Imps have steadily remained in the fourth tier of English football since 1992, spending 20 of 27 total seasons in League Two. Should they manage to find success in League One next season, they would return to tier two for the first time since 1960-61, though I’m sure they’d be just as happy not having another one-and-done season.
Who’s Playing Elsewhere Next Season?
The club has 14 players coming to the end of their contracts, including six players on loan from other clubs. For the majority of these players, they won’t be missed if they end up leaving, but the club should focus on retaining some of the players that helped them reach League One, even if some of those players are getting a little long in the tooth.
For example, Jason Shackell will be out of contract at the end of the season, but made 33 appearances (32 starts) in the defensive backfield. However, he would be turning 36 during the upcoming season, which makes the proposition of resigning him a difficult question. Michael O’Connor, who made 35 appearances (29 starts) as a midfielder, would be 32 next season, so he might make a bit more sense.
Of the six players brought in on loan, Shay McCartan (Bradford City) made the biggest impact, scoring seven goals across 34 appearances (22 starts). He would be a quality add for the club as they venture forth in League One next season, especially since he has some (limited) experience in the league.
Chances of a One-and-Done?
Without knowing the other 22 clubs that will be joining the Imps (and Ipswich Town) in League One next season, it’s hard to make an early prediction of how they will fare next season. However, their performance over the past two seasons in League Two might be a good indicator that they are ready to compete in League One. I don’t think they are equipped to continue on to the Championship quite yet, but I could see their stay in League One lasting a little longer than their last foray into Tier three.
Until next time…