Sunday April 8 sees Lincoln City and Shrewsbury Town face off in the Checkatrade Trophy final at Wembley, with both teams hoping to cap off what have been deeply impressive campaigns thus far.
The Imps, led by brothers Danny and Nicky Cowley, are back in the Football League following a six-year hiatus, and have adjusted to life in the fourth tier extremely well as they occupy the penultimate play-off place in Sky Bet League Two, sitting in sixth on goal difference from Notts County in the place above them. With a game in hand on the Magpies, their eyes are surely fixed on overtaking their Nottinghamshire rivals and strengthening their position in the fight to achieve promotion.
Meanwhile, Salop have been one of the success stories of the English season as a whole, shocking almost everybody through their unlikely promotion push out of Sky Bet League One. Management duo Paul Hurst and Chris Doig have turned the perpetual strugglers into one of the strongest teams in the division as they lie in second place in the table, locked in a three-horse race alongside former Premier League sides Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic in the battle to reach the Championship.
Lincoln City: Shrewsbury Town:
2/4/18 Carlisle United (a) 0-1 W 2/4/18 Oxford United (h) 3-2 W
30/3/18 Exeter City (h) 3-2 W 30/3/18 Rochdale (a) 3-1 L
24/3/18 Morecambe (a) 0-0 D 24/3/18 AFC Wimbledon (h) 1-0 W
17/3/18 Grimsby Town (h) 3-1 W 20/3/18 Northampton Town (a)1-1 D
10/3/18 Chesterfield Town (a) 1-3 W 17/3/18 Scunthorpe United (a) 1-2 W
Lincoln – There appears to be no new injury concerns for the Imps.
Shrewsbury – Captain Abu Ogogo has been ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering an injury to his medial ligament in training last week, whilst winger Alex Rodman remains a doubt as a result of a neural problem in his lower back. Also, Aristote Nsiala is battling to be back fit from a fractured cheekbone suffered on Good Friday.
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Matt Rhead vs Aristote Nsiala
Giant forward Rhead is the focal point of Lincoln’s attack, the Imps regularly looking to feed off his flick-ons and clever link-up play to threaten the opposition’s goal. With Nsiala wearing a protective mask to cover a fractured cheekbone, he will have his hands full dealing with the 6’4” striker. The winner of this duel will likely set their side up for victory.
Alex Woodyard vs Jon Nolan
The respective playmakers of both teams, these two will likely be in direct competition as a result of Woodyard’s slightly deeper positioning and Nolan’s role as the most advanced of a midfield three. Both have the quality to dictate the play for their team, and whoever is stifled to a greater degree will surely see their team weaker in possession and chasing the game.
Neal Eardley vs Nathan Thomas
With Shrewsbury’s expansive style-of-play, winger Thomas is a key man within their system. The speedy wideman is one of the best wide-men in the third tier, however with Eardley’s love of helping his team in attack then Thomas may be forced back with his direct opponent to help defensively. Conversely, if Thomas can pin Eardley back, it will remove natural width from the Imps’ armoury and cut off a major supply line of Rhead up front.
How will they play?
Lincoln will look to utilise the frame of Rhead as a major asset for them, going direct to the 32-year-old and then the likes of Matt Green, Danny Rowe and Lee Frecklington picking up the second balls as a result. Rowe offers genuine pace and width to Cowley’s men, whilst full-back Eardley will look to bomb-on down the right-hand side and use his expert delivery to feed Rhead. Woodyard will make them tick from deep, and when they choose against using the head of Rhead will seek to exploit any gaps in the Shrewsbury defence through the pace and power of Green.
Shrewsbury, much like their opponents, have gained many plaudits this season for their work-rate and fitness. Recognised as the fittest side in their division, they will look to outrun and outbattle the Imps in order to gain an advantage. Carlton Morris will be tasked with using his strength to hold the ball up and bring the likes of Nolan – who made 73 appearances during a three-year spell at Sincil Bank – Thomas and Shaun Whalley into play, whilst Bryn Morris will use his fabulous range of passing to switch the play quickly and feed his wingers.
This has all the ingredients to be a cracking match in north London. Two teams who value togetherness and hardwork, the victorious side will likely be the one of which runs even harder, even further and even faster than usual. With a sprinkling of extremely talented footballers in the mix also, everything points towards a fascinating event.
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