EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) shares his thoughts on Monday night's Football League showdown between League Two high-flyers Mansfield and Lincoln.
Mansfield v Lincoln | Monday 18th March 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Mansfield and Lincoln might consider Notts County and Grimsby respectively to be their biggest rivals, but there is certainly an extra edge when the two clubs meet.
As well as local bragging rights, they will also be playing for glory.
Given that we are likely to be looking at a four-horse race for three automatic promotion spots, Lincoln could drastically accelerate their surge towards promotion by extending their cushion from Mansfield to 13 points.
It is arguably the Stags, themselves, who are in greatest need of a victory, with a final day showdown with MK Dons potentially deciding their promotion fate.
Mansfield’s race for third
It looks likely that Mansfield Town will become embroiled in a two-horse race for the final automatic promotion spot with MK Dons.
After losing just one of their first 24 league encounters, the Stags might have hoped to establish themselves in a similar position to Bury and Lincoln.
Since the turn of the year, however, they have lost as many as five games, which has meant progress has stalled in the hunt for League One football in 2019-20.
It has not necessarily helped David Flitcroft that, in his favoured three-at-the-back system, he has not been able to maintain a settled rear-guard.
Stalwart Krystian Pearce has started every game in the middle of the defensive trio and the Barbados international’s experience has been valuable.
However, at different times Ryan Sweeney has been suspended, Matt Preston has picked up injuries and Hayden White has been ruled out for the campaign, too.
Sometimes, Flitcroft has responded by deploying Mal Benning as a wide centre-back, then moving CJ Hamilton into the former’s left wing-back position, but the changes of roles have not necessarily helped.
Equally however, the Stags have still shown quality going forward.
Willem Tomlinson, picked up on a free following his release from Blackburn, has been a controlling influence in midfield, allowing the Jacob Mellis to show his technical quality further up.
The question would be whether Mansfield can incorporate Mellis and the similarly enigmatic Jorge Grant into the same XI, especially against the league leaders.
Lincoln City’s 2-0 win over Oldham on Tuesday means they are mathematically guaranteed a third top seven finish in succession – but the result could also help them to achieve far, far more.
They are very likely to earn a second promotion under Danny Cowley’s management and, possibly, a second title of that three-year regime, making this a glorious time to be an Imp.
Not only have Danny and Nicky Cowley done outstanding work at Sincil Bank, they have also demonstrated a level of loyalty that is almost unique in the modern game.
Rather than, for example, take the Ipswich job and risk failure, dismissal and demotion to the managerial merry-go-round, they have stayed at a club at which they have cult hero status and an opportunity to build a club up over a longer period.
Although the Cowleys are loyal to Lincoln, they are also ruthless in their pursuit of progress.
None of the players that made the match-day squad in their historic 1-0 FA Cup win at Burnley in February 2017 are currently in what would be regarded as their best XI now.
The club have brought in the likes of Jason Shackell, Mark O’Hara, John Akinde and many other players who would be more than comfortable in League One, so that not only do they have the quality to win promotion to that level, they will be prepared if they get there.
The style of football has evolved, too; with technicians like Bruno Andrade and Tom Pett to call upon, as well as mobile operators such as Shay McCartan and Harry Anderson, last season’s dependence on long balls to target man Matt Rhead has become a thing of the past.
The Betting Angle
Lincoln have won 10 of their 18 away games this season and, while Mansfield will not be easy opposition, the visitors have the wherewithal to continue their surge towards the title.
Mansfield v Lincoln – Lincoln to win (2/1 Marathon)