Oxford vs Lincoln | Friday 26th March 2021, 19:45 | Sky Sports
With the international break in full swing, League One takes centre stage on the domestic football front and Oxford and Lincoln get the chance to strut their stuff in front of the Sky cameras on Friday night.
The Imps have had just shy of a full week to prepare for this one as they look to back up a solid away point at Sunderland, but Oxford continued their slump in midweek when going down away to a relegation-threatened but certainly rejuvenated Northampton Town.
It is Oxford who we’ll start with, who have ultimately been playing catch-up all season to try and get back into the promotion picture. 15 games into the campaign they were still inside the relegation zone, but 11 games later they were as high as 7th, which remains their highest placing of the campaign.
Going into Friday they’re in 11th having lost three of their last four, but still just three points shy of the final top-six spot. Various clubs have games in-hand however, so Karl Robinson will be eager for his side to showcase the kind of consistency they demonstrated in over the winter when they when they went 13 unbeaten in all competitions.
Those days seem a long time ago no however as they find themselves in a little bit of a hole at present. Just two victories in their past 11 in all competitions have derailed the momentum they had built up, and with a trip to Sunderland to come a few days after this home encounter they’ll be desperate to resume winning ways.
It could be argued that they still have a favourable end of season run-in on paper to come, but supporters are concerned by recent performances. Robinson himself highlighted some familiar shortcoming in the Northampton clash which cost them once more. A dressing room enquiry followed at Sixfields afterwards and the former MK Dons boss is hoping this latest setback could be a springboard for another strong run of results.
The concern for The U’s however is that they’ve especially struggled against the better sides in League One this season. Of their 18 league contests this season against the current top-half clubs in the division, they’ve won only two. What is probably even more of a worry for Robinson is that his side failed to score in 12 of those. Bear in mind they’re favourites to win on Friday, so is the likely value on the visitors?
In my opinion, yes. Having said that, it is only fair that we also acknowledge that Lincoln too haven’t been in the best of form in recent times, at least in terms of results. They’ll be hopeful that the draw with Sunderland is a sign of better things to come, but prior to that Michael Appleton’s men have only one win in 11 in all competitions.
Digging into those scores a little more, it is noticeable that they clearly prefer it on their travels. They do possess the best away record in the league, and only three times in league and cup have they lost away this season; twice to Plymouth and the other at Doncaster.
Appleton, a former Oxford manager, likes it when the opposition team really has a go. That certainly plays into the hands of his energetic side, who thrive on pressing and counter attacks.
Oxford conceding through this exact situation at Northampton on Tuesday, and Appleton will have been licking his lips. He will however have to try and achieve this without Brennan Johnson, who is on Wales duty, and his pace is certainly a key attribute to such offensive breaks, but in Anthony Scully they have another lively replacement to call upon.
City defeated Oxford 2-0 in the earlier season contest, and considering Lincoln’s issues at home against the better League One outfits then it is another negative in Oxford’s column. Lincoln have been away and won at places such as Bloomfield Road, Fratton Park and Priestfield, whilst drawing at Hull and Ipswich, too.
Looking at the tactics of this match, I do think it presents Lincoln with quite a big edge, and that has not been reflected in the odds. Home advantage makes Oxford favourites, but they’ve won just once in six at the Kassam.
Lincoln are the team to have on side here, and part of me wants to back them outright to win here. However, they’re still looking to get back to form themselves and whilst I wouldn’t put another off given their price, I think only small stakes would be advised there. I am happy to put them forward on the Asian Handicap at 0, which is priced 13/10 (Unibet). To make it clear, a Lincoln win would see the selection win, whilst a draw gives us our stake back.
Oxford will be up for this and their manager is demanding a reaction, so we can’t rule out an improvement from the hosts. Lincoln remain in the automatic promotion picture and although they did have a nice lead at the top not so long ago, they, like all the others in the shake-up, had a wobble and are looking to regain a top-two berth.
As mentioned, Johnson is missing for Lincoln, and that opens the door for impressive Manchester City loanee Morgan Rogers to play an even more integral role. This kid is only 18 years of age and he will have a good career in the game on the basis of his improved showings over time since joining in January.
He has five goals across his past 10 appearances, and with him starting the last 13 league games and completed the full match in ten, you can expect him to last the course. His pace and trickery on the break makes him a threat, and even more so entering the final stages.
Lincoln have scored a whopping 27 goals after the 60th-minute, has netted 20 more second-half goals compared to the first and unsurprisingly have far and away the best second-half record in the division.
The final tip is a tentative selection and that is backing Lincoln to Win Both Halves at 10/1 (Sporting Index). I’ve already made a good case for Lincoln to do some damage in the second period, but I just feel as though the draw at Sunderland could potentially be a turning point for them.
They still have some bad injuries to the likes of Jorge Grant and Tom Hooper to name just two, but Appleton has this team on rhythm and Lee Burge was definitely the busier of the two shot stoppers at the Stadium of Light last Saturday. Imps goalie Alex Palmer wasn’t as tested as he’d have expected to have been.
I expect Oxford to come straight out of the blocks, but that could easily suit Lincoln that has scored a first-half away goal in just shy of 60% of their league away battles this season, including on seven occasions netting inside 30-minutes. At 10/1, it is worth a nibble.