With just over three weeks to go until the conclusion of the EFL season, the importance of each game cannot be understated.
That is especially true in EFL League One, as the league is so condensed in both the race for promotion and fight for relegation.
A team from each end of the table meet this weekend, as Bristol Rovers seek to climb out of the drop zone when they host play-off contenders Lincoln City.
Rovers boss Joey Barton could call upon Alex Rodman following his recovery from illness. However, both Josh Grant and Alfie Kilgour are doubts for the match, with the former likely to be out for the rest of the season.
In the other camp, Lincoln manager Michael Appleton will be without key trio Liam Bridcutt, Jorge Grant and Tom Hopper. However, Appleton has expressed the possibility that the latter two will be available for the final few games of the season. Both Adam Jackson and Joe Walsh have also been labelled as doubts by Appleton.
(3-4-3) Jaakkola, Williams, Baldwin, Harries, Rodman, Upson, McCormick, Leahy, Westbrooke, Hanlan, Walker.
(4-2-3-1) Palmer, Poole, Montsma, Walsh, Bramall, McGrandles, Edun, Johnson, Scully, Rogers, Morton.
The Gas come into the game off the back of four points from their last two games. Having drawn with fellow strugglers Northampton Town last weekend, which followed a narrow win over out-of-form Doncaster Rovers on Easter Monday. Five consecutive defeats before that means that those results see them sat three points from safety in 22nd, so an unlikely win here could lift them out of the relegation zone.
Meanwhile, the Imps have had a very similar last two games. Having scored two late goals to draw with Blackpool, they then put MK Dons to the sword in midweek. After an uneventful first half, they lit up in the second period by scoring four goals in 25 minutes to move back up into fourth. It was only their second win since mid-February, a run that has seen their hopes of automatic promotion fade, but the play-offs are still a very achievable target.
Ones to watch
In terms of goalscoring assets, many from the outside looking in would assume that Brandon Hanlan is Rovers’ top scorer. However, that honour belongs to wideman Luke Leahy, who has managed to score 10 goals this season, as well as bagging four assists. He went into double figures when he opened the scoring against Northampton last week, with fans hoping that he can find the net in successive games, which will go a long way towards a positive result. The former Walsall man is at the peak of his career, so helping his current team to avoid relegation from the third tier would mean a great sense of personal achievement as well.
Whilst fellow young winger Johnson will have grabbed the headlines in midweek for his impressive hat-trick, the performance of Morgan Rogers on the other wing will have gone unnoticed by some.
Rogers laid the first two goals on a plate for Johnson, giving himself two assists. He then won a penalty, allowing Johnson to complete his treble, before winning the free-kick which resulted in Lincoln’s fourth and final goal. The 18-year-old has six goals for the club since arriving on loan from Manchester City, an extremely impressive return in what has been his first experience of professional football. He will be hoping to keep that form going here to inspire his temporary team to another victory.
Lincoln began this season with four straight wins, before Rovers came to Sincil Bank in early October. Where second half goals from James Daly and a Hanlan penalty saw the away side come from behind to win, so the Imps will be looking for revenge on Saturday. Prior to this season, Bristol Rovers had won all of their last five games against Lincoln, including both legs of the 2006/07 EFL League Two play-off semi-finals, as well as home and away during the 2014/15 National League season. In fact, City haven’t beaten their opponents since December 2006 and haven’t won at the Memorial Stadium since February 2002. So they will be aiming for those long overdue three points when they meet again on Saturday.
How to watch
The game is available to watch for both sets of fans on their respective iFollow pages at 12:30 BST. For season ticket holding Rovers fans, the link is obtainable for free.
What the managers have said
Bristol Rover manager Joey Barton spoke to the local media ahead of the game, highlighting the threat that Lincoln pose. He said:
"Hopefully we can challenge them on Saturday, because they’re a side that’s riding in the top echelons of the table.
“We need to be the very very best version of us in order to take the points that we’re going to need to get to that safety mark.”
In the other dugout, Lincoln boss Michael Appleton discussed with the club’s media about what type of game he is expecting. He said:
“We’ll be prepared for whatever game it is. If it’s open and expansive then that would definitely suit us.
“But I think that probably won’t be the case. I think there’s almost too much at stake, certainly on Bristol Rovers part for it to be that type of game.
“Their home record isn’t particularly great, and I think that’s a joy we’d want to address.”