This is it.
The final game of the 2020/21 EFL League One season, which has been a season like no other.
The absence of fans is something clubs have been accustomed to this term. But that looks to be in the past now, as fans from both play-off finalists will be able to make the journey down to Wembley to cheer them on.
For Blackpool and Lincoln City, the importance of this game cannot be understated. They are heading into 90 minutes (or 120) that will make or break their season. With only one being able to taste that sweet joy of promotion at the end of it.
Blackpool boss Neil Critchley could be without promising defender Dan Ballard who went off with a knock at half-time of their second leg, following a meaty challenge. There is a possibility that winger Sullay Kaikai will be involved after missing out on both semi-final legs with a hamstring injury, although it will likely be from the bench if anything.
In the other camp, Lincoln manager Michael Appleton could start both Joe Walsh and Conor McGrandles after their impressive impact off the bench in the semi-final second leg. James Jones and Adam Jackson will miss the game however, so TJ Eyoma is likely to continue at centre-back, where he has been so solid in recent weeks. Although Eyoma, Walsh and Lewis Montsma have all been put down as ‘50/50’ for the game.
(4-4-2) Maxwell, Turton, Ekpiteta, Husband, Garbutt, Mitchell, Stewart, Dougall, Embleton, Simms, Yates.
(4-3-3) Palmer, Poole, Eyoma, Walsh, Edun, McGrandles, Bridcutt, Grant, Johnson, Hopper, Rogers.
Blackpool come into the final having brushed aside Oxford United in the semis, with the work basically being done in the first leg. An Ellis Simms brace helped them on their way to a 3-0 win at the Kassam Stadium, meaning they just had to turn up in the return leg at Bloomfield Road. An exciting game followed, that swung back and forth, ultimately finishing 3-3 in a match that never really looked like getting away from Blackpool. A trip to Wembley now beckons, aiming to get back to the EFL Championship for the first time since their relegation in 2015.
Much like their opponents, Lincoln did the majority of the work in their first leg against favourites Sunderland. The Imps were labelled as the David against Goliath in their match up with the Black Cats, despite finishing level on points in the league. And that lack of expectation allowed the players to play with that freedom in the first leg and come out 2-0 winners at Sincil Bank. Back at the Stadium of Light however, the pressure was on, as Sunderland threw everything they had at City, drawing the game level on aggregate by half-time. But a second half header from Tom Hopper gave a much improved Lincoln that vital goal to move to within 90 minutes of a first season in the second tier since the 1960/61 campaign.
Ones to watch
Appleton has stated that beating Blackpool may hinge on being able to contain striking duo Simms and Jerry Yates. Yates in particular has been a real goal threat for Critchley’s side this season, with his 21 goals making him the league’s third top scorer. 23 strikes in all competitions means he has scored over double the amount of their second highest scorer Simms, meaning that they have been somewhat reliant on his goals. He will therefore surely be the focal point of their attack on Sunday, aiming to add that impressive tally and fire his side back into the second tier.
Going into the play-offs, centre-forward Hopper was without a goal in 12 games. His contribution in holding up the ball as well as his build-up play is unquestionable, but goals was something that you’d expect from the man up top. However those questions were answered as he turned up to score in both legs. A finish at the back post in front of fans for the first time in 14 months, followed by a brilliant header from a corner at Sunderland, meant he was able to provide that crucial contribution. He will be forever remembered at Lincoln for those goals. And if he can make it three goalscoring games in a row, then he may well go down in legend for the Imps.
These sides have had two exciting encounters this season, particularly in the early stages of the campaign when Lincoln travelled to Blackpool looking to maintain their 100% record. The scores were level with ten minutes to go, before the home side took the lead, meaning the Imps were on course to drop points for the first time in 2020/21. But James Husband was sent off two minutes later for a challenge in the box, allowing Jorge Grant to bring Lincoln level, before Montsma converted from a corner on 88 minutes to send them top.
Then in April it looked like Blackpool were set to get revenge, as Simms and Kaikai had given the Tangerines a 2-0 lead going into the final 15 minutes. But goals from Brennan Johnson and Anthony Scully snatched a vital point for City, which ultimately got them back on track for their end of season run-in. So the Seasiders will be conscious of any late drama on Sunday, to avoid heartbreak on a much bigger scale.
Last time out..
The game is available to watch on Sky Sports football and kicks off at 15:00 BST. Around 4,000 fans from each club will be able to attend the game at Wembley on May 30.
What the managers have said
Blackpool manager Neil Critchley discussed with The Gazette about their upcoming opponents, praising the job that’s been done. He said:
"They’ve [Lincoln] been in the top six all season and for long periods they were in the top two.
“There were lots questioning whether they would sustain that and they have, which is a remarkable achievement for Michael and his team.
“They’re a good team and so are we, so I expect a very good game on Sunday.”
In the other dugout, Lincoln boss Michael Appleton spoke to the club’s media ahead of the game, wanting to treat it like any other 90 minutes of football. He said:
“We want to play the game and not the occasion. We’re there to beat the opposition.
“We have to make sure we turn up and start well, whilst limiting the opposition with as little chances as possible.
“Blackpool are a very good side, who have been on a fantastic run. They have an organised way of playing and will be difficult to beat.”