The English Football League season is back. And we’re ready for it all over again.
The opening weekend is always seen as a key date in the calendar, where fans can see if their club can showcase signs of improvement on the previous term.
In EFL League One, both Gillingham and Lincoln City will be looking for the perfect start after their impressive campaigns last season.
Gillingham boss Steve Evans could hand a second debut to centre-back Max Ehmer after his return to the club following a year away at Bristol Rovers. Jamie Cumming is likely to start in goal after arriving on-loan from Chelsea, with other new boys Rhys Bennett and Daniel Phillips also being in contention for their first Gills appearance.
In the other camp, Lincoln manager Michael Appleton will hand a debut to 19-year-old goalkeeper Josh Griffiths, who has joined on-loan from West Bromwich Albion. Fellow summer signings such as Lasse Sorensen and Hakeeb Adelakun could start. However new recruit Teddy Bishop is likely to miss the start of the season whilst he works up to full fitness.
(4-4-2) Cumming, McKenzie, Bennett, Ehmer, Tutonda, Phillips, O’Keefe, Reeves, MacDonald, Lee, Oliver.
(4-3-3) Griffiths, Poole, Jackson, Montsma, Edun, McGrandles, Bridcutt, Sorensen, Adelakun, Hopper, Scully.
Form guide (last season)
Gillingham will have seen a top half finish as a reasonable success last time out, especially after their shaky start to the campaign.
The Kent outfit found themselves in the bottom half for the majority of the 2020 side of it, but an upturn in form came around January/February time. This ultimately culminated in just three defeats in their final 16 games, and a brief flirt with the play-off places. Although unfortunately for them, it wasn’t quite enough to finish in them, so they will likely to be aiming to go one better this time.
Meanwhile, Lincoln can look back on the 2020/21 season with pride, having exceeded all pre-season expectations. A 2020 summer which saw a complete overhaul of the playing squad meant that many saw Lincoln as mid-table fodder at best, but they proved to be far better than that.
They led the way for a good amount of the campaign, finding themselves in the top two or three for much of it, but a wobble in the final third of the season saw them finish fifth and ultimately lose the play-off final to Blackpool. So going that step further into the EFL Championship will be the ambition this time around.
Ones to watch
Attacking midfielder Olly Lee finally made a permanent move to Gillingham from Hearts, after three separate loan stints at the club throughout his career. The 30-year-old has spent 18 months at the club in the last two seasons, so also knows the current squad and manager very well, which gives him the ability to settle in quickly. He is likely to feature on Saturday, so he’ll certainly be one to watch on his return to Priestfield.
Appleton is making somewhat of a habit of bringing in keepers on-loan from West Brom. After Alex Palmer’s heroics last season, the Imps have turned to teenager Griffiths, who made 50 appearances for Cheltenham Town as they won EFL League Two last season. The youngster will now be aiming to prove himself in the third tier as he hopes to work his way up to greatness. That all starts with his debut on Saturday.
These sides met twice last season, with the away side on the day having the upper hand on both occasions. Lincoln travelled to Priestfield at the top of the league in February, and comfortably won 3-0. However, the Gills got their own back a month later, when they came away from Sincil Bank having won by the same scoreline. Don’t expect this tie to be much of a goalfest though, as just two of the last 13 meetings between them have seen both sides find the net.
How to watch
This is the first round of league fixtures where stadiums can be filled to maximum capacity, so fans of both clubs will be arriving in their numbers to cheer their team on. For fans outside of the UK, the match will be available to stream on either of the club websites through their streaming service.
What the managers have said
Gillingham manager Steve Evans spoke with Kent Online ahead of the game, referring to his opponents as ‘big spenders’. He said:
“They (Lincoln) are a big spending team now aren’t they? That is a reality. They can kibosh it under the carpet but they are.
“They have signed some wonderful players and they will make it really tough for us.
“I see they are one of the early favourites for automatic promotion, that is how tough our challenge is, but what do you do when you face tough challenges? You get up and fight.”
In the other dugout, Lincoln boss Michael Appleton spoke to the club’s media ahead of the game, believe his side are ready for the season ahead. He said:
"We’re coming up against a side with a direct style. They get the team organised and they’re hard to play against.
“I didn’t make big decisions last season I wanted to make. We’ve got a group now of 15-16 people I can pick from every week.
“It’s been tough on and off the training pitch. We’ve got a group that can be more adaptable now going into the new season.”