With the hectic festive period now firmly behind us, it is now time for teams across the EFL to turn to improving their squad in the January transfer window.
Saturday’s opponents Lincoln City and Oxford United find themselves in very different situations going into the New Year, with the former sat in the relegation zone, whilst the latter are firmly placed in the play-off places.
Lincoln manager Michael Appleton could hand a debut to his new striker Morgan Whittaker after his arrival from Swansea City. Fellow forward Dan Nlundulu has made his final appearance for the club, having had his loan spell cut short. Whilst captain Liam Bridcutt is 50/50 to be able to play, as he continues to struggle with his fitness.
In the other camp, Oxford boss Karl Robinson may bring in James Henry after his recovery from a calf problem. However, Nathan Holland, Joel Cooper and Jamie Hanson will miss the game with their respective injuries, so Robinson will be looking for others to make the step up on Saturday.
(4-3-3) Griffiths, Eyoma, Poole, Montsma, Robson, McGrandles, Bridcutt, Bishop, Whittaker, Scully, Maguire
(4-2-3-1) Eastwood, Long, Moore, Thorniley, Seddon, Kane, Brannagan, Sykes, Whyte, Williams, Taylor
A first win in two months is on the agenda for Lincoln, having drawn three and lost four of their last seven in the league, which has left them in 21st. A 2-1 win at Wigan Athletic on October 26th was the last time they came away with three points, with a 1-0 win over Bowers & Pitsea in early November being the last time they tasted victory in all competitions. Goalscoring has been a major issue for City during this torrid spell, but four goals in their last two games is encouraging. With the acquisition of Whittaker, there is cause for optimism among fans that that long awaited victory will arrive.
Meanwhile, Oxford are on a quite different run of form, having lost just one of their last eight in the league, winning four. That is form that has propelled them into fifth, boosting their chances of that much sought after automatic promotion place. They have only kept one clean sheet in their last six however, which came against AFC Wimbledon, so they will be looking to shore up defensively when they travel to Sincil Bank.
This window will be more about keeping ahold of key players than bringing in new ones for Robinson, trusting that this current team has the capabilities to reach the EFL Championship.
Ones to watch
21-year-old Whittaker was on the verge of joining the Imps on deadline day in the summer, but the deal fell through in the eleventh-hour, leaving them short of attacking options for the season ahead.
Injuries to both Anthony Scully and Tom Hopper left Lincoln with a problem when it came to finding the back of the net, so the expectation is big for the on-loan striker to make an impact in that regard. He has made just nine appearances for Swansea this season, scoring three goals, so will be aiming to shine with regular playing time, starting against Oxford on Saturday.
Former Liverpool academy graduate Brannagan has been a constant within this Oxford team since his arrival four years ago, making well over 150 appearances for them since then. He has been subject to a bid from Championship side Blackpool this week, proving the ability that he possesses. But United are determined to keep ahold of the 25-year-old, knowing that his influence on the pitch will be key to their promotion push. Expect him to display that influence in the middle on Saturday as well.
These sides are meeting for the second time this season, having faced off at the Kassam Stadium in August. A Hat-trick from midfielder Henry saw United cruise into a three-goal lead, before a late Scully penalty provided City with a consolation. Both teams won one meeting apiece last season, with Oxford coming from behind to win 2-1 at home in March to dent Lincoln’s automatic promotion hopes.
Imps fans will remember however, that they got their incredible 2020/21 season off to the perfect start with a 2-0 victory over Oxford at the Bank. Goals from Scully and then new signing Adam Jackson were enough to set them on their way. A result they will be hoping to repeat now that they find themselves at the opposite end of the table.
How to watch
For fans that can’t attend the game in Lincoln, the match will be available to stream on the iFollow pages for both clubs, with the highlights available to watch by the end of the day at the latest.
What the managers have said
Lincoln boss Michael Appleton spoke to the club’s media ahead of the game, expressing that he knows his side is good enough to get a result. He said:
“Oxford are a very good side, but we know our performances in the past two games against Cheltenham and MK Dons deserved more points than we got.”
On signings he said:
“We’ve had no bids for any of our players in this transfer window, we expect to add to our attacking options.”
In the other dugout, Oxford manager Karl Robinson has explained to the club’s site how Lincoln are a far better side than their position in the table. He said:
“Everyone knows the respect I have for Michael and the job he did here at Oxford.
“He has had so many injuries and other situations to deal with this season, but Lincoln are a much better team than the table shows.
“We know it’s going to be a really tough game for us. It’s a good ground, a good club and we are looking forward to it.”