With just over a month to go across the EFL, each result grows in importance, with less room for error and time to turn form around.
Saturday sees a meeting between two sides fighting at opposite ends of the table. As visitors Sunderland are battling for a play-off spot, whilst hosts Lincoln City look to secure their third tier status.
Lincoln boss Michael Appleton will make a late decision on the availability of defender Regan Poole, who he described as '50/50' for the game. Captain Liam Bridcutt remains out, but is likely to be back by early April. Otherwise Appleton has a fully fit and available squad, as Conor McGrandles returns from suspension.
In the other camp, Sunderland manager Alex Neil confirmed that centre-back Danny Batth is close to returning from an injury that has kept him out since August. Meanwhile attackers Aiden McGeady and Alex Pritchard remain out, but should be back before the end of the season.
(3-5-2) Wright, Eyoma, Jackson, Walsh, Norton-Cuffy, McGrandles, Fiorini, Bishop, Bramall, Marquis, Hopper
(3-5-2) Patterson, Winchester, Wright, Cirkin, Gooch, Neil, Evans, Matete, Clarke, Defoe, Stewart
City head into the game off the back of a mixture of recent results. Having won two and lost two of their last four games. A crucial 2-0 win over relegation rivals AFC Wimbledon last weekend saw them move eight points clear of the drop zone. Although a 2-1 loss to top of the table Rotherham United followed in midweek. But with results going Lincoln's way, it meant they remained the same distance from danger with just 27 points left to play for.
Meanwhile, the black cats have turned their fortunes around somewhat under new boss Neil. They started 2022 with just one win in ten games. That run involved the sacking of former boss Lee Johnson, as their automatic promotion hopes came crashing down once again. However, a run of three wins and a draw in their last four games, including a 2-0 triumph over bottom side Crewe Alexandra last weekend, is certainly an improvement, as they look to solidify their position in the top six.
Ones to watch
Most Sunderland fans will recognise City striker Hopper as the man who scored at the Stadium of Light last May, ending their season at the play-off semi-final stage. The former Scunthorpe United forward is one of Lincoln's longest serving players, having been with the club for over two years now. But he has missed the majority of this season through an injury sustained back in August. He made his return to the team last month, and will be a key figure for them in the run in. With Tuesdays game against Rotherham seeing him score his first goal since his comeback, City fans will be hoping that he can kick on from there.
When discussing attacking threats for the Wearside outfit, it is impossible to look past Stewart. The Scotsman has an impressive 22 goals to his name this season, making him the leagues top scorer, and the only player to have passed the 20-goal mark. He has 15 more than Sunderland's next highest scorer, meaning he is pivotal to them for winning games and gaining points. However, despite their recent good form, Stewart has failed to score in his last three games, a run which he will be looking to end at Sincil Bank on Saturday, as his side seek all three points.
Amazingly, this will be the 10th meeting between these sides in the last two and a half years, having only met eight times in their entire histories prior to that. In the nine clashes since October 2019, Sunderland have edged it, with four wins to Lincoln's three. However, their most recent match in January saw the Imps come out on top, as a Chris Maguire hattrick sank his former club, so the Mackems will be looking to get revenge on Saturday.
How to watch
For fans that can't attend the game in Lincoln, the match will be available to stream on both teams’ iFollow pages. With the highlights up by the end of the day at the latest.
What the managers have said
Lincoln manager Michael Appleton looked ahead to the game with the club's media, discussing his sides success against the big teams. He said:
"We have to be aggressive and jump on the second balls to deal with the threat of their midfield and wide players.
"Our style of play suits most of the big teams because we don't defend for our lives with a low block.
"We try and have a go and beat them head on."
In the other dugout, Sunderland boss Alex Neil spoke to local journalists about his sides upturn in form. He said:
"I don't think the morale was necessarily an issue. I think when you're not winning games, naturally, the players don't feel great about themselves."
"So I think getting points on the board and making sure that we're being really competitive is crucial.
"Particularly with the limited games that we've got left."