‘A streak of nastiness’: What Bristol Rovers can expect from Mark Kennedy’s Lincoln City

Jake Tonge, a contributor to Lincoln City fan website ‘The Stacey West’ gives an insight into the next opponents for Bristol Rovers

Bristol Rovers welcome Lincoln City to the Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon in their latest League One clash.

The Gas are winless in their last five matches whilst their opponents Lincoln are on a high after defeating promotion favourites Derby County.

Two places separate Rovers and the Imps, though Mark Kennedy’s side have two more points.

Jake Tonge, contributor to Football Content Awards nominated fan website The Stacey West gives an in-depth analysis of Saturday’s visitors to the Memorial Stadium.

What is the early feeling around Lincoln surrounding Mark Kennedy? Is there a considerable difference from the Michael Appleton era?

I think during the early days of the Kennedy era, there was a lot of pessimism around the fanbase. Mark had only previously been in one first team environment at Macclesfield and it would be fair to say that was a challenging club to go into at that moment.

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Before the appointment, maybe five or six other managers had been listed as favourite for the job with Michael Carrick being another front runner. However the club chose Mark, rewarding him with a four year deal.

The club have gone through substantial off field changes over the summer in terms of staff, with new heads of departments coming in which has helped Mark settled into his new role well, but these changes seem to have benefitted us heavily.

One of Mark’s jobs is to build the connection back up between the club and the supporters as under his predecessor, the relationship had become rather fractured. There was no real connection it seemed despite the success in the previous season. That was just Michael Appleton’s style, not something I was massively against if the result and performances were to a good standard.  So far, he’s been able to build that relationship by always thanking the supporters, so naturally this gives a manager a bit more time for supporters to get a decision on whether they like him or not.

For me, I’m a huge fan. I’ve met Mark and listened to the way he talks about football and tactics. He’s a coach and that’s his bread and butter and I think it’s certainly paying off with some players looking far better developed in recent weeks. He’s recruited well to suit his philosophy and methods, as well as bringing in good players, he’s brought in good people who have a point to prove in the game. The likes of Matty Virtue and Tashan Oakley-Boothe who have perhaps come to the end of the road at their parent clubs.

Under Appleton, we played the ball nicely around the back and through the thirds nicely. The issue came is we would never change the style even if the opponents were pressing us almost back towards our own goal line. Kennedy has brought a directness back to Lincoln City with the defenders continuing to play attractive football through the thirds, but they aren’t opposed to playing long balls into the channels for our direct and pacey wingers to run onto and create opportunities

A much-needed win against Derby on Tuesday, what’s the expectation for the season and can you build on that victory?

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A much needed win came on Tuesday night. It felt like the club needed a night like that, under the floodlights at the Bank in order to really get the Kennedy era underway and to be fair to the side, they absolutely deserved it. Perfectly stopping Derby from playing it around in areas in which they have severe Championship level quality. They had two disallowed goals, but besides that the Rams struggled to break down our defence. It reminded me of our other win this season down at Oxford, absolutely resolute and they were throwing their bodies on the line in order to secure the points.

I do worry sometimes when you play a side against a big club like Derby that it will almost drain your players or all their energy. Some of our lads ran the furthest over 90 minutes then they had all season due to having less than 35% of the ball, so they’ve et that standard of themselves now. The game after always feels a bit of a struggle when you put that much into a 90 minute  performance but we will have to see.

The expectation for the season is a tricky one. League One over the last couple of years has been an absolutely crazy league. You only have to look at some of the transfer fees paid for certain players by the bigger clubs to see that a small club like Lincoln may struggle towards the bottom end of the league. I understand as few pundits have got Lincoln struggling under Kennedy this season, but I’m expecting an improvement on the 17th place finish from last year. The division is almost split into two, but I don’t think it’s as strong this year as it was last as some of the bigger sides coming down have struggled to adapt to the level and have had underwhelming starts to their seasons. I would expect Lincoln to use Tuesday night’s win as a platform to go and achieve a mid table or top half finish. I understand it’s a really difficult league and we’re probably towards the bottom right in budget, however with the squad that we have and the quality that it holds, I would expect to see us finishing towards the top end of the bottom half, given what I’ve seen thus far.

Harry Anderson had a successful spell at Lincoln City as a player. (Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)

What’s the Lincoln City view of Harry Anderson and John Marquis? Why didn’t Marquis stay longer?

Harry is a little bit of a cult hero here at Lincoln City. We were first introduced to Harry during our spell in the National League when Danny Cowley signed him.

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He came in and hit the ground running down the right hand side of our midfield. He struck up an excellent partnership with our right-back at the time with the loan proving successful, we extended it to the end of the season. He scored some crucial goals in that campaign, I remember him scoring the equaliser in a game against Torquay where we’d been awful for 80 minutes but went on to win. He also played his role in our historic cup run in the FA Cup as we became the first non-league side in over 100 years to reach the quarter finals.

We expected him to go back to Peterborough and that would be the end of that. However, the club backed Cowley and brought him back to the club on a full-time basis the season after. Again, he cemented himself in the side that go to the play-odds in League Two and also collected another winners medal as we won the Checkatrade Trophy down at Wembley.

He played huge roles in our League Two title win and also was a vital cog in the wheel as we looked to make the step up into L1. Unfortunately for Harry, during the season behind closed doors, Appleton brought in a player by the name of Brennan Johnson. He played in the same position as Harry which is a real shame for H.

It ultimately saw him fall out of favour of Appleton and he was shipped off to Bristol Rovers at the end of the year. A move in which I was upset about, Harry certainly had a connection with the supporters and the club. I was looking forward to seeing him again on Saturday, however it looks like we may not get that opportunity. But a real friendly face, a top man and clearly a very talented footballer that I’m sure the Gas will utilise this season.

As for Marquis. He’s also a cult hero here but for a different reason. At the time in which John arrived at the football club, we were desperate for goals and with his track record he was the perfect man to bring in.  Portsmouth and Lincoln City want different things from their striker and certainly the phrase one man’s trash is another man’s treasure springs to mind. He hit the ground running, scored three in three. The reason he endeared himself to the Imps fans was the fact he didn’t stop running. He might not have been as prolific in his next set of games (two in 15) but he was trying. He missed as many as he scores, but another great character to have. His introduction certainly helped us ease our relegation worries last season.

The main reason he is loved at Lincoln and it sounds sarcastic almost when I say it, is that he without doubt did a lap of the pitch clapping the supporters regardless of the result. That was something we didn’t see a lot of from the squad last season, so it was certainly a refreshing stance.

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I think we didn’t extend John’s contract at the end of the season due to the club’s financial position. John is a striker that will demand a big pay package and it probably wasn’t something the club saw as worthwhile, with the club probably being able to sign two players for a similar weekly wage. Two players who are younger and have the potential to be big assets for the club in the coming years.  Geography also ties into these things, with him being from the South, a move to Bristol probably suited him rather than making the treck up the M1 to Lincoln three times a week away from his family.

What are the key strengths and weaknesses of Lincoln City?

In terms of strengths, I think we’ve got a settled back line. This gives the guys back there a lot of confidence knowing what each other is capable of and what they can expect from their fellow defenders. Last year we had over 20 combinations of a back four, so this season have a settled back four is a real plus point.

Another strength that we’ve picked up is our nastiness. Last season we were rather soft and we’re bullied out of a few games due to the physicality. However this season we’ve signed some seasoned pros who are not scared of putting a challenge in. The likes of Virtue and Paudie O’Connor have added a streak of nastiness into us, and as a supporter it’s quite refreshing.

With the addition of Jack Diamond a couple weeks ago, as well as Jordan Garrick, we have sheer pace and directness down the wings. However these players have superb technical ability, at times it looks like Diamond has glue on his boot. Last season again, we were very slow in our build up, however the pace we have gives us different options in games to teams on the counter.

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I’d say in the air we struggle, a lot of our lads are quite small and that has been exploited from set pieces so far this season a couple of times. Our full backs have struggled with the ball in the air in recent weeks and this allowed Cambridgeto score two in as many minutes in our previous away game.

How do you expect Lincoln to line up on Saturday and what’s the team news looking like?

I would expect Lincoln to almost go into this game unchanged from the side that started the win over Derby. The only change I can see being made is that in the number ten role. Teddy Bishop went off injured after 20 minutes with Oakley-Boothe coming in to replace him, that’s a change I expect us to make.

I expect the defence to remain the same with Rushworth between the sticks with a front three of Ben House, Diamond and Garrick.

In terms of players who won’t play, there’s a few. Joe Walsh picked up a knock before the Derby game, he’s a bit of a doubt. A left sided centre half who gives us a lot of balance when he plays, however he will be the first to admit he doesn’t play enough due to injuries. Max Sanders is another I expect to be missing in the midfield as well as Danny Mandroiu. The Irishman is yet to make an appearance for the club following his move from Shamrock Rovers due to persistent injury concerns. Tom Hopper is one we’re unsure of, our captain wasn’t involved in the win over Derby on Tuesday, but if it would certainly have to come back into the matchday squad.

Kennedy has a few options going for him, which will be nice given Appleton had something very different last season.

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Who are the players that will threaten Rovers the most on Saturday?

When you say threaten Rovers your mind always turns to attacking players who will do the damage in the final third, which is why it’ll sound extra strange that I’m going to start with our goalkeeper.

Carl Rushworth is an England U21 international who I suspect many Gas fans would’ve seen last season down at Walsall. He had a great campaign down there and has taken the step up to L1 immensely. He’s a goalkeeper who is excellent with his distribution, so much so you’d probably say he could do a job in midfield. However it’s with his hands that he excels. There haven’t been many times I’ve seen him parry a ball back into play. Everything seems to stick to his gloves, with his positioning outstanding. It will take a good strike and a great goal to stop our number one from keeping it out.

I will mention an attacking player and it’s one I’ve spoke about already in the shape of Diamond. He had his best performance in an Imps shirt on Tuesday, playing on the left of a front three. His speed and directness coupled with his flair meant he had Jason Knight on toast all evening, with the Derby full-back fouling him for a penalty just 13 minutes in. He got up and slammed it away to score his first goal for the club in emphatic style. Scoring your first goal at a new club is massive for any forward thinking player and hopefully Jack can go on a run and showcase the talent he has by adding to his collection on Saturday.

How do you see the game going?

We put a lot of effort into the game against Derby on Tuesday and ran ourselves into the ground. I imagine we might start slowly which might benefit the Gas. If you can sustain pressure in the early parts of the game, I can see you running away with it. However, I think Kennedy and the group will have earmarked this game as one they can get a result in, and the injury crisis at CB for Rovers will be music to their ears.

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If we can exploit that obvious weakness in your back line and manage to retain our solidity at the back then I think there might only be one team in it. However looking at Gas’ home games in detail, they are always in them, they are never open games with big margins. For that reason I’m going to back Lincoln to get back to back clean sheets and pick up a 1-0 win on the road this weekend.