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Thursday, 17 January, 2019

Cup pedigree points to punt on Lincoln landing knockout blow in playoffs

Danny Cowley’s Imps love the big occassion

Luke Waterfall and Elliot Whitehouse celebrate Lincoln’s victory in the EFL Trophy final
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Exeter manager Paul Tisdale set the scene for the Sky Bet League Two playoffs this week, declaring: “Everyone is aware of the change in terms of the dynamic of the games – it’s no longer regular season, it’s a cup competition.”

That assessment spells trouble for Tisdale’s Grecians – beaten by Blackpool in last season’s playoff final – in their semi-final against a Lincoln side who relish the pressures of knockout football.

The Imps reached the last eight of the FA Cup as a non-league team in 2016-17, losing 5-0 at winners Arsenal, and they have already had one glorious day at Wembley this season.

Danny Cowley’s men saw off Shrewsbury 1-0 in the final of the EFL Trophy – a tremendous result given that the Shrews finished third in League One and took a 1-0 first-leg lead over Charlton in Thursday’s playoff at The Valley.

Impressively, neither of those cup runs seemed to distract Lincoln from their primary objectives in the league.

They held off the challenge of Tranmere to seal the National League title last term and kept alive their hopes of back-to-back promotions by claiming the final playoff spot this season.

Lincoln’s direct, muscular style of play makes them awkward opponents and Cowley has options up front with Matt Green, Matt Rhead and Ollie Palmer all dangerous strikers.

They beat Exeter 3-2 at home on March 30, won 4-2 at Coventry – another of the playoff contenders – in April, and kept clean sheets at Sincil Bank against promoted Accrington (2-0), Luton (0-0) and Wycombe (0-0).

Sky Bet League Two playoff schedule
Lincoln v Exeter (3pm), Coventry v Notts County (7.30pm); Thursday: Exeter v Lincoln; Friday: Notts County v Coventry; May 28: Final (Wembley).

Cov had a cup run of their own this season, beating Stoke on the way to the FA Cup fifth round, but their automatic-promotion hopes were dashed by a woeful record against the weaker teams in the division.

Mark Robins’s men took two points from six games away at the bottom six, scoring only one goal, and their last four home games include that 4-2 defeat to Lincoln and a shocking 6-2 loss against lowly Yeovil.

An off-day like that would condemn Coventry to another season in the fourth tier and they face a no-nonsense Notts County side who were looking good for a top-three finish at Christmas.

Kevin Nolan’s side let their standards slip in the second half of the season but their home form of 14 wins (including one against Cov), seven draws and two defeats gives them hope in the semi-finals.

One of those two defeats at Meadow Lane was inflicted by Exeter who, like Shrewsbury in League One, go off as outsiders for the playoffs despite being the highest-ranked team in the regular season.

Only five points separated the Grecians from Lincoln in seventh, however, and Exeter's clean sheet on the final day against a Colchester side with nothing to play for was their first shutout in nine matches.

Lincoln to be promoted
2pts 5-2 BetBright, Betway, Hills

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Lincoln’s direct, muscular style of play makes them awkward opponents and Cowley has options up front
E.W. Terms
Sky bet