By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers head up to Lincoln on Saturday facing an Imps team reeling from the loss of their twin management team the Cowley brothers, Danny and Nicky, who have been tempted away by the lure of Huddersfield Town.
Jamie McCombe and Andy Warrington have taken over caretaker roles as the search for a new Boss goes on. The club has indicated that they have been prepared for this for a long time and already have a shortlist of candidates they would like to run the rule over.
Rovers, for their part, will be looking to end the run of three successive 2-0 league defeats in a positive way but facing a team with a 100% home record will certainly present a challenge.
Lincoln have continued this season as they finished last, firing on all cylinders. They opened their League season with three victories, without conceding a goal, before successive defeats to MK Dons and Doncaster Rovers on the road. They then overcame Fleetwood before losing at Adams Park to surprise package Wycombe Wanderers.
That defeat to the Chairboys was bizarre in many respects, the Imps were missing players due to injury and international duty and it showed with Wycombe dominating throughout.
Former Gas player Joe Jacobson opened the scoring with a 20-yard free-kick within five minutes and then in the 36th minute scored directly from a corner, to give the Buckinghamshire team a 2-0 half-time lead.
Tyler Walker hit a post for the Imps shortly after the break but there was controversy after Lincoln pulled themselves back into the game in the 50th minute. Wycombe's Matt Bloomfield and Lincoln's Bruno Andrade were down inside the penalty area with head injuries but the Referee allowed play to continue as half-time sub John Akinde converted Jorge Grant's cross.
Bloomfield was down on the floor for nearly nine minutes before being carried off on a stretcher. Full back Jacobson netted his third again direct from a 75th minute corner with Lincoln keeper Josh Vickers well beaten. Wycombe came close to a fourth during 13 minutes of injury time with Nick Freeman's chip coming back off the bar.
Rovers last visit to Sincil Bank was on 13th September 2014 in the Vanarama Conference and Rovers picked up their first away win of the season. First half goals from Stuart Sinclair and Daniel Leadbitter gave them a two goal cushion but the home side levelled before the break.
In an open second half both sides had chances before Lee Brown missed an 87th-minute penalty. However, the defender set up Ellis Harrison who fired in a last minute winner, though Rovers were indebted to goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall for a superb save from the final shot of the match.
The last time the teams met in League competition was during the 2006-07 promotion season. During the regular season the Imps came out on top with a 1-0 win at Sincil Bank and a 0-0 draw at the Mem. In the Play-Offs Rovers won the home leg 2-1 and expected a tough game at Lincoln. An early Stuart Campbell stunner settled Rovers nerves as they went on to win 5-3 on the night and 7-4 on aggregate. The failure was the fifth in successive Play-off competitions, a record for any club.
The first match between the clubs took place on 19th September 1953 and the Imps stunned a 24,650 Eastville crowd by inflicting Rovers with their second home defeat of the season, 1-0. In the return match at Sincil Bank Rovers gained their revenge with a 2-1 victory with Paddy Hale and Vic Lambden scoring for Rovers.
Lincoln were relegated from the Second Division in 1960-61 season, one year before Rovers suffered the same fate. During those seasons the Gas won four more times in Lincoln and suffered just one more defeat in Bristol. One of those defeats was a 4-1 thrashing on 20th September 1958 when Geoff Bradford scored Rovers consolation goal. At Eastville Rovers scored pretty freely against the Imps and five times put three goals past the Lincoln keeper. Alfie Biggs twice scored doubles in these games.
When Caretaker McCombe was asked about taking on the Manager’s position on a full-time basis he told Lincolnshire Live: "I tell you what I am interested in, the task I've been given which is to prepare players. I owe them that, they deserve that and I'm going to do the best I can for Saturday. They've been through a turbulent week and we need to prepare them the best we can. My sole focus is purely on Bristol Rovers at the weekend.”
"There's so much to do, as a manager, that I've barely had time to think about anything else other than football. I'm just absolutely focused on preparing the players for Saturday."
Asked about taking charge of the team for Saturday’s game, he responded, "It's something I'm proud of. I've done a lot of things for Lincoln, but you don't have time to think about it to be honest. I know it's a cliché but the whole focus has been on Saturday, that's it."
Asked about whether anything had changed he noted, "The infrastructure runs right through the football club is very strong, there's no reason for us to deviate from that. It's been successful and if it ain't broke don't fix it. So we've been as professional as we can be, we've worked as hard as we can be and it's just been a normal week. Nothing different."
On whether he had learned anything from the Cowley brothers, McCombe said, "I've been with Dan and Nick since the first day they've walked in the building. So I've been sat with them, watching and doing all the same work as them. I know how the process works. I believe in it, as did they, so why would that change?"