Matthew Crichton: After finishing in fifth last season, Lincoln are now placed 19th in League One - do you think the club is suffering from a heavy playoff hangover?
Ben Ward: We definitely are, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
Losing two key players in Tayo Edun and Jorge Grant was a massive blow, even though it likely boosted the finances a little bit!
I think we definitely overachieved last season, although the wage cap played into our hands a bit when it came to attracting talent to the Bank!
MC: Lincoln signed some excellent loan signings last year in Brennan Johnson, Morgan Rogers and Alex Palmer, would you say a failure to replace them has been a key part in your loss in form?
BW: it’s one of the reasons, for sure, but not the only one.
We signed Dan Nlundulu on loan from Southampton who didn’t really hit the levels we expected from him, and has now gone out to Cheltenham.
Other signings have taken a little bit of time to bed in, and we’ve had horrendous luck with injuries this year.
Morgan Whittaker was due to sign for us on deadline day in August but Swansea pulled the plug at 10:45pm which left us really short of attacking options, so it’s been a perfect storm of frustrations so far.
MC: Heading into the second half of the season, are the fanbase accepting that this season is a write-off and that the club just needs to avoid relegation?
BW: Any season where we’re progressing can’t be classed as a write off, and we’re still moving forward off the pitch with new investment and a stadium expansion plan.
But in terms of league position, I think a mid table spot will satisfy most people.
This was always going to be a transitional season, with some big money coming into the division this year, most of us had half an eye on 22/23 in August.
MC: Chris Maguire joined Lincoln following his release from Sunderland in the summer - how has he performed so far this season?
BW: Chris Maguire is an absolute shithouse, and I love him for it! In all seriousness, he’s coming into his own a little bit now.
He had a delayed start (only really playing a bit part before our Papa John’s game), but the experience he brings to the table is really valuable, and he’s the kind of player that gets under the opposition’s skin in the right ways.
There was an incident a few weeks ago where he got into a spat with some angry fans at the end of a game, but it feels like that’s been put to bed now.
MC: Lewis Montsma came off injured against Oxford, leaving you with just 15 players, do you now have an issue as to who will play centre-back?
BW: My heart was in my mouth when Lewis hit the deck on Saturday.
We’ve had so many injuries this year, it’s not even funny anymore. Joe Walsh, probably our best CB, seems to be made of glass, and Adam Jackson is still out of the picture following two concussions in quick succession.
With such a small squad it’s a bit of a worry, but Regan Poole played CB for Newport and MK, TJ Eyoma is starting to look a bit more like the player we had on loan, and Ted Bishop is proving a more than adequate right back surrogate when he’s played there, netting a brace from the position against Cheltenham.
MC: Lincoln have already signed Morgan Whittaker from on-loan Swansea, what other reinforcements do you think your club needs during the transfer window?
BW: It’s no secret we still need another couple of bodies in the building. At least another couple of attacking options.
With Tom Hopper (our no9) being out long-term with injury, we’re crying out for another striker, and another central defender has been bumped up the shopping list a bit following Montsma’s injury, certainly.
We’ve looked solid until the final third for most of the season so far, just lacked the cutting edge, so hopefully January brings a few nice surprises
MC: Appleton’s side beat Oxford 2-0 on Saturday, are you hoping that your side have turned a corner after failing to win in seven League One matches?
BW: Hopefully, yeah. Anthony Scully was back from injury on Saturday and marked the occasion with a goal, Whittaker scored on his debut and everyone looked like they wanted it. After two games where we looked good but had daft mistakes cost us 5 points, it was a really good win, and hopefully we’ll see a few more coming up soon!
MC: Which eleven players can we expect Appleton to select and what style of play can Lee Johnson’s team expect to encounter?
BW: I can’t see Michael wanting to change up too much from Saturday if I’m honest.
Unless we have some new faces, I can see the same team that started the second half on Saturday (Montsma out) line up on Tuesday.
As for what to expect, hopefully more of the same from Saturday! Attacking football, quick passing and a desire and fight in everyone. We know it’s going to be a tough game, but I think the lads are up to it.
MC: Sunderland beat Lincoln 2-1 in the EFL Trophy earlier this season, what is your score prediction this time around?
BW: Honestly, I’d be delighted with a point.
If we can start to put together some sort of run over the next month, I think it’ll ease some fears that certain sections of the fanbase have, but I know it won’t be easy.
Mind you, I said that on Saturday and we came away with all 3!