Jason Shackell has experienced some incredible highs during his playing career, but the Lincoln City centre-half hasn’t enjoyed the easiest of campaigns this time around.
Shackell was brought to the club by Danny Cowley in 2018 following the departure of Luke Waterfall as he joined Shrewsbury Town. Lincoln fans could not believe that the club had managed to pull off a deal to sign a defender who had graced the Premier League just years before and the Imps were in dire need of a commanding centre half to partner Michael Bostwick at the heart of the defence.
Scott Wharton was set to be that man. He had come in from Blackburn Rovers in the second half of the season before and severely impressed in an Imps shirt. Cowley managed to persuade Rovers to loan him back with the view of Wharton leading Lincoln’s promotion charge from the back. On Wharton’s behalf, it was disappointing to see Shackell come in with days before the start of the campaign.
However, Shackell hit the ground running, he slotted straight into the starting eleven and impressed. He was dropping down from the Sky Bet Championship and it started to show in the opening weeks of the campaign with impressive display after impressive display. Lincoln fans could not believe that they had a defender of that quality on the Sincil Bank turf in the red and white.
He was a leader and, coupled with Bostwick, the Imps did not look like conceding at all. As Lincoln stamped their authority on the division, the performances got better and better. A couple of goals for Shackell followed; a stunning rifled free kick against Morecambe, which came just after a 95th minute winner against promotion rivals MK Dons a few weeks before.
Shackell had guided the club to the Sky Bet League Two title, the club’s first Football League title since 1976. It was widely believed by Lincoln supporters that Shackell has put in performances that would warrant a place in a Championship side and they were massively confident going into the Sky Bet League One season with Shackell in the back line.
However, a change of circumstances would quickly change all of that. Cowley had been attracting interest from a host of Championship clubs in the summer with West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield Wednesday linked with a move for him and his brother. However, it was Huddersfield that lured them away from their Lincoln project.
The torch was handed to Michael Appleton, a man with a great footballing past. His ability to trust the youth and progress a football club was one of his biggest selling points. Appleton had proved that his model works with former club Oxford United, with a host of his former players now plying their trade across some of Europe’s top divisions.
But Appleton and Cowley have different ideas in how football should be played, with the Lincoln City squad having to adjust to the way their new manager wanted them to play. A Danny Cowley team comes out the blocks early and suffocates the opposition and aren’t afraid to get the ball into the box quickly. Appleton prefers a progressive game to be played through the thirds, passing out from the back and having complete control of the ball.
Some members of the Lincoln squad have adapted to the new system, Joe Morrell being the standout. The Welsh international has impressed in the middle of midfield with an opportunity to feature in the Bristol City midfield next season a highly likely possibility. But some have fallen by the wayside, with Shackell falling under that category.
The centre-half has struggled to come to grips to the Appleton way of playing. At several points Shackell has gifted the ball away in very dangerous areas which has made Lincoln look very vulnerable. In recent weeks the crowd at Sincil Bank have got on the back of the Lincoln City skipper and on several occasions have become noticeably worried when the ball is at his feet.
Speaking to Lincolnshire Live, Appleton spoke about Shackell’s future with the Imps: “There isn’t a future. There’s discussions between the football club and his representatives.
“The discussion between myself and Shacks was very amicable, very honest and it’s an outcome which suits all parties.
“He’s had a mixed season. There’s been a lot of transition at the football club which has suited some players more than others.
“With his age, whether he’s going to be playing beyond this season, I’m not too sure.
“Following the discussions, I had with him when he first came in, I think that’s highly unlikely.”
This has all come in tandem with Lincoln City acquiring left sided centre-back Alan Sheehan in recent weeks, with the Irishman thrown straight into the side for the Sky Bet League One clash against Burton Albion. His ability on the ball showed a significant upgrade on Shackell, with the Imps looking composed when playing out from the back.
The last-minute winner against MK Dons last season will seem like a lifetime ago for Shackell, who is now on the verge of leaving the football club.
An unfortunate end to life at Lincoln for the former Derby County and Burnley man.