Mansfield Town take on Lincoln City this weekend knowing that anything less than a win will virtually guarantee the Imps finish above them in the table.
The two clubs are not traditional rivals but geographically, Mansfield are the closest professional club to Lincoln. Instead, the Imps view Grimsby as their rivals, whilst Mansfield tussle with Notts County and Chesterfield.
There is some needle between these two teams though, a real atmosphere sparked perhaps by the Imps failure to beat them in the league in their last three fixtures. Mansfield, desperate to stay in the top three, are ten points adrift of the Imps and keen to narrow that gap.
Tactically, both sides have been flexible in recent weeks. Mansfield went to a back four against Crawley on Tuesday, an odd choice given they usually operate a 3-4-3 formation. That led to a 0-0 draw, meaning David Flitcroft might want to change things.
On the other hand, the Imps have also switched things around of late. They’ve been playing a 4-4-1-1, with a runner behind the target man, John Akinde. In their last three fixtures they’ve been closer to a 4-4-2, with Matt Rhead favoured alongside the former Barnet striker.
We think David Flitcroft should try something different against the Imps on Monday night, so we’ve put together the formation below.
They’ve been comfortable with the three man back line all season, which would be the sensible way to go. If Lincoln are going to get runners in behind, then a central defence comprising of three will allow Mansfield to focus not only on the target man, but also having the width to stop attacks.
Neal Bishop will be critical in the middle of the park. He’s a seasoned campaigner with lots of experience and he’ll be coming up against Michael O’Connor or maybe Lee Frecklington. That midfield battle will be intriguing to say the least.
That’s why we’ve added Jacob Mellis into the mix. It narrows the play, but that will suit Mansfield rather than the Imps, who love to attack the flanks.
Mansfield have a wonderful selection of attacking players, but if they’re going to get the better of the Imps they’ll have to overload the final third. Their wingers will both be busy, but having Jorge Grant in a floating role will tie up either the Imps holding midfielder, or maybe one of their experienced back two.
If they can pull a little chink in the defence somewhere, then there’s every chance they could grab a vital win at Field Mill.