Lincoln City part company with Michael Appleton after an underwhelming campaign


Following their final fixture of the League One campaign against Crewe Alexandra, Lincoln City announced that they were parting ways with manager Michael Appleton after three years at Sincil Bank.

Arriving in September 2019, with the unenviable task of building on the heroics achieved by the Cowley Brothers, Appleton was 90 minutes away from topping them, losing out to Blackpool in last season’s League One play-off final at Wembley in a 2-1 defeat.

There has undoubtedly been a hangover from that defeat as the club finished in a disappointing 17th place, flirting with the idea of relegation. Despite their underwhelming campaign, it never felt that The Imps were genuine contenders for the drop. It was more symptomatic of a stop-start season which saw a huge overhaul of the playing staff.

With record season ticket sales recorded, Lincoln’s home form has seen a disappointing return on supporter investment. In their 23 home games, Lincoln have won seven, drawn five and lost eleven, scoring just 25 goals, managing five more away from home. On Saturday, crowd frustration was evident against Crewe as they trailed 1-0 at halftime, with fans ironically cheering one forward pass to Jamie Robson.

Whilst The Imps managed to turn things around with a 2-1 win, it was a poor first half showing. Giving the ball away on numerous occasions, the already relegated visitors dominated the opening 45 minutes. Crewe will have been kicking themselves that they had not wrapped things up before Tom Hopper equalised before Adelakun’s late winner.

Up until that point, it had been a flat performance that was symptomatic of the season and whilst there was no suggestion of Appleton’s departure at full time, it was not a complete surprise to learn that there had been an amicable decision to part ways just a few hours later.

“It has been a privilege to manage Lincoln City over the past three seasons. While this season did not match the highs of the last, we have still had some memorable performances and results.

“Clive Nates and the board, the players and all the staff throughout the club have been fantastic colleagues over the past three years, and I thank them all for their backing. I am sure they will continue to drive the club forward on and off the pitch with some really impressive foundations in place for the coming years.”

“I would like to thank all of the supporters who have got behind me and the team. Lincoln City is a special club which will always be close to my heart.”

Chairman Clive Nates confirmed that discussions had been ongoing for a number of weeks with the club now looking to make their next appointment and continue to build on Appleton’s legacy.

“During our conversations over the past few weeks, it became abundantly clear to us both that this summer was a good time for him to look for a challenge elsewhere and for us to find someone to build on his work over the past three years.

‘There was no fallout and no need for either side to make the decision for the other. He leaves with our total respect, our best wishes and an open invitation to visit the LNER Stadium at any time in future.”


So where did it go wrong for Appleton?

Squad overhaul

With the amount of change and the impossibility of replacing the quality of talent lost over the summer, the challenge was as big as it could have got for any League One club.

Managing the absence of returning loanees Brennan Johnson and Morgan Rogers to Nottingham Forest and Manchester City would have taken the best part of £20 million to replace. Losing influential skipper Jorge Grant to Peterborough United and Tayo Edun to Blackburn Rovers, the spine and attacking prowess that had seen Lincoln come so close to promotion simply could not have been replaced on Lincoln’s budget.


With a crippling injury list and the desire to be a top half table side, Lincoln’s recruitment has been a significant problem in terms of sheer numbers. 17 players have come through the doors at Sincil Bank, and the lack of cohesion by the end of the campaign suggests that there may well be another personnel overhaul. Lincoln had simply lost their identity under Appleton.

By the close of the summer transfer window, it was quickly becoming apparent that the signings of Hakeeb Adelakun (Bristol City) and Dan N’Lundulu (Southampton) were not going to be up to scratch. While both forwards looked to have been promising additions on paper, Adelakun has managed just three goals, and three assists whilst N’Lundulu floundered, scoring a solitary goal against Wigan Athletic.

Journeyman Chris Maguire had faired better with five goals (plus an equal amount of assists), but with three coming in an eventful 3-1 win at Sunderland (Appleton’s highlight of the season), the 33-year-old has not made the impact he or his manager would have wanted.

Morgan Whittaker’s arrival from Swansea initially looked to have reignited Lincoln’s campaign but he quickly faded along with fellow Jack, Liam Cullen, who had only managed a goal and an assist.

John Marquis arrived from Portsmouth in January but was again another who started brightly with three goals in his opening appearances. Still, the 29-year-old would only go on to grab another brace against Sheffield Wednesday and did not find the back of the net since early March.

The midfield arrivals of Lasse Sorensen and Ted Bishop had shown glimpses at times that they could push Lincoln on with Manchester City loanee Lewis Fiorini alongside them. Their new-look engine room simply has not clicked, with Conor McGrandles also struggling for form.

Lincoln’s ability to transition quickly from front to back had become laboured, with Appleton himself admitting earlier in the campaign that this side was very different from the one that finished the last.



There is no doubt that Appleton had experienced a nightmare in terms of injuries and the disruption to his squad. Injuries badly hampered last season’s automatic promotion push with Grant, Tom Hopper, Liam Bridcutt, Joe Walsh and Adam Jackson all on the treatment table. Things had gone from bad to worse this season.

Top scorer Anthony Scully, with 15 goals in all competitions, struggled to return to the heights in form that had suggested that Lincoln could cope with the loss of Johnson. The Irishman had scored 11 goals by early October but injury disrupted his campaign until the new year, and from that point, Scully has not been able to get the momentum back into his season.

Striker Hopper was sidelined until February, and injuries to Bridcutt, Jackson, and Walsh have been huge blows regarding the experience they bring to the team. Given his potential as a ball-playing defender, the cruciate ligament injury to young Dutch centre half Lewis Montsma was a bitter pill to swallow.

Essentially, Appleton has been unable to play his first-choice XI at any point this season. The search will begin for his next successor but Lincoln will not be short of candidates as a club moving in the right direction off the field.


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