As if a local derby is not enough to turn Sincil Bank into a red-hot cauldron on Saturday, the presence of larger-than-life pantomime villain Steve Evans on the touchline ensures the heat will be turned up a notch higher than usual as Lincoln City host near-neighbours Mansfield Town.
Evans’ long-running feud – you could even call it an inferiority complex – with the Imps has become something of a comedy parody with the City faithful and the rotund one can expect to receive another ‘warm welcome’ when he enters the gladiatorial arena before kick-off.
The inclusion of Lee Angol for Mansfield and Matt Green and Matt Rhead for Lincoln (and to a point Nathan Arnold and Ollie Palmer for City) will add further spice to the first Football League fixture between these two rivals since January 2008, after the former two effectively swapped clubs in the summer.
Angol played a small part in helping City get over the National League line last season, scoring six goals in 13 outings, including a hat-trick against Braintree and a goal in the vital home win against Forest Green, but just one goal in his last eight Conference outings requires utilisation of the comment ‘could do better’ against his name.
That he opted not to continue his footballing journey under the Cowleys at Lincoln, but chose instead the path to alleged financial riches at Field Mill did not go unnoticed across the border and he can expect to receive a rough ride both on and off the pitch this weekend.
Green’s departure from Mansfield, though, was orchestrated by Evans, much to the displeasure of some Stags followers, and while Angol will be singled out for indictment by the home crowd and possibly the men in red and white stripes, City’s number 10 should receive a somewhat courteous response from the away end.
He has something to prove not only to Evans, though, but also to his new boss Danny Cowley following a senseless red card in the 2-1 victory at Stevenage. Cowley has since stressed again what a huge player Green will be for Lincoln and one can only hope he can repay his faith by downing his former employers with a goal or two.
Then there’s Rheady. A thorn in the side for Lincoln when a Stags frontman – his late equaliser at the Bank in the FA Cup a few years back, which ended Lincoln hopes of a glamour tie with Liverpool, still aches a little.
He has become a talismanic legend in his two and a bit years at City, and although his star doesn’t shine quite so bright any more as his powers begin to wane, his mere presence still galvanises the home support as he once more attempts to get under the skin of the opposition. And he usually succeeds.
Lincoln have already notched a mark in the bedpost against the Stags this season, although it could be argued – by Mansfield supporters and Evans – that a 3-1 victory in the Checkatrade Trophy doesn’t really count. But if it meant so little then why did Evans ungraciously fail to grasp the courteous hand of City assistant-boss Nicky Cowley after the full-time whistle? No doubt, such was his seething insouciance at seeing his ‘second-string’ turned over so easily that he couldn’t bring himself to accept defeat. Shame.
A win’s a win, although Town will no doubt field a far different side from the one crushed by City at Field Mill last month, in the hope that they can continue their unbeaten sequence of results at the Bank since 2005.
To preserve that enviable record, the Stags will have to dig deep into their well of resolve if they are to derail the Lincoln loco, which is steaming along nicely now following away wins at Stevenage and Forest Green, which have powered Danny Cowley’s men into the top five.
In the previous few seasons, the thought of a big clash like this would turn City’s players into gibbering wrecks, but the 2017 model of LCFC is a much different beast now, a squad packed with players with big hearts, intense determination and a huge will to win. And they often do win too, with four victories being pocketed in their last five matches, as well as 39 in total last season
No longer are City scratching around for players to make up an average squad – there are no fringe men now, all 19 members of the squad are viable first-teamers, some of whom are widely regarded as some of the best to have appeared in Imps shirts for some considerable time – Sean Raggett, Alex Woodyard, Sean Habergham, Arnold and Green, to name a few. The faithful are expectant once more, even if the management and players – like last season – are keeping cool heads.
It promises to be another cracking season. It promises to be a cracker against Mansfield. Let battle commence!