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The Payne Game: Appleton keeping the outlook rosy at ambitious Lincoln

Big impact: Appleton

THERE must have been a fear when the Cowley brothers left 13 months ago that Lincoln had peaked.

Danny and Nicky Cowley led the Imps from non-league towards the top of League One so they were always going to be a tough act to follow at a club who have not played in the second tier since 1961.

Replacement Michael Appleton may have entertained second thoughts when, upon taking the job last September, he saw a 6-0 home humiliation by his former club Oxford from the directors’ box.

Lincoln also lost, 2-1 at Blackpool, in his first game in charge and their form was mixed during a campaign truncated by coronavirus.

There were many Imps fans who would have liked to see the Cowleys return in the summer after they were sacked despite keeping Huddersfield in the Championship last season.

But when Appleton returned to the scene of his first match on Saturday, Lincoln came from behind in a dramatic ending to secure a 3-2 victory that made it four wins out of four in the league this term.

Appleton, a coach who still has the ear of Roy Hodgson after they worked together at West Brom, is very much doing it his way, having made big changes to the team he inherited and brought in a more slick passing style.

The identity of the division’s three other unbeaten clubs — Hull, Ipswich and Sunderland — shows the scale of task Lincoln face in maintaining their impressive start.

But it will not be for the want of the club’s ambition, with the board having just invested a six-figure sum to help it ride the shortfall being caused by empty stadiums.

The loan signing of Brennan Johnson — who would surely be a Championship regular at a less chaotic club than Nottingham Forest — already looks like something of a coup.

And with Appleton getting the best out of winger Harry Anderson, goalscoring defender Lewis Montsma and playmaker Jorge Grant, the Imps’ best days may lie ahead.