Everton kick off their 2019-20 Carabao Cup campaign when they travel to League One side Lincoln City on Wednesday.
It gives the Imps the chance to exact revenge on the Blues, who knocked them out of last season’s FA Cup with a 2-1 third round win at Goodison Park in January.
Under manager Danny Cowley, Lincoln have climbed from non-league to the third tier in three seasons, having eased to the League Two title last season.
And they have enjoyed a good start to this campaign, too, sitting seventh after winning their first three matches without conceding before losing the following two.
Prior to Wednesday’s match game, we spoke to Lincoln fan Gary Hutchinson, editor of Imps blog, The Stacey West:
RBM: Firstly, given the Carabao Cup is often regarded as unimportant, how significant to you is Wednesday’s game?
Gary: Not at all. That’s no disrespect to Everton, it’s a huge tie for us and it’ll be a great occasion. However, I ask myself this; will we win the Cup? No. Is there a significant financial reward for progressing? No.
The game itself is the reward. Sky TV, big crowd and a huge boost to the coffers. The result is largely irrelevant. Of course, I won’t say that if we win, but if we lose I won’t be panicking about our prospects on Thursday morning.
RBM: Lincoln were impressive in defeat at Goodison in January. Is that irrelevant for Wednesday’s game, or should they take encouragement from that showing?
Gary: Again, it’s largely irrelevant. It was a different team back then with a different approach. Some of the players remain, but we’re a passing side now.
That might change this week; that’s what is really interesting about the tie. We surely won’t try to out-pass a side like Everton, so we’re going to get a glimpse of our other traits; the ones that won us League Two.
Will we be competitive, or have we evolved too far to go back to what made us a success in January? It’s an interesting question.
RBM: Lincoln certainly did not shut up shop at Goodison, but given they are hosting Everton here, would you expect to see them try to take the game more to the Blues this time?
Gary: Yes, very possibly. Our strength back then was the tight defence and if we’re to get anything out of the game, we’ll need the same starting point.
The difference will be in our approach going forward. If you play an unfamiliar back four, or a team of players struggling for form or first team chances, we might just do some damage.
I liken it to the two games Arsenal played in the 2017 FA Cup. Against Sutton it was a reserve side and they narrowly won 2-0, but when they played us in the quarter-finals, a strong team won 5-0.
If you take the first type of approach, the game will come to you. The latter might see a different encounter.
RBM: Though Danny Cowley, along with his brother Nicky, has clearly done a remarkable job at Lincoln, he has faced some criticism for his style of play. Is that warranted?
Gary: No. He’s mixed it up for a season or two now and the ‘moon ball’ approach was only ever a criticism levied at us by jealous opponents.
We play a nice style of football but if a team needs unsettling and bullying, we can do that too.
RBM: Cowley appears to be linked with almost every vacant Championship or League One manager’s job nowadays. How much do you fear him living in the near future?
Gary: Not at all. If he’s going to go, he will. No point in worrying about it.
I think he’ll stay to the end of his current contract and after that, who could begrudge him a move?
RBM: Lincoln have made a good start to their first season in the third tier for 20 years. What do you think their aims should be for this campaign?
Gary: I think we have to aim for the top ten. It’s a huge ask; the last time we competed at this level and succeeded was the early ‘80s.
However, we’ve recruited well and we’re a real attacking force at the moment. We do still need a few new faces - players to strengthen the squad and offer depth - but on the whole, we have the capability to finish in the top half if we stay injury-free.
RBM: How do you expect Lincoln to set up on Wednesday?
Gary: 4-2-3-1; two holding midfielders looking to break up play and protect the back four. One striker, looking isolated at times, but with two wide players hoping to join him where possible.
The key will be the player at the centre of the three; Jack Payne. He’s a tricky customer and if he can find pockets of space, both with passes and in possession, we might have a chance.
RBM: Which of Lincoln’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Gary: Payne, as mentioned. In the latter stages I can see John Akinde being a handful too. He’s a big, bustling striker and is stronger than week-old cheese.
Jorge Grant and Tyler Walker are both good footballers, but much depends on how they adjust to the higher level of opposition.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
Gary: I think you’ll win, probably by two or three goals, but we’ll score, too. I’ll say a 4-2 thriller.
Our thanks to Gary for his time.