Lincoln City manager Michael Appleton said the LNER Stadium has felt “eerie” without fans this season, but is looking forward to welcoming them back for the League One play-offs.
Lincoln City are preparing for a two-legged play-off semi final against Sunderland, with the first game taking place at the LNER Stadium on Wednesday, May 19 and the return fixture at the Stadium of Light three days later.
The Imps finished in fifth place after the 46-game League One regular season, securing a spot in the play-off positions to fight for a chance to play at Wembley and earn promotion to the Championship.
The players have exceeded expectations this year, with boss Michael Appleton saying he only targeted a top half finish at the start of the campaign, but he is keen for the club to progress.
Speaking to The Lincolnite ahead of Wednesday’s match, Michael Appleton said he is looking for his young squad to perform on the big stage, as over 3,000 fans prepare to return to the stadium for the first time in over a year.
“I hope that our young players thrive and I am glad that we’ve got one or two experienced players back in the team to help them do that.
“I believe that we’ve been starved without fans for so long, with 3,000 fans in it might feel like the place is full!
“At times you can hear a pin drop in here and it’s been quite eerie, I hope it gives them that extra little lift they might need to get through it.”
The Imps have faced the Black Cats three times this season, losing twice and drawing once.
Appleton said: “I think both teams have learned a lot about each other, I think that’s why it might be a tight occasion over the two games.
“It could come down to a little bit of luck or a poor decision, the losers might have to deal with a poor decision as the officiating has been a little bit loose to say the least, as we are well aware.”
He is referring to a highly controversial last-minute penalty that was given against Lincoln during their 3-3 draw with Peterborough United on May 1, ending hopes of automatic promotion.
“A lot of people I’d spoke to said they’d never seen anything like that, it was a bad one”, said Appleton.
The Imps’ focus is now on Sunderland, with Lincoln just three games away from a place in the Championship next season, something fans must surely have only been dreaming about this time last year.
You can also see what forward Anthony Scully had to say ahead of the game, as he praised the exciting brand of football introduced by Appleton: