With the current EFL season edging towards a conclusion, Lincoln City fans have already been looking ahead to how the squad might be improved this summer, and again the free agents market looks to be rich with talent.
The 2021/22 season hasn’t been the campaign of glittering highs that 2020/21 was, with the loss of key loan players and sales of Tayo Edun and Jorge Grant resulting in a dip in results for the Imps.
Michael Appleton’s side are currently 18th in the League One table with nine games to play, eight points clear of the relegation places, with many supporters looking to next season already and where Lincoln can improve.
Lincoln City are known for being shrewd in the free agents market, picking up first team regulars Conor McGrandles, Lewis Montsma and Chris Maguire, as well as club captain Liam Bridcutt, for nothing in recent seasons.
Of course, circumstances might change and these players listed could end up signing contract extensions at their current clubs, but with the time ticking down on deals and the season close to its finish line, we decided to look at some potential free agent options Lincoln City could find themselves exploring this summer.
James Norwood – Ipswich
The experienced centre forward was linked with a move to the LNER Stadium in January, before Michael Appleton opted to bring in John Marquis from Portsmouth instead.
Norwood, 31, has scored more than 100 goals in the National League in his career, as well as a remarkable 29 goals in 45 games in League Two, and he has found the net 24 times in 74 League One appearances.
His physicality and link up play could be a great fit for Lincoln’s fluid play style, so long as he has willing runners alongside him.
Jamal Blackman – Huddersfield
The former Chelsea youth prospect has played for numerous clubs across his career, but it wasn’t until a loan spell with Wycombe Wanderers in League Two when he managed to get consistent game time.
He has made 57 Championship appearances in his career, most recently for Rotherham United during the 2020-21 season, before he was released by Chelsea and spent a brief time at Los Angeles FC in the MLS.
Now at Huddersfield as a backup option, Blackman, 28, could be the ideal fit to solve the Imps’ goalkeeper worries, having relied on loanees such as Alex Palmer and Josh Griffiths in recent seasons.
Tom Lowery – Crewe
With Crewe Alexandra rooted to the bottom of the League One table and staring relegation in the face, it is simply the nature of football to eye up some of the better players and offer them a chance to stay in the division.
Tom Lowery has been a loyal servant to Crewe, and the 24-year-old midfielder could end up being the Jorge Grant replacement Lincoln City have been crying out for since their talisman left for Peterborough United last summer.
With more than 150 appearances to his name already, spread across Leagues One and Two, Lowery has amassed experience beyond his years, and his energy in midfield could be of huge benefit to the Imps next season.
Alen Halilovic – Reading
Perhaps the most unrealistic name on here, given that he has played for Barcelona and AC Milan already in his short career, but Alen Halilovic, 25, has had somewhat of a fall from grace in recent seasons after promising so much as a teenager.
After being released by Milan in 2020, the attacking midfield player joined Birmingham City, where he made 17 appearances before leaving for Reading at the start of the 2021/22 campaign.
His contract is up again in the summer, so with Reading struggling to stay in the Championship and Halilovic only making 12 appearances this campaign, could Imps fans dare to dream of a once European wonderkid gracing the turf at Sincil Bank?
Tom Eaves – Hull
The 30-year-old target man, Tom Eaves, has been somewhat of a regular for Hull City in the Championship this season, but he hasn’t really set the world alight, scoring just three goals in 24 games.
In League One there is no denying Eaves’ pedigree in front of goal. Before his move to The Tigers in 2019, he had scored 38 goals in two seasons at Gillingham, and with Hull recently being taken over by a rich investor, you have to feel their ambitions stretch beyond a player of Eaves’ calibre.
Lincoln City have a more than capable centre forward in Tom Hopper, but as proven this season, they cannot afford to rely on a starting 11, it’s a squad game and a player like Eaves could be a huge difference maker.
Brandon Barker – Reading
Brandon is a Royal! ✍
— Reading FC (@ReadingFC) February 15, 2022
Another player tipped for big things but now struggling at Reading, former Manchester City and Rangers winger Brandon Barker has found first team action hard to come by in the Championship for the Royals this campaign.
He has featured twice since joining in February, and as proven by his loan spell at Oxford United in the 2020/21 season, the 25-year-old is more than capable of performing at League One level.
Given City’s obvious lack of dangerous wide men this season, in the aftermath of not replacing Brennan Johnson and Morgan Rogers, the Imps could have their long term answer in the form of an England Under-20 international looking to get his career back on track.
Michael Hector – Fulham
— Fulham Football Club: Champions (@FulhamFC) April 9, 2020
Michael Hector has fallen out of favour in the Fulham defence since the arrival of Marco Silva as manager, with the former Chelsea centre back limited to just three appearances this season.
He has vast amounts of Championship experience, making nearly 200 appearances at the level, and even has 20 Premier League games to his name, but could he step down into League One in pursuit of regular first team action next season?
Lincoln City’s defensive woes have been no secret, with the Imps struggling to find a centre half capable of playing consistently without getting injured. Hector might be the ideal player to cure that headache for Michael Appleton.
Jordan Shipley – Coventry
As free agent options go, not many look more plausible than Jordan Shipley, with the Coventry City midfielder looking set to end his six-year spell at the club this summer.
Shipley, 24, has made more than 100 appearances for Coventry from League Two up to the Championship, and it was in League One where he really impressed, playing a regular role as the Sky Blues earned promotion as champions in 2020.
Tom Barkhuizen – Preston
— Carabao Cup (@Carabao_Cup) September 16, 2020
Tom Barkhuizen has been an important player for the majority of Preston’s time back in the Championship, joining the club in January 2017 and making almost 150 appearances in the process.
The 28-year-old is a right midfielder that can chip in with important goals, and given Lincoln’s clear lack of out and out wide players, this could be a deal that makes sense for both parties, given Barkhuizen’s limited game time this season.
He would be a real coup for any team at League One level, and his obvious qualities could help push the Imps in the right direction towards the top half of the table next season.
Andre Wisdom – Free Agent
The only player on the list to already be a free agent, Andre Wisdom has been without a club since leaving Derby County last summer, but still has plenty more to give in the game.
The 28-year-old versatile defender started his professional career at Liverpool, before loan spells at Derby in the Championship, Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, and West Brom and Norwich in the Premier League.
The former England Under-21 international joined the Rams on a permanent deal in 2017 and made 145 appearances for Derby, including during his first loan spell, and to date he has not made the step down to League One before. Could Lincoln City be the platform for Wisdom to get back into football?