– Bradley King and Calum Fuller contributed with this report
When Steve Tilson took over at Lincoln City in mid-October, the Imps sat in 20th position in League Two and were staring non-league football in the face.
Previous manager Chris Sutton’s reign ended sourly after just one win and three goals in seven matches—leaving City the lowest scoring team in English professional football.
Tilson’s arrival sparked a new wave of optimism at Sincil Bank but just over three months after was appointed, City still remain in danger of losing their league status.
“It’s been a tough first half of the season, no doubt about it,” Tilson told The Linc.
“It was always going to be a tough job. I don’t think that has been any different but I wouldn’t have got the job if things were going well.”
Before arriving at Lincoln, Tilson had a hugely successful stint at Southend United. The Roots Hall club graced the Championship for two years and famously knocked Manchester United out of the League Cup in 2006.
In July last year, after a seven-year spell as Shrimpers boss, Tilson was placed on gardening leave.
Despite being the fans’ choice to take the hot seat at City, a few onlookers raised eyebrows at the fact he had barely managed or even played outside of Essex in his 22-year football career.
“Obviously, I played at Southend for 10 years and I’d been in the area all my life,” the amiable Imps boss says.
“I probably had a couple of opportunities to go elsewhere as a manager and didn’t take that opportunity, and I think people thought I wouldn’t move out the area.
“Now I’ve come here and I’ve loved it. I love the area, and the people are really nice. I’m really enjoying it.”
Tilson’s appointment might not have improved the Imps’ league position yet—arguably due to the weather-enforced December wipeout.
However, he has ended Lincoln’s goal drought. The once misfiring frontline scored 13 goals in January alone.
“On the positive side is that we’re scoring plenty of goals,” said Tilson.
“Ashley Grimes has come in and done ever so well for us. If you’ve got goals in your side, you’ve always got a chance of winning games.”
The goals have been flying in at both ends in City’s recent matches, but Tilson thinks the fans can play a vital role in inspiring defensive resilience.
“We’ve been a little bit nervous at home and our home form hasn’t been fantastic.
“The more negative the fans are, the more negative the players are. Our message would be to get behind the players rather than be negative.
“We’ve just got to show the resilience we showed [away at Cheltenham] at the back and we’ll be fine.”
One of the criticisms levelled at Tilson’s predecessor, Chris Sutton, was that he failed to use his full allocation of seven substitutes towards the end of his reign, when many home fans would like to have seen the young players at the club given a chance.
Tilson admitted he has yet to fully assess much of the young talent at Sincil Bank, but reserved special praise for talented forward Andy Hutchinson.
“Andy Hutchinson is a good lad. He has a great attitude, he wants to do well.
“He’s out on loan at the moment, which is giving him experience at a first-team level which I think the young lads need. He’s one that’s got a fantastic attitude and wants to do well for Lincoln.
“As for the younger lads, we have to keep monitoring them until the end of the season. I haven’t seen loads of them. We haven’t had too many reserve games, so we’ll keep our eye on them and see how they progress.”
Tilson has had less need to turn to the youth system after drafting in no less than six loan players during his short stint in charge, including Ashley Grimes from Millwall and Gavin Hoyte from Arsenal—two players who could be seen as real coups for the club.
Tilson confesses though that chairman Bob Dorrian has allowed him to exceed the budget given to him.
“The chairman has been excellent. I know they’ve gone over budget. As we are, in an ideal world we’d like one or two players to go out on loan or permanently just to try and balance the money up.
“That’s not been the case, and the chairman’s still backing me and let me get loan players in, which has been a big help for us.
“Realistically, we’re not going to able to sign them, but they’ve come in and done a really good job and shown a fantastic attitude.”
At his first press conference as Lincoln City boss, Tilson announced that the sky was the limit for Lincoln City, comparing their modest budget with those of Blackpool, Scunthorpe and his former club Southend.
Regardless of his mixed fortunes since taking over, Tilson remains staunchly positive in his assessment of Lincoln’s potential.
“After the last couple of results, it breeds a bit of confidence and hopefully we can press on. A bit more belief and spirit in the side and we won’t be far off.”
Whilst the current Imps side are close to what Tilson is looking to establish, he warned that the loan players that have made such a difference are likely to return to their parent clubs by the end of the season, leaving him to rebuild over the summer.
“It’s difficult because I have six loan players. They’re going to be back and forth.
“If I could keep this side until the end of the season and have it next year, I’d probably be only two or three positions away, but I know that next year, they’ll all be back. We won’t be able to sign them. It’ll be a clean slate and we’ll start again.”
Despite that stumbling block, the former Southend chief sees no reason why the Imps should not aim high, citing recent opponents Cheltenham Town as an example to follow.
“You’ve only got to look at Cheltenham, who are punching well above their weight. They haven’t got a fantastic budget in this league, but if they’d beaten us, they’d have gone in the top six.
“It can be done. I think continuity is a massive thing right through from players to the management.
“If you keep chopping and changing, it costs the club money. If you’re trying to build a team, you need time.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, but I think in time, there’s no reason why we can’t be pushing for promotion to League One and go from there.”Tweet