Opinion: This Lincoln City Player Is The Most Underrated In League One

Lincoln City are the name on everyone’s lips when talking about the play-off chase. After losing 2-0 to Blackpool at the start of the year, they sat 11th, 14 points behind Oxford United, having played a game more.

They returned from an FA Cup weekend break with some fans wondering if they should be looking over their shoulder; the bottom four were only nine points away, and again, Michael Skubala’s team had played a game more.

As we enter April, they’re the most in-form side in the country, having won ten of the last 12 fixtures. They’re now sixth, above Oxford on goal difference, with a trip to the Kassam a week on Tuesday looking likely to decide whether they’ll feature in the play-offs for the second time in four seasons.

It’s been quite a turnaround for the Imps, who sacked Mark Kennedy in October, plumping for the relatively unknown Michael Skubala. The former Leeds Under 21 coach might not have been known to the average fan in the street, but he’s a name that’s buzzed around football circles for a few years now, and he’s proven to be the real deal.

One aspect of Skubala’s coaching that has been evident to Imps fans is his ability to bring the best out of players. There are plenty of headline stories at the LNER Stadium right now, but one name that is astonishingly flying under the radar is that of left-sided defender Sean Roughan.

Who is Sean Roughan?

Roughan has been with the Imps for several years now. They pulled out all the stops to bring him over as a youngster from Ireland, even appointing an Irish tutor to ensure he finished his education in the Academy. He made his debut at 16, appearing six times for Michael Appleton’s side as they ended up losing to Blackpool in the play-offs in 2021. He had trials with both Chelsea and Southampton but remained with Lincoln after picking up an injury.

After a torrid time under former Manchester United midfielder Appleton, he was restored to the side by previous head coach Mark Kennedy but has kicked on immensely since Skubala’s arrival. He’s been ever-present in the 15-game unbeaten run that has propelled the Imps into the top six (only right-back Lasse Sorensen can make the same claim), and since 2022, has been regularly chosen as a part of Jim Crawford’s Ireland Under 21 setup.

Roughan is rapidly approaching 100 games for the Imps; he’s currently on 92, 40 of which have been this season. He only turned 21 last month, and yet there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of hype around him.

Why is he highly-rated at Lincoln?

He’s versatile – he’s appeared at left back for the Imps but looks more comfortable on the left side of a three. Considering that Lincoln have kept 10 clean sheets in 15 games, including shutting out Derby and Peterborough, it speaks volumes as to Roughan’s exceptional ability. Also, he could be described as a rare commodity as a naturally left-footed player.

It isn’t just the player’s appearances, profile, and age that stands out. Roughan’s distribution is very good; he averages 1.51 crosses per game despite playing on the left side of the three. He’s made ten progressive runs in Lincoln’s last six matches, showing a willingness to get forward. He’s in the top 30 for passes into the final third in League One, with 8.77 per game. He has a trademark clip down the line that works superbly for the Imps; it was his ball into the channel that set up Jovon Makama’s late winner against Leyton Orient. He also leads the way for the Imps with third assists in the league (joint with central defender Paudie O’Connor), proving that the free-flowing attacking style Skubala is imprinting on the side starts at the back, often with the exciting young Irish prospect.

The way the Imps play looks like a traditional 3-5-2 with wing-backs, but in possession, they’re fluid and switch effortlessly to something more aking to a 4-4-2, with Roughan taking up a wider position and supporting Reeco Hackett further up the field, Grasping what is an unusual approach has not been a problem for the grounded youngster. He’s intelligent and reactive, and has cut out the small errors that crept into his game during the tail end of last season.

Conclusion

Sean Roughan is flying under the radar a little in terms of recognition from the wider football world, but like Michael Skubala, his endeavours are bound to have been noticed by those involved in the game. His personality off the field is very focused; there’s no hint of youthful exuberance or getting above his station. His complete focus is always on the game, and he comes across as professional, with some supporters (me) even likening his attitude to another famous son of Ireland, Roy Keane.

The 21-year-old has all the right ingredients to play higher, with the Imps if the impossible dream is achieved this season, but certainly in a progressive Championship side operating with three at the back. His contract is up next summer, but he’ll still only be 22, so any side wanting to sign him would have to stump up a fee. The way things are going, that fee could well be north of £1 million, a figure the Imps have never received for a player. In 18 months’ time, that could well have changed.

 

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