Three Checkatrade Trophy games, three wins. That's the record of Lincoln City in this season's competition so far, with the club sailing through to the knockout stages and setting up a Round Two tie with Accrington Stanley.
This campaign is the first since 2010/11 in which the Imps have featured in the competition, following their relegation out of the EFL that very season. A 1-0 defeat at Rotherham United in August 2010 was their last Trophy outing, but Danny Cowley is eager to make up for lost time.
Facing off against Everton U21, on-loan Jordan Maguire-Drew turned in a performance that won him the Checkatrade Trophy Player of the Round. Victories over local foes Mansfield Town and Notts County came either side of defeating the Premier League outfit's young guns.
Against both the Toffees and the Magpies, 16-year-old Ellis Chapman got a taste of senior action. Cowley is a firm believer that he, his squad, and the club, are reaping the benefits of the competition.
“It was great to play against Everton, they asked different questions to what a League Two team might ask of us, and we enjoyed the two derbies,” Cowley said, speaking to the EFL.
“When you watch age group football, it's sometimes hard to put an individual player into context but this competition allows you to watch young players playing competitive football, so from a scouting point of view it's fantastic.
“Ellis is 16 and now has two appearances under his belt – you can probably count on one hand the number of 16-year-olds that will play senior football this year. It's great for us to expose Ellis, he's ready, and these games give you a platform to do that. It's great from our point of view at every level.”
Knockout football is something that Cowley seems to relish. Lincoln's FA Cup run last term is still fresh in the memory of all football fans, when Oldham Athletic, Ipswich Town, Brighton & Hove Albion and Burnley were all dumped out on the way to a quarter-final tie with Arsenal.
There was no ill effect on the club's march to promotion and the National League title, ending a six-year EFL absence, and it's the “winning breeds winning” mentality that drives Cowley on to succeed, embracing whatever competition he enters.
“We always take the cup competitions seriously,” he continued. “The run last year played a big part in our season, and the confidence and belief we drew from our cup wins certainly helped us to get over the line at the business end.
“Everyone said the FA Cup would be a distraction to us and would affect us in the league, but we never saw it like that. We gained from the cup run we went on, the players benefitted from playing in big games in front of big crowds, it gave them something to aspire to, and that's what cup competitions can do.
“We love the Checkatrade Trophy. It's a great competition, and for us, realistically, it's probably the only cup competition we enter that we have a chance of winning, so we will give it our full attention and take it very seriously. We're extremely proud to be back in the EFL and all competitions which that brings.”
The ultimate prize is, of course, lifting the Trophy at Wembley, and a potential appearance at the national stadium will be just three games away should they overcome Accrington at Sincil Bank.
That would mark a major milestone for Lincoln City and Cowley, both yet to make an appearance on the hallowed turf. The 39-year-old is keen to achieve the feat on a personal level, but ultimately he wants to reward the tremendous Imps fans, who have contributed to two of the largest attendances in the Checkatrade Trophy so far and have shown great support during his tenure.
“Our supporters have been brilliant since day dot. They've got right behind the team and the club, and we're very, very fortunate to have supporters well beyond the level of football that we're playing. Our games versus Notts County and Everton were among the two biggest attendances so far, and our aim is always to try and be as good on the pitch as our supporters are on the terraces.
“As a manager, I've been one game away from Wembley five times and come up short every time so it's something I would like to do, and the club, in its wonderful history, has never been to Wembley. In the Keith Alexander era, the Play-Off Finals were at the Millennium Stadium, so it would be great to change that and play another part in Lincoln's history.”