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Dario Gradi and Neil Baker yesterday watched Grimsby win 1-0 at Lincoln in the first leg of the League Two Play-Off semi-final. As Grimsby centre-back Rob Jones was unavailable to play, Gradi and Baker focused on the performances of Lincoln duo Gareth McAuley and Jamie McCombe, as well as Grimsby's Ben Futcher. All 3 have been scrutinised by Crewe's scouts in recent months and years, as Dario Gradi searched for a dominant centre back. With Madjid Bougherra and Steve Foster likely to depart, that search has reopened.
Grimsby's Ben Futcher was monitored extensively during his time at Lincoln between 2002 and 2005. The 6'7 defender, who is built very much like Peter Crouch, obviously has height on his side, but it was decided at that time that he wasn't dominant enough. That decision appeared just yesterday as 24-year old Futcher failed to dominate in the air despite his height advantage, making him an unlikely summer arrival at Gresty Road.
Lincoln's Gareth McAuley was subject of a £170k bid from Crewe in January, though McAuley decided against the move at the time. 6'3 McAuley had a better game than Futcher though didn't have his best game of the season. However, his performances across the season will no doubt be enough to tempt Gradi into swooping for the out-of-contract 26-year old, should other interest fail to materialise. McAuley is a Northern Ireland international and his performances this season earned him a place in the League Two team of the year. Although Jamie McCombe enjoyed a better game than McAuley yesterday, McAuley's greater pace makes him a more likely candidate to be able to go on and play in the Championship one day.
However, the most dominant of the defenders on show yesterday was Lincoln captain Jamie McCombe. The 6'5 defender has a more solid build than the lanky Futcher and McAuley, and used his strength to good effect as he won the majority of headers. McCombe had a headed goal unfairly disallowed and is the player designated to distribute the ball from the back, suggesting a decent technique. However, McCombe is not the quickest but in fairness, his positioning ensured he was never caught out for pace. The 23-year old was Lincoln's Player of the Season this season, and his rugged rough appearance offers a slight resemblance to that of Chris McCready. McCombe was the most impressive centre back on show yesterday, and should be able to make the step up to League One with relative ease. However, whether he is capable of playing in the Championship is up for debate.
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