The returning hero and a potential plan B

This article appeared originally on my old blog on February 4th 2016

This weekend just gone I had the delight of attending Sincil Bank as Poacher once again, and as predicted it was a great occasion for me. Believe me whether there’s just over 2,000 or a full house I will never be able to truly replicate that moment when I can turn on the pitch and look up at the Sincil Bank stand (whatever it’s called now) and see the Imps faithful looking back. I’ll never tire of it.

However I haven’t put finger to keyboard in order to wax lyrical about how much I love performing as Poacher. I’ve decided to throw a few thoughts out there regarding the performance and where I see City going from here.

I’ve been quoted in today’s Echo regarding Jamie McCombe returning to the club and I thought I’d expand on why it is now clearly a good thing. I’d been worried perhaps he’d lack pace or the organisational skills required to do the job we need him to do, but my fears were unfounded. When Jamie strode out onto the pitch he carried the aura of a returning hero. Sure we never won anything while he was here but we competed with everyone in our league and he has an air of competition about him. I could see in Jamie’s eyes he isn’t here to wind down, and for us that has to be a good thing. With a young and quick centre half next to him any lack of pace can be compensated.

Jamie returned and organised things well at the back.

Much was made of his return by the goal scorer Chris Bush, brought in from the cold to great effect. I’m sure for a player such as Bush having Jamie next to him is a big boost and in his post match interview he echoed that sentiment. However I suspect perhaps he needs to make the most of his moment in the limelight.

I think his goal and the following headlines masked what was a good but not spectacular return to the team. I thought he was average at centre half, eager but perhaps a little naive. He let the ball bounce on a couple of occasions and the Guiseley forward Hurst did look like he would have the beating of him on a better day. It was the first recent outing for Bush, but one I fear could be a rarity for him. Both Callum Howe and Luke Waterfall are better players in my eyes, and we only have one centre half spot up for grabs now. Much has been said about the lack of competition up front, but at the back it’s going to be a brutal battle for a spot next to Jamie. Unfortunately one good Conference centre half is going to warm the bench, and a third is barely going to get a sniff. I look forward to seeing the Banter page tear itself apart when Chris selects one player and the fans think another should be there. Whilst competition for places is healthy it can also be destructive for those who don’t make the cut.

One really positive thing I noted was the display of Bradley Wood. I thought he was man of the match by a mile, his energy and desire matched anything I’ve seen in a City shirt in the last thirty years. For a former cod to run through walls for the red and white like Bradley does is both refreshing and a testament to a player that (in my humble opinion) will be the next Tom Miller and soon secure a move to a league club. His performance in what was (let’s be frank) a relatively dire game was reminiscent of Mark Bailey, one of my personal favourites from the last two decades. I think we should prepare ourselves for a summer raid.

Much has been made of the lack of options we have up front, but with Rhead on the bench I think the lads on the field gave Chris some food for thought. Both Hawkridge and Muldoon had energetic if not fruitful games, and young James Caton put in a good shift on his debut. I think the return of Jamie McCombe overshadowed what was a very good debut from the former Shrewsbury man, and he was incredibly unlucky not to open his account. However he has featured as a centre forward in his career and he looked to have the awareness that could make him emerge as a central figure in and around Matt Rhead.

Moving on to Rhead, one Banter poster was met with mass derision when he suggested dropping him recently. It was claimed to drop our leading scorer would be foolish, but I think the win over Guiseley highlighted that it wasn’t such a bad premise. With him missing there was more urgency to have the ball on the deck, and although the three wingers on the pitch looked unfamiliar with their roles I think they did enough to give fans and hopefully the boss some food for thought. In the first half we got a lot of balls into the box but nobody could stick their head on the ball. Matt Rhead would have done, but when he’s on the pitch it travels much more directly to him. Opposition can easily mark a centre forward receiving the ball down the centre, but would it be as easy marking him when the ball is delivered into the box from out wide? If we could get the player behind him in the box as well there would be all sorts of questions to be answered by the opposition defence.

It’s almost a shame we can’t face Altrincham and Southport before Eastleigh visit us because there are some interesting options that the boss could try out ahead of the big test. I do fear for Saturday because Eastleigh are a good side who are likely to give Jamie and whoever he partners a very torrid time. However they might just try and double up on Matt Rhead and not be quite as concerned about James Caton or Jack Muldoon. Perhaps if instead of lumping to the big man we spread the play out wide we’d catch them unaware – they may set up to defend against the predictable Lincoln. If the wide players can keep delivering balls into the box and someone gets up there with Rhead I almost guarantee we’d score a goal or two.

Could James Caton be a secret weapon?

I think that’s where we could have some real success, by introducing a second element and approach to our play. Back under John Schofield the first six months were scintillating, we played football of the highest order. Teams found us out around Christmas and instead of reverting to a plan B we were beaten time and time again, eventually failing in the play offs. If we’d started to go a bit more direct when teams had come expecting us to pass it around the park we may have experienced some joy, but we were one dimensional. We have the same situation now, if Eastleigh didn’t know what to expect perhaps we’d be harder to beat. Even if we got sussed out after twenty minutes and they had to change it, we’d disrupt their play and they’d be concentrating more on what we were doing than on their own game. I suspect that contributed in the Guiseley win. They expected to mark Rhead out the game and hit us on the break with one up front. We didn’t and it wasn’t until they changed that they really had anything to say in the game. They had to worry what we were doing and that detracted from their own plans. By then we were 1-0 up and the match was almost in the bag. The change with Rhead wasn’t intentional but at the same time it may have actually unearthed the golden nugget we’ve been looking for: unpredictability.

So although I have lamented those who say what they feel the line up should be, I am now going to throw it out there. Perhaps with Hawkridge and Muldoon out wide and Caton sat just behind Rhead we could finally get some joy via a plan B. Some of the balls into the box were begging to be hit by the big man, and those that fell away from him could be gobbled up by the nippy frame of James Caton. If Eastleigh go twos up on Matt Rhead it might draw their full backs in a bit, and we could get chances to deliver from out wide. I’m sure that by simply switching for one or two matches we take teams by surprise and sneak a couple of results. Seven points from nine could be achievable and we’d be unbeaten in four with the eleven game monkey firmly off our backs.