I often read a reoccurring article that appears on the Echo website which follows every Lincoln game. It’s usually entitled something like ‘five things we learned from the last game’ and obviously covers five things that we learned. From the last game. It’s well worth a read if you get the chance.
So today I’ve decided to tell you the five things I’ve learned from our home clash with Southport today. Just me though, you guys may already be aware of a couple of these, but bear in mind I can’t come every week.
One: Greg Tempest is actually a decent player. I know most of the Imps fans amongst you have been telling me this for a while, but I hadn’t seen it. My most recent game before today was Guiseley at home and in that game Tempest seemed to lose possession quite regularly and distribute poorly. However today I saw the side of him that has impressed other Imps fans and which has clearly impressed the management. Tempest was all over the park and broke up play on numerous occasions. He provides good cover for Power when the Irishman pushes forward, and also got back well whenever the Sandgrounders broke free. It was telling that when Chris Moyses wanted to introduce extra legs in midfield he chose to leave Greg Tempest on and take off Alan Power. To substitute your captain is a bold move and its kudos to Tempest that he remained on the field for the final minutes.
Two: Aside from score goals and irritate opposition, Matt Rhead doesn’t really do a great amount. I have seen Matt play a couple of times this season, and aside from the rich form in front of goal he’s not really one to run through walls for the team. He ambled about the park today barely getting off the ground for headers and never really breaking a sweat. There’s not a lot of running, and it’s his physicality that he tries to use to gain an advantage. He clearly frightens defenders and draws players too him as he is such a natural target man, but I didn’t one actually see him sprint today. This isn’t a dig at the big man though, because I spent 90 minutes telling my Dad what an asset he was. My Old Man doesn’t agree, he basically thinks Rhead is a liability. I’m going to take great pleasure in explaining why he isn’t.
Firstly it’s the 20 odd goals he’s scored this season. He could have had two today as well, one header especially. He may lumber about the pitch but he does have a knack of finding just the right spot at just the right time. His header this afternoon was technically very good, knocked down to the ground with a lot of power. Keepers hate headers like that and Rheady got into the right place and executed the correct technique, and it was unfortunate it bounced down and over the goal. His goal against Eastleigh a fortnight ago was technically superb, the spin and chip were once again executed to perfection. The fact is this boy can play, but he knows that his size and blatant physical approach also brings dividends. Defenders double up on him because if he gets the ball under control he’s incredibly hard to knock off it. While their attention is focused on him our other players are available to get in and around the box in much more. I’d liken him to a fat Matt Le Tissier of sorts.
Three: We don’t need Liam Hearn. I can’t believe I’ve said that out loud, I feel as if I’ve cheated on myself. I’ve been vocal all season about needing a top striker up there with Rhead, and at our level Liam Hearn is just that. When he left for Barrow I defended him and I truly felt he’d be a big player in the final few games as he’s a natural finisher who could have achieved so much in his career. However as he sat in the stands today watching on it must have dawned on him that getting back into this team is going to be incredibly hard. Muldoon looks very competent upfront, combative and quick but not intimidated by the rough and tumble defending. James Caton….. well I’m coming to him. Even the Leeds loanee Robbie McDaid finished stylishly to put himself in contention. It may be a bold call, but I can’t help but feel Liam Hearn has played his last game for the club.
Four: We may struggle to sign James Caton next season. He showed today that he’s a competent football player, and consistent performances may alert a lot of clubs to that fact. I called it wrong a couple of weeks ago when I suggested that Caton may drop inside and partner Rhead, but I was right about him being a missing part of the jigsaw. He delivers exactly what Muldoon did out wide (if not more) and allows Muldoon to take his place in Liam Hearn’s throne next to Matt Rhead. Defenders can’t double up on them both. If Matt Rhead isn’t enough to scare defenders we have an unknown quantity out wide that can beat players, deliver a ball and crucially finish a move off. He was man of the match for many people today, but he was about so much more than the two goals. He teased and taunted his full back all afternoon, and the more his name appears under ‘Lincoln City’ in the results section of the paper, the more league two clubs might think he’s worth a punt on a free next season.
Five: I learned this team is not that far away from being a real contender next season. We have to keep the bulk of the squad together as the more they gel as a unit the better they’ll become. I think we definitely need to bring Caton in on a contract next season if at all possible, and maybe another striker to replace McDaid who I suspect will not be back. Jamie McCombe has changed things dramatically at the back and today he showed a cool head at crucial times to break up Southport attacks. With a choice of defensive partners that many clubs in our league should envy we can only get stronger in defence. Lee Beevers is the only man who may provide a weak link as I think his age is showing and he hasn’t got the big game experience to lean on like McCombe has.
The middle of the park doesn’t look bad either. I’ve covered Tempest in this blog and my admiration for our Captain in another blog and today they really dominated the middle of the park. Alan Power is crucial to this push, but the likes of Craig Stanley are not going to be content with a mere squad place. If the side stays together then there’s competition for places in almost every position, and strong competition at that.
One thing I didn’t learn but already knew: Bradley Wood is a machine. I’ve mentioned him before but once again he was man of the match in my eyes. So many good moves in the first half started with him and Hawkridge linking up, and after he switched to midfield his tenacity and brute strength set up a goal. He is dogged and determined and I’d imagine as hard as a bag of old concrete. He’s a player that automatically endears himself to all Lincoln fans, even my Dad and I agree on the fact he’s nothing short of superb. I’ve likened him to Mark Bailey before, but seeing him properly in the middle of the park for the first time demonstrated he has so much to his game. I know a few Codheads who were gutted he left and were more gutted we’d signed him than Liam Hearn. I think that speaks volumes for a player whom I believe could play league football with Lincoln City.
The other thing I learned is to take my glasses to a match as for the first half I mixed up Caton and Hawkridge. My Dad thought it was great when he pointed out my error, which is why I feel happy in pointing out to him how wrong he is about Matt Rhead. You are wrong Dad, he’s essential to the success of the team, even if he isn’t as good as Percy Freeman (and no I won’t go and ask Peter Shilton like you suggested at half time).
Those eleven games without a win seem a long while ago now with ten points from twelve and a very faint glimpse of fifth place. I think the play offs are a step too far this season, but I have every confidence that if we retain 90% of this squad then we can have a real good go at reclaiming league football next season. The trouble is I’ve been saying ‘next season’ for all 29 years I’ve supported Lincoln City, and in almost every instance it has proven to be incorrect. However this time I might just be right, because this time my Dad actually agrees with me.