After a foggy and uninspiring first half, two goals in two minutes switched the race for the Football League firmly in the favour of the Imps, although nothing is won and lost in November.
Maidstone came with a game plan to play tight and hit us on the break, but a failure to break at pace or with any venom left their tactics looking increasingly ineffective. One thing they did do was defend well, certainly for the first 45 minutes or so.
After the break it looked to be much of the same until a cross from the right went over everyone, and then when it was delivered back in from the left Matt Rhead (predictably) headed into the path of Theo Robinson. The striker added to his Imps tally to the relief of everyone in the stadium. Until then I wondered if we might be on for another ‘Solihull Moors’, and I suspect Theo was overjoyed his hard work in recent weeks had yielded a goal.
Once we got one I thought the floodgates might open, and within a couple of minutes it was two. Keeper Lee Worgan played an appalling ball straight to Nathan Arnold, and a player of his class needed no prompting to set up Big Rheady for our second, game over.
It was a deserved victory without ever being truly inspiring, but good teams don’t roll sides over five or six nil every week. Good teams keep winning games, or as Danny said in his post-match interview they ‘refuse to lose’. For the thirteenth time in a row we simply refused to lose.
I though it was a workman-like performance without being particularly scintillating. We have had a lot of games in a short space of time, and they keep coming with another tough game on Tuesday, so I could understand why a desire to close it down in the last twenty minutes or so brought a few less chances. To use a phrase from Gary Waddock, we controlled the game from the very start to the very finish. Professional, clinical and most of all effective.
One observation of mine was what a nice group of fans Maidstone have. Firstly for a side battling at the wrong end of the table it was good to see just over 200 of them in the stands. All too often teams at the right end of the league struggled to muster 100, and they were vocal as well. Fair play to all those who travelled up.
I chatted to a couple of them in the bar beforehand, and aside from a shared hatred of Dover they struck me as a club with the right motivation and the right attitude towards their progress. They haven’t been bank rolled by an egotistical multi millionaire hell bent on seeing his local poorly supported team in the Football League. Instead they’ve battled back from bankruptcy and have a very pragmatic and realistic approach to their life at the top of the non-league pyramid. If we get out of this league this season it will be them, along with Southport that I hold a certain degree of fondness for.
Besides both their fans said they disliked the Dover chairman intensely and an enemy of his is always going to be a friend of mine.
Other things to come from yesterday included a solid display from Terry Hawkridge out wide. There were times when he seemed to drift inside and I think he was looking to offer the same variation to his threat as Harry Anderson does. It was a Hawkridge cross that helped set up the first goal, and overall the tricky wide man asserted himself well on the game.
My man of the match was Theo Robinson. He’s come under fire from some quarters for missing a few gilt-edged chances against Aldershot, and at times his first touch has been reminiscent of a wrecking ball. His work rate has never floundered though and I thought he had one of his best games in a Lincoln shirt yesterday. Recently Rheady has dropped a little deeper to win the ball, we saw it against Forest Green and we saw the same yesterday. When him and Robinson are close together in and around the penalty area we are a real danger, as proven by the first goal.
I hope there is a possibility of keeping Theo for the season, and I’m wondering if that slows down the search for a striker to play off Rhead. We keep talking about Miller and Akinola (and I keep banging on about Karambe) but with Eliot Whitehouse seen as a centre forward in the England set-up, perhaps he is actually the answer along with Robinson and Marriott. Young Elliot almost scored a stunning third with a powerful volley, and something keeps telling me he might just prove to be more than a midfield option for the club.
Thirteen games unbeaten, so just five to go until we usurp a record set by John Beck’s side in the last promotion season of 1997/98. I’m not one for putting too much emphasis on stats and omens, but we lost that last unbeaten run to Wigan in whatever they called the Football League Trophy back then. Our eighteenth game could be the yet-to-be drawn FA Trophy match ahead of Tranmere at home and the Guiseley double header. It could be that the lowest priority as such is the game we lose our unbeaten run.
Speaking of unbeaten runs, Barrow are on a 20 game unbeaten run at the moment, and outside of us I think they pose a significant danger to our title challenge. I’m not sure Dagenham have the minerals for a title fight, and Village Green are doing their best to flush it away (once again), but Barrow are a real and present threat to us. Our January 6th clash certainly looks tasty, although before that they have a Christmas double header against Gateshead to negotiate, another team unbeaten in eleven up until yesterdays thrashing by Woking.
Of course we could lose our run at home to Wrexham Tuesday night, especially as they’re off the back of a good win against Village Green. That’s the problem with an unbeaten run, eventually you are going to lose it. As confidence grows, you know you are going to come away from a game suffering disappointment. Eventually. I just hope when it does there is an amount of daylight between us and second place, such as four points or more!
That disappointment was not yesterday though, and for the first time in a few weeks our fate is entirely in our hands. If we won every game until the end of the season we’d be champions. Sounds simple doesn’t it?
Lot’s of people asking about my book yesterday as well. I’m hoping to be fully proofed by Monday night, so all being well it should be available on Amazon by the end of the week. Once I know details of pricing etc I’ll be all over it, you’ll be as sick reading about my book as you were about the FBA’s!!!