Yesterday was such a tremendous experience that I think it requires two blogs, one to dissect the actual match and another tracking my experiences on the day. Therefore you are about to read an analysis of the game, not a sentiment laden piece of prose dripping with emotion and praise for our wonderful support. That’s later.
First up: I was wrong. I predicted a resounding Ipswich win, and usually when I predict an opposition win then the Imps prove me wrong. For that reason alone I predict we’ll get thumped in the replay! In truth you and I know that won’t happen. Our team is better than that, and yesterday, to a man, they proved they are top half of League Two / mid table League One standard.
We played our usual trick of starting with a real intensity, an obvious and yet clever ploy to get the partisan home crowd on their players backs. I expect Danny and Nicky knew an early goal would rattle the nerves of the home players as well. When it came it turned out to be an excellently worked piece of football, Nathan Arnold playing his part superbly to provide the cross for Theo. I was delighted for Theo, his work rate is always second to none, some weeks it works for him and some it doesn’t. He never gives up though, even in games where he gets no joy, like Guiseley on New Years Day.
At that point I could see us going on and doing the same as we did against Oldham. The first few minutes proved that we weren’t going to change our approach to the game at all, setting up in an ambitious 4-4-2 and really tearing in to Ipswich. Unfortunately the difference in quality was proven minutes later with Tom Lawrence’s goal. We made one mistake to give the ball away, and he punished us. That said after the stray pass there was opportunity to stop him, but his direct pace really shone through.
I did notice a sensible move from Luke Waterfall as Lawrence went through. He slid in to tackle in the area, but pulled out at last minute. In the flesh it looked like he shirked the tackle, but on reflection I imagine he would rather let the player shoot than bring him down and give away a penalty as well as risk dismissal. Our decision making is very good, even in situations like that. Had we lost a player and it had got to 1-1 then we would have had a long afternoon.
I suspected they might get on top after the equaliser, but we were the side that looked more like scoring. Aside from Lawrence and Sears very few of the Ipswich players seemed to have anything about them. Maybe it’s a lack of confidence, maybe it’s a lack of belief but their main route to goal seemed to be to get it in behind our centre halves and use the pace of Sears. It’s a cliché to say you wouldn’t have been able to tell which team was Championship and which team was not, but in this instance it was very true.
We were playing a neat, crisp passing game akin to what fans have seen all season. The beauty in what the Cowley brothers do is they don’t change their approach in terms of set up and our route to goal, but they still change subtle things dependent on the opposition. Many managers make the mistake of shuffling their pack and formation to suit the opponents, but that can lead to uncertainty in the teams organisation. We change the things we do, but not how we attack and play our game. For instance we clearly stopped their keeper bowling it out to the defenders, forcing him to kick it. He was a bit suspect and his kicking meant we had a ball to contest, and in the air you’d back Raggett or Waterfall all day long.
Matt Rhead proved me wrong yesterday as well. I said I thought he’d be found out, his overall lack of mobility being fine at National League level, but mobile defenders would make him look anonymous. That wasn’t so, he bullied and battered Berra in particular, and eventually Ipswich started to double up on him. When that happens, space is created and with players like Arnold and Robinson, that space gets exploited.
We could have been 2-1 up when Bradley Wood found space on the right and Theo found even more on the penalty spot. If the ball had been clipped in a split second earlier then Theo would have been on his way to a hat trick. The fact even our energetic full back found space on the right against so-called top opposition shows how appallingly bad the Ipswich left back was. I’ve seen better left backs at Sincil Bank this year playing for part-time teams, and I’m told he is a Danish international!
I was particularly impressed with Paul Farman’s availability whenever the ball was trapped in the centre of the park. We retained possession well, but he offered an outlet time and time again as we slowed the pace of the game to suit our needs. His kicking was really strong, and often he was clearing under slight pressure from Sears or Pitman.
In our third round tie with Bolton a few years ago we went in level at half time, and a pessimistic part of my mind saw a rejuvenated Ipswich side come out in the second half with a McCarthy flea in their ear. Instead they came out and tried exactly the same as they did in the first half, and that played straight into our hands.
It was a Berra mistake that led to Theo’s second, a calm and confident finish which showcased his obvious class. Theo is a good player, a player who should not be at this level, but he does seem to favour the FA Cup. That is a brace in both the second and third round now for Robinson, and he showed his pleasure by flashing his ripped physique for the travelling fans. Lee Probert (quite rightly) had to show him a yellow card.
I felt we could go on and add a third at that point, we were that much better than Ipswich. Their fans were getting on their backs, they were making basic mistakes and the Imps just looked too organised. When they did get chances though, the different levels of footballer showed through. Sears almost created a goal out of nothing, and I thought the youngster Andre Dozzell looked like he has an awful lot of potential. You sensed that if we allowed them a moment of space and time then we’d get punished. By 85 minutes that hadn’t happened.
Their equaliser was harsh on City and it was perhaps more than the Tractor Boys deserved. Again it was Tom Lawrence who exposed us by picking up a loose ball and firing in from 25 yards. Should Matt Rhead have just hoofed it clear from the centre circle? Maybe, but we don’t like to give possession away and the big man had retained the ball and spread the play time and time again all afternoon. He was clearly fouled and yet got back up and on the ball, maybe Lee Probert should have blown for a foul. Again though one slip, trip or fall and the Championship side showed their (often hidden) quality once again.
Towards the very end of the game Alex Woodyard had a chance to go through but he was caught and challenged very well. He looked tired at that point, but that wasn’t the famous ‘non-league v league’ fitness thing. The fact is I’d wager Woodyard had covered far more ground than his opponent and it therefore stands to reason he would be far more tired. The harder you work the more stamina you use.
My final praise goes to a player whom I haven’t spoken much of on my blog this season, Terry Hawkridge. The form of Harry Anderson made Terry a bit-part player for a majority of the season, but the likeable Nottingham lad has kept his head down and worked hard. I thought he had his best game in a Lincoln shirt yesterday, a performance overshadowed by Theo’s two goals but one that deserves recognition. His tracking back was excellent, his distribution spot on, and his defensive work showed why the manager likes him. He’s a flair player remember, a winger and a creator. Against Championship Ipswich he did the ugly stuff really well too, and in order to get any sort of result you need everyone on it for the whole game.
So 2-2 and it’s back to the Bank a week on Tuesday. Will we see the biggest crowd of my Imps-supporting career beaten, 10,408? I think a creaking Sincil Bank might struggle to accommodate that, but I can see 9,500 cramming in to hopefully witness a similar game to yesterday. McCarthy is struggling to revive his team and it seems only a matter of time before him and Ipswich part company. I guess we can only hope that he remains for another ten days, as I see that as our best chance of playing fourth round football for the first time in 1976.