Take Heed: The Loco is full steam ahead

City registered a fine 3-1 win yesterday over Gateshead yesterday, a team who were previously unbeaten in five game. This is the same Gateshead that turned Barrow over 4-1 on Boxing Day, on the same ground we haven’t registered a win at since 1951. Even more remarkable, we did it with a so-called understrength side.

Danny made several changes to the side that earned a draw at Ipswich, with Nathan Arnold, Luke Waterfall and Theo Robinson not even making the squad. In came Jack Muldoon and Adam Marriott up front, FA Cup tied duo Elliot Whitehouse and Callum Howe and loan signings Sean Long and Joe Ward.

It was a brave move by the manager of the moment, and glancing through other National League sides matches this weekend it seems only Barrow made a similar move. Indeed Tranmere, without a game since New Year, fielded a full strength side (and Steve McNulty) against little known South Park.

I’ll touch on how positive it is for the fans that we have such depth later, but firstly on to the game. The first fifteen minutes perhaps highlighted we had a relatively new look side on display. Gateshead started brightly and it was always going to be ex-Imp Jordan Burrow who scored for them. It was a simple enough strike from a teasing cross from the right, but after four minutes the Imps were 1-0 down with a so-called understrength side out. The 169 travelling fans feared the worst, I’m sure.

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169 travelling fans, hopefully a few brought binoculars with them.

 

Maybe Gateshead didn’t press hard enough after that, maybe they weren’t able to. Slowly but surely the Imps found a rhythm, and although we were far from scintillating we did begin to impose a certain level of dominance. In the absence of Theo, Jack Muldoon had to cover every blade of grass, which he did. I’ve felt a bit for Jack this season, he’s been on the periphery after sustaining an injury in the first game, much like Taylor Miles. He didn’t get a goal yesterday but as you’d expect from a committed player such as him, he ran through a brick wall and back whenever he was asked to.

The first half was a mix of turgid midfield scrapping and the occasional hint of ‘proper’ Lincoln City, but at half time despite making no changes, everything changed. City came out with zest and purpose and it took just a couple of minutes for Sam Habergham to level things. Adam Marriott showed a bit of trickery and close control to beat Manny Smith, only to be hauled back cynically. Instead of curling an effort towards goal Habergham drove it low and hard under the wall and beyond the despairing dive of Dan Hanford. Once City were back in the game I don’t think the result was ever truly in doubt.

The first of the ‘big guns’ came on after 67 minutes for Lincoln, Bradley Wood joining the fray at the expense of Alan Power. Within three minutes the tie swung firmly in our favour, but not before controversy. Firstly Paul Farman appeared to have climbed all over a Gateshead forward, Neil Aspin was furious on the Heed bench. From my vantage point it looked like the sort of challenge I would expect a penalty for had it happened to a Lincoln forward, but the sort that maybe could be defended when your team are the aggressors. Moments later Adam Marriott was hauled back in the box, cue Danny Cowley furiously remonstrating with the referee as once again no penalty was given. Even without my red and white tinted glasses on, I thought it was as clear a penalty as you’ll ever see. I suspect the referee bottled it after not giving one at the other end.

It didn’t matter, from the resultant corner Marriott sliced a volley at goal, and after a little ricochet it fell to Elliot Whitehouse who made no mistake from eight yards. The more I see Whitehouse the less I think of him as an attacking midfielder. I think he looks like a classic ‘little man’ centre forward, deadly anywhere in and around the area. Despite having signed for us a few months ago I think he’s yet to fully settle in the side, and once he does he will be a massive asset to the club. 2-1 at Gateshead had it all to do.

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Imps players acknowledge the fans after the game. I assure you that is what is happening

 

It took just four minutes for City to put the game beyond all doubt. It was a superbly worked goal, Whitehouse picking up a loose ball in midfield and knocked it twenty yards back to Sam Habergham. He played a high ball into the channel for Muldoon who, with all the hallmarks of Matt Rhead, chested it down into the path of Terry Hawkridge. Terry did the rest, weaving into the area before curling a wonderful finish into the back of the net. In the past Terry has been criticised for not having that instinct in front of goal, but it looks to me like he’s worked on that and is beginning to find an end product. If that development continues then you’ll see much more of Terry, because skill-wise he is as good as any player currently on our books, arguably as skilful as any player currently in the National League.

Another player I saw criticised in recent weeks is Paul Farman, but with just a few minutes left he pulled off a save of absolute class to deny Jordan Burrow. Wearing the captains armband after Power went off, Farman leapt to his right from nowhere to deny a downward header from Burrow. It had shades of Gordon Banks from 1970, and it was a nice moment from the former Gateshead man in front of his former team.

A 3-1 win was just reward for a competent and battling Lincoln City display. Sean Long and Joe Ward were both excellent on their first starts for City. Long will be providing cover at full back, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t mean Bradley Wood gets another run out in midfield. Long didn’t put a foot wrong and it only took ten minutes or so for him and Ward to begin linking up down the new-look right hand side.

I really liked the look of Joe Ward too. he’s smaller than Harry Anderson, but he is direct and has pace to burn. He drifted in and out of the game in the first half, perhaps due to the scrappy nature of the football, but whenever he got on the ball he looked a threat. I understand there’s an initial one month loan deal been agreed, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that was extended at some point, because he certainly offered exactly what we’ll need given the upcoming fixture congestion.

No a new little feature now that might only run for a week, who knows? Leigh Curtis used to do something similar in the Echo, I’ll pick a player from each team who was (for want of a better word) crap, and one who I wouldn’t mind seeing in a Lincoln shirt. I’ll also pick my man of the match.

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Wes York has a lot of potential, but the service needed to be right

 

 

You’re welcome here anytime:

The one player I really liked for Gateshead was the wide man Wes York. He wasn’t in the game as much as Neil Aspin might have liked, but like our wide players he was quick and direct. On the rare occasions they worked the ball to him I though he posed a significant threat, he could certainly deliver a telling cross and that should pay dividends with the likes of Jordan Burrow in the area on the end of them. He just shaded it from Nyal Bell, the former Rochdale youngster. He didn’t have a great game, but he looked to have all the attributes needed to forge a decent career for himself. He was big, storng but had a bit of pace as well.

Thanks, but no thanks:

Gus Mafuta is their ‘Mo Fofana’ in midfield. For the first fifteen minutes or so the former Bristol City man looked sharp and dominant, but as the game pressed on he got worse and worse. His distribution was poor, and the Heed’s inability to impress themselves on the game often fell down to a lack of dominance in the middle of the park. Towards the end he looked leggy and disinterested, firing wild shots over from thirty yards, and delivering crosses directly onto the head of Mr Smith sat in row Z. Poor. He takes the ‘award’ from Jordan Burrow who, despite his goal, was anonymous for large parts of the game. He is still all elbows, and he wins far less than he should for a big player. He is a poor man’s Ben Tomlinson, and he doesn’t look like achieving the potential he once had early in his career.

Imps Man of the Match

I said one name on the radio (I’ll blog about that later), and I’m going to stick by it. I thought Adam Marriott was excellent all afternoon, he never stopped working up front alongside Muldoon, and whenever he got on the ball I sensed something might happen. We haven’t see as much of him as we might like this season due to his injury, but what I have seen impresses me immensely. He earned the free kick that led to the first goal, he should have had a penalty in the build up to the second goal and all afternoon he looked hungry for goals. As he gets more game time I think he will be a significant player for City.

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My Man of the Match

 

Honourable mentions

Two players I want to mention who were as close to taking the MOM from me. The first was full back Sam Habergham. I’ve often said I think there’s more to come from Sam, but the last few weeks I think we’ve really seen what he has to offer. He was outstanding again yesterday, diligent in his defending duties but creating trouble whenever he gets forward. He plays easy balls when they’re on, and he isn’t afraid to use Farms if we need to slow play down. His clipped pass into Muldoon ahead of our third goal was class, and I can see why he is so highly rated by DC.

The other player I really liked yesterday was Joe Ward. He’s barely been with us two days and yet he looked to settle in incredibly quickly. He’s quick and he looked like he likes to run at defenders, exactly what Hawkridge and Arnold are good at. He’ll hopefully offer cover as the fixtures pile up, and that will be crucial to keep our good form going. Along with Sean Long he formed a new-look right hand side of the park that, after twelve minutes or so, looked every bit as potent as the Arnold and Wood combo we’ve come to love.

All in all it was a good performance from City, and it dispelled any fears of ‘after the Lord Mayors show’. It might not have been a fixture that captured the imagination of our superb fan base, but for the hardy souls that did brave the five hour round trip and sparsely populated athletic stadium, it was well worth witnessing. A good win and a great indication of exactly how strong our entire squad is.

Now that’s out of the way, did somebody say Ipswich?