Away from the long, cold queuing at Sincil Bank this afternoon, the team coach will be pulling into an even colder, bleak Barrow-in-Furness for a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ league clash of vital importance.
Whilst eager fans jostle for tickets to the show-pony match against Brighton, the result tonight is of far more importance. That fact won’t be lost on Danny and the players though, they’ll know exactly what to expect: perhaps the single biggest test of the season.
On first glance an away trip to a team just outside the play-offs isn’t as tough as a trip somewhere like Tranmere. However, Tranmere and even Forest Green Rovers like to play a bit of football, and that suits us perfectly. The pressing game is very effective when the ball is kept on the pitch, it isn’t easy to press the ball when it is fifty feet up in the air.
Contrary to what Chris Kinnear might think, Dover are a direct side who like to get from back to front quickly. That caught us out earlier in the season, and despite Friday night’s match no being easy on the eye, we did find a way to combat their system. Have we finally learned the lesson that looked like it could derail our title hopes?
We looked a little naïve against the likes of Sutton earlier in the season. They came to Sincil Bank to bully us and hit the long balls and they got their rewards. Dover did the same at their place, they’re probably the only team that play counter attack on their home soil. Barrow also came with a robust game plan earlier in the season, and they earned early bragging rights.
Any side with Gary Simpson on the coaching staff is going to be involving themselves in the dark arts of the game. As a manager, he loved his players to have a physical edge, look at Ben Tomlinson and his booking to goal ratio. Even further back there was a reason Dene Cropper played regularly over Simon Yeo in 2002/03. We knew back then ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, and it worked for us year after year. Okay Barrow won’t win the league solely utilising these sorts of tactics, we only ever hit the fringes of the play-offs under Big Keith and Simmo. Cox and Simpson don’t have the tactical nous to play pretty football to win games, so they drag you into a fight, then pump it long for the big man, Byron Harrison in this instance.
Tonight will be a big test for our centre half pairing, more so than any other game. The 2-0 win on Friday suggested we’ve found a way to combat the more negative teams, and tonight will be the ultimate test of how far we really have come. Can flair players like Terry and Nathan avoid being frozen out of the game? If Bradley Wood starts he must also avoid being drawn into the battles as he was against Sutton. He’s done superbly at it since his dismissal, but Barrow will no doubt have earmarked him as one to unsettle. The key for City is, as it was on Friday, about finding a way to counteract Barrow whilst also offering a threat ourselves.
A draw tonight would be a good result, especially as FGR, Tranmere, Barrow and Dagenham are involved in games against each other this weekend. There will be points dropped in the race for the title, and for Lincoln four from six over the last five days would be an acceptable return.
I’d swap my Brighton tickets for three points tonight, and I’d certainly take a win at Barrow over the FA Cup 5th Round. Bob might not agree from a financial standpoint, but if we do win tonight then I will be 100% convinced that this team has what it takes to win the League in April. Mark my words, in terms of the National League title, tonight is the most important game of the season.