The National Media will be full of stories trying to contrast our FA Cup tie on Saturday with the less-than opulent surroundings of Cressing Road, but that isn’t a comparison you’ll find me making after this introductory paragraph. It’s insulting to us and it’s insulting to Braintree and although being in the media spotlight is good for the club, once the fanfare has died down they’ll be gone, just like the 4,000-odd fans that have got Arsenal tickets that I wager barely ever go to Sincil Bank. Once that has happened our FA Cup result will mean very little, but to those who eat, sleep and dream Lincoln City, tomorrow nights result could resonate for much longer.
The number one priority has always been promotion, and fighting in all three of the competitions we entered last year does look to be derailing our promotion push somewhat. We are still in pole position, but the gap has been closed after dropping four points in the last two games, and whether those were credible draws or not is irrelevant. Teams around us are on our heels like store detectives chasing druggies out of Aldi. They’re determined to catch us, and if we’re going to escape them for good we need to be winning tomorrow night’s game.
I’ve blogged about the danger facing us over the coming few weeks. We could win tomorrow night and still lose our top spot to Forest Green on March 18th, despite us not playing again. Yes, we’d have games in hand but they are not the same as points on the board. When we see games in hand for teams at the top we have a tendency to add three points per game to their total: it’s not always the case and the last week has proven we’re no exception.
Braintree might be a tough test, but I think they’ll be a slightly different prospect to York and Aldershot. Both of those sides had only lost a couple of games since the start of December, but Braintree have lost four since the start of February. Their league placing might not reflect it, but I suspect they will offer a less physical threat than that of York, and a less slick approach to the Shots. I tipped York to stay up just after Christmas because they introduced a tough spine to their under achieving side, whereas Braintree have over achieved given their resources, and they continue to do so.
Don’t be fooled by the recent 5-0 win at Bromley. They played ten men from the 16th minute and nine from the 32nd minute, scoring two penalties in the process. If you take that freak result out of the equation they’ve won twice in eight games, against struggling North Ferriby and ailing Eastleigh. Although every team can beat every team, tomorrow really is the time to show the rest of the league what we are made of. To come away with five points from three games would be acceptable, especially after drawing twice, but three from three would constitute a full-blown wobble. Tranmere have had their sticky patch, FGR have had one too and if we’re to win this league we need to make sure ours is no more than two draws followed by a resounding win in Essex. Tomorrow night we have to show that in reality, The Only Way is Lincolnshire (apologies, I had to squeeze that in).
Whether Braintree are winning games or not, they still pose a threat. They won’t want to lose tomorrow night as they’re embroiled in a relegation battle, but I imagine they won’t want to lose to Danny and Nicky as well. A year after Graham Taylor left us in 1977 he brought his Watford side to Sincil Bank and they thrashed us 5-0. It was humiliating, the Imps fans were rumoured to be cheering Watford towards the end of the game, and come the end of the season they went up and we went down. Hakan Hayrettin will be doing everything he can to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.
I imagine leading scorer Michael Cheek will be doing the same thing. He’s scored 14 times in 18 games, and has bagged two in the last two games. He’s a Cowley signing so we know from experience he’ll be a danger, as those two know a player when they see one. Another one we’ll need to watch out for is defender Reece Hall-Johnson. He plays anywhere across the back and has arrived at Cressing Road via Cambridge, Norwich and Maidstone, which is where he started the season. He is also prone to bagging a goal or two, he has scored four since his October move, two coming in that big win over Bromley. Former Orient defender Sean Colhessy is another player who didn’t feature as we beat them earlier in the season, but he brings bags of experiences not only from East London, but also Kilmarnock, Southend and Colchester.
Despite this we have quality in every position, and in all but one position we have two players per starting place. It will be fascinating to see who starts tomorrow for City. Whilst many fans will have their eye on other games coming up, you can guarantee Danny and Nicky will only be thinking of one game. I fully expect to see Lee Angol for at least a second half cameo, if not a starting berth. He’s match fit having played regularly for Posh, and there won’t be any thoughts of injuries ruling him out of big games. I don’t think any of our players would think like that, but there will be someone somewhere that accuses players of saving themselves for that showcase game.
Other than that I expect to see a full first team, 4-4-2 with plenty of big guns out there looking to add to Hayrettin’s woes. He’s done a decent job since joining, winning more games than he’s lost. I like Braintree as a club, what they achieved last season with Danny and Nicky deserves applauding and their fans were friendly and pragmatic when I met some of them back in October. They’re seven points clear of the relegation spots and I sincerely hope (after losing tomorrow night) that they start to amass enough points to keep them in the National League, especially on March 25th as they travel to Tranmere!
As for City, I’m sure every player wearing green tomorrow night will be focused on one game, and one game alone. The national media might turn their spotlight on us towards the end of the week, but if we don’t get three points tomorrow I don’t think many of the players will be allowed to enjoy having their name in the papers.
However, at least if they do get their name in print it will mean all those day trippers that have blagged Arsenal tickets might be able to name a few of them. I heard a story of one guy buying tickets who asked a member of staff who Bradley Wood was. The mind boggles.