I love it when I’m wrong. In the run up to today’s game I twice predicted we would get beat. It gives me great pleasure and incredible joy to say I was wrong as we ran out 3-1 winners against a poor Forest Green to return back to the top of the National League, where we belong.
I don’t know what fuels my pessimism at times. Maybe I remember looking every inch automatic promotion contenders in 2006/07, only to throw it away in the last couple of months. Maybe I’ve heard too many stories of the early 1980’s when Colin Murphy could have led us to the second tier. Maybe I’ve become so desensitized to success in my time as a Lincoln fan that I’m almost waiting for the bubble to burst, the wheels to come off and the bottle to be lost.
The sun shone bright on Sincil Bank today, but entering the ground it felt very much like another televised top of the table clash I remember well against Swindon (we lost 3-2), and after just nine minutes it looked to be going the same way. I thought for the first nine minutes we looked quite good, they barely had a meaningful kick, but one slip and that man Christian Doidge was in and registering their opener. It was hard on City as we hadn’t been bad, but if you make a mistake against the better teams, they will punish you.
I don’t think the goal changed our approach though, but it did quieten down a few of the fans (me included). The 122 that bothered to come and watch their table topping side were in good voice though, I don’t expect you heard them in blocks 5-7, but over in three they were just about audible. It The goal did change the FGR approach though, from minute 10 they started time-wasting.
I think it was a shame for the neutral that they didn’t try to play a bit more football. The remaining 36 minutes basically consisted of us trying to find an opening that wasn’t there, them wasting time and the referee and linesman looking clueless at each other before guessing at their decisions. It wasn’t just FGR that were the beneficiaries though, we received a couple of odd calls too. The one moment that enraged FGR involved Sam Habergham being floored off the ball, play continuing for three minutes before they put it out purely as part of the passage of play. They then expected the ball to be given back, which obviously it wasn’t going to be. They hadn’t bothered when they went through Sam (no free kick by the way), only when it went out did they claim to have done it sportingly. Poor form.
I wasn’t sure how we’d find a way through in the second half. Nathan Arnold had been unusually quiet, and for all his running and pressing Lee Angol wasn’t getting the scraps from anything Rheady knocked down. There was a game plan, but the early goal had clearly knocked us, and it has caused FGR to retreat into their shells, hoping to hit us on the break. I imagine the BT viewers were less-than inspired after a tepid first 45 minutes.
There was a palpable tension around the ground at half time, usually in that situation we can glean some comfort by checking our phones and seeing how our rivals are getting on. There was none of that, the entire focus was on the action in front of us. I had a horrible feeling my pessimistic prediction might be coming true.
In an unusual turn of events it was Lincoln out and waiting at the end of the break, and our garish fluorescent green vegans that waited around in the tunnel trying to gain the psychological upper hand. They emerged and from kick off pumped it straight out of play on the left flank. Devoid of ideas with 45 minutes left to play? It certainly seemed that way, they felt the one goal was going to be enough to give them a six-point lead.
It wasn’t, Lincoln were at it from the start and in the second half we looked like getting much more joy. Arnold appeared to be refreshed and back to his better ways, and for the first time in the game he began to combine nicely with Sean Long, who had one of his best games in a City shirt. Angol worked the channels just as industriously as he had in the first half, and it was the Posh loanee who finally brought the game level. Paul Farman gathered the ball in and immediately Matt Rhead called for it to come long. It did, and as the defenders tried to second guess which forward would get it, confusion ensued. Angol got the better of Mark Ellis who went to ground like a pigeon shot with an air rifle. Angol didn’t care, and for once the linesman’s inability to make a call worked in our favour. Angol made no mistake at all with his finish, and as soon as the ball hit the net there was only ever going to be one winner.
FGR’s lack of a viable route to goal meant they were always going to be on the back foot, and within six minutes the game had been turned on its head. City probed all over the park, and a whipped cross from the left was turned in by a Villagers defender. There was a moment of almost stunned disbelief as it looked to have gone wide, but as it nestled in the net Imps fans broke out into jubilation. 2-1, and we had gone from chasing the game to being in complete control.
After the second goal we shut the game off delightfully. I think the ten minutes after we scored saw the ball in play for about a minute and a half, there was delayed free kicks, players going down injured and a complete breakdown of a coherent game of football. It was incredibly clever from City, if you look at FGR’s goals this season they often scored in flurries, especially after conceding. It may not have been purposeful, but I thought it was a superb response and a great way to take the sting out of the game.
I wasn’t impressed when Farms put the ball out for his customary injury after the second goal. I know it is part of a routine, but he put it out to receive treatment, there was no FGR player near and the ball was in his hands. For them to take the throw as an attacking option when play resumed was incredibly unsporting. It bore no resemblance to the first half when Habergham was down, they only put the ball out then as part of the passage of play. I’d expect nothing less from a Mark Cooper side though, and as they launched the ball into the area I think the ref perhaps thought ‘I’m not having that’ as he blew for a very weak foul on our player. Poor show Forest Green, I thought they were the ethical family club, and yet here they were showing incredibly bad sportsmanship.
Of course they got their just desserts shortly afterwards. I thought we won a weak free kick on the edge of the area, Lee Angol certainly waiting for a trailing leg to get in his way. Sam Habergham and Nathan Arnold lined up behind it, and as they did I remarked to my mate Dave that it looked an awful lot like the same situation as one we had at Gateshead away in the FA Trophy. “Here comes a Sam Habergham daisy cutter” I said, and as I did his low drive crept into the net for 3-1. I found myself hugging Dave, and for the first time since Tuesday I found that whirling sicky feeling in the pit of my stomach lift and disperse like a falafel fart in the warm spring air. If I wasn’t very much mistaken as that third goal went in everything seemed brighter, everything seemed warmer and I’m absolutely certain everything felt as positive as it had before my pessimistic alter ego had begun spinning a story of worry and collapse.
It could, and should have been four one as we went for the jugular. Harry Anderson’s introduction showed that he hasn’t changed one bit, still as quick as a hare and as strong as a pack of hunt dogs. I thought when he came on we looked as dangerous as we have at any point over the last six weeks, but that could just have been confidence. Space opened up all over the place, and FGR hadn’t really got a lot to offer. At one point Marcus Kelly got the ball for them on the left flank just inside the attacking half with his back to goal, and City pressed him all the way back along the line into his own defensive corner. For a team with Football League aspirations I thought they looked really poor.
If you take Christian Doidge out of their team I’d wager they would be tucked in somewhere between Boreham Wood and Wrexham. They’re decidedly average all across the park, and it was only Doidge’s persistence and opportunism that gave them a goal lead to defend anyway. The number 6, Traore looked like a good player, but that master tactician Mark Cooper dragged him off not long after we’d scored our second. His changes altered the game almost as much as those of Danny and Nicky!
As for City, well I felt we were the better team from start to finish. One or two of our lads took forty five minutes to get going, but some were superb from the start. I know Power took some stick for his role in their goal, but I thought he was outstanding today. We look much more balanced and stable with him and Alex Woodyard in the middle of the park, and that became really apparent as the game went on. There was one passage of play towards the end of the game where the two of them were scrapping like pit bull terriers trying to win the ball, and after twenty seconds of pinball they broke up the play tenaciously. It epitomised how hard they’d worked as a pair for the whole game.
Lee Angol was superb today as well, and I heard a lot of criticism of him around me for the first forty five. I think Angol is the type of player fans will get frustrated with, he does fight and give away the odd free kick and at times his style of dropping off the last man and looking for scraps doesn’t come off. Theo Robinson used to do the same, gamble on the defence slipping up and letting him in, but it rarely came off for Theo. Anyone who watched the Solihull Moors goal against FGR in midweek will have seen their forward drop off the defender, and the gamble paid off as he missed the ball for the Moors to score. Angol tried the same several times today, and along with a helping of his own strength it led to our first goal. It won’t always work, but it does seem if you give Angol the ball in the 18-yard area, and he has a sight of goal, then nine times out of ten you’re going to score. I commented if we’d had Christian Doidge up top with Rheady all season we’d probably be ten points clear now, and I suspect had we had Lee Angol up there all season, we’d have an unassailable lead with six weeks left.
I’m going to mention Sean Long as well. I’ve been quite critical of Sean, maybe because he plays in Brad’s position, maybe because I haven’t seen enough to convince me he is as good as what we already have. Today he proved me wrong (it was quite the day for it), I thought he was excellent. Defensively he marshalled the flank really well, and in the second half he got past Arnold at times and asked questions of the left back.
I’m not sure whether the roar from the terraces at the end was all joy, or whether some of it was sheer relief that the wheels haven’t come off at all, we’re still on our way. It’s been a tough few weeks without being too damaging to our overall aim of league football. I know we dropped points on Tuesday, but today we bounced back in the way that champions elect can do. The race for the title is (arguably) a three-horse race now, and we’ve taken twelve points from the other two teams battling against us. They still have each other to play as well, and coupled with our games in hand I can only see the next few weeks going one way. We need to remain on our game, but today Lincoln City looked all the doubters in the eye (including me), raised a middle finger and demonstrated exactly why they are top of the league.
I was wrong and I’ve never been so bloody happy about it.
Imps – Man of the Match
It’s a real close call, I thought Long, Habergham, Woodyard and Angol were all excellent today, but I’m going with Alan Power. He’s not always the first name on the team sheet, but I thought his experience and tenacity stood out a mile. His head didn’t drop after the opener, and he was all over the green shirts like dog pooh on your trainers. Every time they thought they’d shaken him off, there he was again. I’m an Alan Power fan for a reason, and this afternoon he gave a wonderful demonstration of all the qualities I’ve seen in him ever since he first pulled on an Imps shirt. Class.
FGR- We’d have you
There is only one of their lads I think would get into our side, and that is obviously Christian Doidge. He knows where the net is, he knows where he needs to be to get a glimpse of the goal and when he is presented with a chance he invariably takes it. 23 goals this season don’t lie, and without him FGR would be a heavily financed mid-table team without a doubt. He needs to do himself a favour and beg for a move next season, because he reeks of Football League and he isn’t going there with this lot.
FGR – You’re not very good
There are a few over rated players currently donning a Villagers shirt, but the one man who I wouldn’t want anywhere near our club is Mark Cooper. Today Cooper got it all wrong, from defending a 1-0 lead after ten minutes to having no game plan at all for the second half. He took off one of their best players, Traore and failed to bring Omar Bugiel on until the game was all-but lost. He is a man who lacks good grace, a man who has no concept of sporting behaviour and a man who will look to blame everything but himself for his teams failings. Talk of bobbly pitches was ridiculous, in fact it was as offensive as any song that our fans could sing to suggest we’d left the pitch in a poor condition because they played football and we didn’t (the pitch was fine by the way, our ground staff do a great job). He was quick to blame ‘individual errors’ for the defeat, but never once questioned his own approach. Every time I see or hear him talk I feel inclined to hope somebody punches him one day. I don’t agree with violence though, so six points and six goals over two games will do the trick instead. If I was Mark Cooper I’d be looking through the job section of my local paper in the coming weeks, not blaming his expensively assembled squad for his own short comings as a manager.