Another round of games down, and Lincoln City are still top of the pile in the National League. League Two is almost close enough to touch and as the days pass by we edge closer and closer to the dream of a return to our ‘proper’ place amongst the 92.
We’re not going to do it the easy way though, and even Danny Cowley admitted in his post-match interview that we hadn’t played well. We weren’t at our clinical and comprehensive best, but the next eight games are not about playing stylish football, they’re all about getting three points. Whether the opposition are Dagenham or Southport, promotion chasers or mid-table also-rans, it doesn’t matter. This is the business end of the season where dire teams win matches against the top clubs, and those stubborn ‘nothing to play for’ sides want to have a say in who goes up and who goes down.
Before I dissect this afternoon’s match I want to pay tribute to Bromley. Contrary to what was said on the radio I don’t think they came to simply shut up shop and play ten men behind the ball, I thought they gave it a good go and they made it a tough afternoon that really tested our credentials (and my heart rate). I also thought their 80 fans were a credit to the team, they made as much noise as twice their number and they were certainly louder than 90% of fans that have visited the Bank this season. Credit where it is due, for a team in poor form I thought they were tenacious and they tried to play football the right way. There was no indulging in the dark arts, they had a clear and precise game plan and although we ran out winners they certainly gave a very good account of themselves.
I’ve often heard criticism of the referee and bar one decision I think he got very wrong, I thought he was equally as good / bad for both teams. In the first half we couldn’t do any wrong, several decisions went our way and whilst the penalty decision was correct, several others that went in our favour were dubious to say the least. He looked every inch a homer in the first half, but for the second forty five he seemed to want to even it up, and for a while it seemed as though we couldn’t buy a free kick. Such is the standard at this level, but we’ve had officials who clam up on the day, at least Andrew Miller was consistently inconsistent.
He did get one key decision wrong though, Blair Turgott should have been sent off. Lee Angol was booked for diving (correctly or incorrectly I don’t know, I wasn’t close enough) but when the already-booked Turgott committed the same offence ten minutes later he didn’t brandish a card. Did he bottle it? Maybe, it definitely smacked of inconsistency. Shortly after Turgott blatantly shoved over one of our lads, something that could also have earned him a yellow card. I think their gaffer realised he was on thin ice and he was withdrawn shortly afterwards. It didn’t change the game but I think it is worth noting. If you’re going to book one lad for diving you have to be ready to do the same for the other side, even if it would result in a red card.
Take that away though and what you had this afternoon was a slightly below-par City coming up against a side that looked more like a play-off chasing outfit than mid-table Charlies. I wholeheartedly agreed with our team selection, especially the inclusion of Harry Anderson. I thought pre-match maybe he’d come on for a second half cameo, but in the absence of Terry Hawkridge it made sense to start the Posh loanee. He looked threatening when he got the ball, but as a unit we didn’t get going as quickly as we’d like.
We lacked the intense energy from the get-go we are used to, and although the home fans were in good voice there was a tension around me all afternoon. Unlike recent seasons we now tend to get behind the lads even when we feel things aren’t going our way, and up until the penalty I didn’t think we were hitting the heights we’re capable of. The penalty was a penalty, and after a bit of wrestling Alan Power managed to get the ball off Lee Angol. I was so certain of a goal that I decided to film it on my new phone to stick it on the blog. Imagine my shock when, viewing through my screen, Power not only struck a weak penalty but also saw the rebound saved as well. I did wonder if it wasn’t to be our afternoon.
After that I thought Bromley got themselves into the game a bit, and they were very unlucky not to take a 43rd minute lead. It was Turgott who stuck the bar from a well worked free kick, and it set both the players and fans on edge for the half time break. It was unusual that for a 3pm kick off I had no interest in the other scores, everything aside from Tranmere and ourselves is academic. FGR may have lost this afternoon, but even if they’d won it would change very little. I’m not the most believing of supporters, and for the second or third Saturday in a row I had an uncertain and anxious fifteen minute break.
Bromley started the second half the stronger side, I thought we looked disjointed and apprehensive. I wonder if perhaps the pressure was showing in one or two players, they’re in front of big crowds every week and the level of expectation just gets higher and higher. It wasn’t that we were playing badly, nor that certain players were off their game. Something just wasn’t quite clicking, and that was probably the case up until Danny made the changes.
I have to mention my Dad at this point. We don’t watch every game together due to ticketing differences, but today we got sat together and as the change was made he remarked of Billy Knott; “I don’t understand that change. Knott hasn’t done anything in a Lincoln shirt”. Moments later he was happily eating his words after Ginnelly, Angol and finally Knott combined to score a cracking opening goal. Delightfully for us it was the deciding goal, although even at 1-0 up I don’t think we gave the best account of ourselves. I took great glee in reminding my old man of his comments about Knott, but he seemed to forget me voicing the same concerns pre-match. We keep hearing what a great player he is and how much he can effect our run-in, and I suspect today we finally saw a glimpse of what Danny and Nicky see in him.
Positives from the afternoon: The two centre halves were superb all day, bar perhaps one moment when Waterfall slipped over and decided to take their lad down with him. On another day he could have walked for a professional foul, but their boy was some way from goal and he escaped with a yellow. Bar that we mopped up everything thrown into our area, and anything they didn’t claim was dealt with by Paul Farman. Earlier in the season Farms came in for some stick for not commanding his area as well as he could, but he has worked on his game impressively and you rarely get a ‘heart-in-the-mouth’ moment anymore.
Alex Woodyard was superb as well, he normally is but today he found an extra ten per cent from somewhere. I just checked the Imps twitter voting for man of the match, and he has over 60% of the vote. That tells you something about the level he reached today, he is absolutely integral to everything that we do, and as far as I’m concerned he is a shoe-in for the Player of the Year.
I also thought Lee Angol worked hard all game again, and you sense he only needs a sight of goal to be in with a good chance of scoring. It didn’t work for him today, but as we saw last weekend against FGR he is devastating when he creates half a yard. As he settles into our method and builds up a partnership with Rheady I think we’ll see more and more from him as well.
That brings me to Matt Rhead, a constant bone of contention if the voices around me are anything to go by. I see what he adds to the side and I know we’re not quite the same without him, but as a striker is one in 24 an acceptable return? When he is on-form he is unplayable, but at times his lack of mobility makes it look as if we’re playing with ten and a half men. Any other striker that covered as little ground as Rheady does would be described as half fit, and yet for the big man everything he does is cheered. I am a Matt Rhead fan, but he desperately needs a goal or two to get himself moving again.
So that is that, we’re three points richer and all that hard work that the Trannies put in against Wrexham counts for very little on the day. The Championship is going right down to the wire, but the sign of a good team is picking up points without really hitting top gear. I think today was a mixture of us being slightly off it and Bromley bringing their A-game, but whatever it was we still did a professional and hard working job to keep out noses out in front. I’m not sure my heart will take much more pessimism or angst as the days of April slip by, but ultimately it won’t have a choice.
I’ll see you all in 48 hours for yet another chapter of this thrilling season we are having. Danny Cowley says anyone not embracing it must be mad, but if he’d seen the decades of missed chances and under achieving we have, I’m not so sure he’d be able to enjoy it quite so much. The most important thing is that by May 1st we have still kept our noses in front, by whatever means necessary.