After looking at Luke Waterfall’s claim for Player of the Year yesterday, it seems only appropriate that I also weigh up the chances of his fellow centre back, Sean Raggett. If one is in the running then it is highly likely that the other one will be there too.
Signing Sean from Dover ahead of the big kick-off was a real coup, and depending on who you believe we either gazumped Barrow or Tranmere. The story goes that young Sean was driving up north with his agent, and a Lincoln City representative got wind of the situation. I understand a call was made to ‘come and have a chat’ on his way up the A1, and history shows his journey never progressed further than Newark. Whether that is fact or fairy-tale will probably never be revealed, but however it happened we found ourselves with arguably the best centre half in the National League.
What isn’t there to like about Sean Raggett? He’s quick enough not to be bothered too much by a pacey striker, and he’s tough enough to take a few knocks from a big centre forward and not shirk a challenge. He is dominant in the air, both at the back and when attacking set pieces, and he can also pick a pass nicely.
There are subtle differences between him and Luke, Sean tends to bring the ball out of defence in a style reminiscent of Rio Ferdinand, whereas Luke is more of a ‘get it and play it’ man. That said Luke is more of a threat with his feet from set pieces, whereas Sean is more or less exclusively a threat with his head.
Sean is very calm and calculated, very rarely this season has he given us a heart-in-mouth moment. He’s assured on the ball, not afraid to play his was out of defence but also comfortable using the keeper as an outlet. Being a good defender isn’t just about hard tackles, powerful headers and no-nonsense clearances, it is also about positioning and anticipation. Sean is great at reading attacks and often he can slow down an attack by taking a sensible position rather than diving in. He is a central defender who thinks as well as acts, and they’re rarer than you might think.
It would be remiss to think that one of our central defenders is in the running for Player of the Year and not the other, because their contributions have been very similar. Each of them relies on the other for their great form. They work well because they communicate and understand each others game, if one goes the other stays, if one drops of the other presses and so on.
If we don’t go up I’d wager that one (if not both) will be the subject of bids from other teams. I was extremely surprised that we managed to hold on to Sean in January. I felt his arrival at City was a stroke of luck, a bonus that neither Danny nor the fans really expected. There was little hand-wringing over the reported £50k tribunal fee, and that for me indicated we knew we’d got a good player who would make us a few bob as he progressed. Remember this is a defender who’d been watched by Everton whilst a Dover player, and here we were picking him up for an incredibly fair price. He’s an asset, a saleable one at that and it will be a real coup if he is still in the red and white of City come August.
Forest Green (A)
How could you possibly look at Sean Raggett’s key moments without starting with an iconic image from November. We were 2-0 down and looking buried, Alex Woodyard gave us hope and then in the last-minute Luke Waterfall volleyed home an unlikely equaliser. From the side lines Danny Cowley could be clearly seen signalling his players to go again, he knew the match was there for the taking. Sixty seconds later and a wonderful header from Raggett broke FGR’s hearts, and ultimately their title ambitions. It was a wonderful header, powerful and accurate and enough to give me the 38th birthday I’d been afraid to even dream of before kick-off.
No goals this time, and not even a particularly entertaining or memorable match. Sean’s old club came to Sincil Bank just 72 hours after we had just beaten Ipswich, and many thought we might be a bit lethargic. They had Ricky Miller, Moses Emmanuel and Ross Lafeyette up front, potentially a deadly strike force at this level. Our defence needed to be on top form, and the pressure was on Sean to show that his move in the summer had been a step up. Defeat to Dover would give them hope of knocking us off the top spot, but a win for us consigned them to a play-off battle and nothing more. Their strikers barely got a sniff in a scrappy match, and Sean put in a sterling shift that proved he is much more than just late headed goals.
I would wager even the very best strikers would hope to score one iconic goal in a season. It is rare for a defender to create an image that will live with you for decades, but just three months after his late winner against Forest Green, Raggett scored a goal that was even more memorable, and one that will be talked about nationally for years to come. Premier League Burnley had been under par, and as usual City were battling to the end. A corner was whipped in which resulted in another corner. This one was whipped in, Waterfall peeled away at the back post and lopped a header back across goal. Sean Raggett pushed Dayle Southwell to one side and planted a header firmly past Michael Heaton in the Burnley goal. It was scrambled away and just for a second it looked as if the goal wasn’t going to stand. After a short pause the referee gave it, and Sean Raggett suddenly found his face on the back of morning papers across the country.
Photos by Graham Burrell