I’m not sure how much more of this wonderful season my heart is going to be able to stand. Even the most ardent of Lincoln City fans have to admit that for eighty nine minutes we were shocking this afternoon.
After Torquay (or Chester or Bromley) Danny Cowley commented that we would have to get closer to method if we were going to win anything this season. This afternoon we looked further away from method than we have at any point of the campaign, and yet we’ve come away with a victory that keeps us comfortably out in front of Tranmere.
Whether we are reaching our desired levels or not is fairly irrelevant when you have such big characters, and when you have sixteen or seventeen players who will fight right down until the final whistle. They say good teams win titles by picking up points when they’re playing poorly, and we are becoming the embodiment of that idea.
It’s easy to be critical when Danny, Nathan Arnold and Matt Rhead have already done exactly the same thing on TV, they’ve already paved the way for me to open a blog with a scathing analysis of our overall performance. It would be remiss to focus on that at this stage of the season though. We’re straying from method after almost 60 games and we’re still top of the league. If it was October there might be some concern. If we weren’t winning games of football, there might be some concern. It’s April, we’re five points clear and frankly how we play is completely irrelevant now. Maybe if we’d played this way all season then we’d be on the edge of the play-off race, but we’re not. We’re top, five points clear with a gam in hand and the maximum number of points our nearest rivals can get is six.
What more is there to say? The game itself wasn’t even made attractive by Gateshead, I thought they were average at best. The penalty we conceded was a clear foul, there is no doubting that. Yes there was a handball from George Smith in the build up, but that was one end of the pitch and the tackle was the other. I was still questioning whether the keeper had fouled Harry Anderson minutes earlier, but the referee didn’t give that either. It was a confident penalty and 1-0 was perhaps a fair reflection of the first half.
The officials made a fundamental error in the second half when Adam Marriott was flagged offside from a throw-in. It didn’t cost us, but it was reflective of the standard of officiating we’ve often been subjected to this season. I’ve been at Sunday league games where the linesman would know not to give offside in that situation. Would we have scored from the break? Most likely not, but if they can’t get the basics right, what can they do?
Well, they got the second penalty spot on. I’ve seen those not given and the calamity linesman went some way to redeeming himself by immediately calling in correctly. The ball was driven in hard at their defender and he leaned into it. In a split second my first thought was no penalty, and it was only clear from the replay that it was justified. Does that make up for getting one of the basic rules of the game wrong? Probably not, but I’m less inclined to moan about it when they get the big calls right.
I spoke of Alan Power’s character for stepping up to take big match penalties in the middle of the season, it took as much (and more) for Rheady to step up for this one. I confess I covered my eyes, I’ve seen too many efforts missed over the season to feel confident when we get a spot kick, but cometh the hour, cometh the man. It was hit with power, precision and passion. 1-1 would have been a respectable score, and probably a fair reflection of the second half.
Once again though we just refused to lose. The winner came from the same method as the equaliser on Friday. a big Paul Farman kick lands on Rhead’s head, and he directs it to another Imps player. On Friday it was Adam Marriott, and today it fell to a real big-game player in Nathan Arnold. We’ve seen over 100 goals this season from Imps players, but I’m not sure we’ve seen such a wonderful example of clinical technique under pressure. He gambled by dropping off the defender, but he still had so much work to do. A smart chest, turn and sumptuous volley secured all three points in a game we truly never looked like even drawing. Nathan was booked for his celebration, if he gets in touch I’ll pay his fine for him (as long as its no more than £20 or something) because moments like that are worth cherishing. For me, to see a former Grimsby hero charging into a crowd of Imps as one of us is a sweet moment, but to see a former Town hero bringing all that technique and coolness under pressure to Lincoln City is worth much, much more.
Gateshead might feel aggrieved not to have got something from the game, but as they’re marooned in mid-table mediocrity I’d wager they probably don’t care that much. They were alright, I thought George Smith had a good game for them, and as expected Wes York caused us issues. I think the biggest danger to us this afternoon was ourselves though, the players looked leggy and a little nervy. Who can blame them? We’ve played Saturday, Tuesday for what seems like the last eight or nine bloody months, and they were having the ‘you could win the title’ pressure heaped on them by the BT people. For 89 minutes the tiredness and pressure of the occasion was telling, but for two or three minutes at the end the real Lincoln City reared their head.
Remember this isn’t just about the bigger picture. Most of these boys haven’t had a stab at league football yet, it means as much to their individual careers as it does to us as a club. They can spout whatever rhetoric they want to about togetherness and how everything is for the greater good, but there is personal pressure on the lads as well as the desire for the team to do well. I’ll excuse nervy performances at the end of a blistering campaign packed with games, especially if we can just keep showing one or two moments of class to claim three points.
Off the pitch I had better mention the superb following this afternoon. Obviously I’m beyond gutted I missed it, but to have almost 2500 make the trip up the A1 is a wonderful achievement. It just goes to show the potential within the city if we have a football club delivering a good product every week, and I imagine it is tough for the likes of David Holdsworth and Gary Simpson to see what good performances and high-profile cup-runs can do for a team. I sometimes cringe when Danny and the players are asked every week about the fans, because they’re never going to say anything other than ‘fantastic’. I’m sure Simmo used to say it when asked about 70 or 80 tucked away in the corner of the Coop made a bit of noise, but truly fantastic is when you take 2500 fans on a near five-hour round trip to one of the most soulless stadiums in the country. We have been superb all season, whether it is the 617, the JIC or just the floating fan such as myself. I’m delighted that some of you are coming back in your droves, I’m delighted that we can sell our ground out time and time again. I’m delighted this potential heavy weight of lower league football has finally been woken up.
I’m delighted that we were finally woken up this afternoon, even if it took 89 minutes of laboured and uninspiring football to do it. We move on now to Macclesfield at home in five days time. We talk about the next game being the biggest of the season, but if we get the right result on our home turf then the final two matches become inconsequential in terms of our final placing.
Can we wrap it up in front of 9000 fans at Sincil Bank? Can we create yet another life long memory on the hallowed turf of Sincil Bank? Can we score before 85 minutes please, just to give my aorta and endocardial tubes a bit of light relief for an afternoon? Tune in next week for another thrilling instalment of the TV series ‘Lincoln City’s Promotion Push’ as featured incessantly on BT Sports.
(Photos by Graham Burrell, but all are from another match)