Lincoln City competed in two separate friendlies today, and whilst the one that took place on British soil will be reported in papers and on the internet, the other will possibly slide by quietly unnoticed.
When it was announced a ‘youthful’ Imps side were to travel to Gainsborough in the County Cup clash, they weren’t lying. City started at the Northolme with one veteran of 18-years old, four seasoned player of 17-years old and six who cannot yet legally learn to drive at 16-years old. Brighton found out last season that you cannot play men against boys no matter what quality the boys have, and so it proved today.
Trinity ran out comfortable 4-1 winners with ex-Imp Alex Simmons understandably delighted to bag a brace against the side that released him a couple of months ago. There’s no doubt Simmons is a useful player at National League North level, I think he might even play one step higher. Is he Football League quality? The Cowleys don’t think so but that is irrelevant now. He’ll do well at Gainsborough this season, and I hope that Trinity do well as a whole.
Our youth set-up is something that the managers are looking at closely, and some of the boys in there are rated highly, none more so than Ellis Chapman. He’s returning to City from Leicester and he stood out for me last weekend against Lincoln United. He’s not alone in the talent stakes though, and our younger players will benefit as the season progresses. There’s no shame in losing to a strong Trinity side, players such as Nathan Jarman have lots of experience as well as the physical edge.
Richard Walton became the first Imp to go out on loan and be able to play against us in six years. Today wasn’t quite as embarrassing as the last time though, David Holdsworth let Kyle Perry join Telford without stipulating he couldn’t play against us. Perry scored as we drew 1-1 in a crucial relegation battle, but today the impact was less severe. I’m told Walton is rated at Sincil Bank, hence being the only young pro from last season offered re-engagement terms. A season in the National League North will certainly test his ability to the fullest.
Whilst the historic pitch at the Northolme was witnessing a comfortable Trinity win, another pitch over in Portugal was hosting a far less reported match. The super-secret friendly against unnameable opposition took place, pitting Lincoln City against Millwall. I can understand the need for secrecy, even though it was behind closed doors there is an element of Millwall support that may have travelled and caused issues. I’ve seen the discussion raging on a Millwall message board since around the time I wrote this article which gives you an indication how long the match has been in the planning.
Doubtless tomorrow the highlights will be available on the new service on the website, but I’m told that most of the players got another 60 minutes in them as the Imps beat a strong Millwall side 1-0. It was our streamlined battering ram Matt Rhead that nodded in the only goal of the game from a Jordan Maguire-Drew cross. Without seeing the game there isn’t too much we can discuss, and I suspect tomorrow’s papers will tell our rivals of a heavy defeat at Gainsborough and not a battling win over a Championship side.
Was that more clever planning from DC? I doubt it, but you just never know. The lads have been in the Algarve working hard, putting in good displays against not only Millwall, but also a talented Benfica B side. Against Benfica it was JMD on the score sheet, and although you can’t read too much into friendlies, he seems to be involved an awful lot already. I’ve heralded the arrival of Matt Green and Billy Knott as the two key signings this season, but JMD might just surprise a few people, including myself. You don’t score 15 goals in the National League without having something about you, and he seems to have a goal in him, a cross that causes trouble and pace to burn. Those three things together should be sending shivers down the spine of our opponents.
There’s still a long way to go this pre-season too. Peterborough, Oxford and Walsall will all prove a stern test of our abilities without giving us cause to celebrate or cause for concern. Friendlies are very much an unknown quantity, and pre-season wins mean nothing come 3pm on August 5th. They serve one purpose, and one purpose alone and that is fitness. Each of our first team squad will now have played around 180 minutes of football inside seven days, against an Evo Stick North Division One side, the B team of one of Europe’s leading club sides, and a Championship side. That’s quite a collection of challenges and opponents that will each have offered something different for the players.
I’m not saying we’ve been ill-prepared in years gone by, that would be unnecessarily offensive to past regimes. However, I have witness us play marquee friendlies against the likes of Villa and Norwich, I’ve seen us draw with Ferencvaros and lose to Arsenal youths, but I can’t ever recall such an eclectic mix of opponents and settings as the past seven days. The backroom staff put a phenomenal amount of effort into ensuring our players are at peak physical fitness, DC and NC ensure that the right players are in the right positions within the squad, and that they are the right characters to carry us forward. The ingredients are all coming together for what should be another cracking season, even if Mansfield Town fans will look in the paper tomorrow and see we got hammered by Gainsborough.
The National League never saw us coming last season, and I’m beginning to wonder if League Two are making the same mistake all over again.