2359 days ago I walked away from Sincil Bank having witnessed us beat Southend United 2-1. It never crossed my mind I would have to wait so long for the Imps next Football League win at home, but finally we got what we have been waiting for today as we soundly thumped Carlisle by four goals to one.
I’m not going to come out with some corny line about it being worth the wait because no result is worth waiting that long for, but that doesn’t take away from what was a superb win. I’d like to personally congratulate Danny and Nicky on their first ever win in the Football League. I could tell in his interview Danny wanted to say ‘it is our first win’, but quickly changed it to ‘back in the league’ so it encompassed the whole team. Let’s not forget for us it’s nice to be back, for the men that got us here it’s all new territory. Not that you’d guess because they handled the game superbly from a tactical point of view.
Firstly, Carlisle. I was impressed with them, they were organised and got from back to front quickly, or to use another phrase, they played long ball. I had taken Keith Curle’s comments about us playing direct a little too personally, and very soon it became clear the reason he understands our game so well is because he employs it himself. The outcome is different, rather than looking for a flick on into the channel they look to bring it down and play it across the 18-yard area trying to tease an opening, but the route they use to get there is pretty much the same. They, like us, showed an ability to mix it when they needed to as well. It might pain some fans, but they’re very much like us, apart from we’ve got a rich vein of class running through our team, and they perhaps lack one or two vital components.
I was especially impressed with their front two, Ritchie Bennett and Hallam Hope, certainly in the first half. They worked tirelessly to penetrate our back lines, and were it not for some staunch defending from Raggs and Luke we could have found ourselves trailing. I also liked the look of their central midfielder, Mike Jones. He had composure on the ball and was involved in anything they chose to put through the middle of the park.
Anyway, this isn’t a Carlisle blog so that is enough about them. The next figure from today I’d like to discuss is experienced referee Eddie Ilderton and his linesman Michael D’Aguilar. In the first half I thought both had absolute stinkers, my case point being the 100% stonewall penalty on Matt Green as Mark Ellis hauled him down in the area. I’ve seen marginal penalty shouts turned down recently, but there was nothing marginal about that. He was dragged to the floor and both officials missed it. The linesman compounded the agony by flagging Rhead every time the ball went near him. Officials need to realise Matt Rhead is a human being, it hurts his feelings when he is clearly fouled and nothing is given. He might be big and bad but he can be fouled, he is regularly fouled and as yet I’ve not seen a sympathetic referee. They didn’t influence the result, and in the second half their performance was better, but even though the standard of football is significantly different in League Two, the standard of officials is not.
On to the Imps, and a fairly complete display against a side far better than the Morecambe team we failed to beat. I thought we went about things the right way, utilising the pace and awareness of Matt Green excellently with the power of Matt Rhead. It isn’t one dimensional which is what Danny alluded to in his press conference, and occasionally we looked to build down the flanks as well. Carlisle doubled up on Rheady for a while, but in the second half they seemed to change their approach to his threat, and he started getting much more joy. For a team that did their homework and boasted about it in the media, I didn’t think they did enough to combat our multiple routes to goal.
Our first goal came the same way many of our goals will come this season, from the tenacity and determination of Matt Green. He refused to give up the ball even when it wasn’t entirely under his control, and when Alex strode towards it you have expected row Z to duck in avoidance. Instead he placed a beautiful effort past the despairing keeper. In his post-match interview Alex said he’s been working on his finishing, and his measured shot showed all the hallmarks of a well-practised technique.
After the goal we looked to slow the game down a little. The full backs were having good games, Eardley in particular stood out. He misplaced on or two passes, but on the whole his class is really showing through. He’s composed on the ball and as Farms said on Thursday he has cultured feet. He switches from left foot to right comfortably and uses that to beat opponents. He has a wicked burst of pace too, and his crossing was dangerous throughout the match. On the other flank Sean Long put in a solid ninety minutes, but I fear he’ll have to fight hard when Sam comes back.
The game threatened to boil over a couple of times, not least because of the apparent inconsistent officiating when it came to blocking the keeper’s kicks. Matt Green appeared to impede their keeper without being punished, whilst Ritchie Bennett did the same to Farman and got a booking. My interpretation was that Green didn’t step across their keeper as he kicked the ball, whereas Bennett stepped right in front of Farman as he released the ball. It was harsh and if I’d been in the blue end of the ground I would have been riled. I’m not sure whether I would have been riled enough to later throw a smoke bomb over the stand and into the ground though.
I’m not sure anyone thought at half time the score would remain 1-0, it hadn’t been nip and tuck by any stretch of the imagination. It had been a competitive and engrossing game of football. There was always going to be more goals.
Quite what Alex Woodyard had for breakfast this morning I don’t know, but he was the unlikely scorer of our second as well. this time it was Matt Rhead the creator, threading a fine pass through for Woodyard who found himself in an unusually advanced position. He never broke stride as he collected the pass, powered into the area and fired the ball past Jack Bonham. 2-0 and you would have thought it would be game over.
On 68 minutes it was, and once again it was Matt Green causing the issues. He works the channels so well, and he’s tenacious in possession. I lost count of how many times he seemed to bulldoze his way through players and still retain possession, and on this occasion their defender got beaten for pace. He hauled Green down and gave the ref no option but to award a penalty and give Tom Parkes a second yellow. Both his fouls were bookings, there can be no complaints at all. The main complaint came from Alex Woodyard who wanted the penalty, but Matt Rhead wanted his first Football League goal since March 2015, and he wasn’t going to be dissuaded. I confess I always fear when Rheady takes a penalty, but he made no mistake. At 3-0 you knew we’d secured all three points, especially as they had ten men. Keith Curle threw on three subs, and we settled down to close the game out.
It didn’t feel like that was the end of it though, I remarked to Dave (the lad I sit with) that I felt there was goals in the game, possibly at both ends. Our wait for a clean sheet goes on after an innocuous looking run from Reggie Lambe resulted in a smart finish from a tight angle. Farms looked at his defence, they looked back and you just knew the video replay was already being uploaded to Danny’s phone so the players could take collective responsibility on Monday morning. One blot on the copy book, but still not the end of the scoring I felt.
The game opened up in the final 15 minutes, Carlisle poured forward hoping for some sort of an unlikely comeback, and we in turn surged forward looking to wrap up our win. Billy Knott had come on before the second goal and looked every inch the class act he is, but when Harry joined him on 73 minutes we had two very exciting players fresh and eager to impress. Anderson caused all sorts of issues for the hapless Danny Grainger at left back, whilst Knott made his passes look effortless but cultured. As gaps appeared we had more than one chance to push the envelope, and when we did wrap up the game it was a real corker. Anderson had created panic with a surge forward, and we looked to seep through the holes in their defence. Green’s mere presence caused panic, and Billy Knott was the beneficiary. It took him a second bite of the cherry, but after it found him in space a second time he didn’t need asking again. It was perhaps the pick of the finishes, another placed effort much like Alex’s first goal past the stranded keeper. You could see what it meant to Billy as well, he ran up to the block seven area and saluted the fans. He didn’t need to say anything, his actions said it all. That is what he is capable of, and he is desperate for a chance to do it every week.
That was that, ninety pulsating minutes of football, a score line that perhaps flattered us in terms of margin, but a game we absolutely deserved to win. Nobody is getting carried away, I stick by the whole ‘judge them in October’ rhetoric from this morning, but it is bloody nice to be here writing about a Football League win. I imagine somewhere in Essex now there are two very happy brothers silently toasting their achievement. It’s never about them, always about the team. It’s never about where they’re going, always where the team is going. Tonight though, two very special brothers have won the first of many Football League matches they will triumph in over the next twenty years or so. I hope they afford themselves a little glass of wine and a moment to enjoy their evening, because that’s exactly what I’ll be doing thanks to them and the fourteen red and white shirted players from this afternoon.
Now we really are back, we’re up, running and ready to pit our wits against the very best. With Luton to visit next week, we won’t have to wait long.
Thanks to Graham Burrell, pics are clearly not from today though!