Time for me to retract a statement that I made several times last season, and again heading in to this campaign. I openly stated that the quality between most of League Two and the National League wasn’t that far apart. I was wrong.
I think many have been surprised by the quality shown, certainly by the likes of Morecambe who were amongst the favourites to go down. Instead of steaming into this division, all guns blazing with seven points from nine, I think we’ve found it challenging. Danny wasn’t under any illusions, but I was.
Many of you were too, and I’ve heard lots of people stating they knew it would be difficult. Surprisingly I didn’t hear too many people saying it when we won the league last year. The underlying feeling then was that we were capable of gong straight through League Two. A pair of draws and a defeat so far are testament to the fact it isn’t all going our way.
That said, we’re not playing badly. I’ve watched Imps teams start the season with a similar record, but they’ve been limp wristed and devoid of ideas too. I’ve seen worse Imps teams get off to winning starts, managing to snatch opening day wins over poor Barnet sides. This team, the squad as a whole even, are competitive, organised and focused. We’re not without a win through lack of trying, lack of ability or a lack of hope. If the rub of the green had gone our way we should certainly have done Morecambe four or five one, and on a better day we could have snatched the Wycombe game. If we’re being objective I think a draw at Exeter would have been a fair result.
We’re creating chances, our players look match fit and sharp for ninety minutes and our patterns of play are developing too. Michael Bostwick and Alex Woodyard are working well together, Matt Green looks really lively and we have superb combinations of players out wide.
Here’s the issue; I’m not sure we’ll be out of the bottom five come the start of October. This may seem incredibly negative, but having looked at the fixtures I can see a few hard-fought draws coming our way. Mansfield at home, Luton at home, Notts County away and Grimsby away are all going to be tight games in which a point would (arguably) be a decent result. We could be playing well, doing the right things and still be in the bottom five come the end of September.
I am confident though that nothing would change. Danny and Nicky believe in their approach, and as yet I’ve seen nothing to suggest it isn’t the right approach. Exeter and Wycombe were either in the play-offs or knocking on the door last season, and we matched both. Today’s opponents were beaten semi-finalists too, and I think we’ll take something from the game. Even if we’re still swimming against the tide in a month’s time there will be no rash boardroom decisions, no panic buying of goalkeepers or ostracising of players for missing chances. We will continue to be professional, believe in ourselves and apply ourselves correctly. Other teams may lose their heads in that situation, but not Lincoln City, not this Lincoln City.
If we do struggle for results as we acclimatise to League Two then I hope the fans will remain on the club’s side. I’m not just looking at the returning fans here either; many were quick to get on Chris Moyses’ back when things didn’t go so well despite us moving forward. It isn’t always those so-called new or returning fans that are likely to start the negative stuff, it is everyone. We’re all one now, looking back at sub 2,000 attendances fondly is a folly and will only open divides amongst a fan base that we need to be united. If everyone could see training sessions, if everyone could get half an hour with Liam Scully, or watch the players interacting, then you’d know there is nothing at this club that suggests we won’t be competitive once we find our feet properly.
I was around the club when Jacko was in charge, Tilson, Sutton and even (to a degree) John Schofield. Often they said the right things when the chips were down, Jacko in particular always had an answer, an excuse or a media-friendly soundbite. Those managers said the right things in the face of adversity, and Danny Cowley does the same. The distinct difference is that Danny Cowley also does the right things as well, in the way he sets up his team, they way he treats his players and the way he conducts himself. The smiley face in the press conference isn’t a façade, the talk of tactics and thorough approaches isn’t just bluster and showmanship. He talks the talk, but also walks the walk.
I know 99% of you reading this won’t need asking to stay behind the lads if come September the good ship Lincoln City sails into choppy waters. We have more of an advantage at Sincil Bank this season than we’ve had since the early eighties. Packed stands, vocal fans and an intimidating atmosphere for visiting supporters. That is a safety net for our players when things are tough, we’re there to help turn those matches around. When Morecambe scored two weeks ago the loudest cheer came from our supporters for our team. If September is hard going then the lads will need that backing even when things are tough, and come October, November and December I think we’ll see any faith we’ve had to show repaid twice over. Danny Cowley’s teams only get stronger as the season goes on, and I firmly believe that will be the case this season as well.
No matter what happens today, keep the faith, and don’t bother looking at a League Table until Halloween.