My apologies for the lateness of today’s blog, last night I hit the red wine with friends, this morning I’ve been off watching the Shakespeare Imps and Saxilby in the Sunday League. Anyway, better late than never, here’s my views on the game.
As always, I’ll start with the opposition, this time the fans. There was clearly a big police presence in town preempting any trouble, but as far as I’m aware there wasn’t any. I did witness one unsavoury incident, two Lincoln ‘fans’ walking to the ground behind two Luton fans. The Imps fans were clearly the worse for wear and (without sounding elitist) ‘not all there’. They were hurling abuse at the two fearful looking Luton fans, both wearing shirts and scarves. The police and match day security were on them like a wasp on an open coke can, and I suspect they didn’t see any match action. Good.
I thought Luton were a properly supported club, passionate about their own team, humorous with their chants and ultimately good-natured. The funniest chant you’ll hear all season came when they clocked sight of Sid. ‘It’s coming for you, it’s coming for you, Diabetes, it’s coming for you’. It might not be what Sid wants to hear, but it was bloody funny. All in all they played their part in making this a proper Football League encounter, the type of occasion we’ve missed so badly over the past six years.
As for their side, they were very good. We were fortunate to see Collins go off early, both him and that odious Hylton creature looked really sharp, but with him coming off I thought they lost a bit of bite. I expected a bit more from Luke Berry in the centre of the park, but as he settles they’ll only get better. I’m sick of hearing ‘if you finish above Luton, you’ll be promoted’, but it is correct. If you are above them after 46 games you will be a League One side next season. I can see how they’ve torn apart teams such as Yeovil, and they will do again this season. Here’s my prediction; they’ll not feature in another 0-0 draw this campaign. In ‘him’ (I’m not saying his name again’) they have a really talented striker, despised by opposition and loved by his own. Think ‘Matt Rhead’, but with a lack of class off the pitch and on it. Rheady winds up opposition, celebrates in front of fans and all of that, but off the pitch you don’t get him on Twitter bad-mouthing opposition or ‘fishing’ for people to hate him.
That’s enough of Luton, I didn’t go to watch them. Yesterday was by far the most entertaining 0-0 draw I have seen at Sincil Bank, to a man we were excellent. We harried, we harassed and we chased everything we needed to. Yes, we went long for parts of the game, but nobody gives us credit when we do play it about. We got down the flanks plenty with the ball on the deck, Neal Eardley and Sean Long both had excellent games. I’ve got to call them out equally too, they carried out their tasks to perfection. I’m wondering how Danny is going to set up when Sam is back to full fitness, because I think Eardley has been one of our best players this season, and Sean Long has improved with every second he’s had on the pitch. Often Dan Potts had time to move forward for Luton from left back, and the crowd were on our lads backs for not closing him down. I think Danny was happy to let them have possession in the middle third if it was out wide. We seemed happy to make the game quite narrow, possibly crowding out ‘him’ and their creative midfield players. It was interesting to hear Danny say how Luton used all of the park; I think our game plan was not to be drawn into stretching the game.
The one exception to that was Billy Knott (pictured top). It was interesting to see Knott out wide as he isn’t really a winger, and he had a tendency to drift inside, thus narrowing the play. I’m not sure that was by accident, I’m not sure anything we do on the pitch tactically is by accident. However, he ran everything down, chased every ball but didn’t really get the success his endeavour deserved. He had a decent game though, flashed a good effort wide of goal too. He’s such a talented player, Danny’s current predicament has to be fitting him into the system.
I thought Alex Woodyard was the best player on the pitch, we won the midfield battle hands down. He’s live wire, literally covering every blade of grass and rarely putting a foot wrong. It might be that Michael Bostwick has allowed him more freedom, but we must be careful not to reinvent the wheel. Alex was our Player of the Year last time out, he has far more pace than Bostwick and after a man beats him, he can get back and still win the ball. Bozzie, in my opinion, can’t do that. I’m not being critical but at present I haven’t seen this League One quality from Bostwick we thought we had gotten when we signed him. I’m sure it’s adjusting to our style, but of the two players it is Woodyard who looks more like the former Championship player.
Much was said of the back four and central midfield duo yesterday, but very few people mentioned the running of Matt Green. I’ve seen all-but two of City’s games so far this season, and I’m in a position to make a bold statement I feel. Matt Green is the best centre forward I have ever seen play for Lincoln City. He works harder than Taylor-Fletcher, he has more contribution outside the box than Simon Yeo, he’s stronger than Jason Lee…. I can’t think of a City player post-1987 that I think is better than Matt Green. His ‘for’ column will start with a two in May if he stays injury free too. To have him leading our line this year isn’t just exciting, it is an honour. If Steve Evans thinks Lee Angol is a better player, he needs to lay off the funny-fags.
Something we noticed in the game, and I’m sure Danny did too, was Paul Farman’s kicking. On at least on occasion he bounced the ball before booting it forward, and although the referee didn’t pick up on that, it’s an indirect free kick as far as I’m aware. Something to watch Farms. That said, his harassing of their lad when we contrived to gift them an effort was excellent, and he got back into position too. We had some nervy moments, against Luton Town you expect nothing less, but I feel confident when a team attacks that we have a keeper capable of stopping a good portion of efforts at his goal.
We were very compact yesterday, and with Rheady playing the link role between Green and the midfield we often had a huge gap in front of Bozzie and Alex. That may have been intentional, Luton can’t hurt us for seventy yards up the pitch, so maybe the plan was to let them have control of that area but remain solid further back. Again some fans got on the players backs for not chasing down, but as soon as you start chasing Luton they hurt you. They poured into empty space like sand falling in an egg timer, they key to our success was to block the space. In the end they resorted to balls over the top for ‘him’, and that suited us. The comments afterwards from ‘him’ were that we were a rugby side, humping the ball forward. Oddly he was the only one to attempt a try by grabbing the ball and getting it on the turf, and he was dominated in the air by our on-loan defender Sean Raggett. Nobody can deny we play long ball, but not for ninety minutes and we’re not the only ones to do it.
We could have wrapped the game up, it might not have been a fair reflection of an even game, but we could have won it. The break I refer to was on 89 minutes, Nathan strode away with two in support and two defenders to beat. Their lad cynically clipped him, a challenge from behind with no attempt to get the ball. Was it a red card? I’m afraid not. If one of our lads had done it we’d take the yellow and comment on a ‘sensible’ foul. It wasn’t sensible for Nathan, it looked like it bloody hurt, and it wasn’t even close to be fair or sporting. This is professional football though, you play to win and teams like Luton don’t finish in the top five or six by playing ‘fair’ all the time; they have ‘him’ up front for heaven’s sake. The only way that is a red is if the referee deems it a tackle from behind, which I’m sure many will argue it was. If the shirts were the other way around we’d be screaming how he wasn’t the last man, and we’d be right.
I thought the ref had a decent game, he could have flashed an early card, made a rod for his own back and ended up sending a couple off, but he let a combative game flow and it was a better spectacle for it. He didn’t give us everything we wanted, but he called it fairly and consistently.
When you put everything aside and take the emotion out of the game, when you look at this result objectively, we were bloody excellent. We’ve held the title favourites 0-0, a team featuring at least two six-figure players in Collins and Berry, and we’ve come out with a point. Either side could have won it, neither side deserved too, but how much of a compliment is it that big-spending Luton Town, 8-2 winners on the opening day, were happy with a draw at Lincoln after about 70 minutes? What does that tell you about where we are? A damn sight more than a league table can after five or six games, that is for sure.
There’s no denying it, Lincoln City are back and, in my opinion, we’re as good as we’ve been at any point in my thirty years of watching the Imps. To end, ask yourself this. How many time under Big Keith did you come away feeling we hadn’t competed? They were magical times, but how often did you leave disappointed with the product served up? Ditto Colin Murphy? Both great managers whom I am not attempting to tarnish in any way, but they had teams of fighters, often uncomplicated fighters that just battled and fought, sometimes playing football, other times leaving you wishing you still had you entrance money in your pocket and the option of not going.
Now, how many times have you truly come away from a Lincoln City match managed by Danny Cowley and felt you’ve not had your money’s worth? How many times during his tenure have a side come to Sincil Bank, National League, League Two, even Championship, and truly outclassed us? How many times have you been disappointed with the performances or efforts of the players? I bet you can count those times on the horns of your rainbow-coloured unicorn.
Thanks to Lincoln City FC and Graham Burrell for today’s pictures.