City have recorded a fine 2-1 win this afternoon, not by domination nor by superior skill, but purely by character and attitude. Danny Cowley’s side never knows when they’re beaten, they never give up fighting and more often than not, that pays dividends. There are no easy games in League Two, and this afternoon proved that.
Stevenage started the day in second place, unbeaten in the League with the wind of momentum behind them. They’ve ended it in fifth, beaten at home by a side that scored twice with a numerical disadvantage. From controlling the early exchanges against a lacklustre City, half time brought about a complete change. City came out hungry, fired up and not even the dismissal knocked us off our stride.
The Imps team selection was interesting, despite a decent draw against Luton last week Nathan Arnold found himself on the bench with fan-favourite Harry Anderson brought into the fold. Billy Knott continued out wide in the absence of Josh Ginnelly, but Josh did appear on the bench as he looks to return from injury.
The first half was tepid from City at best, Stevenage looked like a side playing with confidence. They scored a decent goal and could have had a couple more as they poured forward. City didn’t lack desire, but they were facing a side in good form on their own turf. That’s the Football League for you, the level is consistent and much higher than we’ve been used to. It was slightly ironic that the goal was scored by Matty Godden, a player mentioned by fans as one they’d like to see at City. Meanwhile up front for City Rhead looked to be struggling, and despite his hard work Matt Green didn’t get rewards for his hard work.
We know Lincoln City don’t give up though, and half time gave Danny a chance to get in his side’s ears. Matt Green might have been too enthusiastic as he encroached twice prior to the kick off, referee Anthony Backhouse producing a yellow card. To the letter of the law, it is a booking, but the Stevenage player was feigning taking the kick and drawing Matt into the centre circle. Green had made a rod for his own back though, and just seven minutes later he was sent off. Again, to the letter of the law, the referee made the correct decision. Green was clearly fouled and he showed his frustration by kicking the ball away, and immediately you could see he regretted it. Last week we saw a Luton player do the same, and the referee let it go. This weekend, no such leniency. City 1-0 down and reduced to ten men too: it looked like being a long afternoon.
Danny needed to act and he did just that. Ollie Palmer came on, a player that hasn’t truly won over the Imps fans, with Matt Rhead heading off. Rhead wouldn’t be suitable to lead the line on his own, and Palmer seemed the sensible option. He immediately changed the look of the attack, and within minutes City were level. After wasting most corners in the first half, a near post delivery was met by Sean Raggett with a resounding header. The keeper had no chance, and immediately the 1200 travelling fans erupted.
Michael Bostwick, another player I feel hasn’t hit the heights he threatens, suddenly moved up the gears as well. He started throwing himself around in midfield, and I wonder if he’s like the Incredible Hulk in that he only really moves into top gear when he’s angry. One challenge in particular was rousing, it was his ‘Braveheart’ moment. They might take our striker, they might take the lead, but they’ll never take…… OUR THREE POINTS.
City looked a completely different side with ten men, and if anyone was going to win the game it was us. With fifteen minutes left our endeavour finally got a just reward. Chris Whelpdale inexplicably handled in the area under no pressure at all, gifting City a chance to take the lead. In the absence of Matt Rhead the question of who would take it arose, but Ollie Palmer stepped up and made no mistake. Sometimes a player needs one performance or moment to truly arrive as a player at a new club, and if anyone was still doubting Ollie’s value then this was it. The penalty was calmly slotted home, but the composure he showed was typical of a Lincoln City player of late. At 2-1 there was still a chance the eleven men of Stevenage could get back into the game, but Whelpdale would not be involved, he was taken off moments after the goal.
The game threatened to boil over, and Luke Wilkinson did level things with ten minutes left, but not the score line. His cynical stamp on Alex Woodyard brought the red card out of Anthony Backhouse’s pocket once again, absolutely the correct decision. As he trudged off the pitch, he took with him Stevenage’s chance of getting anything from the game. Even if they were plotting a way back, Paul Farman ensured they barely had time to do it as he ate up minutes as the game ran down. He took a yellow card for his troubles, but nobody will be complaining about that.
Our other County sides took thrashings today, Gainsborough lost 4-0, Boston lost 5-2 and Lincoln United lost 3-0. At 1-0 down with ten men, Lincoln could have joined them, but we have a team full of leaders, players that won’t give up, won’t let their heads drop and will never be beaten for desire, application and commitment. Michael Bostwick was superb, Sean Raggett led from the back and Billy Knott had a super second 45 minutes. Ollie Palmer came on at a tough time and ran himself into the ground. We believed we were going to win the game when we came out in the second half, and nothing was going to stop that. I’ll take a season of lukewarm first forty-five minutes if we perform like we did in the second half every time.
Danny Cowley acknowledged the first half was not good enough. Talking to Michael Hortin after the game he said:
“We were really disappointed with ourselves at half time, it’s not often we get out-run or out-fought but I thought we did in the first half. We had a lot to ponder at half time. I’m not going to come on here and start singing their praises because they’ve only given half a performance today.”
It might have been a poor first half, but the gaffer was delighted with the response.
“Second half they showed me the determination, desire and resilience that we know they have. We showed huge fight to be 1-0 down with ten men to win the game, but we have to question why we got ourselves into that position in the first fifty minutes of the game.”
Danny sounded angry, he spoke faster than usual as he discussed the referee performance, something he tries not to get drawn into.
“I think he (Matt) was frustrated. I don’t want to talk about referees but I’ve never seen anyone booked from a kick off, particularly when their player is feigning to take a quick one on three occasions. I’m not going to be critical of individuals in the media. What I will say is Matt will win us lots of games of football this season. He’s hell of a player, he’ll be disappointed with himself today.”
It wasn’t just the red card for Matt Green that had pulses racing though, a first half challenge on Sean Long left the player facing six weeks out. When Michael said ‘five yellows and a red today, it didn’t feel like that sort of game’, Danny was firm and concise.
“No, it didn’t did it? I thought it was a competitive game. Sean Long has stud marks about half way up his leg and that wasn’t even given as a free kick….”
He paused, contemplating his words carefully. Clearly Danny had thoughts on the officiating he wasn’t going to share, or perhaps he wanted to ensure he articulated them in a manner which was consistent with his usual rhetoric of respecting referees.
“It’s not easy, I appreciate it’s two teams going at it on the front foot, but I was surprised with the application of some of the laws today. Once Sean took his sock off, there’s no way he can carry on, it’s horrific. Ten years ago that was just a good challenge, but the rules have changes, rightly or wrongly. Now, you are not allowed to use excessive force, and that was excessive force and it was really high. That’s player safety. If that’s not even a foul, you have to question it.”
When quizzed about the impact of losing Sean and Matt he returned to his usual witty self.
“I’ll expect us to be fresh on Tuesday because we only played 45 minutes today.”
Danny was clearly angry despite the win, but on the terraces the travelling faithful were delighted. Pre-match reports of potential heavy-handed stewarding were way wide of the mark, most fans report laid back match day staff, willing to let our huge following enjoy the game, even when it got heated on the field in the second half.
All in all, no matter how Danny sees it from the inside, this was a massive result for City. To fight back after a poor first half showed all the qualities of the side that won the National League last season, albeit with a better group of players. Michael Bostwick and Neal Eardley bring a certain experience which is going to be vital, and whilst the personnel is different in parts, the outcome is the same. We do not cave in, we do not stop fighting and we do not give games away cheaply. We have Mansfield up next Saturday, and you’d hope we could go into that match with a win against Forest Green under our belts too. One thing is for certain, whatever happens at the New Lawn you know we’ll go there and compete, at least for the second forty-five minutes.
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