Okay I admit it: for the next few minutes you’re going to be listening to a bit of over-enthusiasm from a writer slightly drunk on success. Victory tonight has got me thinking that perhaps, just perhaps, we are going to be challenging for the top seven.
Firstly, the game. City were efficient, infinitely better in all aspects of the match and just lacked the killer touch or lucky ball. It is clear one side promoted last season have acquitted themselves well, and the others are rudderless. FGR didn’t have a clue what to do to break us down, there wasn’t really one dangerous effort at goal, and they lacked any discernible plan or approach. They played as eleven average individuals thrown together by fate. Amusingly their sole approach towards the end was ‘lump it to the big man’, something Cooperman was berating us for back in May. I’ll tell you something, Mark Cooper is a sitting duck, he’s in the sights of Dale Vince and Vince is ready to pull the trigger (humanely one assumes, probably a tranquiliser dart before Cooperman is released safely into the wild. You know these vegans….).
I suspect he wants to desperately wants build FGR’s reputation within the football community and he doesn’t want to go firing the manager that promoted them as it’d be received negatively by the media. It must be a nightmare for Vince, he’ll know Cooper should have gone last year, but thanks to Tranmere’s capitulation he got to cling on. Now the question is when does he fire him and not come out of it with bad press? Soon I’d wager.
Harry Anderson’s start is a good thing for Imps fans too. Anderson is a superb wide player, he’s so quick and direct, and he didn’t come here to sit on the bench. Danny has been coy with starting him so far this season, but tonight we saw the qualities that earned him such a strong reputation last season. His goal was opportunistic, made by his own tenacity and finished with aplomb. Remember, this boy is on a three-year deal, but I suspect with a run in the team he’ll be attracting Sean Raggett-style attention before too long.
Amusingly their sole approach towards the end was ‘lump it to the big man’, something Cooperman was berating us for back in May.
I wondered if Rheady (pictured top) starting on the bench was the ultimate managing of small margins by Danny. He’d know which way FGR like to kick at the start of the game, most teams have an ‘end’ they usually attack first. Supposing he gets to the ground and realises that they’ll be kicking with the wind behind them in the first half. He tells Alex Woodyard that if we win the toss, we kick into the wind. If they win the toss likelihood is they’ll kick off, and thus we’ll be kicking into the wind.
He then drops Matt Rhead, knowing that for the first half the long ball is not going to be effective. He goes with the smaller, more mobile players knowing there will be a lot of running to do battling against the elements. In the second half, with the wind behind us, we bring on the big man. FGR will have set up for us not playing Rheady, and with the wind behind us the long balls will land on his head. They’ll have to readjust during the game, possibly they’ll become a little disorganised. Far fetched? Maybe, but this is Danny Cowley. Maybe it was just to freshen things up, but given that it was Billy Knott moved into the centre and Nathan Arnold returned to the side, were things really that fresh? Both those players have played most of the opening matches.
Anyway, we won. It was a game deep down we all expected to win, and the sort of game any side in the top seven will be expected to win. What we did was efficiently carry out the task and bring home the points, just like we did last season. It was routine, doing what was expected and that is exactly why I am getting excited.
The Lincoln City I’ve known and loved for the last 30-odd years don’t do the things expected of them. If there’s a big match that they need to win, they usually lose. If there’s a promotion we look as if we’re going to make, we usually fail at the last hurdle. We were the masters of creating hope and dashing it, even when we were at our best. Southend 2005? Almost avoiding relegation in 1999? Missing out on the play-offs by two goals in 1992? Failing to pick up enough points in eleven games to avoid the drop? We get so close to achieving our goals, but rarely do. It’s rarely us celebrating in the streets, we more likely skulk off into the horizon muttering something about ‘next year’.
Last season we got everything right. We won all of the ‘you have to win against these if you’re going to challenge’ games. We won all the top of the table clashes. We won most of the routine home matches, the bread and butter games that fill up a season without being noteworthy. When it came down to it, we performed whenever we needed to in league and cup. It was a unique experience for an Imps fan, and I didn’t think we’d get there again.
Losing at Exeter made me suspect we could be looking at mid-table this year. They’re a decent side, and I wasn’t sure we had what it took to compete with anyone better than them in the league. It was my ‘Dagenham’ moment of last season, the moment when sobriety kicks in and you realise you’re not as good as you think you are. Then we started getting results, and I took another swig from the hope bottle.
Are we in with a shout here? Come May will we still be involved in the chase for promotion, or even better will we be promoted?
The results since Exeter have been building my hope-meter ever since. Drawing with Luton was pivotal, it proved we’re as good as the best in this division. Winning against Carlisle and Stevenage eradicated my doubts we couldn’t kill teams off even if we played well. Morecambe had been an eye opener, but since then we’ve proven we can score goals.
I’m now looking at the top three, Notts County, Exeter and Accrington and wondering if any of them are really better than us, significantly? Exeter beat us but on another day we could have won the game. We weren’t outclassed, and as for Notts County, Terry Hawkridge starts every game and was essentially deemed not good enough for our first team. Accrington have had a decent start, but the struggling Cods beat them tonight.
Are we in with a shout here? Come May will we still be involved in the chase for promotion, or even better will we be promoted? Is this side good enough, and can it continue to develop into a side worthy of League One football? (Told you I was optimistic).
So far all I have seen from Lincoln are positive signs. The squad is superb, a little light on numbers but packed out with real quality. Our managers are the best in the business at this level, their man-management is like no other and they have the reputation in the industry to attract players. Tactically they’re spot on, they rarely get it wrong and when they do, they hold their hands up. They are hungry and eager and they want to achieve things with our football club.
Financially we’re comfortable, the FA Cup run not only kept the wolves from the door, but it has financed a sensibly assembled squad good enough to compete. There’s clearly still money in the kitty after the Akinola deal fell down, and we’ll be active when we get the chance. There’s no off-field turmoil to speak of, no growing issues that will eventually derail the campaign. Everyone is on the same wavelength, pulling in the same direction.
Then you have the fans. With Coventry’s pitiful attendance this evening (pitiful by their standard), City will have the highest average of anyone in League Two. When you consider we have Grimsby, Coventry, Port Vale, Swindon and Notts County in our division, that is some feat. If we’re battling up the top all season, you can guarantee we’d sell out of season tickets again. It will be the longest I have seen such strong attendances sustain at Sincil Bank.
Is this the best time to be a Lincoln City fan since I’ve been watching the club? Have we ever had so many factors all coming together in this manner? Promotion last season, looking more than competitive this season, and all of those other factors I’ve already mentioned. I can’t think of a time when it has ever been this positive. I appreciate it’s early days, but if the film is as good as the trailer then we’re in for another epic season.
We now need some luck on our side. With just three full backs we must ensure we remain as injury free as possible. Much relies on some of our players being able to cover in different positions, and a couple of injuries could spell trouble. What if Alex got injured and Bozzie suspended? Or if Sean Long is still out and Neal Eardley gets sent off? The management of the squad will have to be spot on, and we’ll need that little bit of luck. If January comes and we need to buy in cover players then we can, but from now until then we just need some good fortune in remaining as injury free as possible.
This Lincoln City is a different class, and when speaking of class it is notable what little Forest Green actually have. They may be seen as the fashionable club, the eco-conscious eco-friendly boys from the country, but that is far from the truth. The spitting incident at full-time is disgusting, and it’ll be interesting to see how they react to that. I’m also told our 350 or so travelling fans were made to stand in the rain whilst a covered stand remained empty. What sort of club would not look to move the soaked visitors? Apparently they want the covered areas behind the goal filled with home fans to increase the atmosphere. Less than 1500 for a home game? They need to fill one end before getting ideas of filling the other. Not that the fans have motivation to turn up, given that the club captain basically called them embarrassing on the radio. Ouch, couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch. Danny even joked that he made more noise than the Forest Green fans. Double ouch.
We may have both come up last season, but there is a gulf in class between us and tonight’s opponents, and by the end of the season I suspect there will be a hell of a lot of points between us as well.
Thanks to Lincoln City FC & Graham Burrell for the pictures