A win is a win, they all count whether it is a free flowing ninety minutes of samba soccer or a hard-fought narrow victory against well-matched opposition. This afternoon was neither but the end result was the same. A below-par City racked up their seventh point from nine against a visibly down-trodden Chesterfield side.
As always I’ll start with the opposition, and it is clear to me Jack Lester has a big job on his hands. His side looked, in the main, clueless as to how to approach the game this afternoon. It was their dismal first half showing that made our average display look good, and even with a late goal and their fans energised they never truly troubled Josh Vickers. In very small patches they played football in nice patterns, that could be the early influence of their former centre-forward rubbing off, but he has a mammoth task picking them up off the floor. Two weeks ago Barnet looked awful first half but showed in the second why they’re a decent side, and lowly Morecambe had spells in our early season encounter. I can’t find the positive in our opponents this afternoon, everything that Chesterfield created was of our own doing, giving away silly free kicks, or the referee gifting the odd dubious decision also.
The penalty, and it was a penalty I’m afraid, was just reward for them never giving up, but their efforts on goal were often incredibly poor (and that was the good ones). They had two free kicks on the edge of the area in the first half, the second of which Josh Vickers did pull off a world-class save, but that was the total outcome of their endeavours. Sure, they harried and harassed and looked like a team that wanted to do well, but they’re seriously lacking in quality. Chris O’Grady was an embarrassment up front, petulant and niggly without an end product to match. We’ve seen players of his ilk at Luton (Danny Hylton) and in our own ranks (Matt Rhead) but to carry it off you need to have some sort of input with the ball and he had none. In order to avoid a long season of relegation torment Jack needs to keep them tighter than he did today and hope Forest are generous with loaning young talent in January.
A word on the Chesterfield fans though, they’re proper football fans. They sang loud for most of the game, swinging from eternally-hopeful to self-deprecation and back again. They’re fans that know, in a nutshell, their team is awful but they still turn out in their numbers to support them. I applaud them for that and I genuinely wish them well for the rest of the season. There are at least ten teams I’d rather see relegated than the Spireites and hopefully now we have three points they’ll pick up a bit because those fans deserve it.
On to us, I’m afraid to say I thought we were average throughout. I’m going to have to be harsh on one or two players in the blog, please don’t start screaming ‘negativity’ and all that rubbish. I write what I see whether we have won or not, you wouldn’t expect any different. I know we got three points but that was down to eight or nine, not the full eleven.
Jordan Maguire-Drew. He’s a player with bags of skill, a few tricks and a wicked left foot. Today, out wide on the right, he looked like a little boy who had lost his Mum in a supermarket. The game plan may have been for the wingers to come inside and the full backs to overlap, it looked that way over on the other side of the pitch, but Neal Eardley ploughed a lone furrow up and down the right whilst JMD did what I term to be a ‘Kevin Gall’. He was full of running, often away from the ball, and he looks like a player low on confidence. Granted, this blog won’t help pick him up if he reads it, but my honest assessment was he had his worst game in a Lincoln shirt.
One passage of play suggested to me the player we signed is trying to burst out, in the first half he jinxed past the same full back three times in succession, going back to beat him again before whipping a cross into the area. That is what he has come to do, but on the right hand side he didn’t look at all comfortable. On the way home, during his BBC Radio Lincolnshire interview, Alex Woodyard (rather amusingly) said that the Imps fans were like ‘the eleventh man’. I chuckled suggesting he misspoke and Pete, driving me home, said “no, Maguire-Drew was playing, so effectively we only had ten.” Cruel, but not an afternoon he’ll be keeping the newspaper reports from in my opinion.
A player that worked harder but to similar none-effect was Ollie Palmer. I get it, he’s a big man who has more ability with the ball in front of him than in the air, but surely he can get a few feet off the ground to win a header, can’t he? It is telling that Matt Green looked as isolated up front today as he did when he was partnered by the big man Matt Rhead, and apparently Rhead doesn’t have enough mobility to create a phase of play and then join in with it too. I actually thought the latter stages of today were custom-made for Matt Rhead, maybe I’ve been playing too much Football Manager.
So that is the critical stuff out-of-the-way. I thought we started brightly against a really poor side, and at 2-0 we threatened to run away with it. Harry was superb early doors, a couple of really wicked crosses after good link up play led to the goals. I don’t buy this ‘they scored for us’ malarkey either, own goals come about by applying pressure and attacking the right areas. The cross from Harry for the second was textbook, pull it across goal at pace when players are running in and it could go anywhere. It was Harry that scored that goal, no matter who got the final touch, by virtue of his excellent delivery. As for the first, it might have taken a couple of deflections but Bozzie got a shot off, on target, with enough pace to ricochet off a player but not be cleared with ease. I think the dubious goals panel might just have a look at it though, but they all count. Bozzie will bag a couple from that position this season, mark my words.
Chesterfield might have been poor up front but they were dealt with professionally by our solid back four. It is a shame Sean Raggett is out next week especially as Jabo Ibhere is up top for Cambridge, because that would have been a quality match-up. Instead it’ll be Dickie and former Captain Marvel, Luke Waterfall which will give us yet another permutation across the back. The key to a strong back four is continuity and with Eardley, Habergham, Dickie and Raggett we’re beginning to get that. Sam looked back to the levels he ended last season on and he combined well with Harry when the opportunity arose. Over on the other side Neal Eardley is simply a cut above this level, he’s composed and reads the game like a child’s book. He looked alone at times as I’ve touched on and towards the end he got caught once or twice but on the whole he was, once again, superb.
Josh had a good game in goal too, those suicidal balls back to him will lose us a goal one day, I’m sure of it, but he was steady enough. His save from the free kick was top drawer and he’ll be pleased with the form he is showing since stepping into the first team. I’ve never been comfortable when the so-called second choice keeper gets a regular run out, not under Mazza nor prior to that. I always feel a second choice keeper is prone to an error and usually ends up back on the bench, but Josh has ended that irrational belief in their inferiority with a couple of confident and composed outings.
Matt Green still hasn’t got a goal, but if there was a ‘leading effort’ chart that tracked centre forward’s running and work rate I have little doubt he’d be way out in front of anyone else in our league. Some people around me today had a little moan when he failed to chase a punt forward in the 93rd minute, seemingly oblivious to the fact he had chased everything for the preceding hour and a half. If Ollie Palmer had the foresight to move the ball on early in the first half instead of twisting and creating a weak half-effort for himself, Green would have easily bagged a confidence building goal. I’m not one of these players that solely judges a striker on his goal ratio though, and as yet I haven’t seen a centre forward playing for one of our opponents I’d rather have than Matt Green.
Man of the match (and by some distance for my money) was Alex Woodyard. I thought he sat deeper today and Bozzie played the slightly more advanced role, if that was the case Alex certainly looked more comfortable. Alex epitomizes the perfect midfielder, he works tirelessly, constantly harried and harassed their players and started attacks whenever possible. He rarely gives the ball away (twice against Barnet which I know as after he read my blog he messaged me to ensure I was aware!) and his partnership with Bozzie is getting better by the game. I did wonder if perhaps the reason the two wingers played on their unfamiliar sides was to force our play inside to those two because there’s no doubt they’re our prized assets.
In the end, we deserved the win as we did play better than our opponents. However, we weren’t at our best at all no matter what Danny said in the interview at the end of the game. I didn’t envisage him coming out and being critical of a third match unbeaten and rightly so, he can leave that to me. It doesn’t actually matter how we go the result, we beat Chesterfield and picked up three points to stay tucked in just outside the play-off race. We had a tough start to the season, but on the eve of the Barnet game I called it as the time to start winning games and building a run: we did that today. Alex hinted in his interview though that they now have a week to look at the negatives from today and plan for Cambridge. I think there will be a few things covered on the back of today’s match video, but it’ll go on behind closed doors.
Last season as the games came thick and fast in April we looked far from our best, but we won games and racked up points. It’s slightly different now, we’re carrying a few injuries and of course Billy’s suspension, and it does show a little in how we approach certain games. The end result is the same though, we grind out results and keep the points pouring in. Remember, in the last three games we’ve got more points than Chesterfield have all season, ditto Port Vale, ditto Forest Green. I’ve been critical of one or two performances, but we’re still on track and we’re still bringing home the bacon every weekend. With Billy back next week, expect him to drop back into the ten role and for our focus to shift slightly to more balls into feet. It might work, it might not, but rest assured we’ll still be fighting hard whether the game plan looks pretty or not, and we’ll still be competitive whether we’re on method or not. Those are two traits all successful teams have.
If we can get seven points from nine but only truly play well in one half of those three games (Barnet first half), imagine what we’ll be able to do when we’re on method for ninety minutes at a time, week in, week out.
Thanks to Graham Burrell and Lincoln City for today’s match photos