Football isn’t always about last-minute free-kicks winning games, it isn’t always controversial cup tie against youth sides either. Sometimes, football is a Saturday afternoon spent wondering what on earth you’re doing with your time, knowing that when someone asks in two weeks what game you attended, you’ll have to rack your brains to remember anything positive about it at all.
Today, as you’ll probably already know, was one of those days. City looked laboured, devoid of ideas in the final third and often out-muscled by a strong and organised Crawley. Let’s not give the visitors too much respect, they are to League Two what Burnley are to the Premier League. They sit tight, bully and battle and hope you gift them an opportunity, or to put it another way, they do what we do away. We did our best in the second half to play gracious hosts, creating more for them than we created for ourselves.
I’m not blind and I’m not ignorant, we have an issue up front. I maintain things will come good but at present, we’re firing blanks. Even the blanks we’re firing are missing the target. We’re not always getting the breaks, we had a couple of half chances and one Rhead header that rattled the bar, but for all the possession we had, we didn’t ever look like breaking down the Crawley back line. It’s pointless pointing to exactly what is wrong too, because every week it seems a different player or approach is at fault.
For what it is worth I thought we looked better with Rheady to aim at, but he does make us much more one-dimensional. With twenty minutes left we brought off both wingers, meaning from a squad of 21 not one of our five wide players were involved in the action. There will have been a plan behind it, but I thought Crawley tired in the final ten and we didn’t have any width to expose them. Maybe it was the conditions that made crosses relatively ineffective, but it seemed an odd move to make. The centre of the park looked congested and cramped, suiting Crawley’s game-plan of getting a draw more than ours.
There’s not an awful lot to analyse is there? Jordan Maguire-Drew had a great free kick on Tuesday night and scored, but the one we got this afternoon we obviously felt was more suited to Neal Eardley’s right foot. It wasn’t. Then Maguire-Drew went off and Ollie Palmer got his chance to have a go; hopefully that will stop him asking for the ball at every set piece. That said, Palmer was perhaps the most direct of our players after he came on, if we did look dangerous at any point it was from his surging runs down the left flank. He cut a lovely ball back with about ten minutes left that was begging for Matt Green to get on the end of, but he wasn’t there. At present Matt Green’s running sees him cover every blade of grass bar the blade the ball falls loose on in the eighteen yard area. That isn’t a criticism of Matt, it is just fact.
He had a peach of a volley early doors from a Rheady knock-down and he was pulled down in the second half but tried to stay on his feet and missed out on the penalty. Other than that he worked tremendously hard, but it just isn’t going for him. For an awful moment this afternoon the names of Joe Allon, Tommy Tynan and Leo Fortune-West began to enter my mind. Surely that curse isn’t going to strike again, is it?
We’re proud of the clean sheet and rightly so, but again I felt we were trying our hardest to create something for them. Usually our back four look assured and comfortable, not so today. We were solid facing their players but contrived to scare our own fans with suicidal back passes, dodgy headers and clearances. That isn’t to say we played badly, just a bit sloppy.
I really don’t know what else to write. Danny knows we don’t have a route to goal at the moment, the player’s body language showed we don’t and we’re in a situation where some players are just not reaching their levels. Sam was well below his steady seven, Billy was ineffective when he came on and Nathan struggled to get into the game. The front two worked hard but got nowhere, Ollie did the same when he came on also. I noted Rob Dickie got the MoM award, he played well but I thought either Eardley or Vickers deserved it.
We do miss Harry Anderson but we must not become a one-man team. Our wingers are not getting into games, they’re not as effective as last season and we’re all the worse for it. That said, we didn’t get beaten, we didn’t concede and we’re still in touching distance of the play-offs. The only frustration is we could be doing better, but there’s nothing to be overtly concerned about, yet.
As for Crawley, they’re a well oiled unit, they know their jobs and they weren’t going to get bullied anywhere on the field. Their centre halves were massive, they made us look like midgets and they approached the game correctly. They came here not to get beat and against a side that put not getting beaten first, as we do, there was only ever going to be one outcome. 8038 fans watched the sort of game that 2500 spent a majority of the 1990’s and 2000’s avoiding. However, don’t let this blog be one to bring you down, nor let it reflect my overall thoughts on where we are as a team.
Imagine this; there’s two fans talking to each other. One says his team have lost once in eight games, have kept four clean sheets in seven matches and are three points outside the play offs. The other says his side have failed to win in the last two league matches and have only scored three in the last six league encouters, one of which was an own goal. Both are fair assessments of Lincoln City at present, but one is the glass half-full response and one the glass half-empty. If we were conceding goals and losing games there would be a lot to worry about, but all good teams start solid at the back and build from there. We’ve conceded twice in the league in October, but only scored three. Apart from last season, Sincil Bank never was a place for thrills and spills, but good honest endeavour will win out. Our players are organised, apply themselves well and work incredibly hard to make things happen. Attitude is so important and we have that even if we’re not always as effective as we’d like. If this is our sticky spell, three points off the play-offs and conceding twice in a month in league action, I think we’re in a good place.
I’m not trying to gloss over a turgid game of football, it’s not the first this month and it won’t be the last before Christmas, but football is a game that often flatters to deceive. 2016/17 was a special season but this is the daily grind, this is league football. Even the best of mid-table sides stutter from draw to defeat before stringing a few wins together, it happens. I’m not complacent, I’m not a club stooge trying to say the right things, I’m a realist. We could be rock bottom now, we’re not. We could be losing games regularly, we’re not. We could look clueless all over the field. We do not. We can’t score, fans know it, players know it and Danny knows it. He’ll work to find the formula, in the mean time we need to be patient, acknowledge the positives and keep supporting the team as best we can.
I do hope the booing I heard at the final whistle was aimed at the fans perception of the referee, I know he was picky and inconsistent this afternoon and passed over two decent penalty shouts too. If it was aimed at our players in any way then I’d be extremely disappointed. It is prudent to note though that immediately calling those fans plastic is short-sighted. I hate that term anyway, but there’s no evidence to say those booing weren’t the same ones boing us off when Keith’s side drew as we battled to the play-offs. To claim it is the new or returning fans is a brash assumption and as sensationalist and dividing as a Sun newspaper headline about immigrants and Muslims.
One thing I will say, I was in Running Imp’s box today (cheers Chris) and the foot long hot dog was absolutely superb. In fact, the whole service was exemplary, from the service in the boxes to the quality of food and drink. We might be looking shot shy on the pitch, but we’re definitely on target behind the scenes.
I’m not going to fall into the ‘we go again’ trap, the lads just have to knuckle down and find a formula that works. As for me, I’m going out to watch Dave Mallet’s band in Louth, doing my absolutely best to avoid some of the more outlandish criticism that social media is likely to provide tonight. I might be able to absorb the poor match of football I’ve just seen and still be content, but I just can’t have an evening of reading ‘Matt Green is crap’ or ‘we should bring back Jack Muldoon’, because I think I’d end up smashing my computer screen.