It took a Josh Ginnelly wonder-goal to separate the two sides in an engrossing but low-key affair at Sincil Bank, but the real benefits may not be evident until the lads run out on Saturday.
The Checkatrade Trophy has proved a divisive competition and last night’s game was relatively well-attended but lacking severely in atmosphere. Despite this, one or two players managed to put in eye-catching performances whilst one or two others might be running out of lives when it comes to first team selection.
A crowd of just over 3,000 was good compared to other teams but poor when looked at in context of our usual attendances. It was a wet, drizzly night though, with little at stake. Only a 4-0 defeat would have seen City eliminated, whereas Notts County had to win in order to progress. A draw would have brought a penalty shoot-out, the least important that has ever involved City. Had it gone to penalties it wouldn’t have mattered who won or lost, City would have gone through. Luckily we were spared that ridiculous scenario.
County opened the scoring with a really poor goal from City’s point of view. Ollie Palmer ‘won’ a header which actually landed at the feet of a County player. He played a simple ball through to Jonathon Forte who charged through on Vickers, rounded him easily and slotted the ball home. It wasn’t a fair reflection of play, City had retained possession well up until then, but it won’t surprise anyone to know we hadn’t really threatened the goal.
I don’t think I’m being unfair when I describe a majority of the remaining first-half minutes as turgid. The game had a ‘friendly’ feel to it and although both sides clearly wanted to win, it lacked the ferocity and intensity of a league match. Elliott Whitehouse did stand out though, he was energetic and eager to get on the ball in the middle of the park. He needed a big performance, his is certainly a fringe player and in order to change that status he has to take his chances. Thus far this season he hasn’t managed to do that, but he did catch the eye in a relatively dour first half.
Cameron Stewart got his first start for City and he looked rusty but promising. On the other flank Josh Ginnelly was full of running also, but often the ball didn’t find its way out to the flanks. Nine minutes after County took the lead it was a foul out wide on Josh that gave us a route back into the game.
The resulting free-kick was whipped in by Stewart and the unfortunate Pierce Bird turned it in with Ollie Palmer lurking behind him. Whether we would have got a significant touch is another issue, we have been a little shot-shy, but a goal is a goal no matter how it goes in. The cross was excellent and if that is a brief glimpse of what Cameron Stewart can do then we may have found ourselves another diamond.
1-1 seemed a fair score at half time and whilst the players went in for a chat and a biscuit with Danny, I was left in block seven surveying the scene. I’ve never been in the home of the 617 on a match day, I got my ticket there out of curiosity rather than anything. Predictably it was full of wannabe kids who really should have been at home with their parents. The youngest must have been seven or eight, clambering over seats and leading chants. It was amusing at first, but at half time it began to get tiresome, especially as the older lads with them (12-14 maybe) were more interested in throwing hats and messing about. Stewards had to chat to them on numerous occasions, even when they clearly broke a seat and started messing with the 617 banner, they still got a telling off. I understand it is a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation for the stewards, but they ended up really getting on my wick.
To top it off a shady group of track-suited sorts behind us were clearly smoking too. I’m not a prude or anything but it just hacked me off because I knew I wouldn’t have the balls to spark one up and I really wanted a cigar.
In the second half luckily the game improved which distracted me from the kids for a while. Their antics gradually got worse until I was convinced they didn’t even realise there was a match on, they seemed happier just climbing over seats, throwing caps into the lower tier and generally being little bastards. Frankly, I’d be ashamed if they were my kids. I told my mate Dave that too, only to discover their ‘guardians’ were sat behind us, probably smoking.
Anyway, City came back out with a purpose and intent as Danny always says. It looked as if the formation altered slightly, Billy dropped back alongside Alex Woodyard leaving Elliott as the tip of the midfield. Elliott was constantly on the ball, looking to create something. Neal Eardley was getting forward too, he had another excellent game. I’m convinced if he really wanted to, he could play on the wing He made their full-back look a mug on more than one occasion and delivered some great balls into the six-yard area.
Up front we had Ollie Palmer. I’m beginning to think I might be looking for the negative stuff with Ollie, but I just didn’t see what he brought to the game. Aside from his partial assist of their goal he looked lost, barely winning a header at all. When he did win one it went askew, anywhere but an area where a red shirt waited. When the ball came into his feet he lost it, when the crosses came in he was always behind the first defender and (in my opinion) he offered very little threat at all. My fear is I’m deliberately not seeing what he contributes because I’ve conditioned myself not to like him as a player.
One moment summed up two player’s fortunes in one brief move. Ollie found a ball at his feet about ten yards out, but he couldn’t get anything decent on it and scuffed a weak effort into a defender who cleared. It fell to Billy Knott on the edge of the area and he smashed a first time shot that looked as though it had been hit with a cricket bat. It sailed wide, closer to the corner flag than the keeper. Two players low on confidence, two players I’d be surprised to see amongst the starting eleven on Saturday.
Despite this we controlled much of the play in the second half, County offered very little even after Jorge Grant came on. Grant had their only real effort of the second half though, Josh Vickers forced to make a good save to keep the score at 1-1. Harry Anderson came on for City, getting one of the loudest cheers of the evening. Everyone knows Harry is a cracking player, one that we’ve missed in recent weeks and it was great to see him back on the pitch.
City were working the flanks really well and getting plenty of balls into the area, something we haven’t been doing much recently. The wide players were right in the game, the full backs both overlapped and did their bit too. Sean Long loves to bomb forward and he crossed for Palmer but the striker couldn’t get on the end of the cross.
With five minutes left on the clock it was time for Billy to make a telling contribution. He launched a great ball into the area for Raggs who rose high and headed at goal, only to see his effort skim the crossbar. It roused the crowd though, the players had been pouring forward and a goal seemed only a matter of minutes away. First though, young Ellis Chapman came on for his second appearance.
When the winning goal came it was a ‘I was there’ moment. The FLT has thrown a couple of those up now, Jordan Maguire-Drew’s free kick against Everton was special, but Josh’s strike was even better. After a couple of neat passes on the left flank it looked as though we were building for a cross. Josh cut inside and glanced up, a good twenty-two yards out on the angle. Instead of the predictable cross he curled an absolute peach of an effort over the keeper and into the net. It was a demonstration of his latent talent, a sighting of the potential he possesses to pull off the spectacular. He didn’t seem to want to celebrate particularly, but the crowd certainly did. It had been 333 minutes since a City player last scored a goal, Maguire Drew’s free-kick against Everton after 23 minutes the last one we’d witnessed. I’d say it was almost worth the wait.
In the final minutes a late County effort could have unfairly levelled things, but Josh Vickers again produced a fine save to earn us the victory. From a staunch Paul Farman fan such as myself this is tough to say, but Josh Vickers is an excellent keeper and has earned the right to remain our first-choice number one.
The game ended 2-1, we go through whilst County are eliminated and their fans will, of course, say they don’t care. 178 of them cared enough to make the journey, but it is an easy way out of elimination to say you weren’t bothered. Sure, many might not be but winning is a habit and we need to rediscover that habit.
I had a brief chat with Alex Woodyard after the game, he said it was a game to take confidence and build upon. That’s exactly what it is, we’ve got a couple of goals in the bag, we’ve produced another decent performance which was the case on Saturday and we’re finding a route to goal. We looked dangerous from out wide and with Matt Green in the area on the end of crosses I’m sure we’ll start scoring in the league again soon. Low-key it might have been, but you tell that to Josh, Elliott, Ellis or even Sean Long. These are players that maybe needed to catch the eye or just wanted some time on the pitch. The politics of the FLT Trophy are one thing, but ninety minutes on a football pitch is bread and butter for the players and they’ve taken a big step this evening in grabbing two goals.
I feel I have to comment on the conduct of people prior to the game on the topic of boycotting. Those who choose to do so were not vocal at all, I didn’t see any of them baiting people, criticising those going to the game or pushing their agenda at all. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for some in attendance who are still intent on trying to provoke a response. Now we’re progressing I expect more snide comments about ‘bet you’ll go to Wembley’ and the like, aimed at the boycotters. They won’t, that is a fact.
We switch our attention to Saturday now, Crewe away which is a traditional eighties fixture but one that hasn’t been played much in recent years. Gresty Road is a classic old ground, they’re a decent side and we’re 277 minutes without a league goal. However, if we can expose the flanks as we did tonight then we’ll have ample opportunity to put that right and, if all else is failing, we can only hope that Josh Ginnelly has got a taste for the extraordinary and can produce it on command!