Many of the current 5,500 season ticket holders are not used to losing two games in a row on a regular basis. Many of the keyboard warriors have been aching to get all indignant the next time we showed a chink of vulnerability or poor form. After tonight’s game those newer fans will get a glimpse of what it is really like to be an Imp and the frantic tappers will be putting words like ‘serious’ in bold capitals to accentuate their anger.
Let’s look at it objectively shall we? We conceded a sloppy goal after three minutes and spent the next 42 looking relatively lost as to how we could get back into the game. Nathan rattled the bar from a dead ball situation, but aside from that we didn’t really threaten their goal. In the second half we saw a similar story to other recent matches, we came out with more intent and purpose and were perhaps the better side. We still looked very blunt in front of goal and have ended up on the wrong end of a 1-0 defeat.
I’ve seen people calling ‘fundamental errors’ the reason we’re having a bad patch, crying out for the return of Terry Hawkridge and a more positive tactic, but the truth is tonight we’ve learned nothing we didn’t already know. We’re a small squad, partly due to a tough summer of recruitment and partly down to a couple of injuries. We’re lacking a cutting edge up front and when it comes to shuffling the pack, we’re out of options. The transfer window is meant to protect sides like us from having our best players cherry-picked, instead it condemns us to another 40-odd days of ‘making do’. We know Danny has a war chest to utilise as he sees fit, even the biggest armchair supporters know where we’re lacking and frankly tonight doesn’t change a goddam thing.
Now to wildly contradict myself with a couple of observations about tonight. I suspect we did learn a couple of things that perhaps we’ve been wondering about. Some of the current players, some that have been lauded as great footballers are not cutting the cheese at this moment in time. Billy Knott is one who, not for the want of trying, simply isn’t doing the business. The game plan tonight was clearly to play lots more into feet, especially with Ollie Palmer up front not winning headers. Whitehouse, Knott and Palmer are all better with the ball on the deck than they are in the air. I wonder, if Danny could have tonight again, would he perhaps start with the physical presence? I think the only times we’ve looked dangerous in recent weeks has been when we’ve gone route one with Matt Rhead on the pitch and Matt Green running off him. Palmer is something of a lone wolf, eager and willing but seemingly preferring the isolation of being a lone striker than linking up with anybody. Billy has been ineffective since his dismissal against Notts County and I’m afraid the darling of the crowd, Elliott Whitehouse, has only performed in fits and bursts.
What does that tell us? That we need an attacking midfielder and a centre forward or two? Well hold the front page that’s news to me (detect the tone). We’ve shuffled the pack time and again, we’ve tried every combination you can think of and in my eyes the only one that looks even slightly dangerous is Rhead and Green. I’m not saying they look a menacing goal threat, but I believe they’re the best we have. At present I don’t know who then fits in the Michael Bostwick shaped hole we have, but I’m not paid to have all the answers, am I?
I also think the step up in division has robbed us of one of our ‘secret’ weapons, fitness. We won games late on against tiring sides last season, but this campaign is different. Everyone is fit, training full-time and ready to run 90 minutes. Most teams have bigger squads than ours and hence fresher players to bolster them late on in games. This change is the reason we’re not putting teams to the sword as much, it isn’t that the players we have are not as good as last season. I often see people romanticising about Jack Muldoon, Alan Power and Terry Hawkridge. These were great lads last season, but losing them is not why we’re struggling to find the goal in 2017/18. Living in the past helps no one, but remembering how quickly we’ve come from nothing to mid table League Two is worth remembering.
I also have to wonder about the failure to bring in a final loan player on deadline day. Correct me if I’m wrong, but we’re allowed five and we have four (Raggett, JMD, Ginnelly & Dickie). It does seem to be something of an oversight that we didn’t explore that avenue, although perhaps we did and it fell through as several deals did in the summer. Mansfield brought in Kane Hemmings, well above our budget, but look at the effect he’s had. At the time I suggested losing out on Akinola wasn’t the end of the world, the truth is it has severely impacted our season so far. That said, we’re four points outside the play-offs and we’re more than one player short of where we need to be, so it wasn’t the be-all and end-all. We’re not bottom four, we’re not locked in a relegation battle and we’re not still in the National League visiting places such as Maidenhead and Solihull.
Those who are saying ‘something isn’t right’ or ‘we need drastic action’ are wide of the mark. Those season ticket holders are here until May at least and when January comes we’ll be dipping our toe in the water and bringing in some faces. Statements along the lines of ‘crowds will drop and so will our momentum’ are, in my opinion, ill-informed. We’ve got 40 days to wait now, last season our momentum didn’t even start until Oldham in early December. This is a race rather than a sprint and at present we’re in the middle of the pack with potential.
I think promotion caught us a little short off the pitch as well as on it and perhaps we didn’t have the infrastructure off the field to handle to complexities of so many deals in one go. Whatever happened in the summer can’t be described as all bad, we got Michael Bostwick and Harry Anderson which was a massive coup. I still maintain Matt Green was a great signing, certainly on paper. I won’t shy away from the fact it isn’t happening for him at the moment, but we beat several clubs to his signature which is an indication of his ability. Neal Eardley and Sean Long signed too, both stalwarts of the current side, Alex signed a new deal… it wasn’t the ideal summer but it certainly wasn’t a disaster. Our transfer business didn’t fill all of the gaps, but it was sufficient to see us nestled in the top half. Isn’t that what we expected, stay tucked in until January and go from there? That being the case, how does tonight’s result truly affect our long-term aims?
Wildly critical posts on social media won’t help anyone, of course there will be some criticism as we have lost two in a row, but don’t lose your head for heaven’s sake. This is a dip in form, not a crisis. We have the means and the ability to arrest the ‘poor’ form and push on. It was only a week or so ago we’d hammered Crewe 4-1 wasn’t it? Positivity ebbs and flows like a river, but negativity seems to lurk below the surface like a biting current at all times. I know there are some who relish it, the doom and gloom merchants who already have Danny and Nicky leaving at the end of the season and the club subsequently imploding. I’ve got news for you; it ain’t gonna happen, certainly not after a 1-0 defeat at Colchester.
There isn’t a single Lincoln fan who will be happy tonight and I understand that. Those dedicated souls who travelled will be frustrated, I get that too. A little venting is okay, but lets keep it reasonable eh? There’s no point in going over old ground, no point in getting personal about players who may well see the posts and absolutely no point in winding yourselves up into a frenzy arguing with fellow Imps. It was a bad result, we’re in a bit of poor form and we know exactly what it is going to take to get out of it. For the next 40 days we should just stick together, support the team and trust in Danny and Nicky to do whatever they can to see us press for the top seven in the early part of 2018.
Profile picture, *ahem* borrowed from Mr D Priestley on Twitter.