Firstly, I’m judging nobody nor sparking debate here, but those boycotting the competition must be a little dismayed at the quality of football on display at Sincil Bank and beyond in this EFL Trophy.
We opened with a 3-1 against Mansfield, the sort of result that, had it been in the league, we’d still be crowing about now. Everton U21’s are beaten by a free-kick that was as good as anything you’ll see at Sincil Bank in a decade, only for Josh Ginnelly to rival that with a wonder goal of his own to put us through against County. Finally, last night we face a strong Accrington side, a side that got stronger as the match wore one, but still beat them in an end to end game that kept fans riveted for 95 minutes.
I spent the evening in the executive boxes courtesy of Chris Illsley of Running Imp. Just for the record Chris is a top guy, the hospitality is second to none and they make my Dad feel so welcome up there. Thanks to Chris, Josh and Paul for giving me some memories with my Dad that I know will last a lifetime. It makes it even more special when the team keep their half of the bargain too.
One caveat last night was we were also the Man of the Match sponsors. That brought the obvious pre-match banter about my criticism of Ollie Palmer, especially from my Dad who often gives me stick for it. “Palmer will score first,” he joked. “You watch.”
To be precise, Accrington scored first. We’d barely finished off the plate of chilli and wedges lovingly provided by the top rate staff at the ground before Paul Farman’s net bulged. Cue derision from some in the box, from one end of the pitch to the other it looked as though Farm’s might have got a hand to it. The truth? I didn’t see. I was readjusting my glasses and I’m not going to condemn a man on hearsay. In the bar afterwards the general consensus seemed to be there was very little he could do, so I’ll roll with that. After all, this blog and Farman go back right to the very start and I’ve got a soft spot for the likeable Geordie.
I don’t think we played well in the first half, bar a couple of players. Alex Woodyard was full of industry as always, from a high vantage point he’s like Scrappy Do, bursting all over the pitch picking fights with bigger men he looks unlikely to win. He does win them though, that is why he’s such an asset to the side. Harry Anderson was full of direct running, not always getting the breaks but still willing to try. Also, and please know it delights me to say this, Ollie Palmer was having a good game. He looked a real handful, he won a couple of headers and laid the ball of once or twice too. Positionally he’s not always on the ball but he wasn’t playing badly.
The trouble was these performances were from individuals and as a team, it wasn’t working. Accrington are clearly a good side, they indulged in a few of the dark arts too, Harry got a clattering once or twice and their big centre half, Richards-Everton, was incredibly good at knowing when to hold a player and when to let him go. I really liked him, tough and uncompromising but also aware and alert. In their midfield Sean McConville also looked a threat, he’s been around the block a few times and was one of the names on the team sheet that highlighted their intention to win the game. Up front Billy Kee, another big name, was anonymous.
It wasn’t a pretty first half, but not long before the break it became an even one, at least on paper. Both strikers were involved, after a Harry Anderson knock-down Matt Green helped the ball across the six-yard box to an unmarked Ollie Palmer. The striker made no mistake in bringing proceedings level with a straightforward finish. 1-1 and, despite the lack of real thrills, it was probably a fair reflection of the game. Neither side gave any indication of what was to come.
With injury time seconds away, Sean McConville embarrassed Paul Farman from all of 45-yards. It was an innocuous looking effort, the Imps’ defence suspected no threat but McConville launched a rocket goal wards. From our vantage point you could see Farman back tracking, stumbling almost and then the net bulged. Again, much anger seemed directed at our keeper but replays suggest he was done by a real wonder strike.
It was so frustrating that, after being behind for so long in the first half, we gave up the lead we’d earned so well. Right before half time is a great time to score and to take a 2-1 lead into the break gave Accrington and John Coleman chance to shuffle things about, catch their breath and regroup. What Lincoln needed, what we absolutely had to do to give ourselves any impetus at all, was equalise. This time instead of a winger winning a knock-down it was a defender whipping in a cross, Sean Raggett’s delicious ball over caused panic and between McConville and Matt Green, City got an equaliser. Officially McConville has been awarded the own goal as has Farman for their second, both harsh on the midfielder. Matt Green’s presence scored our second even if McConville got the final touch.
City came out rejuvenated and revitalised and for twenty minutes absolutely battered Accrington. Raggs went close with a header, Ginnelly frightened their full-back into near submission and once again, Alex Woodyard did everything he needed to to keep play in their half and not ours. It was, for a period, a superb display and just after the hour we got our rewards. A great corner from Sam Habergham was met by the head of Raggs to give us a 3-2 lead. On December 5th 2016 we beat Oldham 3-2 in a thriller at Sincil Bank, one year to the day later we were 3-2 up against Accrington. Could we hold on?
I wasn’t at the Alamo, if I was I imagine I’d have felt less under threat than Paul Farman did.
At first it was more a case of us extending our lead. Matt Green beat the keeper with an exquisite finish only to see the defender chase the ball back and clear off the line. Accrington needed to do something, something other than fall out with the Lincoln bench.In between some rather heated exchanges, John Coleman sent on Kayden Jackson and Farrend Rawson and began to turn the screws. They went from retaining the ball in the middle of the park to whacking it long at goal and it changed the game again. As the minute ticked by we went from fling raids on their goal to desperate defending in front of our own. Rob Dickie came on followed quickly by Nathan Arnold. As the minute ticked away we got further and further back, defended deeper and deeper. Accrington move the ball down one flank, launched it in and when it was cleared they simply came again. I wasn’t at the Alamo, if I was I imagine I’d have felt less under threat than Paul Farman did.
Paul had a decent game, but some fans were still on his back about the goals. His kicking had been poor but as the game wore on it became more useful for clearing the lines. As the final minutes turned into injury time, he made the sort of save that should be recorded under ‘goals’, that is how crucial they were to keeping us in the game. Here’s a kicker: in the box we’d already named Alex Woodyard as Man of the Match, if it had been two minutes later we would have chosen Farman.
He made two saves from Kayden Jackson, the pick of the two coming after Accrington had hit the bar, but both we reactive and instinctive, both reminiscent of times last season when he was called into action. Josh Vickers might well be the current number one, but Farms made sure that after 90 minutes it was his saves, not the goals conceded that were talked about.
In those final few seconds Harry Anderson took the ball into the corner and finally the referee brought proceedings to a close. City 3-2 Accrington in a truly mesmerizing and engrossing game. Running Imp chose Alex Woodyard for Man of the Match, his industry and endeavour spanned both halves of the game and lasted for ninety minutes. Ollie Palmer, Harry Anderson and Sean Raggett got honourable mentions also.
I would be interested to know the thinking behind the state of the pitch, there was more sand on there than I’ve seen at Sincil Bank since 2003 when we played Scunthorpe. Even from behind glass we could see it spraying up like standing water during tackles or even just when the ball landed from height. Danny seemed surprised too, something that was interesting as I’m led to believe he usually controls every little thing, so to hear him discussing the pitch as though he wasn’t aware of the sand did have me scratching my head a little.
John Coleman made much of the pitch, also he commented on the big crowd turning the referee’s head. apparently (and this surpised me) we went out to foul them early in the game and get in the referee’s ear. Now, I know my football and when their full back twice hacked Harry Anderson it wasn’t anything we had planned. Coleman even went as far as to say “they like to play it direct and it works for them, well not all the time as we’re above them in the league.” Saucer of milk, dug out two please. I liked Coleman but his assessment of the game wasn’t entirely fair. Apparently if Kayden Jackson had been more ‘dishonest’ they would have got a penalty and a red card at the end of the game (nope, not sure about that). Accrington are a good side, there’s no doubt about that, but moaning about another teams tactics is hilarious. He admits he knows how we play, he knew exactly what to expect and yet he couldn’t counter it? Their league position hints at him being a really good manager, his comments suggest perhaps not.
So, we’re on to the next round and all those social media snipes about boycotts, supporters with integrity and ‘you’ll go to Wembley’ claims can carry on for another month at least. Joy. Leicester City went some way to indicating a reason for boycotters to stay away by fielding £35m of striking talent and a 30-year old keeper as they beat Scunthorpe, something absolutely legal but perhaps not in the spirit of the competition. They’ve within their rights to start Ulloa and Iheanacho up front, but morally doesn’t it spit on the ‘ethics’ of the competition. The reason the EFL have given for their controversial inclusion is that it is helping nurture and develop the youth of tomorrow, not giving a Premier League club the chance to field a couple of reserves not likely to get a game. I know I will be immensely pissed off if we draw them and they do the same, to a point where, if that happens, I will boycott next year. After the fine football we’ve seen so far, the battling displays and wonder goals, it would be an absolute travesty for a cash-rich top flight club to come here with £35m of attacking talent that can’t get a first team game and roll us over. Even more so if they got to Wembley.
I imagine this morning there’s been a phone call made to Leicester just asking them to clam it a little bit. Whilst 3,000 fans and a brilliant 3-2 score line adds respectability to the competition, their actions take it away in equal measure and the last thing the EFL want right now is more reasons for people to stay away.