It was a typical lower league winter’s game. Yeovil away, 250-odd hardy souls braving the long drive and subsequently being treated to an important and hard-fought win. City now climb to 6th thanks to results elsewhere and in those results we can see exactly why yesterday wasn’t just ‘routine’.
“You have to be beating sides like Yeovil” is what I’m sure many fans said privately ahead of yesterday’s game. They were 18th and despite having a 14-goal partnership up front they were seen as cannon fodder for the resurgent Imps. All was not as it seemed though, they had lost just twice at home and have a similar record at Huish Park to our record at Sincil Bank. Away form has seen them plummet and yesterday, they weren’t away.
Danny spoke after the game of team not being ‘respectful’ to Yeovil as if that was a major factor in us winning the game. It is typical Danny, always positive about our opposition, always complimentary about their endeavour and ability and yet always managing to play down our own win. Sure, he’s always happy and congratulates our players but he is never over enthusiastic nor bullish about promotion chances. “Up to sixth tonight Danny”, said one interviewer. “Are we, that’s great for the supporters.” Once again, deflecting the success and achievement elsewhere. It isn’t accidental and it always removes any pressure that position or achievement try to bring on the team.
Was it us respecting Yeovil that caused the win? Not solely, but by understanding and respecting opposition you do gain an upper hand. Aside from Notts County no team has truly dominated us this season, even Coventry who were so impressive at the Bank edged a tight-fought game. Accrington are up in third but next week we face 75% of the same players we beat on Tuesday night, only we’ll be back up to full-strength.
What does ‘full-strength’ look like for Lincoln City these days? Vickers in goal, Eardley in somewhere, Raggett, Woodyard and Bozzie with Rhead and Green up top, Anderson out wide. That’s the spine, that is where the most effective play comes from and they’re the players that, if they’re fit, should always start for Lincoln. How you dress that up, who else you drop in and how we approach games varies, but that is the spine of the team. Accrington thought we were tough on Tuesday, Rheady was only on the bench and Bozzie wasn’t even in the squad.
Back to yesterday and Michael Bostwick’s return to the side was an important factor. Many people say we’re too negative with him and Alex in the side, I say that is absolute garbage. Between them they’re the most solid midfield pairing I’ve ever seen at Sincil Bank, defensively and in terms of winning turnovers and breaking up play. Bozzie rode a fine line between tough and nasty yesterday, something it is important the does every week. Creative players don’t want to face him nor do they want to be chased all over by Alex Woodyard. I have visions of Woodyard being tethered to a post in the dressing room after the game to stop him chasing his opposite number into the car park trying to get one last tackle in. They work hard, they do lots of the dirty work and for once, they get recognition for doing so.
It’d be remiss not to mention Matt Green too. He’s shown immense strength of character to keep ploughing on up front, especially when you consider he was ‘rested’ (Danny speak for dropped) for two games. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but he is the best striker we have at the club, I would be surprised if, even after January, he isn’t still the best striker we have at the club and the best partner for him is Matt Rhead. Earlier in the season Rhead was floated as a possible reserve, I mentioned his time might have come to an end, but he’s proving many of us wrong. The thing with Rheady is he’s uncomplicated, he’s a handful but he has that touch and twist of skill that surprises many. Both him and Green have showed real personality to fight their way back onto the team sheet and both got their rewards yesterday.
The first goal was classic Lincoln, Rheady with the touch to Green and him bearing down on goal. We’ve seen it way before Danny and Nicky arrived, Yeo getting a flick on maybe from McCombe and off he went. It’s a well-worked and well-worn routine but we do it well. The finish came from a player regaining confidence too, six weeks ago the keeper saves that but a revitalised striker puts it in the net. Don’t be surprised to see Green with at least two more before 2018 joins the party.
The second goal was classic Cowley play. Green worked the channels superbly, almost too well as he seemed to be in a blind alley. The season’s unlikely success story arrives (Neal Eardley, pictured top) and from nowhere provides the sort of ball Matt Rhead dreams about at night. When writing his list for Santa, somewhere in between ‘Stoke shirt’ and ‘place in the starting eleven’ I imagine he wrote ‘the sort of balls that land on you head with pace and precision’. Well, Christmas came early. You don’t need to give Rheady a written invitation to put that in the back of the net and at 2-0, the game was dead. In truth, it was dead at 1-0. It was dead as soon as half time arrived and Yeovil hadn’t scored. In my analysis pre-match I said they only scored in the first half, us in the second. As things went they didn’t get their one.
There’s a lot of pressure on Darren Way and I’d be surprised to see him in a job when were all singing Auld Lang Syne. The home fans were singing for his head and he came out with a reference to their size in his defence: “Let’s make no bones about it, I see the budget I’m working with, and keeping this football club even when you’re coming up against a team like Lincoln, keeping it in the Football League every year is a good achievement. I know supporters don’t want to hear that, but unfortunately when you look at our budget that’s where we are.”
In fairness to Way I’ve seen no reference to us being physical, no ‘you know what to expect from Lincoln’ quotes although maybe I’ve missed them. Most managers seem to think our approach to the game is one to be shunned or frowned upon. Well, we’re sixth and 18 of them are below us so make your own judgement on that.
Yeovil away might have looked like a gimme, but I’m sure Crawley away looked the same for Mansfield Town, look how that worked out for them. No, our first ever win at Huish Park was well-earned and well-executed. For this squad, short of a couple of bodies, to be sixth in the table today is a hell of an achievement. Consider that we can only get better, Danny gets his teams fitter and stronger as seasons wear on and he’s going to add several new faces in January. Michael Hortin said yesterday felt like an important result, he’s right in a way as every game is important and as Danny said, the next game is always more important than the last. For me, Port Vale was the really important one, coming off the back of two defeats with a striker lacking in confidence, that game could have bitten us on the bum. Instead we won, gained confidence and that has led to yesterday’s result. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great score line and one I didn’t truly expect despite my predictions, but the boys went and got the job done.
To be sixth is a real boost for everyone, especially as there has been some mutterings around social media of slight discontent. Nothing brings fans together like three wins on the spin, eight goals in those games and a clean sheet right to boot. The players are growing in confidence, the management have never lost confidence and the fans will always be buoyed by a triple pack of wins. Accrington won’t relish coming to City next week, especially not after their game was cancelled yesterday. We go to Newport in a couple of weeks, they conceded three at home to Carlisle. With Stevenage and Forest Green to come too, there’s no reason why we can’t be seven unbeaten heading into 2018 to face Luton and Notts County.
I’m genuinely excited by the future, it isn’t sycophantic pandering either, but I’ve seen enough with my own eyes to believe we can finish in the top seven this season. We have 90% of a promotion capable team and 70% of a promotion winning squad. With January coming up fast and a little war chest to dip into, there’s no reason why those two figures shouldn’t increase and, if the new faces gel and the current ones keep performing, we’re as good as anyone in this division on our day, If Coventry are the best we’ve encountered and we’re above them, that is all the proof you need.
As for Yeovil, I genuinely wish them well. I think they’ve got a real fight on their hands to stay in the league and the next time we face them both of our fates might already be decided. That won’t be down to the level of respect we’ve given them either, nor will it be solely down to budgets. No, our success is attributable to a real ethos of togetherness and hard work throughout the club, something that Yeovil simply didn’t display after an hour of yesterday’s game.
Thanks, as always, to Graham Burrell for his excellent match pictures and to Lincoln City for permission to use them