City grabbed a vital win, a well-earned and justified win this afternoon in a fiercely contested match that sent fires raging through the hearts and minds of every freezing fan watching the game.
I’m going to jump straight in with it: the referee was absolutely appalling in every way. Up until the penalty decision he had been inconsistent, hesitant and wildly unpredictable. He seemed programmed to give Stanley every little decision but ignore the constant infringements on our forward players. I’m usually not critical of referees if I can help it, but this one has form and his mere presence made you feel something out of the ordinary was going to happen.
As it happens, it went in our favour. Matt Green was fouled in the box, his shirt was pulled from his back as he broke through on goal and the referee pointed to the spot, dismissing their player at the same time. Of course everyone was delighted, especially after the Accrington antics of the previous forty-five minutes. However, and remember I try to be as balanced as ever, for me it isn’t a penalty. If it is a penalty we’ve been robbed in virtually every other game we’ve seen this season. Shirt pulling goes on at every corner, every set piece at every game in this land, why is it this afternoon it has ben punished in the harshest possible manner? It worked in our favour and of course I was delighted but it would be remiss of me to claim it was a penalty when I didn’t think it was. Mind you, if Matt Green was less honest like his Accrington counterparts, he could have had one not long before. Also, if that is a penalty then I saw offences at Crewe and Wimbledon that were as bad, if not worse. That inconstancy is maddening for everyone involved in the game.
I saw Rheady stood on, that went unpunished. Yes, we committed one or two tough tackles which went unpunished too, but in the main Accrington got away with most of their theatrics.
All afternoon Stockbridge was a menace, it was suggested to me he sent their player off to get a handle on the game, but that didn’t happen. There were ugly scenes at half time which, I’m told, were a result of one of their subs wanting to confront one of our fans, that went unpunished. I saw Rheady stood on, that went unpunished. Yes, we committed one or two tough tackles which went unpunished too, but in the main Accrington got away with most of their theatrics. How can one of their players dive to the floor whilst the ball isn’t in play, suggesting to the referee our player dived, but not get spoken to? It was unsporting and yet moments later he did dive with the ball in play and got the free kick!! I’m afraid Seb Stockbridge baffled me for most of the game, despite it being in our favour.
What is disappointing is the penalty decision gave Accrington’s manager somewhere to hide for what was a really poor show from them. I’ve seen an interview where it was called the ‘turning point’ of the game, but that’s not strictly true. Yes, going down to ten men alters the complexion of the match as does conceding a goal, but we’d been by far the better side in the first half. Matt Green was excellent, his phenomenal work rate has now been matched with the confidence he needed and you feel he’ll get something every game. Their keeper has made a wonderful save not long before the penalty and it wasn’t the first either.
My Dad leaned across in the first half and said: “they knock the ball round well.” I had to pull him up, Accrington played the ball sideways, backwards, sideways, backwards, but rarely forwards with any purpose in the first half. I watched one passage of so-called slick football where they advanced from the edge of their own eighteen-yard box to just in front of the centre circle twenty yards away. It took something like fifteen passes and a couple of minutes, we won the ball and within seconds it was in the channel as we attacked. Where is the beauty in passing aimlessly? Where was Billy Kee, the so-called lethal striker we’ve lacked? He barely saw the ball and unlike Matt Green, he didn’t go looking for it either. It may have been superbly managed by us at the back, but they were well below the level I expected from them.
I must apologise because I’m starting on the ref, then the opposition before I’ve even come to Lincoln, but Accrington disgusted me today. Their gamesmanship was abhorrent at time, Jordan Clarke in particular stood out as a real nasty piece of work. Sure, we tackle tough. We know we tackle tough, but it is a man’s game is it not? It is a hotly contested game, is it not? I didn’t see too much happen outside the laws of the game, but the amount of histrionics was ridiculous. I thought we were going to see a slick passing team come and try to break us down, instead we saw a side intent on getting our players sent off and simulating fouls wherever they could. This isn’t me in rose-tinted glasses, I’ve already said the penalty was soft, but they were a disgrace. If they’re the third or fourth best team in this division, we’ve got no problems at all.
On to us, to a man we were excellent throughout the match. Okay there was the odd misplaced pass or poor decision, but I think the players perhaps had the refs unpredictability in mind. I thought in the first half we let them have the ball where they couldn’t hurt us, but snuffed out any serious threat before it got near Josh Vickers. I think I counted two saves from Josh, both barely warranted the term ‘shot on target’. Matt Green was simply brilliant, he’s not doing anything different to a few weeks ago but now he does it with confidence. I did say if he got one he’d go on a run of four or five games and it has proven to be the case. Okay, a penalty is a gimme of sorts, but it takes balls to score from the spot under pressure. Their keeper was huge and yet Matt wasn’t fazed. I’m delighted for him and for us, a fully firing Matt Green is as good as any striker in this division.
Obviously Matt Rhead was doing exactly what we expected of him. I’m not sure his booking was justified, the referee didn’t appear to see it but pulled the card out on the advice of their keeper. After that I thought they’d maybe target him to try to add another yellow to his collection, but he didn’t get involved. What he did get involved in was our second goal, a wonderful finish that even John Coleman described as ‘beautifully taken’. The key point in the goal was yet another sumptuous cross from Neal Eardley, top-flight delivery from a top-class player. Eardley was superb again, but I almost get tired of typing those words. To think he was a last-minute throw of the dice after trialling four or five other players is breath-taking.
Bozzie is just an animal, you can feel the fear as he bears down on a player with the ball. It must be frightening to look up and see that angry mass of hair and aggression homing in on you.
I’ve got to call out Alex Woodyard and Bozzie again as well, with those two in the side I feel we are as solid as at any point since I’ve been a fan. Bozzie is just an animal, you can feel the fear as he bears down on a player with the ball. It must be frightening to look up and see that angry mass of hair and aggression homing in on you. I wonder if the look is as much about instilling fear as it is fashion? Seriously, I talk about Eardley’s arrival being breath-taking, but how on earth have we got Michael Bostwick?
You know what I love about him? How simple he makes the game. Win a tackle, pass the ball. Win a header, follow in the second ball, win it again. Get the ball, pass the ball. He never takes too many touches, sometimes he barely takes two. He’s a functional footballer, he’s not bags of tricks or unpredictable passing, he’s simple and effective. They say every team has a player that does the unseen work, we’ve got two and their work in noticeable. Alex is just Alex, he’s never changed since the first time he pulled on a red and white shirt at Sincil Bank. He rarely puts a foot wrong, he is always looking to spread play but is also acutely aware of keeping it simple. He works incredibly hard for his team mates at both ends of the field and is a massive asset to the team.
I heard lots of moans in the last twenty minutes about us having ten men and not taking the game to them, why would we? Why would we push men forward and risk conceding a goal? It got a bit frenetic but that was never going to favour a precise passing side like Accrington. They got drawn into the scrappy affair, even resorting to long balls forward by the end of the game. It wasn’t pretty to watch, but with so many variables such as the referee and their swan-diving, why would we take any chances? It wasn’t an example of the beautiful game, but when one looks back at the results at the end of the season there won’t be an asterisk by the 2-0 that reads ‘got scrappy in the final twenty minutes’. Nope, it’ll just say Lincoln 2 Accrington 0, it won’t even mention Seb Stockbridge which I imagine pains him immensely.
There’s a lot of football to be played, but we’re in great shape here. Last December 17th we faced Tranmere at home, similar to today really in that there was a dubious penalty at the same end of the ground and we ended up beating a promotion rival. That game was the first after Oldham and for me that was when our status went from play-off hopefuls to champions elect. Today we have gone from fringe play-off hopefuls to being right in the mix. It was a crucial win, the sort of result that can influence a season. I guarantee you for all of the respect we’ll show Newport, for all of the ‘they’ve got great players’ you’ll hear on the radio, they will not want Lincoln City visiting on December 23rd. Stevenage will not want to come here on Boxing Day and Forest Green most certainly won’t relish the December 30th clash. Other sides will be looking through the results and ours will jump right out at them. “Bloody hell,” they’ll say in the Mansfield board room tonight, “Lincoln beat Accrington and yet our massive budget brought a draw against Yeovil. At home.”
We’re in form, we’re as solid as the abs on these Strictly Come Dancing finalists and we’re dark horses in this promotion race. The Danny Rowe rumours have all-but been confirmed by Danny and my spies tell me he is the first of a couple of ‘wow’ signings we can expect in the New Year. If 2018 dawns and we’re still sixth you need to fasten your seatbelts, dust off your Neil Diamond LP (sadly) and prepare for five months of genuine excitement because we’re only getting better.
Those of you who didn’t collect your books today, I’ll be in touch tomorrow to try to sort out the finer details. I think there’s five I have that are paid for but not collected.
You can still buy by clicking the picture below: Last posting day for Christmas is Wednesday and, whilst stocks last, there will still be a free Bubs print with every copy.