The Christmas period has been incredibly kind to Lincoln City and today was no exception. Today we got to see the real benchmark for success in this division. Coventry might have looked good against us, but Luton showed the character and determination needed to grab a result. Coupled with the undoubted class that runs through their team, they’re nailed on champions in my eyes.
I don’t think we disgraced ourselves either, not one bit. I suppose when a player is sent off after four minutes you’re never going to get a true barometer of how far we’ve come, or even how far we need to go. I think Danny would like to have seen how his eleven coped with Luton’s eleven, but Alan Sheehan’s unique method of dealing with Rheady put paid to that. Two punches later it’s ten against eleven and, thanks to Michael Bostwick’s low drive, one nil to City. Had all of this gone off after 60 minutes and we’d gone 1-0 up we would have been in a great position to win the game, but with 84 minutes left to play all it guaranteed was a thrilling afternoon.
Lot’s of people have said Luton players were out of order trying to get ours booked and sent off, but the truth is they’re just good at what they do. Danny Hylton, that odious man who revelled in our relegation, is a really good footballer and equally as good at niggling the opposition. He’s basically a slim Matt Rhead and despite my disdain for him, he’s a superb footballer. His hard work gave them the leveller just past the hour and it wasn’t even against the run of play. Luton looked as good with ten as any side we’ve played with eleven, they work hard and make the pitch big. They also demonstrated the power of a partisan home crowd too, something we have in our favour at the Bank. I’ve seen it described a beyond hostile, even Steve Thompson was getting verbal in the commentary box! As a football fan I have to admire that I’m afraid, I’d rather be in a stadium packed with people and vitriol than a half empty wooden box in a village in Gloucestershire listening out for pins dropping (or managers being sent off).
Their goal sparked a mad fifteen minutes which really defined the game. Matt Green immediately gave us an unlikely lead, demonstrating the character we have in our squad, but then just as we needed composure to see out the first half, Harry got sent off. I’ve seen the decision and I’m going to have to disagree with Danny. For me, it’s a straight red all day long, irrespective of his earlier booking. It was a bit of naivety on Harry’s part maybe, but you won’t get me calling the lad out for showing passion and commitment. He’s young and learning the ropes, you wouldn’t have seen a seasoned campaigner such as Bozzie make the challenge, but I’d rather that than him withering under the pressure. He’ll learn.
Seven minutes later and a scintillating first half was brought to a close with a superb deflected drive for the home side. In my heart, I knew that was it. With 45 minutes left I didn’t think we’d get back into the game, not without the likes of Neal Eardley in the side. I’d been worried pre-match that his exclusion put us in a weakened position, but to be ten against ten facing a side that use the pitch like Luton, I didn’t give us a hope in hell in the second half.
Cue me eating my words for the first 25 minutes of the second half as we tore into the best side in the league. I’m surprised the referee told Danny that another tackle by Matt Rhead and he was off, but Danny seemed to indicate that was usual behaviour. If I were Nathan Jones, Luton manager, I’d be a bit hacked off we were being given the heads up, especially as his replacement, Josh Ginnelly, seemed to spark a revival in us. For a portion of the second half we looked every inch as good as them, but when we needed quality from the bench we perhaps didn’t have it, not in the same measure they do. When they took the lead after 72 minutes, the game was well and truly up.
Was 4-2 a fair reflection of the match? They had 15 efforts compared to our 8, they had 56% possession compared to our 44% so maybe so. When they added a fourth it perhaps flattered them on the balance of play, but certainly they were better than us when it really mattered. What is crucial is we weren’t thrashed, we battled hard and I bet they’ll know tonight they were in a game. There was no 5-0, no humiliating outcome that put us in our place, just a little demonstration of what a top side does. It’s left us fifth and whilst in the National League fifth was virtually nowhere, in this league it is good enough for me.
Remember, we’ve played four games in just over a week, taken seven points from a possible twelve and cemented our place at the right end of the table. Our players have suffered from fatigue and a bug has ripped through the squad too. We would perhaps have preferred to face one of the lower placed sides, not Luton Town. Instead of having a gentle finish to the hectic period we faced the best side in the division immediately after they’d been hammered away from home. They were like a tiger licking it’s wounds, able to draw on a bigger squad of players and with the massive home support behind them. I think we did extremely well against all odds.
We’ve now got twelve days off from league action, something that is a real bonus. There’s the Checkatrade game against Rochdale which will be welcomed by the time it arrives, but we’ve got enough time to get some bodies in. Danny Rowe is confirmed, we knew that a while ago, but our issues lie at the back as well. Losing Raggs is massive and potentially losing Dickie is even worse. However, when Rob Dickie signed it was touted as a ‘six month loan with a view to making it permanent’, and I’m hoping that it is made permanent soon. We have to move on from Raggs, but in Rob Dickie there’s a centre half that could potentially fill his boots. Nobody will replace him, but we do need to work in the defence. We can’t afford to host Notts County with an uncertain centre half pairing, although that game will be won and lost in the middle of the park, especially with Liam Noble joining Jorge Grant, Lewis Alessandra and Terry Hawkridge.
Jordan Maguire-Drew is going back to Brighton and it is fair to say his spell was a flop. It wasn’t a lack of ability in the lad, but for me his tactical awareness was a little short of where Danny needs it to be. On the other hand, Danny Rowe is an experienced footballer and he’ll be able to carry out the instructions far more succinctly than JMD. I don’t want to be too critical of JMD, we just didn’t see the best of him. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him rock up on loan somewhere like Barnet for the remainder of the season.
I would expect us to have another forward in by the time we host County too. My spies might be wide of the mark, but they’re suggesting a fresh move for Akinola is very much on the cards. It’s no secret the lad wants to join up with Danny and Nicky, they know he’s the right type of player too so it seems a no-brainer. I think any hold up will be caused by ill-feeling from the summer debacle. He’s not getting much game time at Underhill, criminal really when they’re bottom two, but one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I’d be delighted to see Sim in red and white, eighteen months after I first expected him to join!
I had to chuckle ahead of the game when Neal Eardley was missing from the squad, the ripples of concern started on social media. “He’s off to the Stags,” was the cry, despite him committing to us until the end of the season. Maybe they’ve wedged a bid for him, it wouldn’t surprise me if Steve fancied a couple of our players, but Danny won’t want to sell. The same goes for Alex Woodyard, lots of talk is around him going to Luton, but personally I can’t see him jumping ship now, just as we’re on the cusp of great things. Maybe I’m an optimist, but I don’t see any of our key players departing this window, unless numbers such as £400,000 start being thrown around. Even in that instance, expect Danny to have a few tricks up his sleeve.
Back to today, we saw the champions elect grinding out a result against a resilient and determined challenger. That’s a fair reflection of proceedings and I don’t think we can complain about the referee , their approach or anything like that. We are both decent teams, coached well and packed with talent but they are at a level higher than us. Danny said we’re a couple of years behind Luton, I think we’re twelve months behind them, but maybe that is the optimist in me again.
Despite this acceptance the result still hurts because I believe on any given day we can beat anyone and, had Harry not been sent off, we could have won this game to. He was, it was the right call and we got beat. Sometimes football deals those hands and you just get on with it. I think we all feel a bit disappointed tonight because Danny Cowley’s Lincoln City instil belief in us all. We went to Luton half expecting to get a result, when has that ever really been the case? Most of my Lincoln City supporting life has been spent hoping we get a result, very rarely believing. I still believe we’ll be top seven, at least, come May.
Expect the focus to now be on the transfer news, people spotting Ricky Miller at the ground, hearing on the grapevine Alex is going or having seen Danny and Nicky in a service station near Nottingham talking to people in Forest tracksuits. It will be exciting, frustrating and frightening in equal measure. I’m not entirely sure I can stomach any more of Martin Wardell’s banter posts about his best mate Ricky Miller, but if the noises coming out of Cambridge are accurate, I might not have to after tomorrow.
Please note: I’m aware the profile picture hasn’t come from today’s game, but I’ve beat Bubs to the count tonight!!