It wasn’t the prettiest of spectacles, a battle fought by two committed teams on a field of sand will never serve up a feast of flowing football, but after 90 minutes City emerged victorious and progressed in the Checkatrade Trophy.
This is a good result for City, depleted during a period of transition and down to the bare bones. On paper it looks even more impressive that we’ve beaten a League One side, but the harsh truth is Rochdale and City are at the same level technically and tactically. Whether that speaks well for us or poorly for them, time will tell.
It wasn’t really a surprise that Danny Cowley named a strong side, he didn’t really have a lot of choice with a squad of 16. Nonetheless new loan signing Danny Rowe got a run out, our double-headed Matt Attack started as well as Bozzie in the middle of defence. It wasn’t a new-look City as such, but it had a different feel about it.
It wasn’t really a match for the neutrals though, scrappy at times and punctuated by the referees whistle. Ben Toner didn’t have a bad game, just a picky one and coupled with the atrocious playing surface it made the game look more like our mid-90’s league tussles than a 2018 match. City were well organised though, it took Bozzie perhaps ten minutes to settle before we looked solid, but with Neal Eardley around we’re always going to have an air of confidence at the back.
On a personal note, I was delighted to see Farms in goal even though he barely had a save to make. I’ve always been a Paul Farman fan, his attitude has been impeccable throughout his spell at City and even though he’s not the number one, he’s still a competent keeper and great squad member. His chances might be limited, but he’s slowly adding clean sheets and starts to his tally.
I didn’t think Rochdale looked particularly bad, they just didn’t look good either. Both sides threatened to break but more often than not resolute defending kept the scores at 0-0. They were restricted to half chances, Alex Woodyard looked industrious in the centre of the park which certainly helped the new-look defence. Imagine, if we could sign a midfielder in the Lee Frecklington mould to partner him, Bozzie could remain at centre half and we’d look every bit as solid as we have the last six months.
At half time it seemed likely we’d be getting penalties, it felt like that type of game. Both Matts had worked hard as had Danny and Harry on the flanks, but the pitch simply wasn’t facilitating good football. For those who didn’t go or watch it on iFollow, think Sincil Bank, May 2003. I’m not sure what style of football it would suit and, although it was the same for both teams, it was a major influence in the quality of the product.
City made a couple of changes and I thought they injected fresh impetus in City’s play. As the minutes ticked by we looked more dangerous, Ollie Palmer added another dimension after his introduction but the real catalyst was Nathan Arnold (pictured top courtesy of Graham Burrell). He’s still a handful, he’s no different to last season just without the starts under his belt. Whenever he got on the ball you felt there was a chance for City, especially as Billy Knott’s introduction changed Rochdale’s shape too. They looked to be confused as to how they should set up and we began to pour forward.
Still, with just two minutes back I was ready to go and put the kettle on in readiness for penalties. Just as I stood up, Nathan Arnold whipped the right-back’s pants down, slapped his arse and squared for Palmer. One thing you have to say about Ollie is he gets into the right places and he had to keep his head to slot home. Awkward pitch, lots of pressure but he slotted home and City are into the last eight of the tie.
After the game there was an air of relief in the voice of Danny Cowley, his first comments were about the pitch which underlines how important it was. He never comments on things he can’t control, but his opening gambit was praising our ability to play beach football. After that he compared the game to Solihull Moors last season, a hard-fought win in a game overshadowed by the transfer window. Rob Makepeace made a joke about Theo Robinson being at the game and Danny, albeit briefly, seemed flustered. It was a split second, but is that an indication that recent speculation linking us with a move for Theo is right? Maybe, maybe not.
Ollie Palmer had a chance to speak too and he underlined his commitment to Lincoln City. He said something along the lines of ‘I’m here, even if you don’t want me to be I’m sticking around’. It wasn’t quite as ‘poor me’ as I’ve just written, it was very much tongue in cheek at speculation linking him with a move away. I’ve always said Ollie offers something to the squad if not the starting eleven and I stand by that. He’s a great weapon late on, people see the big man and think it’s going to be lumped up to him, but the opposite happens because he’s worse at headers than Dean Keates. Instead he works hard, probes greedily and looks for goals. Tonight, that paid off and credit to him.
We now look to Thursday’s draw where Yeovil, Fleetwood and Peterborough wait amongst others. At this stage of the competition it really doesn’t matter who you draw, although a home tie against Yeovil would be preferable to Chelsea U21’s away. Either way City are two round from Wembley, three games as the semi-finals are two-legged. Can we finally break our Wembley hoodoo?
I’m also impressed with both sides of the boycott argument too. Neither side niggled eat ach other this time around, whether everyone is sick of it or whether transfer talk kept it on the back burner I’m not sure, but it was nice to play a Checkatrade Trophy game without battle lines being drawn on social media. For once all Imps got along which is how it should be.
Now, where the Freck are these new signings?
All photos courtesy of the main man, Mr Graham ‘Bubs’ Burrell