Football comes with so many clichés attached to it. It’s a game of two halves, it’s a real six-pointer, you have to play to the end and a whole host of others. Whilst they may be clichés, this afternoon all three of those are perhaps apt.
Also, football is all about opinions and what I am about to write will not match everyone’s opinion, even though we spent 90 minutes watching exactly the same match. I often wonder how opinions differ so greatly, especially when you consider we’re all Lincoln fans, we all want to win, we all hurt if we don’t and we all watch the same game. How is it then, that people with exactly the same intentions watching exactly the same game can come away with such contrasting opinions?
Today’s match was always going to be tough and although Danny wouldn’t accept it, I would perhaps have settled for four points from the last two matches. After all, we’ve now taken four points from Swindon and four from Newport, both rivals in the play-off race. With 15 minutes gone of today’s game a draw would have been a poor result. With 1 minute of normal time left, a draw seemed a great result. Perspective.
I’m always wary of setting up differently at home in order to accommodate the visiting team, but it seems as though that may have been the case today. It has been well documented that Swindon play 3-5-2 and we struggle against sides employing those tactics with our 4-4-2. Many were surprised Rheady was on the bench and many express their belief that we didn’t utilise Harry Anderson enough. The truth is, neither of those players are entirely comfortable playing against a 3-5-2. Harry can’t get in behind the full back because although they’re advanced, there’s an extra centre back to squeeze our wide players out of the game. We should know all about that, Keith used it to great effect in 2003-06.
Before we start with today’s game, here’s why Rheady was dropped. Firstly, we’ve got one eye on Tuesday’s game. There’s a few hard core out there who consider it to be a nothing game, I am not one and neither is Danny. The chance to get to Wembley is one we must not throw away because we don’t value the opposition. Chelsea kids, to coin a phrase, will not like it up ’em, and Matt Rhead is the man to stick it up ’em, so to speak. He’s a completely different threat to anything they’ve dealt with so far and so he must be fit. Of course, Danny would prioritise the league points, but when you consider the problem with Rheady playing from the off in a 3-5-2, his exclusion makes sense.
We play a lot of diagonal balls into Rheady, and playing against four men means just two centre backs. Therefore, whenever the balls come into him in a normal situation he’s challenged perhaps by one centre back and one full back. His options are then two-fold, he can look to nod down to Matt Green occupying the other centre back, or flick over his head to the onrushing winger. That gives the full back a problem, does he double up on Rheady or track the winger? That is why the diagonal ball is so effective, but against a 3-5-2 the conundrum is taken away, because two central defenders can double up on Rheady whilst the full back / wing back handles the winger and any spare men are mopped up by the third central defender. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why Matt Rhead didn’t start today’s game.
Danny knows Swindon have a great away record because they flood the middle areas of the pitch and, with us having three of the finest midfield players in the division, he thought we could win the battle by overloading them. The first fifteen minutes suggested perhaps that might be the case, it was nip and tuck with neither side really getting a break. Then they had a man sent off and that actually worked to our detriment.
I know we scored the penalty and they went to ten men, but they shuffled the pack immediately and we did not. The penalty was a dead cert, Matt Green played for it and even admitted afterwards he ‘felt contact’ and went down. I’m not sure that sits too comfortably with me, but we were calling Green at Wimbledon and Crawley for not going down when he was fouled, this time he did despite it being soft and got a reward. It was a penalty, to the letter of the law it is a red card and City were 1-0 up. I hoped given the man advantage we’d kick on.
We remained 4-3-3, a formation we didn’t look entirely comfortable with, which meant we didn’t capitalise on the extra man. After the goal and for the rest of the first half I thought we were poor all over the pitch. Matt Green worked hard, but not one player showed any real composure on the ball. Our wingers ran down dead-end streets, the midfield three blocked each other out more than Swindon and at the back we looked uncertain.
Swindon’s equaliser wasn’t pretty viewing and I know Paul Farman will be sat at home beating himself up about it. As a keeper you’re always told if you can’t hold it, parry it away from danger, but for the second time in a week his initial save led to a goal. I didn’t think he was to blame on Tuesday, but the shot this afternoon didn’t seem to have the same venom to it. He saved the initial shot, they bagged the rebound and once again sections of our support have a scapegoat.
It wasn’t long before a resurgent Swindon got their second, I actually missed it but I’ve seen it back and again, it isn’t directly attributable to the keeper. Yes, he could have done better with it, but he wasn’t offered the level of protection ahead of the shot that we have come to expect from the Imps defence. They backed off sufficiently to allow Ollie Banks to crack a shot off which perhaps could have been dealt with better. Once again, fuel got poured on the scapegoat fire.
I despair when I read comments such as ‘take him off now’ at half time. What on earth is that going to achieve? Paul Farman is not a bad goal keeper, in the past few weeks he has pulled off some super saves. At the moment, a weakness in his game is dealing with long-range efforts and that has snowballed since the Accrington cup game. Other teams have done their video analysis and spotted he was beaten from range by Sean McConville, since then every side visiting the Bank have cracked shots off from distance.
People are entitled to an opinion and I won’t be shouting anyone down either way on social media. What I will say is this: I saw one comment saying Allsopp deserves his chance, I ask why? Has he been working tirelessly in training for the last few weeks, eagerly chomping at the bit? No. Have you seen him play? No. Please, have your opinions on Paul Farman if you must, but don’t lose sight of the fact he isn’t the only factor that cost us a win today. We’ve lost one in fourteen, yet we still want a scapegoat to blame when we concede. I fail to understand the mentality of someone who relishes it when our keeper makes an error, or is perceived to be at fault for something, but each to their own. By the way, last time we were in a semi-final we dropped Paul Farman and played Ross Etheridge. He let in two weak goals and we blew our chance of Wembley. I hope history doesn’t repeat itself.
Anyway, from one to eleven I thought we were average at best and poor at worst in the first half. Swindon earned a lot of praise, maybe because their ten men went ahead against our eleven, rightly so I suppose. Having the man extra isn’t always the advantage it seems, we proved that at Stevenage and Swindon proved it today. By the time half time came I was actually thankful they hadn’t added to their tally, Ollie Banks in particular looked decent, but it was more a case of us being bad than them being good.
It was a game of two halves, as I alluded to in the opening gambit. After the break I thought we were the better side, not least because I think Danny had a few choice words for them in the interval. How many times have we seen Lincoln come out first for the second half? I can’t ever recall it happening if I’m honest. We came out with an increased tempo and intensity, but things still didn’t really go our way.
Swindon retreated and although I’ve heard lots of plaudits from Lincoln fans, I actually thought they were alright, no more. They defended like ten-men, lots of bodies behind the ball and offering very little as an attacking threat. They had their lead and they looked like they just wanted to defend it and go home with three points. They’re clearly good at it and they invited us to break them down. Despite the array of creative players we had, we didn’t really look like scoring.
Rheady came on and shook things up a bit, the free kick for time-wasting was earned by his mere presence. He’s a fan favourite and rightly so, but it wasn’t his physicality that changed things, nor his actual impact. He played ok, not brilliant, but he did enough by coming on and asking questions to free other players up. Despite this, we loaded balls into the box but didn’t look like converting any of them. As the game pressed on, Swindon hit the bar, but that was a rare foray into our half. They were happy with a 2-1 win and by the time 89 minutes turned to 90, they looked to have done enough to earn it. We had much more possession but it was an afternoon where we lacked composure, cohesion and a cutting edge.
Scoring deep into injury time meant many fans felt in high spirits on the way out. Danny always says if you get the ball into the danger areas, eventually something will happen and that proved to be the case. Nobody seems sure who got the goal, whether it was Bozzie, their keeper or even Ollie Palmer, but it ended up in the net and that is all I need to know. On the balance of play, I think it was a deserved draw and even though we weren’t on it, we still earned a point. On 89 minutes it was a point gained, but after fifteen it was two points lost. Call it what you will, we’ll only know on May 5th which it was.
It’s another game unbeaten, another reason for fans to tear each other to shreds on social media and another fine display of character, if not ability, from the Imps. We huffed, we puffed and eventually, somehow, we blew the Swindon house down, or at least blew the front door open and nicked a point from the cupboard when they weren’t looking. Other teams would have lost that 2-1, other managers would have hung individuals out to dry but we’re not other teams and Danny is not other managers. Managers calling out players doesn’t help anyone, fans making their own players scapegoats doesn’t help either. If you were in the ground today and you ironically cheered Paul Farman when he cleared a ball after Swindon’s goals, you really do need to take a long hard look at yourself. Have an opinion, by all means, but when the game is in progress get behind the lad, yeah?
It wasn’t a good day at the office, but we took a point. I think we’re expecting the new players to settle in very quickly and it actually takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and what we’re creating here is exciting, but those new faces need time to adjust and understand the Cowley Method. It is happening, we are evolving and we’re still showing character and fight even though today it didn’t quite work. You can’t win them all they say. You win some, you lose some they say also. Well, we’ve lost one in 14 and that was to the runaway leaders on New Year’s Day. It’s not all bad, is it?