Football is a game that provokes so much opinion, from such a wide spectrum of people, that it is bound to spark conflict. Last night Lincoln City drew 0-0 with mid-table Cambridge, that is fact. From there, opinion takes over.
Did a tired team, who have played five matches in fifteen days, grind out a good result against a Cambridge side that are strong at home? Or did an Imps team tumbling out of the promotion frame drop two points against a club in turmoil, a club who effectively sacked their manager straight after the game?
Did City play well, creating a couple of chances against a strong side, or was it a toothless display? Were Cambridge a good side, perhaps in a false league position given the quality at their disposal, or was it a mediocre team that were waiting to be beaten but we couldn’t press home an advantage? Has our recent transfer business been shrewd, or have we recruited too many wingers and not enough strikers?
It is all opinion and how we express that opinion can often be misconstrued too. If I were to write “last night wasn’t good enough,” what does that imply to you? I could mean it in the context of not being good enough to win the game, but it could be read as me having a pop at the manager and players as a collective and in the wider context of the season. Five words, a thousand interpretations.
Last week, after the transfer window shut, I got a phone call from a certain Danny Cowley. I didn’t write about it, we just chatted about the window, his targets and what the current situation was. I respect Danny, obviously because I get kept in the loop, but because he is candid, up front and will always be honest. There’s a mutual respect I hope, there must be otherwise I’m sure I wouldn’t be entrusted with such frank conversation. One thing he did say was, when challenged on team selection by fans, “I work with the players every day and I know what they can and can’t do, or what condition they’re in.”
Remember that, please, when criticising team selection and tactics. Last night, Danny Rowe’s exclusion raised a few eyebrows. I say his exclusion rather than Tom Pett’s inclusion, but they’re effectively the same thing. Don’t for one minute think Danny sticks a pin in a list of names when picking a team, he agonises over it, analyses the opposition and evaluates his own squad. We, as fans, watch ninety minutes of football and throwaway a comment such as “if Danny Rowe had started we’d have won that game.” If only it was that easy.
As the game became stretched late on, both Matt Green and Ollie Palmer missed chances. I’m told by some of the armchair pundits that a new striker, a 20-goal striker, would have buried those. It’s costing us, not signing a new forward in the transfer window. That’s what I hear, our failure to bring in a fourth forward, a starter at that, is going to cost us promotion.
Is it? It is detrimental to this season by Danny’s own admission, but he has players he can utilise up front if required. From our chat, I know he worked tirelessly on bringing players in, but not just any players. We’re building a squad for now and the future, we’re managing finances carefully to ensure longevity and the right faces are adding value in the right places. Danny and I spoke about the forward situation and the sound bites in popular media were absolutely on the ball. he did chase targets, plenty of them and good quality ones too. They eluded us for one reason or another, mainly either location or League One sides moving for the players we wanted.
Look, it’s no secret we wanted Alex Revell who went to Stevenage, that’s been reported in the media and therefore I’m not breaching Danny’s trust. Alex and his family are based far enough away to make Stevenage a viable option. League Two clubs do not pay life-changing wages, not those with a firm understanding of fiscal matters. Mansfield might, that’s why they have an out of shape Ricky Miller in their squad and Lee Angol rotting on the bench, but we don’t. Believe me, we haven’t just lost out on strikers due to naivety or bad planning.
On to last night’s game and let us be totally honest, we didn’t look at it. Mind you, we did play against some of the countries finest young players 72 hours before, and it was our fourth game in ten days. One or two of the lads did look to tire, perhaps that should be expected. You know what though? We’re still unbeaten in eight games. Cambridge were no mugs and they perhaps demonstrated something we couldn’t do when bringing off Waters for the big lump. They could change their approach mid game. We can to a degree, just not so much up front. It didn’t do them any favours though, did it? We still got a draw, we still kept a clean sheet.
For once we went to a ground where there were a few home fans making a bit of noise and played a team who have lost once at home since November 8th. They were organised, have good players who have been mismanaged and I thought they showed that, in patches. We showed our quality, in patches, but neither side got into a rhythm or pressed for long periods of time. Sure, it opened up in the last fifteen minutes, but I have to disagree with Thommo who said it was exciting. It was engrossing, in spells, but it wasn’t keeping fans on their feet. Even in the terraces I wanted to sit down for a bit!
There’s not a lot that can be written about an unremarkable game, but our response as fans is important. If you’re suggesting we’re in some sort of trouble, I think you’re perhaps being melodramatic. Danny Cowley is here for the long-term, he wants to finish a job and I believe that job is third tier football. Lincoln City have never achieved back to back promotions, so disappointment at not doing it this season is basically being disappointed that we haven’t achieved something that has literally never, ever happened. Of course the squad isn’t as strong as it could be, when has any Lincoln squad been as strong as it could be. I feel from back right the way through to the attacking midfield roles we’ve got depth and options. We lack up front, nobody is making any bones about that, but we don’t lack quality elsewhere. We as fans should be content that we’re building too.
I don’t buy us derailing our league campaign for the Wembley appearance and I take issue with those sneering at the final appearance. By all means sneer at the competition, but a cup final appearance means a hell of a lot to the people of Lincoln. I’d argue it means more to some then the four points we’ve failed to pick up either side of it, financially to the club it means a lot too. Also, for prospective signings next season, an appearance in a cup final makes the club that little bit more of a draw. At the beginning of this season most fans would have been happy with a tenth placed finish, so a tenth placed finish and a Wembley appearance is dreamland. It is important not to lose focus, I wasn’t one of the odd few who were singing “we’re the famous Lincoln City and we’re going to Wembley” last night. We park it and we focus on the league, but genuinely (and I know I’ll be criticised here) I’d take the Wembley appearance over the four points we’ve not won this week. I make no apologies for that statement, I don’t care about the reputation of the tournament either. I’m going to see my team in a cup final at Wembley and that, in itself, is a measure of success whether you like the FLT or not.
Last night was an average performance against a half decent side with a good home record. It wasn’t a defeat, it was a clean sheet and it certainly isn’t the end of the world. It is a real barometer how far we’ve come when draws against Swindon and Cambridge are regarded as below-average results. Swindon were two divisions above us last season, Cambridge away has always been a tough prospect and yet taking points from both has disappointed fans? It can’t be all bad.
So it’s a blank Saturday now, so depending on the status of your glass you can either be happy that the teams around us are playing each other and dropping points, or lament the fact we haven’t capitalised on that as much as you’d like. Me? Now I’ve warmed up and chilled out I’m easy with last night’s result for two reasons. One, the clean sheet and the point and two, when it became clear on fifteen minutes that neither side were likely to score I stuck some a quid on below 0.5 goals. It hasn’t made me rich, but it means that my match ticket was paid for, so all I lost was a couple of hours of my time. I’d call that a 0-0 draw of my very own.
Enjoy your weekend.