Some you win pretty, some you win easy and some you win by fighting and scraping even when things are not flowing for you. Tonight, we won via the latter method.
It wasn’t a great game, we were certainly better than we were at Cambridge but there was still enough to draw groans from those less easily pleased fans around me. Wild balls into the channels, missed headers and such like. Who cares?
Cheltenham are a decent side, they go quick up top just as we do and they packed the centre of the park. It was a battle, a scrap, a proper lower-league encounter with all the ingredients for a disaster. We could easily have lost that game, especially after failing to get the early goal our first fifteen minutes deserved.
I thought, to coin a Danny phrase, we attacked with a real intensity and purpose early doors. It was high-octane stuff, Cheltenham looked awful as we pushed forward. When we failed to capitalise early, the complexion of the game changed. If anything, we looked nervy that we hadn’t gone ahead after our hard work, the visitors looked big, strong but barely capable of scoring themselves. I can see why Mo Eisa has 15 goals, I can also see why he doesn’t have more. They go long, direct and are physical but he is the polar opposite. He sniffs around looking for a chance, but he isn’t one you’d go long into. I guess they were looking for Adebayo but he was marshalled superbly.
We got our first look at Scott Wharton and he looked decent in the first half. I did see him misplace a header and miss a pass, that had me groaning a little bit. I’m not usually quick to judge a player and as he settled he looked quite composed alongside Luke. They dealt well with any first half threats, having Bozzie just in front must help immensely.
I thought if we were going to get any joy it would be from Matt Green. That man works so hard throughout the game, he is phenomenal. He draws criticism for not being clinical enough but I’ll tell you something; I’ve never seen a centre forward work as hard at Lincoln City as he does. He chased every ball whether it was long, short or completely hopeless. It is a real bonus for us because even if we’re not on method, he’s still providing an outlet. Some of the wayward balls he chased this evening were lost causes before they left the passer’s foot, but he still chased them down.
Overall, it wasn’t a great half of football, it was very much like the first half of the Cambridge game. However, Neal Eardley decided enough was enough, the paying fans needed something to cheer and he conjured up a goal from nothing. Bozzie played a great ball through, Neal fired a thunderbolt through a gap and into the net. It was the perfect shot, it raised approximately two feet off the ground and stayed parallel to the turf until it nestled in the net. I like the word sumptuous, I use it quite often, but I think when Oxford are looking at defining in their new dictionary, they should just use a YouTube clip of Neal’s hit. To clarify, for those who need telling twice, it was a bloody super goal.
From there, I hoped we’d come out and blow away the opposition, after all they were alright, but not great. Half time was spent smirking when Alan Long introduced Tony Battersby as a ‘the legend that is, Tony Battersby’. He was a good player, when he turned up, but if he’s a legend then someone better get on the blower to Paul Connor or Gavin McCallum, ask them if they’re free for the 24th against Crewe. Once that had passed I remarked to my mate Dave how the goal just before half time would kill off Cheltenham and we’d kick on and win by two or three.
Instead, they mixed it up and brought on Danny Wright, a proper horrible bastard of a centre forward. I like him. He does the things Rheady does, just without Rheady’s finesse but with a bit more mobility. For ten or fifteen minutes of the second half I feared we’d have them score. It is easy to see how they bagged five on Saturday, if they’re allowed to play their game then they are a real threat. It’s testament to our excellent defensive players (Bozzie and Alex included) that they only looked average. when they did get through, Ryan Allsop had the answers.
I’m a Paul Farman fan. you know it, I’ve not tried to hide it and I never will. However, Ryan Allsop has looked excellent since coming in. He commands his area superbly, he has a knack of maximising his time on the ball when we need the game slowing down, but also distributing it quick when we need an out. His shot stopping looks good too, I’m not really sure what the Blackpool fans were moaning about when we signed him. I worried about a loan keeper coming in, on the evidence of the last 180 minutes of football, I need not have bothered.
Danny tweaked it fairly early too. I thought Rheady coming off after 59 minutes was a bit premature. After all, we know Ollie’s strengths and weaknesses and he’s not one to give you an extra dimension with thirty minutes to go, normally. I actually thought this evening he was excellent, his introduction helped swing the game back into our favour. Most of our second half chances came after he entered the fray and I didn’t see him lose a header. He worked tremendously hard too, bit hard not too when Matt Green is leading by example, but he clearly frustrated the Cheltenham defence.
I’d like to give a special mention to Tom Pett too, I really like the look of him. He ran down a few blind alley’s tonight and was out-muscled on occasion, but our conditioning and sports science guys will put hairs on his chest, that is for sure. He looks to be a ‘footballer’, a player with a bit of panache and an eye for a pass. I think he’s got a big future at the club, once he leaves balls to bounce out for a throw instead of standing under it!
Usually when we’re 1-0 up at home we endure fifteen minutes of pressure at the end, but as Cheltenham chased the game we had the better chances. Ryan Allsop pulled of a great save from Eisa with ten minutes or so to go and that was effectively their last threat. as the minute ran down I didn’t think they would score, usually I’m fearful but we marshalled them so well. Wharton got increasingly more comfortable as the game progressed and it is clear he isn’t here to make up the numbers.
Nobody is to blame, the harsh fact is grass doesn’t grow in the winter, so the more games that get played, the worse it is going to get.
After the game Danny was quite critical of the pitch, but it has seen an awful lot of action recently. Nobody is too blame, the harsh fact is grass doesn’t grow in the winter, so the more games that get played, the worse it is going to get. The ground staff must be delighted when the clocks go forward because it is likely the grass will be growing by then and we can start seeing improvements in the playing surface. Reports of it being deliberately churned up for the Chelsea game are not correct, the staff try really hard to get it playable. we get the ball down in the final third and play some nice stuff, we often work the ball down the flanks on the floor too, so it doesn’t exactly suit us in the current condition.
We end the day in the play off spots but that means nothing. Sure, it might be a psychological boost, but I’ll get excited if we’re still there in May, not before. What does please me is a win, a clean sheet (again) and a spirited performance at the sharper end of five matches in just over two weeks. Our players are jaded, it has been high tempo, high pressure and high risk but we’ve come through the period relatively unscathed. Once Crawley is out of the way we have a full week of to recover and focus on the 14 matches that now stand between us and League One.
As for tonight; job done. It wasn’t a classic but at this stage of the season, who needs classics? We got three points, a clean sheet and a moment of magic that will forever be the one memory of an average game of football.
PS: The rugged looking devil below was knocking out a magazine of some description tonight. You can buy it in some shops (acityunited.net will tell you which ones), or you can rock up to the Crewe game and buy it from my far prettier partner, Miss Fiona.