For a moment, albeit brief, Lincoln City looked like they’d take all three points today. Trailing to an early goal Jimmy Smith goal for most of the first half, they looked anything but promotion contenders.
It all got worse on half time after Danny Cowley received his third red card of the season, sent to the stands by Trevor Kettle. I’m not going to comment on Mr Kettle, do a search. Type “Trevor Kettle” and “awful” into Google, draw your own conclusions. However bad he might have been, we weren’t 1-0 down because of him.
No, we were 1-0 down because our Achilles heal, first halves away from home, had seen us barely in the game. One half chance perhaps, nothing more. Crawley on the other hand looked slick going forward, well organised and efficient. Boldewijn and Ahearne-Grant had some real movement in them both. I have it on relatively good authority that Ahearne-Grant was one we were in for in January, but location (along with Karl Robinson’s relationship with Harry Kewell) scuppered the move.
It really has been an issue at times, our inability to turn in a decent first half performance on the road. Usually we do what we did this afternoon, then come out all guns blazing, which is exactly what happened. Within seven minutes of the restart Tom Pett had hit the bar and Matt Green equalised for City with a typically well taken finish from a tight angle. From there on, only one winner. City shifted a gear against a tired and beaten looking Crawley. After all, you go 1-0 against City you need to hang on to that lead because once we get a foot hold, we don’t let go.
Well, we don’t let go normally, but a twist of fate ensured this afternoon wasn’t one we were going to find fruitful. A simple long ball over the top beat Scott Wharton and, as he tried to recover, he pulled down Boldewijn. I was critical of the forward man before the season started, questioning whether a lower league Dutch player could cut it in League Two. He can, he did Wharton and they got a penalty because of it. Was Trevor Kettle to blame? No, Scott Wharton was. 100% stonewall penalty which Ryan Allsopp couldn’t keep out.
The goal changed the complexion of the game immediately and the remaining 22 minutes belonged to the hosts. They dusted themselves down from the spell of Imps pressure and within five minutes added a third. It was poorly defended again, a simple free kick whipped in to the far post and headed past the keeper.
That prompted a raft of changes, Ollie Palmer and Jordan Williams coming on, as well as Elliott Whitehouse, but sadly we know two of those are game holders, not game changers. Our bench has good quality on it, but not up the top of the pitch. There wasn’t a way back for City via those three, perhaps Pett or Anderson might have sparked something, but it was folly to believe we could find two goals. In the end, we were beaten by a good side in a game that turned on a penalty.
Let us be honest shall we? We weren’t good enough in the first half against an in-form side. We came out in the second and did well, but naivety has cost us at the back. Scott Wharton had a decent game on Tuesday night, but he didn’t look comfortable this afternoon. That’s the call the gaffer makes, but with Frecklington injured, Bostwick can’t play centre half and central midfield. With Wilson injured, Wharton plays. We’re beginning to feel the pinch of injuries through the small squad, but even that isn’t to blame. No, today a decent side beat us. 3-1 flatters them, but it was a more just result than us taking anything away.
For the record, this defeat has nothing to do with our Wembley final. I’ve already seen the smug comments from ‘fans’ opposed to the Checkatrade Trophy that the push to Wembley has cost us the play-offs. Why do these people need to rear their head every time a result doesn’t go our way? Why must the Chelsea game have cost us points against a Cambridge side with a super home record and Swindon who are chasing the play-offs themselves? I wish some fans would reel it in a little bit when a bad result comes away, some seem to revel in things going against us if it proves a point for them.
There’s not a great amount I can say, bar fifteen minutes after the break we were poor this afternoon, but it is the end of our Saturday / Tuesday run of matches that has put pressure on our small squad. I know the moaners will be out in force peddling the ‘weak January’ rhetoric or the narrative I’ve mentioned in the first paragraph. Football, sadly, is a game of ups and downs and today was a down. I feel most for the 750-odd fans who made the journey down the country to witness a 3-1 defeat. After such an intense run of games, they deserve more.
That said, it is our first defeat in 48 days, so it isn’t all bad is it? We’re still seventh also, so I do hope the doomsday peddlers keep their vitriol to a bare minimum.
Just a word on Danny’s sending off too, I am a big one for passionate managers, I even like to see him admonish referees from time to time, but you have to do your research. Kettle likes a card, he takes no prisoners and there wasn’t an incident, that I could see at least, in which we were cost a goal or they should have had a player sent off. Pick your battles Danny, you’re a massive influence on the touchline and a motivation for the players and you’re no use to them or us up in the stands. When it’s critical, give ’em hell. When it’s half time of a game we clearly still had a chance of winning, maybe send Jimmy Walker over instead. He’s expendable, surely?
- The picture at the top is clearly from our home clash with Crawley earlier in the season, courtesy of Graham Burrell