In the end, the words of caution and apprehension were simply the best left unheard ramblings of a pessimist, a man brought up on a diet of failure and derby disappointment.
The truth was, for all of the posturing in town, the fear of new managers and new signings, it was evident yesterday that a team at the top end of the table were playing a team at the bottom.
Firstly, a word of apology from me. I know usually I’m on the ball post match, but sadly yesterday took its toll on my glass back. Not sure if L4 or L5 lumbar is to blame, but whichever it was I was rendered incapacitated for much of the latter part of yesterday. Hence my late article.
The game wasn’t a bad spectacle, it had a surreal ambience with driving snow switching with bright sunshine every ten minutes or so. One constant, at least for sixty minutes, was the swirling wind which made James McKeown’s distribution look like something you’d see on FIFA from a six-year old with a broken controller. Perhaps the wind eased in the second period, because Ryan Allsop was definite and precise with his delivery.
The game opened tentatively and neither side truly stood out. City started well, the first twenty minutes we got plenty into the box but weren’t able to create anything meaningful. The Cods got a bit of a foothold and could have taken a surprise lead although it would have been against the run of play. It was an unremarkable clash between two sides struggling to adapt to the conditions or live up to the billing of the so-called big game.
Then we had eight wondrous minutes which I’m sure will live long in the memory of all City fans. A three-goal salvo that could have been more resulting in the end of the game as a contest. Once we smelled blood it was ruthless and effective, like a bird of prey having a go at a mouse, seeing it’s distress and just going again and again.
The build up was very familiar for the first, a corner that the conditions rendered more of a pinball game, but Lee Frecklington gave us a demonstration of what he can do, firing an unnervingly calm volley through a crowd of players and past the stranded keeper. Was it a miss-hit? Possibly a bit, but in the conditions and given the limited time he had on the ball, it was an achievement to get the shot on target away.
Grimsby suddenly looked like a side on the ropes and persistence created the second. Freck was involved again, Elliott Whitehouse did superbly to get a ball cross and Matt Green added to his tally for the season. I have to say, I was delighted for all involved. After the game it was revealed Freck has been going through a tough time personally, so to turn in arguably his best display since his return was testament to his character. You could see in his celebration how much his opener meant, the same went for Greeny with the second. He’s taking some stick from some supporters, calls for him to be dropped for Palmer have been loud, but he’s such an asset and proved it by being in the right place, at the right time.
As for Elliott Whitehouse, yesterday was his best display in a City shirt by a mile. He was energetic, tenacious and willing not just to get on the ball, but to create with it too. The second goal summed up his entire performance, dogged and determined but also calm and collected. He’s one I’ve had doubts about all season, but recently he’s been given a chance and I think he’s done really well.
The third goal was another set piece that worked its way to the man of the moment, Scott Wharton. He rifled home to end the game and again, you could see what it meant to him. I can’t see us being in with a sniff of bringing him here permanently next season, he’s got ‘Championship’ written all over him and his displays will be a delight for Tony Mowbray. He came here as cover, I can see him keeping his place for the rest of the season, such is his impact.
It could have been five, we missed a couple of great chances, one that could have earned Elliott a goal had Greeny got out of the way in time. We looked rampant, likely to score again and again until the entire Stacey West was empty. Instead, they got their break. It was another set play, this time the handball could be seen from the other end of the pitch. Elliott claimed a push, that may be, but the official didn’t have any choice to award the spot kick. Ben Davies converted it, although Allsop made himself huge and almost stopped it.
That set us up for an interesting second period, Grimsby had the wind in their favour and should have pressed that advantage home some more. They didn’t, either weren’t able to physically or lack the quality to unlock defences, but we held firm. It wasn’t a pretty second half by any means, it was efficient and effective from City though. We had more threat after Rheady came off, the swirling winds might have worked for him in the first but he was never going to get a sniff in the second. Harry added some width when he came on, Ollie frightens everyone at times, Imps and opponents, but he too had a positive effect on the game.
Elliott Whitehouse was my man of the match, Scott Wharton played well but I thought Elliott stood out. He really suits the 4-3-3 and I think he could play off the striker as well as advancing from midfield. He will have caused Danny a real headache for Luke’s return too.
Other notable mentions have to go to Jordan Williams, Alex Woodyard and Bozzie. For Rheady and Bozzie to comet through a local derby without a card is testament not only to their own restraint, but also the referees performance. Sure, there was the odd decision I disagreed with but I thought he was excellent throughout. What was there, two cards all game? Both were deserved and a weaker ref might have been throwing them about early and making a rod for his own back. Mind you, someone ought to tell a few of those Grimsby players it was a derby match, because with half an hour to go there were three or four who didn’t look like they wanted to throw themselves about at all.
Jordan Williams (pictured top courtesy of Graham Burrell) had an effective game, he is another who thrives in the 4-3-3 and whilst he doesn’t have a goal to show, he made some lovely runs into the channels and always offered an out ball too. I can see why Danny wanted him last summer and I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t go back for him this time around. The player clearly loves it here and he’s already spoken a couple of times about not enjoying his Rochdale experience. Besides, we might be swapping places soon.
Alex Woodyard was brilliant again too. He’s looking back to his pre-Christmas best, he never gives the opposition midfield time to breath. In a high-press game such as ours you must have one midfielder with a non-stop engine and that is Alex all over. It surprised me to find out Dartford had been playing him as a right winger in his time there, to the point where I chuckled away to myself, thinking of them having this Championship quality central midfielder out on the right wing in the National League.
Depending on your outlook results either did or didn’t go our way. We’re in the top seven, so that is a positive but it is Exeter who slipped up, ominously away at Morecambe which is where we go next week. I have relatives who are Grecians fans and they’ve got a tough March, ending in the visit to us. I expect them to drop more points, although Coventry are hitting form. They’ll brush the Cods aside next week, but it might not matter. Mansfield’s manager change hasn’t done them any good and there’s going to be lots more changes before the season ends. The important thing is we’ve put our blip behind us now and we’ve got players creeping back into the squad.
James Wilson coming on at the end was huge for us, more important than a fourth or fifth goal. Imps haven’t seen him yet, but in my mind he’s Sean Raggett in three years time, having played Championship football. It’s been a horrible start for him, scoring with his first imps touch and then suffering injuries, but if he is fit and ready to return, it opens the options up again for us. Clearly, Danny see’s 4-3-3 as an effective approach at the moment, if we have Wilson and Wharton at the back, Bozzie, Freck and Alex can all be accommodated in the centre of the park. We know Freck will manage 70% of the games, but won’t play every week which is why Elliott’s performance was massive positive for us yesterday.
Up front the new formation works too, Matt Green hasn’t looked as isolated and Jordan Williams has really seized his chance. It’s harsh on Harry though, he’s probably our best player when he’s on form but the new set up doesn’t accommodate him, nor on-loan Danny Rowe who we know has a touch of genius about him. They do give us the option to switch to a 4-4-2 though with relative ease during a game and I’m a firm believer in that being an effective weapon. If you can change formations fluidly in an instant and be effective in both, the opposition must adjust at short notice and perhaps against any previous plans they have. It will be interesting to see how the next couple of games pan out.
The play-offs loom large on the horizon and only a fool would bet against us right now. I know Grimsby and Chesterfield are not the toughest sides in the division, on paper neither are Morecambe, but you have to win these games to give yourselves a chance. If we could take six points from our next two games (Morecambe and Exeter) we’d leave ourselves in an excellent place to feature in the end of season lottery. Two weeks ago it hardly looked likely after a poor run of form, but seven from nine has restored hope, as has our stumbling opponents.
As for Grimsby, I can safely say that is the worst side I’ve seen them put out at Sincil Bank since they were relegated in 2009/10. Michael Jolley has his work cut out, especially if those eleven players are the best he can find in their expansive squad. If Chesterfield find some form then the Cods are in serious trouble because they looked much like Lincoln City of 2011 yesterday. We’d threaten goals back then, maybe hit a post before utterly collapsing for ten minutes, then ‘bravely’ battling to get back in the game. Brave battling doesn’t win you points, goals do and I can’t see where they’re coming from for Jolley.
Do you realise if we go up and they go down, it would be the first time in history we’d been two divisions clear of them? A new era dawning indeed. If I’m honest I don’t think it will happen, to be promoted from the play offs would be a huge achievement and still one I find unlikely and I suspect the other teams in the relegation battle will be poor enough to save the Cods skin. Will they be back at Sincil Bank next season? Very possibly, but I hope for their sake there’s a serious improvement before then.