Phew, another double-header of action that could define the Imps season. Less than nine days ago I sat reading doom and gloom after a draw with Morecambe, but on reflection, that’s proven to be an incredibly useful point.
Away from being proven right, this afternoon was a display of resilience, a result born out of strong characters, absolute togetherness and hard work. Carlisle aren’t too unlike us, they work hard too and the early exchanges pointed to a somewhat dour game. Both sides wanted the win, but neither looked to have the quality to snatch it.
It was an unchanged City side, as expected, and as the game wore on I thought we looked more likely to score. It ebbed and flowed nicely, at one point flitting from end to end in almost thrilling fashion. It was ‘League Two’ end to end though, frantic but perhaps lacking that quality to finish the move off. Our forwards perhaps contrasted theirs, our worked tirelessly but didn’t get the bounce, Ritchie Bennett on the other hand just looked a little lost. I thought he’d be a huge threat, but he appears to be struggling with league football.
The goal came from one of our star players, a man who can finish with aplomb at times but also prone to missing a sitter. I’ve been a huge Matt Green (pictured top) fan ever since he signed and his last two goals have been executed succinctly. It was a wonderfully calm finish to a well-worked training ground move, a carbon copy of the second against Exeter. I know Michael Hortin was asking if Carlisle actually scouted City, but it wasn’t a lack of awareness it was simply switching off at a crucial time. Also we must not let them lapsing concentration take away from the quality of the goal, the confidence to try it a second time this afternoon and a fourth time in four days. It shows our players believe in the training they’re undertaking and have absolute confidence in executing training ground plans.
Maybe that lapse in concentration is the difference between the top three and the rest of the pack because at times, it has certainly cost Carlisle. We’ve been known to switch off too, especially a couple of times on Friday, but that seemed to be eradicated today. The second half demanded a concise and organised performance, at times it needed to be dogged but there was no quarter given and nobody shirking their responsibility. We saw the odd lapse, oddly from Neal Eardley once or twice, but it was never going to cost us a goal, especially not with Bennett in such poor form.
This afternoon didn’t give us an outright man of the match, there wasn’t a single person who stood head and shoulders above the rest. It was a team effort, a hard-fought victory but one which came from sensible game management too. I’d hate to play us, winding the clocks down and running for the corners with ten minutes left. We are able to effectively kill a game, even when we make a sub they always seem to be the opposite side to the dugout. That management is ingrained in the player’s psyche and although it isn’t popular with opposition fans, it is effective.
One aspect that absolutely defines us as a football club are the fans and to take over 600 to Carlisle, two days after Good Friday and just a few days before Wembley was a huge amount. I know there will be plenty on their high horse saying it should have been a thousand, but that fact is Carlisle is a long drive and people simply don’t have deep pockets. Personally, I’m staggered we’ve sold 26,000 tickets for Wembley, equally such that we took such a strong contingent up north too. I had to listen on the radio (and definitely not watch on a snide iFollow feed) and all I could hear was City fans. In fact, the only time I felt we weren’t the home side was the disputed penalty.
Now, I know the referee will get a bit of stick for his afternoon, but I’m going to heap praise on him. The penalty incident had us all clenching our bum cheeks and holding our breath, especially when he awarded a penalty. I was hoping Ryan Allsop might make a save, I was comforting myself we might be okay with a draw, but the referee took his time and had the strength of character to overturn the opposition. It was the right decision, but it took some minerals to do it in front of a partisan home crowd. Moments like that define a season, it has certainly defined Carlisle’s. They needed a win today, that penalty might have given them hope. Instead, they were full of anger at a failed campaign. They were play off semi-finalists last season, this season they look like falling short. The king is dead, long live the king.
I’m not one to say ‘I told you so’, but I am delighted that we’re going into Wembley in the top seven. Morecambe was a good point, proven fact
We move on now, Wembley awaits and for a week the city will lose a little focus as Shrewsbury await in the nation’s capital. Whatever the results next weekend, when we kick off in the Football league again we’ll be in the top seven and that is just the cushion we needed to be able to fully enjoy next weekend. I know some of you can’t, I genuinely feel for you because it will be an incredibly proud moment for all Imps next weekend. However, the league is our mountain (as Danny says) and we’re steadily climbing it without letting Wembley impact it.
I’m not one to say ‘I told you so’, but I am delighted that we’re going into Wembley in the top seven, not just in there but now amongst the favourites to make the end of season lottery. Morecambe was a good point, proven fact. Nothing has derailed the play off push and we can be proud of our achievements in both competitions. I understand those who resent the new faces we’ll see in London, I don’t. I don’t care if every single Lincoln resident goes along next week, some of whom couldn’t name our centre halves. Nobody is missing out, everyone who wants to go can go. Therefore, why worry? Why bother? At the end of the day, a League Two club taking 26,000 fans is a wonderful achievement and a solid indication of the potential this club has. We’re growing off the field and this season, we’ve grown on it too.
I wanted consolidation, we’re in the top seven. Top ten would have been an achievement, but all of a sudden we look amongst the fore runners for the play offs and a real outside bet for the top three. It would be a huge ask, but if the aspirational target is top three with six games left, I think that is a hell of a season.
For the second year in a row, Easter has defined our season. A week after Gateshead last season, we played our ‘cup final’ against Macclesfield and won 2-1. This year, we have a real cup final to go to, after that we have six games to earn the club’s first ever back to back promotions.
It’s great being a Lincoln fan at the moment.