Lincoln City FC never fail to astound me and once again, they’ve defied logic and reason to produce a scintillating display of football that has left fans drooling.
When I say scintillating I don’t mean free-flowing passes and intricate skills, I mean a determined and dogged display of resilience, togetherness and application. We don’t always play pretty, in League Two you can’t, but I dare say Coventry will have us down as one of the best teams they’ve seen this year, simply reciprocating the honour we bestowed upon them in November.
Back then it felt like the masters teaching the newcomers a lesson, their football beat our fight and application, but tonight it was the tortoise that finally got the better of the hare. They’ve run out of steam recently and even a couple of well-worked goals weren’t enough to stop the slow, methodical juggernaut of Lincoln City. Every week we’ve plough on, gaining points, climbing towards the ultimate goal of a play off place. I believe we have enough now, I don’t think our points target will be beaten by Mansfailed, but to be mathematically sure we need just a single point from our last two games. I miss Yeovil at home thanks to being partly converted into a robot the day before (spinal surgery, metal rods and screws in two lumber. Nice), but I’m pretty confident now that match won’t have a bearing on our final position. I hope not, I hope the lads make it irrelevant, just for me.
A draw would have been sufficient tonight, so I stuck a fiver on one of the two teams failing to score. I thought maybe Danny would tighten it up and go there to get what we needed. How foolish am I? A Cowley team always, without fail, goes out to win a game of football. I expect Mark Robins thought that if we didn’t get at them early then he’d settle for a point too. It could have had all the hallmarks of Austria and West Germany from the 1982 World Cup.
Matt Rhead weed on their chips within sixty seconds, smashing home a wonderful goal from Lee Frecklington’s knock down. Within a minute of the game kicking off we’d stuck a middle finger in the air and said ‘we’re here for all three points’. It was a line in the sand, we puffed out our chests, let out a loud battle cry and spanked them early. The goal was almost typical Rhead, a sublime strike from nothing that has become his trademark. He’s not been as prolific this season, but when he hits a ball, it stays hit. The big man was getting a lot of stick from people sat around me Saturday, next time I hear it I’ll just show them a video of that goal and shake my head in a condescending manner.
That goal immediately set the tone for a frenetic half of football, delightful because we ended up on the right side of it but terrifying from a defensive point of view. Their equaliser was a swift break, knocking the ball about quickly and with ease, much as they had done at our place in November. There wasn’t really anyone to blame on our side, to a man we were playing superbly, but the Sky Blues have quality in abundance and they flexed their muscles right back at us.
Enter Ollie Palmer, the myth, the legend. All season we’ve scratched our heads as to what our best pairing is up top, tonight Danny just shrugged his shoulders and stuck all three on. What is the worst that could happen, right? Palmer, fresh from folding his lunchtime crisps, stumbled almost accidentally through the defence, only we see it every week and that lumbering ‘Paulo Wanchope’ style of his is never accidental. 2-1 City, for around as long as it was 0-0.
Switch off, 2-2. There’s not much else to be said is there? Coventry literally levelled as quickly as we’d opened the scoring, another good goal from them to well and truly kill off my bet and possibly Lincoln City’s spirit.
As if. As if anything can kill our side’s spirit when the chips are down. I’ll tell you what we are right now, we’re a big game team. We occasionally lose focus in the smaller games, but when we are truly needed, each and every man stands up to be counted. Coventry in November seemed like a big game, but there was nothing won and lost in November. Coventry at the end of May was a huge game and we knew exactly what was needed. In those games, we perform. Just like the last 12 games of the National League, just like Forest Green back in November 2016, just like the FA Cup matches and just like the Wembley final.
It was big Ollie Palmer who finished them off, albeit in the first half. He smashed home arguably the scrappiest goal of the evening, a close range finish after a corner wasn’t dealt with properly. I imagine at 3-2 Mark Robins slumped back in his dug out, turned to his assistant and said “why won’t they just settle for a bloody draw?”
The second half was far more measured and controlled, despite the early Sky Blue pressure. Although it felt as though something could happen at any minute, it only truly happened once more. The superb Matt Rhead, turning in one of his best performances in recent weeks, set up Lee Frecklington, the evenings Man of the Match by some distance. It was fitting Freck got the goal, he’s had his detractors recently but tonight, when pushed, he rose to the occasion. That’s why we signed him, he’s League One quality and so are a majority of our players.
Once we’d got four goals behind us we started to do a bit of the old ‘Wycombe’ tactics. It’s nice to see we weren’t doing it from the first minute, if that had been Wycombe and Coventry I guarantee you it would have been a turgid 0-0. Anyone who says our style is anti-football ought to just bear that in mind.
Time wasting is part and parcel of the game, but tonight’s result shows that last week’s controversial draw with Wycombe was an excellent outcome. We’ve faced two very different sides, successful for their own reasons, but neither has matched us properly. Wycombe subdued us, but never looked like beating us, Coventry came at us and simply couldn’t outscore us. Notts County struggled to handle us at Christmas and Exeter were simply outscored earlier this year too.
Go on, which of those do you think wants to play the Cowley’s Lincoln in a play off match? Who wants the big game team, the organised, fighting side in the end of season mix up? I’ll tell you who. Nobody. That’s who.
I’m confident we’ve got enough points to see us face the two-legged semi-final and I’m also confident we’ve got enough in the tank to beat anyone over two legs, certainly anyone in our division. We’re organised, we’re resolute and despite having a small squad, we’re remarkably flexible too. The back four did very well tonight despite being ‘make-shift’, but then when your so-called reserve centre back is a former Welsh international who played League One for six months this season, you’re not in a bad place, are you?
Massive respect to Michael Bostwick too, he’s got to be pushing Neal Eardley hard for the Player of the Year. He’s just an animal, a never-say-die behemoth who bullies and battles his way through every game he plays. I was delighted to see his card was rescinded, the correct decision, and I was over the moon to see him at his dominant best.
Tonight we celebrate, tomorrow we focus on Accrington. I feel like Danny Cowley saying that, but that is how I feel. Let’s get to the ‘best’ team in the league and shove it right up them like we can do anyone on our day. It’s the final away day of the season, fancy dress and huge numbers watching two of League Two’s finest sides in action. Accrington can win the title, we can secure promotion and both sets of fans will probably be happy at the final whistle matter not the result. I’m pleased for Accrington in as much as they play football the right way and have defied the odds, but I’d rather it had been us in their position. That said, we all claimed the play-offs would be a massive achievement and to all intents and purposes, that is where we are right now.
Two years ago this week we rounded off a relatively disappointing National League campaign with a 3-2 defeat at home to Woking and I’d written about green shoots of recovery, wondering what the next appointment might do for our club. If I knew then what I knew now, I’d think I was hallucinating.
4-2 at the Ricoh Arena? It’s all in a day’s work for Lincoln City of 2018, arguably the best Lincoln City I’ve seen in my 32 years of following the club.
Reference my Michael Bostwick post from earlier today, I’d like to point out that I wouldn’t ever print speculation as fact. I speculate on transfers, on games and even on how we’ll line up, but when I present something as fact, I do believe it to be so.
I appreciate some people, not my regular readers I hasten to add, were quite condescending about the post, believing it to be both fake news and guess work. Believe it or not, I even received three rather aggressive messages berating the work I do on the Stacey West. All I try to do is provide a interesting website, the sort of place I’d want to visit if I didn’t write it.
Had the club, who were aware very early on in the morning of my knowledge, not wanted me to run the story, I would not have done so.