9th August 2016, two years and two day’s ago. I remember watching Lincoln City under Danny Cowley for the first time, we dismantled North Ferriby 6-1 by playing slick, attacking football. It was joyous, a night I labelled as ‘the night something changed’.
I came home that night enthused, it was the first home game of the season, the second we’d played in the campaign and I’d witnessed something that I felt was fundamentally different from the norm. What I’d seen, what everyone in Sincil Bank had seen, was the start of the new era. Lincoln City’s Empire was on the rise.
Since then, things have changed. We’ve had the cup runs, the trophies and players come and go, but I haven’t seen us dismantled a side like we did North Ferriby. They could deal with us that day, we passed them off the park. Within weeks Danny had realised to beat Tranmere, Forest Green and Dagenham, we needed to be tough, resilient and use Matt Rhead as best we could. We were labelled long ball, unfairly in some respects, but then again accurate in others.
That is a hard tag to shake, especially when you’re winning matches. Other clubs love to blame the so-called ‘moon ball’ we play, or they perceive that we play. I wont deny we have spent two years going long as well as playing a bit, but we haven’t been like Wimbledon of old, nor are we a John Beck side.
Today, I saw a Lincoln City performance that, in the main, harked back to the North Ferriby match. I’m not saying we utterly dominated Swindon, that wouldn’t be accurate, but we won the game by passing, moving and letting the ball slide across the grass. There wasn’t a long ball team on the field today and anyone who says there was is either bitter, misguided or both.
Danny pulled a surprise pe-match, no sooner had I been telling everyone I thought we’d go three at the back than he announced a flat back four again. In his interview after the game Harry Toffolo called it a 4-4-2, on the team sheet it looked very much like the 4-2-3-1 that we first trialled away at North Ferriby later in the National League season. Maybe we’re getting hung up on formations, but there was nothing predictable about how we set up at all. Matt Green, 17-goal leading scorer last season and scorer of the winner last week, sat out.
Bruno Andrade and Harry Anderson, two player who have been on the fringes of the first team in pre-season, two players who started the midweek friendly against Doncaster, both started. Who saw that coming? I know they scored all four goals between them, but genuinely who would have put those two in the first team today?
It was a surprise, make no mistake, but perhaps not as much as the opening half an hour was. It was a joy to watch, I know many Swindon fans felt they were really bad, but there was a case for us just being that good. John Akinde was giving a masterclass in how to be the one up front, Bruno and Harry were scintillating, not giving their full backs a chance and McCartan was pulling all the strings just in behind. I’ve singled them out, but there was a player who wasn’t pulling his weight and everything flowed wonderfully.
There’s an argument that perhaps the foul for our penalty started outside the area, but let’s face it the referee had a horrible afternoon and had we not won 4-1, I might be spitting bile about him right now. I couldn’t see, I was up the other end of the pitch, but we got the spot kick and Akinde scored perhaps the most nonchalant penalty I’ve ever seen.
We’ve been known to shut up shop after a goal, maybe look to defend our one-goal lead. Not today. If last week we could have been 3-0 down on 30 minutes, our second after the same period of time could have been our fourth. It was classic Lincoln, a well-worked set piece that ended up being bundled home by Michael Bostwick, many fans Man of the Match. At 2-0 those around me said we would go on to win by four or five nil. Just seconds before we’d hit the crossbar, Michael O’Connor close to opening his account on a great afternoon for him.
When Swindon did get a lifeline, it was harsh. The referee had seemed shaky, he’d given them a corner after one of their players dribbled the ball out of play unchallenged, but he seemed eager to give something, anything to even up the Anderson decision. When he did give it, it was the softest penalty you’ll see in a long time. A drive from outside the area caught Michael O’Connor on the knee, deflected up passed his arm and into the hands of Josh Vickers. The referee gave a penalty.
I’ve watched it back and I saw it from perhaps the best angle in the stadium and at no point can I see the ball’s trajectory altered as it passes O’Connor’s hand. If it touched it, nothing changed and it came after the shot had the sting taken out of it by his knee. I won’t write here what I said at the time, but it gave Swindon a route into the game. They scored their fourth of the season, the third penalty they’ve had, Michael Doughty levelling for them.
It knocked us for six I think and for the first twenty minutes of the second half, they looked like they might get into the tie. Doughty is definitely the boy, he pulled the strings for them and perhaps deserves better players ahead of him to receive some of his endeavour. I said ahead of the game the difference might be the front players for both sides and Swindon don’t have the quality wearing 9 and 10, whereas we do. They put up a good fight until the hour mark though and although they didn’t seriously threaten the goal, they controlled play.