For the second time in four days, City have smashed four goals past a League Two rival, albeit in the Carabao Cup.
It was another comprehensive display of controlled, attacking football, once more played on the deck much to the surprise of the opposition. Not only that, but the Imps made seven changes from the side that won on Saturday and there was no break in their stride. The tactics were switched, again, and nothing changed.
Before I go on to the game, I’ve got an observation that, even after three games, I can’t keep to myself. Every season I’ve been a Lincoln fan watching League football, there’s been a side who are simply better than everyone. I remember Rushden and Diamonds and Yeovil dominating at one point, I remember it being Notts County, MK Dons and Chesterfield. However well we did under Keith, there was always one team you watched and thought; that is the benchmark.
This year, if things continue, we’re the benchmark.
Anyway, Port Vale found that out with aplomb. It was out first win in this competition since August 2005, our first win at Port Vale in nine years and the biggest victory at Vale Park ever. They’re the numbers.
The facts are for the second match in succession we’ve been significantly better than the side we’ve faced, even with a so-called reserve side of sorts out. Young Ellis Chapman made his debut and looked every inch a seasoned professional, Matt Rhead did what Matt Rhead does and at the back, Jason Shackell looked as good as the pundits have told me he is.
The big performance, the really standout performer, has to be Tom Pett. I’m delighted with that too, he’s another I championed a lot before he signed and vigorously defended after some quiet displays last season, but since his goal against Yeovil he’s got better and better. Tonight he played in the central midfield position and bossed the game, getting on the ball and pulling the strings.
City had the game wrapped up as early as the fifth minute, Port Vale switched off at a corner and against the best sides, the very best in the division, you can’t do that. Scott Wharton nodded the ball across goal and Shackell netted with virtually the first touch of his first start for the club. That ended the game right there, Vale were never going to fight back, it is that simple.
The rest of the first half was Lincoln’s, Vale did look to get back into the game but City controlled as much of the play as they needed to. Did Vale look like scoring? Not really, but in 270 minutes of football nobody has. Swindon got the penalty on Saturday, but from open play we’ve not conceded as yet. It is going to take a good side to put the ball in the net at the moment, or a special atmosphere which Grimsby might be able to create.
In the second half, Port Vale folded like an ordinance survey map. City were 2-0 up within minutes of the restart, a clear-cut penalty despatched by Matt Green who makes it three in three. Is he going for Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s record of scoring in the first six games of a season? I wouldn’t be surprised, especially given how many chances we’re creating.
Vale didn’t look dangerous at all, the atmosphere was flat and their efforts were tame at best and lame at worst. The one player who did look like he might be able to produce something was Ricky Miller, but when he did conjure up a shot, Grant Smith marked his debut with a fine save.
Danny proved me wrong towards the end of the game, instead of blooding Luque and Crookes he gave minutes to Michael O’Connor, John Akinde and Bruno Andrade. All three came on to great effect, just as the subs did on Saturday.
O’Connor showed his awareness with a stunning strike, again poor marking saw him stride forward but still have plenty to do from 25 yards. he did it anyway, a superlative strike put the game beyond any doubt at all.
Minutes later John Akinde got his second in as many games and his first from open play with a smart finish after dispossessing their centre half. It was classic Akinde, a strikers goal created himself and finished succinctly.
Pett was an undoubted Man of the Match, but only because he was incredibly good, whilst the rest of the side were just very good. Ellis had a debut he’ll never forget, the biggest Imps win ever at Vale Park, both Matt Green and John Akinde bagged as they’re paid to do and Matt Rhead got to wind up his Stoke City rivals.
Shay McCartan deserves a word too. He was billed as a striker, but since his arrival he’s reminded me of a Paul Gascoigne type player, picking the ball up from deep and carrying it forward to create openings. as O’Connor gets more game time it is evident he’ll be a massive player for us too. There wasn’t a bad player in an Imps shirt tonight, it is that simple.
Our opponents never looked like scoring, every time we surged forward we threatened and that came against a virtually full strength Port Vale side, a team managed by Neil Aspin and Gary Brabin, experienced football men, featuring decent players. They’re not this season’s cannon fodder, they’re not heading to the National League and anyone saying this is ‘just the cup’ are mistaken. This was an example of what we should expect this season.
Danny Cowley is keen to ensure they don’t get carried away, he’ll look to dampen the excitement in order to keep the pressure off his players, but here is a fact: we are close to being the best side in League Two. We know, as long term Imps’ fans, this season feels different. this squad is remarkable in its depth and quality. W know what good looks like and what shit looks like and I guarantee you, this is good. If it keeps on like this, it will be beyond good. It’ll be beyond very good.
When we get into our flow, it is fluid and we look unstoppable. The trick is keeping everyone happy, all those talented players must feel included and utilised. Do you think our management team can foster team spirit and the like? they only sign the right characters, I’ve got no doubt. Remember, Danny said the lads won’t hit method until October time. Swindon, 4-1. Port Vale away, 4-0. we’re not even on method yet. I apologise to Danny now for going against the ‘we’re a work in progress’ rhetoric, but I tell it as I see it. Sorry.
Whoever we draw this Thursday, Middlesbrough, Manchester City, Mansfield, not one of them will want to face us in this form. We’re indomitable, insurmountable and inspiring when we’re on form. Danny just has to make sure that continues.
Incidentally I got three out of six on my article earlier, although Luque and Crookes were on the bench, they didn’t play. My excuse? as a Lincoln fan I don’t expect the sort of performances and results we’re seeing now to be the norm, even on last season’s evidence. A lot has changed over the summer, an awful lot.