Why 28 seconds? Why define a game with a number in this way? Well, before I even start to dissect the game there’s a stat I liked that I think sums it up perfectly.
Danny revealed in the post-match interview that if you too our time in possession and worked out how often we were fouled, there was an infringement committed against us every 28 seconds. If anything can sum a game up then for me, that is it.
Mansfield didn’t come with a plan to manage the game, they didn’t come initially with a plan to win the game. They came with one thought only, certainly in the first half. to kick us off the park. There’s physical, which we are. Then there’s outright dirty, which they were.
The game started well for us, a goal started with a Joan Luque tackle on the edge of the area and finished with a wonderful cross and simple header by Matt Rhead. At that point we looked like we’d go on to grab three or four. Sadly, a poor piece of defending by Adam Crookes led to a quick-fire equaliser. I know Crookes made up for it with a decent display, but that’s the second time in a week I’ve written something along those lines. To be fair to him, he was playing at centre-half which didn’t look natural at all. He looked as uncomfortable there as I would in a vegetarian restaurant.
After that we spent thirty minutes watching our futile efforts to avoid being kicked. Mansfield weren’t just robust, they were fouling us, on purpose and getting away with it. Sure there was a booking or two from Ross Joyce, a man I remember well from last season, but he didn’t have a grip of the game. They’d chop a player down, get booked and we’d win the free kick. It would be launched into the box and he’d blow for a foul the other way. It’s familiar, especially if you read the link to our 2-2 draw with County last season.
Their player got a yellow but as soon as the ball was crossed in, Joyce gave a free-kick the other way. Textbook Ross Joyce.
At one point I recall us playing a pass into McCartan, their lad took Anderson out off the ball and without a second’s thought for the advantage, we got a free-kick despite being in a good position. Their player got a yellow and as soon as the ball was crossed in, Joyce gave a free-kick the other way. Textbook Ross Joyce.
I’m not blaming the referee for anything, I thought we got bullied a bit. Usually it doesn’t happen and with a couple more experienced pros on the field it wouldn’t either, but we had perhaps one too many young players on the field. They picked up something like four yellow cards in the first half, it could have been six. There’s not a lot more to say about the first 45 minutes. Two goals, lots of fouls and a weak referee. It didn’t bode well for the second half.
I thought we came out with intent and hit them hard for about six minutes, but then they got the upper hand. After kicking us all over for one half, they outplayed us for much of the second. They’d done what needed to be done, they had scored a psychological advantage and I thought it showed. A niggly, broken game wasn’t easy on the eye and anyone recalling the goals and thrills of last season’s competition would be left to do just that; reminisce. There was to be no more thrills, nor spills.
The game changed in one move, but it also defined the next few months of our season too. Mansfield brought on Tyler Walker and CJ Hamilton. They don’t have a game Saturday, so could afford to do that, but also they wanted it more. Us? Not long after we brought on Jamie McCombe, who resembled a pub player with a bit of a paunch, if I may say so.
Walker scored with his first touch as Mansfield looked to press the advantage. On our bench, John Akinde and Lee Frecklington remained seated. Mansfield brought on a couple of their big players, whilst ours were left fit for Saturday.
We could moan about them not having a game, we could make reference to their robust tactics being a result of yellow cards not carrying over, but then we’re also beneficiaries of that with O’Connor’s late sending off. The truth as I see it is this: as much as I write articles about which cup we should prioritise, there’s only one that Danny cares about, the one in which we play 46 games.
What else is there to say? Last week I wrote about the same attitude towards the League Cup and tonight we saw it in the EFL Trophy as well. If we’d wanted the win, really wanted it, we would have replaced one of the midfielders for Lee Freckington and brought on Akinde for Rhead. Instead, we let the big man have his 90 minutes and settled for a defeat.
Checkatrade Trophy? Completed it last year mate, not fussed anymore.
I may get shot down for saying that, I’m not one to shout about ‘concentrating on the league’ after a cup defeat, but that is the feeling I get, to such an extent I might not even bother with the Wolves game. I saw nothing in the latter stages of this evenings game to suggest that this competition is anything other than a couple of friendlies to keep players fit. Checkatrade Trophy? Completed it last year mate, not fussed anymore.
To be fair to them, when they played the ball around they looked a decent side. I suspect they’ll suffer the same sort off ate as last season, any success they have will be in spite of their manager, not because of him. They’ve got some decent players and they played a strong side tonight and when they stopped kicking anything that moved, they weren’t a bad side.
As you always get with Mansfield, there was plenty of theatre and aggression towards the end of the game. Some casual observers might say ‘typical Lincoln’, but look at it this way: both teams played Sheffield Wednesday in a pre-season game, which side play the game in the right spirit, and which side ended up fighting on the pitch with a player on an FA charge?
(I am aware of the racist comment and I do not condone that in any way, but if you’re a Mansfield fan telling me Forestieri made that comment out of the blue during a well-mannered and friendly game, I call you out as being untruthful. He should have the book thrown at him, 100%, but there’s always a catalyst and I stand by my comments.)
Swindon fans hate Flitcroft and I can see why. Sure, him and Nicky had an argument during the game, but when a hand was offered he had to start shouting and ranting like an angry child. Give it up Flitcroft, you’ve won the game, keep some dignity. Instead he got carried away with everything, just like Evans used to. Maybe it is something in the water at Mansfield, maybe their culture just breeds behaviour like that. You can ask Fernando Forestieri and Jos Luhukay about it too, the cynical fouls in games hwere cards don’t matter, and how they reacted to it. No need.
In fact, there’s no need to be such dicks about it at all. game management, like Wycombe do (or we do at times) I can handle. Time wasting, sure. What I can’t stand is where it appears as though an opponent is deliberately trying to injure his opposition number. I felt that tonight, I felt they wanted to rack up the injuries and that doesn’t sit well with me at all. In fact, I’m pretty disgusted by it. It’s not why we lost, there’s no excuses here, nor hiding behind a familiar narrative, I just think it stinks.
Am I hacked off we lost? Yes. Do I feel a little short-changed? Maybe. I know one thing, if you offered me a defeat tonight and three points Saturday, there’s only one choice I’d make. I do rate this competition and, if we were taking it seriously, I’d get behind it, but we’re not putting as much weight behind it as we did last season. We’re prioritising the league and whilst that might not please the born winners who want a victory in every game at all costs, it does show exactly what the club’s plan is from now until May.
O’Connor’s red card? Definite red. He got caught up in the fouls and lost his cool. At least he rose to the occasion and refused to be bullied.
Last year, we beat them at their place, but not long after they got the league points. If it is the other way around this time, I’ll be delighted. I know one thing for sure; Flitcroft isn’t anywhere near as adept as winding situations up like Evans. He looked a fool at the end and doubtless his post-match interview will lack the class that Danny will show. What happens during 90 minutes should be forgotten, but sadly the likes of their manager don’t see that.
I was in a good mood too, thanks to Barbara Freshney. In KFC before the game she spotted me and came over to tell me how much she loved the site. I get a little awkward in situations like that and may have come across as a mumbling fool, I’m not good with praise from strangers, but I do appreciate it and was really grateful to get some nice feedback. Thank you!
Tonight’s lesson is this: Don’t book hotels, coaches or whatever, because the plan is not to go to Wembley, not in this competition, nor in the play offs. The club are focused 100% on the League, at least now we know it for certain. Nothing has changed in terms of the 46 game season since Saturday, we’re still top, we’re still unbeaten and we’re still a good side. You’ll only truly see it in league Two though.