The magic of the FA Cup is still alive and well in Lincolnshire, our hopes of another cup run are too after a scintillating and hotly contested first round victory at Sincil Bank.
If we’re going to kick off with a cliché or two, it truly was a game of two halves, with one half showcasing the very best of Lincoln City, whilst the second proved to be a topsy-turvy affair which had enough drama and excitement to fill a whole game on its own. Once the floodlights have powered down and the doors are locked for the night, we’re in the second round.
It was far from straightforward, it wasn’t always pretty but once again, Danny Cowley’s Lincoln City showed resilience and fortitude when it mattered against a very good side. Northampton might be in the bottom half right now, but if they’re not top ten at the end of the season I’ll be gobsmacked.
I had been vocal prior to the game about how I felt we should treat this as a league match and play our full strength side and so it came to pass. I’d seen plenty of calls for Matt Green to start after his brace in mid-week, but I ask you where? Who do you drop? John Akinde, arguably one of the best players on the park last week? Shay McCartan, a different type of striker who currently fits our system? I feel as bad as anyone for Matt Green, he’s a player I’ve championed since the minute he joined the club. Right now, he’s showing great attitude but our first choice pairing is John Akinde and Shay McCartan.
It’s testament to how far we’ve come when a crowd of 6,000 is considered a poor effort and I’m not going to start fan shaming on here. It is a shame we couldn’t break 7,000 or more, but with so many games in close proximity it’s no surprise we struggled for a gate. Before anyone on social media does think to moan about the numbers, remember today’s ‘poor’ crowd was three times our National League average. Across the country, FA Cup first round weekend shows a down turn in attendances, not just at the Bank.
Those who didn’t go, or indeed those who couldn’t, missed a cracking first half from City. The football was slick, free-flowing and at times Northampton looked like a side who deserved to be in the bottom half. Their big lump at the back, Aaron Pierre, looked nervy and we probed down both flanks hoping to expose a weakness. The wingers were exceptional, the full backs similarly as effective. Before anyone calls out James Wilson, for a centre half he was once again functional at right back. On the other side, the Toffolo and Andrade combo was brilliant to watch at times.
It was those two who combined wonderfully to open the scoring on 15 minutes, not long after Akinde had fired just wide. A smart exchange of passes set Toffolo free and his cross was inch perfect, right across goal at pace. Harry Anderson still had a job to do, stealing in from the flank to finish emphatically. With John Akinde effectively playing as a lone striker, the wide players have to get in where they can and the goal had an element of our winner against Forest Green. We’re dangerous from the flanks, however we manage to work the space and a quality delivery causes problems.
Harry Toffolo is someone I’ve occasionally thought could do better defensively, it would be harsh to levy that this afternoon as he was exceptional. When he’s running at defenders and combing with Bruno it’s like we’ve got two wingers on the field, going back to the days of having an inside left and an outside left. The tactic relies on them working hard tracking back and I’d love to see how many miles the full back ran today, not just around his goal, but all afternoon.
On the other flank Harry had a bit more running to do, but James Wilson turned in a solid display, functional as I believe I’ve already said. In the middle of the park both Pett and O’Connor were working hard and we should really have scored more.
Shay McCartan was up to his usual tricks, making penetrating runs, one from the left hand side caused the Cobblers all sorts of trouble. Like a blowtorch through ice cream, he found himself right on the edge of the six yard box and needing a smart finish to make it 2-0. His smart effort was low, but forced a great save from David Cornell.
Northampton rarely troubled at the other end, but on a rare foray forward Josh Vickers was forced into a superb stop. His shot stopping is first-rate, 99% of the time and his instinctive fingertip save kept the game at 1-0. As the first half drew to a close that one chance was perhaps all the opposition had to show for their 45 minutes work, whilst in truth we could, and should have been leading by more.