18 months after we first kicked a ball in the Checkatrade Trophy, we’re finally eliminated from the competition. In another bizarre night of football we’ve found ourselves on the wrong side of a second successive penalty shoot out.
We were never going to Accrington to win the game, not in the conventional sense. If you think we should have played a stronger side and given the travelling supporters something to cheer, you’re missing the point. We’ve already had our day at Wembley, we’ve already won this competition and unlike the FA Cup or promotion, there’s no glory in winning it in successive seasons.
Last year, it was the consolation prize. It was a bloody good one and of course, we had a great day out, but football isn’t only about days out. The excitement that comes with a Wembley trip or a Goodison Park trip isn’t what football is all about, not at all. Promotion, aspirations of improvement, achieving things you’ve not achieved before; they are what this beautiful game is all about. Tonight, the only thing we were ever going to win was pride. Going to Wembley again in this trophy wouldn’t further the club in the way we want to. Last year, it gave us what we needed from it and we all enjoyed London, but if you ask me would I risk the top three for another stab at that, I’d say no. Been there, done that. let someone else have to worry about beating the kids and protecting football’s integrity. We’ve done our bit.
Danny told us all what his intentions for this competition were after the Mansfield result. There was no hiding it, no pretending we’d go hell for leather. We did the same in the FA Trophy two years ago and to an extent, we did the same in this competition last season. Okay, the team selection was perhaps a little more ‘out there’ this time around, but there was never any pretence of anything else.
I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence and pretend that being eliminated was what we wanted on the night, of course we didn’t. Young Jordan Adebayo-Smith didn’t go out thinking he wanted to lose the game on his professional debut, did he? Matt Green wanted goals to prove his points, Ellis wanted to show his talents in midfield. The players we selected wanted the win, but we just selected players who haven’t been featured as much in the league.
On Saturday, Swindon did that in the FA Cup against Woking. That, in a competition with such history and glory, is criminal. For us to do it in a competition we won earlier this year and that comes third in our current list of priorities, is acceptable, justifiable and in my opinion, the right thing to do. Had we done it in the FA Cup I wouldn’t have been outraged.
Danny will have learned more about the fringe players from 96 minutes of football this evening than he will have done in a month of training sessions. He will have seen first hand the spirit and resilience some of the lads have, the sort of attitude that players who haven’t been able to affect the season so far have. One excellent example would have to be Joan Luque, on the bench for Bromley in recent weeks but turning in a tricky and unpredictable display in the middle of the park. He’s raw, very raw, but he put in a good shift after a busy couple of days. We needed to see him in action and we did.
Jordan Adebayo-Smith will have relished his chance too, he didn’t look out of his depth at all and I suspect his is a name you’ll hear much more over the coming years, just like Ellis Chapman. The younger players playing tonight did well and will be pleased with their contribution. Scott Wharton and Kellan Gordon will have given Danny food for thought and Adam Crookes will have been happy to get some game time under his belt.
It was always going to be gung-ho, a wonderful spectacle for those who thought that a combination of iFollow and Checkatrade represented something other than a degrading of the soul. I didn’t watch it, I can’t give you the usual analysis because I had little interest in the tactical battle. It wasn’t Danny against John Coleman, it wasn’t a measure of how far we’ve come or got to go. It was a one-off, almost an exhibition match as unpredictable as it was unimportant. I didn’t feel a defeat would be a bad thing but, curiously, when Matt Rhead missed the penalty my heart did sink a little. I’m a Lincoln fan and if they were playing the board game Hero Quest with David Flitcroft and his kids, I’d be a bit gutted if we lost. It’s my make up, my nature.
That said, within about 30 seconds it had subsided and whilst I committed to the game, I didn’t feel the worry going into the final minutes. I was a little dismayed we didn’t win on penalties after reaching them seemed to be the game plan in the last thirty minutes, but I wasn’t ‘kick the cat and shout at the missus’ angry*. We turned in a good performance against a decent side but, when push came to shove, they brought on top first team players and we brought on back room staff. I half hoped to hear Alan Long was in a tracksuit on the touchline.
Some might think in bringing on Jamie McCombe and Tom Shaw we were devaluing the competition; the FA think we’re the same level as an Under 21 team so who is devaluing it really? We used it in the same way they do, giving players who wouldn’t usually play a run out, only we played some of our over 32s as well as our under 21s. I would imagine Tom Shaw will go down in history in some way, the youth team coach making a debut, but he’s 32 and played for Chester as recently as last year so his inclusion wasn’t all that odd. As for big Jamie McCombe, we all got the story we wanted when he bagged our second, didn’t we? Go on, how many Imps fans who remember him from the Keith era weren’t a little bit delighted he scored? It was like a blast from the past, with a little voice inside saying ‘gwon Jamie’, knowing how delighted he’d be to show he’s still got it. It might earn him some extra kudos in training too.
It’s pointless dissecting the match any further. They wanted it, we didn’t. It’s not because we’re defeatist, not because we have a losing mentality but simply because Danny doesn’t want to keep rolling out a patched up team for relatively meaningless games when we could come up against Manchester City Under 21s with a couple of £30m teenagers in and end up getting beat. Last season we hadn’t been to Wembley, but now we have. Now it isn’t such a big thing and the money we’ll get from the Goodison Park game in January will more than compensate for not being in this competition until the end.
I wonder, had we not progressed in the FA Cup would we have perhaps played a couple more first team players? Maybe, but the fact is we are in the FA Cup third round, we are second in the league and if we go to Everton, get beat and end up being promoted automatically, not one person will start moaning about tonight’s fixture.
When Rob Makepeace is about to interview Danny and he calls it a ‘great night for Lincoln City’, despite going out of the competition, you know we got out of the game exactly what we wanted. Youngsters got minutes, fringe players got a chance to showcase their talents and the squad gave a battling performance that might just make a few first team regulars sit up and take note. Also, Danny knows that ahead of the Everton game it might be wise to practice penalties. Say what you want about John Akinde, but he doesn’t miss from 12 yards.
The Checkatrade Trophy; a competition in which we progressed from the group stage without winning a game and then were eliminated after remaining unbeaten in 90 minutes against three sides, two from League One and another full of kids. You couldn’t make it up.
* I don’t have a cat to kick and if I shouted at my missus she’d kick my arse. Besides, she’s in Cambridge so probably wouldn’t hear me.