It’s hard to say too much about a game I wasn’t at. Usually I’ll watch back on iFollow or something, but aside from the highlights and a few things people have messaged me, I’m writing this blind.
Whilst many of you were at Swindon or watching by whatever means you could, I was picking up a rescue dog and turning into one of those annoying childless men who treat their dog better than they treat most people.
I listened of course, swore along with you when things went against us and of course, cheered when I thought ten men would win the game. For the record, I’m not sure ten men would have won the game.
Let’s deal with two sides of the coin shall we? There’s been some who have said ‘ignoring the red cards, let’s focus on the positives’. I understand that, why would Danny blast a player or go too deep into the referee’s performance when he had players who performed over and above all expectations. They did too, those who did not get sent off were excellent and even Shackell was until the card.
However, there were two red cards and that cannot be ignored if I want to be balanced and fair. Yes, Bruno Andrade’s was something of nothing. Quite how the Press Association report suggested he’d ‘raked his foot down the Achilles’ of Kyle Knoyle is beyond me. I’ve seen it, he did no such thing. He did stamp down though and whether there’s contact or not, there was intent and petulance. That has to be addressed.
Danny addressed it straight away didn’t he? Off down the tunnel to (and I forget his exact words) give Bruno some advice on not repeating his mistakes. In my language that is usually classed as a ‘bollocking’. It’s silly, it’s needless and whatever your feelings on the referee overall, it is the right call.
Shackell’s red card is one that troubles me a little more. It isn’t the fact he got it, dissent is dissent and that’s final, but it is the general indecision around what it came from. The BBC report had him down as booked in the first half. Michael Hortin had it as a straight red, Danny thought both yellows came in the one incident. Whatever the facts of the incident are, it’s clear the officiating was unclear. Was he deserving of a red? If it was a second bookable, yes. Probably. Some referees we’ve seen would try to keep men on the field, especially when they’ve already dismissed one, but Ben Toner was well within his rights to send Shackell off.
Oddly, when Toner took charge of our play-off semi-final with Exeter, I had reserved praise for him keeping his cards in his pocket. Maybe our rather ‘intense’ touchline style has made an enemy of that particular official, or maybe that 1940s haircut has turned him into a strict card-happy flasher.
Look, I won’t go on about it anymore, but anyone hiding behind a dodgy ref or something equally as absurd is wrong. He was strict, he had alternative choices but he was also within his rights to do what he did. He just needs to be much clearer when showing yellows and reds.
That aside, from what I can gather the first sending off galvanised the team. I’ve seen both goals and obviously one will overshadow the other, but nothing should be taken away from Shackell’s technique at the far post for his goal. If they didn’t have a calamity keeper in the sticks maybe it would have been an easy save, but it was still a decent finish for a veteran centre back to be making.
That brings us to Shay’s goal, doesn’t it? Was it as good as Charlee Adam’s striker against Grimsby? I think possibly it was. Typically, when down to ten men, teams go to route one and we’re more than comfortable in that style, so a big punt by Josh Vickers was flicked on by Akinde into the channel. Calamity keeper comes rushing out, defender hooks it to Shay and what happened next will likely get six figure views on YouTube. It was exquisite, a volley of the finest quality, caught as sweet as any I’ve seen in a long while and lopped on the angle into the net. The keeper was misplaced but I’m not sure he would have saved it if he were stood on his line.
At 2-0 you expect to see the Imps come out and defend, but the penalty turned things around even more. Michael Doughty is a great player, but I was told he’s gone off the boil in recent weeks. He certainly started bubbling again when he came on, slotting home a penalty of which there was little doubt. Whatever did or didn’t happen after that, we’re down to nine men for 35 minutes against a resurgent home side.
This is when we saw Lincoln City, stripped back of tactics, game plans and transfer window plans. This was a club ripped open and exposed, just it’s beating heart and substance on show and my word, what a heart we have.
You see, there’s two sides to football. There’s all the elements which add to a good team, big players, different approaches, training, spying, sports science and whatever else you can think of. Then, somewhere hidden away, is a team’s spirit. There’s the one element you don’t teach, you don’t buy and you don’t create on a blackboard. It’s there, it grows and develops from the manager and through his carefully constructed group of players. It comes through shared experiences and can be fuelled by great support and belief. Ritchie Wellens won’t have it yet, Paul Tisdale’s side don’t have it at all the way they throw leads away, but we do.
We have it.
We saw it last weekend against Everton, battling to the end against hundreds of millions of pounds worth of players and coming out with our heads held high. Goliath won the fight, but David’s lion heart won the praise of the world. The trick is taking that into the league. Grimsby didn’t, they raised their game against Crystal Palace and then let Macclesfield slap their arses, but Lincoln are not like that. We showed our minerals at Goodison and when called upon at the County Ground, we showed them again.
If you look at their second goal it demonstrates exactly what I mean. Hunting in packs, chasing the ball, keeping everything compact and closed down. Swindon should have gone on to score a couple, but they didn’t. They tried, but our remaining players refused to lose. You remember that mantra from 2016/17? It’s still there. It’s still probably pinned to the dressing room wall and if it isn’t, Danny probably gets the players to tattoo it on the insides of their eyelids.
Refuse to lose.
That’s what we did. For nigh on 41 minutes, we bared our souls once more, not in front of Match of the Day cameras, not when the national press were hunting the story, but in typical League Two action. Right when it mattered. Their 88th minute leveller was harsh on our players, but even at that point we could have collapsed. There was eight further minutes to play, but did we collapse? Did we throw away our lead? No, we pulled further away from MK Dons.
Sure, Bury are closing in on us, but with two games in hand we’ve got opportunity to extend our lead over them. MK Dons lost, Mansfield lost and yet Lincoln City, nine-man Lincoln City, brought a point away.
Who knows how crucial that point might be come May? Who knows how crucial that performance might be in galvanising us even more, in fuelling the belief in the squad even more. They’ve had two chances to collapse in the last eight days and on both occasions we’ve shown why we’re top and why, in my opinion, we’ll be playing League One football next season.