There’s been a criticism around the club that we haven’t played ‘like Champions’ during our six month tenure at the top of the table.
We might be top, we might have a good lead and we might have won more games than everyone else, but apparently as fans, we’ve not always been entertained. I’ve seen it said, you’ll know if it’s you that said it.
We’ve ground out results, often getting ahead through endeavour and process, not that slick, magical football we think we’ve seen at Luton and Bury. Apparently, we’re functional. We’re process orientated. If last night is anything to go by, we’re also going to League One.
For me, last night was crucial. It was Exeter all over again, the game in hand that could put us five points clear. Only this time, there’s fewer games left to play, fewer opportunities for those wanting to catch us to do so. Whilst we’re all hoping to see the title delivered ready for that final day against Colchester, third place is where it’s all at.
Finish third or above and we’re going to Portman Road, we’re going to Peterborough as equals and maybe Bolton or Millwall. Finish third or above and we’re going back to where my Dad thinks we belong, where we certainly made our name in the early eighties. I was brought up on a diet of ‘Lincoln City are not a fourth division team’, yet for three decades it’s virtually all I’ve ever known, or worse.
The gap between us and fourth is ten points, but in real terms it is 12. MK Dons and Mansfield meet on the final day of the season and one of them will drop at least two points. Technically, we’re 12 points clear with nine games left to play.
To put it another way, we’re five wins from League One, or fewer if we beat MK Dons or Mansfield.
That’s exciting, isn’t it? Sit there for a moment and forget the fear, the cloak of darkness that we all throw over ourselves at times. We’re five wins from being a third division side.
How has that happened? After the run of draws we had you’d be forgiven for fearing the worst and for ten minutes of last night’s game, I feared the worst.
Pre-match was a little different for me. I had the pleasure of being invited into Running Imp’s box once more, something always welcomed and never more so than on a cold night! I got to meet Val too, the fan who penned the now famous ‘plastics’ piece. It was her first time in a box, something she didn’t think she’d enjoy as much as being in the throbbing masses of the Coop Stand.
After ten minutes, I was inclined to think I was in the best place, behind a sheet of glass and next to a heater. The game started with Oldham looking to be a terrific side, stretching the play and laying the ball about nicely. We had an air of nervousness about us, a feeling that an error was only ever a second away.
My Dad, who as you know is never the most positive of fans, was immediately worried, but I allayed his fears. I thought the start went exactly to our favour, because it showed they’d come to get at us. Do that, and we’ll get right back at you twice as hard. It also looked to be taking a lot of energy out of a side who, in recent weeks, have lacked energy in the latter stages of the game.
It didn’t mean they weren’t a threat and two smart Matt Gilks saves stopped the pressure mounting on us. Gilks was one of the best signings we made in the transfer window and three clean sheets from five proves that.
Fifteen minutes in and they were done.
After quarter of an hour the game ceased to be a contest, not because Oldham were so bad, but because they played into our hands. With the swirling wind behind us we began to press forward and soon became the dominant force in the evening.
You have to feel for big John, he’s such a focal point of our attack but he missed a real sitter didn’t he? I watched him sky something similar in the warm up and when Bruno whipped that low ball in from the left, it just needed a tap in. Barnet fans would place their house on John Akinde scoring, but Lincoln fans wouldn’t. He blazed over the bar but, to his credit, the miss didn’t affect him at all and he went on to put in a decent shift.
The breakthrough came minutes later, Harry Toffolo popping up (out of position joked Danny afterwards) to play a one two with Mark O’Hara before scooping the ball home. The atmosphere, which had been terrific before the goal, went up another notch. As the Oldham players looked at each other as if they’d had their pants pulled down, you knew it was our night.
We weren’t rampant, but on 43 minutes we were handed the chance to show what we could really do.
My view of the Jose Baxter challenge was blocked by a girder, but everyone told me it was a sure-fire red. I’ve watched it back and my first thought was ‘FIFA tackle’. You know what I mean, FIFA players. You lose the ball and angrily tap the ‘O’ button, realising too late that you’re getting sent off. Baxter knew as soon as he connected it was a red and Cian Bolger’s reaction told you the same story.
Ten against eleven, 1-0 up…. there was only one outcome after that.
Next page – The only outcome after that