Don’t let anyone tell you that playing ten men is easy. We’ve seen both sides of it against Oldham. Earlier in the season, around the same time as last night, Ishmael Miller was sent off for a bad challenge on Josh Vickers. That evening we laboured to a draw, unable to break down a resolute Latics side who had Sam Surridge as on outlet to take away the pressure.
Last night, they had no outlet but we still had to break them down.
I suggested to Neil from Selenity in the box next to us that it’d be wise to take off Matt Rhead, bring on Danny Rowe and look to stretch them as much as possible, especially with the wind behind us. I guess Danny overheard me, because that’s exactly what happened.
What followed, in my opinion, was the best 45 minutes of football we’ve produced at Sincil Bank this season.
I know the mantra, never too high, never too low. That starts to go out of the window when you’re so close to the prize you crave, especially when you look to be hitting some real form. We won’t always have ten men to face, we can’t be as dominant as that away from home, but my word, we were good.
Danny Rowe was an obvious catalyst, that boy is very, very special. His control of a football is incredible and he seemed to drift inside and out at will. He started running the channels as Big John dropped deeper and Oldham didn’t know how to cope. If they plugged a gap on one side, we shifted play across the field and simply went down the other. They tried to stay compact, but when our main threat is from out wide it simply isn’t the right approach.
They couldn’t get out to the wide areas though because if they did, we loaded the box with the likes of O’Hara and Akinde. It all flowed so nicely and both Harry Anderson and Bruno Andrade were excellent, back up by their full backs. Last night was the first time we’ve seen both flanks be as effective as each other for the full game.
The goal was something very special, started by a tenacious John Akinde pass and finished with aplomb by Danny Rowe. The whole sweeping move was a sight to behold, Harry’s little flick to make Danny the room was as subtle and effective as I’ve seen all season. Alan Partridge talked about ‘liquid football’, utter nonsense of course, but for a moment I could have said that myself. in fact, I will.
Oldham simply didn’t threaten at all. Bruno was incredibly unlucky not to get on the score sheet with a rasping drive from Big John’s knock-down. The keeper didn’t have a clue where it was going and thanks to the wind, neither did Bruno. I was right behind it watching it swirl with such ferocious power that I was convinced it would give us (at the time) a second goal.
Tom Pett was back to his best after a couple of months out on the flank and he played a Lee Frecklington type of game. Mark O’Hara was excellent too, the pair of them giving Danny even more cause for sleepless nights with O’Connor on the bench. When my favourite Irishman did come on, he was unlucky not to score with a point-blank volley from a sumptuous ball over the top of the defence.
I’m not being biased when I say we could, and should, have scored four or five. Oldham stuck to their guns and fought hard, but they were never able to find a plan B after Baxter’s red card. At 2-0 against Stevenage you felt we were likely to concede but, if we’d kept playing all night right up to the point you’re reading this, Oldham wouldn’t have scored.
They brought on Chris O’Grady, an experienced player who should have been able to hold the ball up and buy them some time, but the wind made hitting him virtually impossible. Every time Daniel Iversen delivered the ball forward, it came back either down the left, down the right or down Big John’s head.
Referee Paul Marsden knew the contest was over, he added on an obligatory three minutes and no more. There was no point in drawing things out any longer than absolutely necessary, the Imps had done what they needed to do and in truth, Oldham had simply turned up, played patsy and then gone home again.
News that Mansfield had continued to bottle their automatic challenge with a draw was warmly received, just as MK’s demise at Morecambe warmed the cockles on the walk back to the car. We had the benefit of Sky in the box and they went from 3-0 down to 3-2 quickly, before fumbling the comeback and losing.
By the way, Morecambe have won four of their last six, beating MK Dons and Forest Green as well as giving Bury a huge scare before that. Makes our so-called comfortable 2-0 win look even better, doesn’t it?
We’re not promoted yet and doubtless as my Dad put his head on his pillow, the fear came over him once more. He’s not usually one for emotion, but over a pre-match pint he admitted it kept him awake at night, worrying that we might blow it. Even now, seven weeks and nine games before the end of the season, he sees the ghosts of ’83 coming back. Me, I was still on a potty then, but I think the spectre of ’07 has been put to bed by now.
Here’s the reality: we have one foot in League One. There’s still the nagging doubts, the grounded fear and realism that comes with sitting on the inside looking out, but few on the outside looking in would bet against us getting promoted one way or another. It’s easy for them, they don’t live it. they have the clarity of perspective and see the division emotion free.
No team battling for promotion has the same lead as we have over fourth place. No team has led their division for as long as we have. Nobody in their right mind would back us to be in League Two next season.
We’re on the cusp of history. We can almost touch three trophies in three years, unprecedented in Lincoln City’s history. We can almost dust of the guidebooks to Ipswich, bought as a laugh for the FA Cup tie when we were nobody. We can almost taste the burgers at Peterborough.
But not quite.
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