“Never too high, never too….”
Sod that. Sorry, but sod it and no mistake. Danny might well be moving on to the next game, process orientated and all that and fair play to him and the lads, they have a job to do. I’ve tried to write by his mantra towards the end of the season, reserving judgement and trying not to build pressure, but here’s something I believe to be fact for you to digest: Lincoln City will win League Two this season.
It seems a pretty safe bet though, doesn’t it? Five matches to go, 11 points the gap with the teams in second and third set to face each other. That wasn’t the situation at the start of play, had things not gone our way we’d be just five points clear now.
I boldly predicted we wouldn’t win this weekend. I recall it clearly, I said I thought it’d be a draw, but that we wouldn’t come away from Stadium MK with all three points. I imagined they’d be a potent attacking threat, peppering the goal of Matt Gilks with efforts that eventually would lead to them taking a lead.
I imagined wrong, very wrong indeed.
Stadium MK is an impressive venue, not quite as much as it could be were there significantly more home fans, but nice to look at nonetheless. I’ve seen it inside and out now and it’s a fine example of what a Premier League ground should look like. I imagine it may be a bit soul-destroying to play in front of just 7,000 in it though, even though that’s great for fourth-tier football.
I’ve seen some comments since the game ended that MK should perhaps give less allocation to away fans to keep it hostile, but that really wasn’t what won us the game. Of course we sang louder, we made up a third of the crowd but every one of us was fully invested in it. MK had perhaps 2,000 that were as invested, maybe fewer, but they were dotted here, there and everywhere. We had 5,600 fans fully concentrated on singing and creating a home atmosphere away. With 20,000 empty seats every week, I imagine MK create an away atmosphere at home every week.
That didn’t stop them putting in a decent shift though, as you’d always expect from a Paul Tisdale side. His team selection does seem a little odd to me; I’m a huge Chuks Aneke fan and like Cisse in the centre too. Seeing both in the bench gave me quite a lift, they’re game changers at this level and perhaps one or two who started are not.
It didn’t stop them moving the ball about nicely and, like the first match between us, I felt it was a tactical battle. Tis and Danny know each other well and I’d imagine there’s a mutual respect for each other’s achievements. They say familiarity breeds contempt but in this instance I suspect it breeds respect.
MK had the better of the opening exchanges, but from our vantage point behind the goal it was easier to see their build up play and efforts. Gilks made a decent save, then a corner got nodded wide, but it felt like they were going to keep their side of my prediction. We weren’t bad, not by a long shot, but this is one of the best teams in League Two we’re talking about and they were always going to offer a threat.
That’s where our hard work earns us points. As Ian Holloway later said on the Quest show, we make the hard work look easy and I think that was never more evident than yesterday. We defended like our lives depended on it, never desperate or last-ditch though. We covered the ground we needed to, broke up play and ensured balls into wide areas were always tracked.
Tom Pett and Mark O’Hara were nothing short of sensational, trying to upset the rhythm of MK’s attack and spring something of our own. Big John had a tough role once more, but he does it well too. All over the pitch we were working hard to combat them in the first 15.
When we did get away, I felt they panicked a little. Harry Anderson was felled every time he got on the ball, but it gave us opportunities to deliver set pieces. Eardley delivered the ammunition and after one aborted attempt we finally got an effort cleared off the line. Jason Shackell’s effort causing the trouble.
This is where the atmosphere played a big part. Their efforts, in the main, were met with a muted applause. Maybe it’s because of how spread out they were, but when we had a chance it seemed the stadium lifted. As the noise cranked up, so did we. John Akinde was rather cynically fouled and our quick free kick routine once again almost brought something.
It wasn’t a classic at this point, let’s be honest. Neither side were bad, but it wasn’t end to end. Gilks had another save to make from David Wheeler, but it was what I’d best describe as a measured approach from both sides. Neither wanted to go hell for leather and lose it, neither wanted to give the other a chink to exploit.
Just after the hour mark, Ryan Harley gave us something to exploit. Following a smart quick throw, he fouled Shay McCartan in the area and the ref had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Was it a penalty? I’ve seen them not given, normally whenever it’s Bruno who is fouled, but I know had it not be awarded we’d be unhappy. It was a foul, it was in the area and for me, it is a penalty.
You know what happens next. John Akinde, that big, beautiful bugger strolls up and looks as calm as Mr Calm from Calmchester and puts the ball into the back of the net. Cue delirium in the away end.
On the balance of play, a draw would have been fair at this point. MK Dons are no slouches and it was harsh on them to be 1-0 down, but it was also testament to our incredible hard work. How often have we moaned about a lack of options at a throw? How often have we taken the time at a throw in to slow the pace of the game down? Rarely do we take a quick restart like that and yet when the opportunity arose, our players adapted quickly to it.
After that MK looked to be winded and Harry caused havoc with a cross that the veteran Dean Lewington hacked clear. Jason Shackell had some similar defending to do before the first half ended though as Tisdale’s men regained their shape. By the time the ref called a halt on the first half it seemed to have been a breathless, end to end encounter without any real end to end action. Each team had two shots on target and one-off, yet it felt as though we’d be thoroughly entertained.
I confidently predicted that the second half would remain 0-0 and we’d take all three points. I told everyone that in the drinking area at half time, because I’d seen all I needed to from the Imps. In terms of attacking threat, I felt we were unlikely to carve them open, but the same applied the other way around, These two sides were both stoic and determined in defence and if one was to score, it would take something remarkable.
NEXT PAGE – The Second Half