Ridiculous. I’m sorry, but it’s ridiculous.
This was a game that we’d been told we weren’t going to win. Danny more or less said it was going to be a low priority, most supporters felt it was one to miss and yet somehow another chapter has been written in the history of the club.
We played a handful of reserve players, perhaps a stronger side than many thought from Danny’s words, but still a weaker team than we’d expect for a league game. Huddersfield made ten changes to their side, but as a former Premier League team you’d expect their reserves to be a good quality. After all, Blackburn’s fringe players comprehensively beat us at the same stage last season, although Reece Brown was a League Two player last season and Josh Koroma played in the National League.
It was game in which togetherness and teamwork won out over a disjointed and fractured side. Huddersfield were very, very poor until they made changes late in the second half. They lacked any penetration, their shots were pretty much all from 25-yards and they were full of unforced errors and bad knocks. The young keeper Schofield had some awful touches as well, but let’s not take anything away from the Imps.
Not once did we look like the lower league side. We kept playing nice football, perhaps even more than we played against Rotherham. Much went through Joe Morrell and Jack Payne in the first half, but to a man we were as committed and diligent in everything we did as we have been in the first two games. It’s all well and good to say words like ‘grit’ and ‘fight’, but we were more than that. At times, we were slick. This wasn’t a case of plucky underdogs grabbing an unlikely win with their one minute on the ball; we bossed periods of the first half and could have had another in the second.
Much kudos has to go to the fringe players who got a run out, Aaron Lewis in particular who came in for his debut. He was solid enough and alongside Cian Bolger and Michael Bostwick he looked every inch a first team player. Ellis Chapman had a great evening as well, with both Harry and Bruno looking as dangerous as they do in the league.
It’s odd to be surprised that we were as focused as we are for the league matches, but Danny clearly stated that we needed to prioritise. Were we sold a story, intended to have us expecting little? I think as someone commented on Twitter this week, there is an element of mind games and playing the press in many of Danny’s comments. I believed him here though, when he said he was prioritising last year we got our youth team manager coming on in the EFL Trophy. Tonight, as the game began to die down, we brought on former Premier League defender Neal Eardley (at centre half of all places). Maybe, because we seem to thrive on being the underdog, it’s all part of the master plan. If it is, it worked.
It’s a hard game to write too much about without sounding like a sycophant frothing at the mouth with hyperbole. Huddersfield didn’t seem to want to win the match, but for the third game running you couldn’t pick an Imps player that had a bad game. Honestly, even in the recent years of success and glory, has there ever been a three game run where it hasn’t been possible to say ‘he had a poor match’ about someone? It’s as if the club have had injections of pure excellence over the summer, because not only are we going into matches with a plan, but the players are executing it perfectly.
Dare I say that Jack Payne and Joe Morrell have made a huge difference. The latter might have gone off early in the second half, but those two are ‘footballers’ as my Dad calls certain players. My Dad is old school and he describes a certain type of player as a ‘proper footballer’. They need to be confident on the ball, they need to spray passes around all over and have that special technique that few possess. The last player before the Cowley era he called a ‘footballer’ was Jon Nolan; he’s not a patch on these two.
I called Jack Payne as the biggest signing we’d made in my lifetime on the pod recently and I took some stick when I lavished praise on him after he signed. Even now, after three matches, I stand by my belief that he’s as good as anyone I’ve ever seen in a Lincoln shirt. He’s got such energy, he’s tenacious but he has real talent. How he’s not playing in the Championship I don’t know, but their loss is our gain. I’m calling Player of the Year right now; if he stays fit it’s his to lose.
It’s not a one-man team we’re watching though, is it? I did say in my preview I thought this would be Harry Anderson’s year and he’s proving me right as well. Harry’s always been on the cusp of becoming a top player, he’s got goals and a great work rate, but plays with a bullish intensity like a schoolboy. There isn’t a pinch of arrogance or expectancy about Harry; he’s as honest as any player you’ll see this season. He’s getting his rewards already with two goals and I suspect he’ll be in double figures before we’re sending cards to our crushes on Valentine’s Day.
Michael O’Connor and Bozzy have both done extremely well considering their lack of pre-season games and both built on that tonight. Mickey wouldn’t have been called upon had Joe not gone off, but he came on and put in his usual commanding display. Bozzy didn’t last the whole game, but to even start is a bonus considering he was touch and go for the opening day.
A word on Grant Smith too. I was one who criticised him a bit last season, especially in the wake of the Bury game, but I might have called that wrong. He pulled off a couple of great saves as the Terriers finally found their bark in the dying stages and it looks like he’s going to give Josh Vickers a real run for his money this season. Considering we signed Matt Gilks and relegated him to third choice at the end of last season, he’s shown a tremendous attitude. His toys stayed in the pram over the summer and tonight, the ball stayed out of his goal.
It was a Cowley victory, delivering a previously inconceivable result that, after 90 minutes, seems almost inevitable and it is incredible
What does all of this excitement and praise lead us to? A third cup tie with Everton in as many seasons. Few would have predicted that after beating their Under 21 side in our EFL Trophy winning season that we’d go to Goodison and give them a run for their money in the FA Cup a year later. Fewer people would have believed it if we’d claimed they’d be back at the Bank for the second round of the EFL Cup, a competition I have openly held in lower esteem than the EFL trophy.
Fate, that’s what it is. Clive Nates invests in our club, brings back the glory days of old and his reward is a fixture home and away against his team, or his second team as they now are. It’ll be a grand night at the Bank, grander than Manchester United Under 21s would have been.
It’s getting late and I need to get some valuable sleep, but after dismissing the EFL Cup as I did, I felt I wanted to get some words down essentially praising the players and maybe even eating a bit of humble pie. I’ve seen us beat Championship teams in this competitions before, Derby and Crewe spring to mind, but I’ve never felt those to be continuations of anything. A one-off result in a cup is all well and good, but tonight’s performance wasn’t about that. This wasn’t a plucky underdog slaying a giant, it was a well-drilled and organised unit beating a side that they more than matched.
It was a third clean sheet for a defence so threadbare that a right back finished at centre half. It was a Cowley victory, delivering a previously inconceivable result that, after 90 minutes, seems almost inevitable and it is incredible.
Will this ride ever stop? I certainly hope not.