I boldly claimed the EFL Cup was a white elephant earlier in the season, believing we’d go out away at Huddersfield. I was proven wrong.
Last night I stated we’d get beaten convincingly, with my only hope that we didn’t get mauled too badly. To be fair, I got the score spot on in my stuff for Everton sites before the game, but I could never have predicted how it would actually unfold.
Twice now we’ve played Everton, twice I’ve failed to get excited about the game before it kicked off and twice I’ve come away with positive energy pumping through my veins. I should never doubt Danny Cowley’s Lincoln, not their desire, not their commitment and not their ability to keep us enthralled and excited.
The big talk before the game was the team selection, was it not. We started with a right-back playing for free, our Player of the Year on the bench, two of our biggest summer signings on the bench and conceding a few quid in terms of cash value. Looking at our lineup, only Bolger, Akinde and Harry Anderson will have cost us a transfer fee, with Bolger possibly even arriving for free. If reports are to be believed, the combined fee for Anderson and Akinde is around £200,000. That would buy you 1/250th of Richarlison.
The Everton starting lineup, give or take a million, cost £260m (assuming that Sidibe’s potential fee on transfermrkt is correct). If my maths is correct, which I’m sure it is, you could buy our squad 1300 times over for the cost of theirs, and that’s not taking into account fees that rise with appearances and adds on, nor the subs they brought on which would take it over the £300m mark. That’s just three divisions difference. Three.
There is little wonder when we saw their teamsheet a host of Lincoln City supporters suddenly felt a little apprehensive. We were facing a strong Everton side, a side that should have swept us aside. Having seen Villa beat Crewe 6-1 the night before, I must admit all I wanted was for us not to be humiliated. This wasn’t like 1993/94 when their full first team came along, this is a different world.
It’s the most star-studded side I’ve ever seen Lincoln play at home, without a doubt the most valuable collection of players ever to stand toe-to-toe with our squad in a competitive match. David face Goliath, Goliath’s brother and a load of hangers-on who just wanted to give David a bit of a slapping for being such a cocky little upstart.
I took my seat in the ground, chuckled with Gav who sits behind us at the size of the task, confirmed to Matt next to me that keeping the score down was the sole intention and agreed that scoring a goal would be just reward for our night’s endeavours.
21 seconds later, the Imps were 1-0 up. Doubt? What doubt?
I thought if we scored it would be a set-piece or a defensive error, not a John Akinde flick on, tenacious work from Jack Payne and a quality finish from an ever-improving Harry Anderson. I certainly never imagined it would come after just 21 seconds of action. Still, that’s what happened and even now I’m getting little goosebumps.
Look, before we continue I know we didn’t win, I understand that. I know we’re a League One side now and according to the table, a top seven league One side, but this wasn’t a level playing field at all. Everton rolled out the big guns and took this game as seriously as any side in the top flight have done thus far this season. We rested players and yet before a minute had elapsed, we’d scored. Any apathy, any lack of buy-in I might have displayed before the game was ill-judged and immediately vanished.
Of course they came at us after that. They’re a slick side and some of their players are outstanding talents. They moved the ball from left to right with astounding ease and maintained possession inside our half looking for an opening. They switched play, they pressed us deep and they passed the ball around but, with the exception of perhaps two chances, they didn’t carve us open. Why? Because we dogged. We’re resolute. We fight, we harrass and we relish being the underdogs.
Give us a lead to defend and we’ll defend it like we’ve got 22 players on the field, not 11.
When Grant Smith was called into action he continued his impressive form from Huddersfield. One save in particular had me smiling; it was a similar position to Ilias Chair’s opener for Stevenage last season, a game that convinced me we needed another stopper. Smith was equal to it and I thought he was excellent all night. Mind you, they all were.
Bolger dropped back in and looked as competent as ever. Jason Shackell’s experience shone through and Harry Toffolo was busy and consistent all night. Then, there was Aaron Lewis.
I’ve saved Lewis until last in this segment because I think his story is worth thinking about. He comes in for a trial, impresses enough to earn a deal (albeit one in which he gets no pay and we get an under-21 international footballer) and he’s told to impress. His second start comes on the right-hand side of defence against a player who scored in a European final last season. You know what? He was my Man of the Match, if I had to choose one. What a night he had and if that’s an indication of his ability, he’s well worth a deal until the end of the season.
They scored, of course they were going to. When it did come though it wasn’t through them picking us apart, tearing through the defence like the Exocet missile that their valuation suggested they were. No, it came from an exquisite free-kick from a player who has played for Barcelona, Paris St Germain and has won La Liga, Ligue 1 and got a runner up medal in the Euros. To be fair, it was the sort of quality you don’t even expect from a squad at the top of the Premier League; it was simply a brilliant free-kick.
I feared for us after that but, despite them hitting the post, we got through to half time with the scores level. The noise had been ramped up all game and it was great to hear an away following at the Bank. Fair play to Everton, I thought Goodison was like a morgue at times, but their travelling support had plenty to say for themselves. It wasn’t all good-natured thanks to a couple of groups on either side, but by and large, it was a cracking atmosphere.
One moment I didn’t like came from Djibril Sidibe, a player with a World Cup Winner’s medal at home on his mantelpiece. He appeared to shove a ball boy and received a round of boos every time he touched the ball up until half time. After that, they subsided but only because I figure most of those booing couldn’t see his number over on the other side of the field and, unlike many of their players, he wasn’t instantly recognisable despite his medal.
Also, when it came to fan interaction, I’m not quite sure one of ours bringing a Liverpool shirt into the ground painted us in a good light, especially not to those who claim we’re a team full of glory hunters.
Each to their own I suppose.