We all hate a cliché don’t we? You know what I mean, the same old, tired comments rolled out whenever a certain trigger event happen.
There are plenty, oddly most of which I can’t recall right now as an example, but that’s because I have one stuck in my head; it’s a game of two halves. That’s the obvious one because it’s factual and it is so often true.
I feel into a trap yesterday as well, not so much a cliche but a sheep-like following of the masses with my halftime comments, but we’ll come to that shortly. Firstly, as I did at the weekend, let’s set some context for last night’s game. I have to do this because the journey we were on has come to an end and we’re waiting for the next driver to get on the bus and tell us where we’re going.
We’re a side who haven’t successfully remained in the third tier for more than a season in over three decades. A generation of fans won’t ever have seen us play at this level and we’re less than ten games into this unchartered territory. Arguably the most successful period on our history has just come to an end in terms of who is guiding us and every single player currently on our squad was enticed to this club by that man.
We’re suffering from injuries, crippling injuries. Last year’s Player of the Year, is out. This year’s most creative player in terms of goals and assists is out. Our club captain and marquee signing of early 2018, is out. On top of that, a Premier League attacker we brought in is injured, a League One quality left back is receiving treatment and Tom Pett, without a label like the others but no less of a loss, is also out.
We came off the back of a defeat at home which, even though we weren’t at our best, wasn’t decided by a player from either team, rather a referee. The furore around who is going to replace the former manager goes on with reports suggesting (perhaps incorrectly) that our targets are turning us down. Throw all this into the pot and those players still have to focus on football; they travelled to a ground on which we won once between 1969 and 2002, a team who have spent five successive seasons in League One, a team hammered 6-0 at the weekend and smarting from that.
It’s easy for us to have these delusions of grandeur isn’t it? We’re Lincoln City, we should be stealing managers from other clubs, brushing aside team ‘like Rochdale’ who we perceive to be lesser than us. We won five games in a row at the beginning of the season, we deserve to be in the top six. Our squad, although small is hugely talented and we almost feel we’ve been promised Championship football simply by the progress we’ve made. None of that is true. That’s all part of the Cowley illusion and like all good magic tricks, it’s not real. What is real is this; we’re in a great place to become an established League One side by my God, we’re not going to get it handed to us on a plate.
For 45 minute last night, what we did get handed to us on a plate was our arses, 11 collective red and white arses diced and sliced, served and presented back to us with a wry smile. For 45 minutes, we were very, very poor indeed.
It would be really easy to fall into the trap of blaming the last week, but as I’ve outlined above there are far more factors involved than just the uncertainty off the field. I did look to me as though we were trying to force our play, perhaps even naively ignoring the threat we got from Rochdale, but it wasn’t an easy watch at all. Not one bit.
Even as early as the second minute a slick, cultured Rochdale were forcing us into backtracking and making blocks. 34-year-old Ian Henderson looked every bit the threat he’s supposed to be and in the middle of the park, the former Manchester United man Rathbone pulled the strings. I’d been criticised in pre-season for under-selling Dale in my preview; I was told they weren’t relegation fodder, but instead were a good passing team with lots of young and exciting talent.
Their early pressure paid off with yet another early goal conceded. In all but one of the five matches we’ve leaked goals in the League, the first goal has come before the quarter-hour mark. That proved to be the case again, leaving us chasing the game. It wasn’t a pretty goal to concede either, Josh might have done better with Callum Camps’ effort before Dooley poked it home.
Could it be argued that many of the goals we’re conceding are errors as well? Wycombe we certainly didn’t cover ourselves in glory, MK Dons’ opener we could have done much better, Doncaster’s winner we gave the ball away easily and Bristol Rovers penalty we should have closed down Boyeson’s whistle before he even got on the pitch. Last night, once again, we made our own task harder.
I felt Rochdale were rampant. Callum Camps really impressed me, but the lad wide right, Rekeil Pyke, also looked lively. I’d called him out in the podcast, he’s on loan from Huddersfield Town and he certainly caused us problems; not as many as they’ve done in the past seven days, but enough to have me swearing under my breath once again.
I felt the half petered out a little bit, if it could for us. Rochdale began to look as though they felt we’d never score and we looked like we’d never score. One free kick we had sailed high and wide, marking our only effort at goal in 45 minutes. I felt dejected and upset, not just at the players but for the players as well. Maybe, just maybe I overreacted but I put out a half time tweet which I’ve no shame in repeating below.
I said on Sunday that the 'everything is the same' rhetoric was words and nothing more. That's clearly evident today. This isnt the side that win at Rotherham, hammered Southend and fought bravely against Everton. A new manager will have plenty to deal with.
— The Stacey West (@Staceywestblog) September 17, 2019
That’s how I felt. This wasn’t the Lincoln who had thrilled me in those opening fixtures, there wasn’t any hint of the fight and togetherness that characterised our last few seasons. I’d forgotten the context, I’d forgotten the cliches. I’d forgotten that players make a team, staff make a team and one (or two) departures are not going to pull apart every ounce of good work. All it needed was a half time rollicking to get us rocking once again.