Last night, I felt as if I’d been kicked in the crotch, hard. For a large part of the afternoon, I was convinced we were going to grab three points and move up the table to give us a bit of breathing space over the next fortnight.
Instead, despite my protesting that we’re going to be okay, all I had going into my evening was a sickly feeling of struggle, something we haven’t truly had since the early days of Gary Simpson. Chris Moyses never had us in relegation danger and Simmo did his best to keep us away from the bottom four.
We’re 17th but, if Tranmere with their game in hand, we’ll be 18th and five points off the bottom three. Worrying? Perhaps, although I’d argue the right time to worry is either when we are in the bottom three, or when it’s February and we’re still out of form.
Yesterday was one of those draws that felt like a defeat, such was the belief in the early stages that we’d go on and win the game comfortably.
We started at a frenetic pace and I felt they did the same. There’s little doubt Wimbledon know what’s needed to survive at this level and they wanted to get the ball forward as quickly as possible; there was no hairs or graces when it came to neat passing. I wouldn’t label them long ball as such, but playing two up top they certainly wanted to get the ball in quickly.
However, it was us making the early running. I’ve seen so many comments about us not getting shots away and not being clinical and whilst the latter is probably accurate, I can’t say that the former is. In the opening ten minutes, we saw a 25-yard O’Connor strike held by their keeper, A Tyler Walker flick saved by Trott and Payne get touches in the area that led to a corner. The early pressure was certainly ours.
When this side play football, it looks good. I felt we controlled the tempo of the game, O’Connor and Morrell pulling the strings as we looked to get ahead. That continued on 21 minutes when O’Connor fed in Andrade, he found Walker and either the keeper saved it or it came back off the post. Not long after, Jack Payne had a strike from the edge of the area which produced yet another great save from their keeper.
It was all Lincoln and in some instances we were stopped by a decent keeper, in others we weren’t quite as clinical as we’d like. Should Tyler have opened the scoring with one of his chances? Perhaps. I was pleased with Jack Payne though, I felt he’d struggled in recent weeks, but his endeavour drove us forward yesterday in the first half. The triangle of Morrell, O’Connor and Payne looked good, Andrade and Grant both put in a decent shift as well.
Wimbledon looked to play a 3-5-2, but the wing backs didn’t do what Shrewsbury’s did and drop too deep, meaning we had plenty of space. It suggested to me that the Wombles had seen this as a winnable game and gone for it; they didn’t want to soak up our pressure and hit on the break, they wanted to be the team on the offensive. We didn’t allow that and it led to us dominating the play, as I’d hoped we would against a bottom three side.
Finally, on the half-hour mark, we got the just rewards for our solid display. It all started with O’Connor, a firm but fair challenge inside the area saw him carry the ball forward. We swept up the field with the usual swagger that we know we’re capable of, with the end of the move seeing Jack Payne make good on his pre-match promise of providing an end product. 1-0 City and immediately I felt a weight lift.
The lack of goals was a worry (is a worry) but what’s frustrating is we’re seemingly good enough to create chances. Yes, you need to put the ball in the net, but when we attack and are confident, we’re as good as any side outside the top six in this division. I don’t care if I get laughed at for that; we are. We saw it in the early stages of the season and these players haven’t become bad overnight. They lack confidence, they’re perhaps settling into the new regime, but they’re good enough to score at this level.
I genuinely thought we’d go on and score a couple; I even contemplated cashing out on my £10 bet of under 2.5 goals, such was my confidence.
Had Tyler Walker bagged his chance three minutes later, I suspect we’d be looking down at a few more teams right now. Maybe, just maybe, that was the chance, the one moment when a clinical finish sees us move away from this run of form that’s bothering everyone (although some seem to enjoy being ‘right’, but I’m not indulging the trolls).
The first worrying signs came just before half time when Josh Vickers made a great stop from a 25-yard drive. It felt to me as though Wimbledon would be restricted to long-range effort and although the fragile nature of a 1-0 lead had me on edge, I wasn’t overly concerned when the half-time whistle went unless you count worrying about O’Connor who was the victim of another crude challenge from an opponent.
He’s our key man at the minute. I know I said I couldn’t see game time for him at the end of last season, but that comment came at a time when I thought we’d be signing Mark O’Hara and when Tom Pett and Lee Frecklington were both fit too. What’s actually happened is Mickey has dropped into our midfield, played almost every game and become the hinge on which the whole team hangs upon. That’s why he gets clattered and battered.