Deserved nothing, got nothing: Gillingham 1-0 Imps

Courtesy Graham Burrell

On a cold and damp afternoon in Kent, the direction of our season was finally discovered. Just a couple of months on from being top of League One, defeat to an average Gillingham side saw us consigned to a battle I have denied for a couple of weeks now: a relegation battle.

I’ve seen enough in recent weeks to believe we’ve got what it takes to finish in midtable, but yesterday was a game I felt we needed to win to ensure we weren’t being sucked into that vortex swirling away below us. Sadly, after a performance of such ineptitude that it felt like 2011 again, I’m resigned to the fact that the doubters were (finally) right.

When they said we’d not make the play-offs because of the EFL trophy, they were wrong. When they said we wouldn’t win the title because our form wasn’t good enough, they were wrong. Like a stopped clock, they were going to be right at some point and some negative supporters are sat at home this morning happy, in a sad sort of way. They’ve seen their prediction come true; we’re in a relegation battle.

I took a lot of stick last week after speaking to Chris Moyses. I was told that social media isn’t real life, that there isn’t negativity towards Michael Appleton, but sadly there is. It’s a shame for him and I’m backing him to get through it. You see, Michael Appleton is the only thing that has visibly changed since we were top of the table and therefore it has to be his fault. It’s football fanaticism at the very basic level, the same reason Tom Champion was blamed for a winning team losing games in 2016/17, or Callum Connolly getting slated earlier in the season after coming in. He’s the new guy, it must be his fault.

I suppose I’m going to have to talk about the game but rest assured, there’s no candy-coated assessment today. Why? Because as I’ve searched my extensive vocabulary for words to describe how we played, one keeps coming back around time and again and it’s a little less ‘Stacey West’ and a little more ‘Lincon City Banter’ at its worst. However, it really is the only word that adequately covers the game. We were shit.

A little credit to Gillingham, a functional team who should have enough to finish between 12th and 15th this season. They’ve stifled our flair players, the boys at the back (Ehmer and Ogilvie) were both excellent and had no trouble at all marshalling a frustrated looking Tyler Walker. On the flanks, we got no joy either, with their full backs able not only to suffocate our ‘threat’ but also get forward themselves.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

The game was won and lost on a bounce of the ball, sure, but who would say Gillingham didn’t deserve all three points? Nobody, because they did. They had loads more chances than us, we looked all at sea for long spells and the odd time we did foray forward they stopped us without breaking a sweat. Their midfield looked like an experienced midtable League One midfield, high in numbers and controlling the pace of the game. Ours looked disjointed and unbalanced, Ellis playing well (in my opinion) but Tom Pett not enough alongside him to give us any foothold in the game.

I’ll tell you how it felt to me, and you know I always try and be honest whilst giving us some credit. It felt to me like we’d gone into the game saying; bugger their setup, we’ll do what we want and they’ll have to cope with it. On the other hand, it felt like they’d said; ‘if we do X, Y and Z then we’ll stop this player and that player, allowing us to go here and there’. I said before the game they change tactics a lot and right there we saw why; they adapt to their opponents allowing an average squad of players to get the best chance of a result. If we did do that, the players badly let the side down. If we didn’t, then we’re architects of our own downfall.

As soon as they took a lead, which probably wasn’t a fair reflection of the game up to that point, I knew it would be 1-0 to them on 90 minutes. I even checked the odds of a Gillingham win after 30 minutes; 1/4. Under 1.5 goals? 1/5. The bookies knew, the fans knew and it looked to me like some of the players knew as well. Our passing was poor, one or two players movement was woeful and a couple lacked fight. For their goal we made a really bad decision in the area, perhaps the one player you expect not to do so, and paid the price. It wasn’t a good goal to concede at all, it wasn’t one you could say ‘fair play to them for working that’. It was a mistake, a howler and even after the weak header we didn’t react.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

Yes, before the game I wrote off Hanlan and Mandron. Yes, I was once again made to look a fool. They worked really hard and looked lively, whereas our approach going forward wasn’t anywhere near as good. Tyler worked hard, but Bruno wasn’t on his best form and Jack Payne is not (I repeat not) a winger in my eyes. Those flair players, the ones we collected and felt would be a big factor in any success we had, are not performing to standard. Jorge Grant hasn’t done it since Danny left and Jack Payne comes and goes almost as much as the postman (my actual postman, a nice chap with a beard called Steve. Not Neal Eardley, ‘the Postman’ who always delivers a dead ball. Maybe, just maybe he might have had a go yesterday because every single set piece we had, bar none, was bad. Really bad).

I can try to look on the bright side with the changes; at least Michael Appleton is willing to make alterations as soon as things are not going well. I do wonder if, perhaps, making changes at half time is affecting player morale. Jorge Grant came off against Wimbledon and looks marginalised, whilst I thought Callum Connolly was very unlucky yesterday. I get the Big John change and briefly him coming on did look to add a dimension to our attack, but to take Callum off for Bolger surprised me. We were losing the midfield battle and had two big strikers to deal with, but I felt the midfield was struggling too. They had an answer to our approach down the flank, so why not go to something like a 4-3-1-2 and narrow the game? Edge Connolly into midfield with Pett and Chapman, go flat back four and sit Payne or Andrade behind Big John and Tyler Walker? Start (dare I say it) going a bit long and fighting fire with fire.

Look, I’m an armchair pundit, I don’t get paid to make the decisions and I don’t pretend that I’m a better manager than MA because I’m not. The positive to take here is that when things are not working, he changes it. I’ve seen criticism of successful managers in the past based around not making changes, or being predictable every time. MA is not predictable in his changes and that’s not always a bad thing.

Okay, I’ve been negative for the first page and doubtless gave all of you death-eaters sucking the life out of social media plenty to feed on. On page two, I’m going to try and add some context, but I’m not shying away from the result at all. I know what it means for this club, as much as I didn’t want to admit it. We’re in a rut, we’re spiralling out of control and we need a shake-up in January.

13 Comments

  1. Seems to me losing Morrell (for 3 tough away fixtures) has been massive. It was a (too) big ask for Chapman and Pett. Ignore the doom mongers though.. we have a good team, a decent manager and we will be fine.

  2. No O’Connor, no Morrell, no midfield. Pett and Chapman were awful.
    Wonder if MA will be able to win league game this year ?? To be fair I honestly doubt that.
    I miss Danny Cowley……..

  3. Sorry but don’t agree about Ellis. He looks lost and the game passes him by. Too lightweight for me never puts a challenge in . But then in his defence Tom was no better.

  4. Staying positive here , First and foremost the Cowleys are gone whatever their reasons / circumstances were. Apart from yesterday are we playing crap football – No. Its still a learning process for MA there are loads of games left in the season but we desperately need a win in the league soon. My only downside is that Wimbledon and Gillingham are teams we should be taking maximum points off.

    You are spot on Gary we need to get our big hitters back on the field and quickly, MOC has been my player of the season so far and we always look a better side with him in our ranks.

  5. Yesterday was as bad as the dark days in the Conference. We were flat, carried no threat at all and worse still, had no fight. The boys looked like they didn’t think they would win after conceding another sloppy goal. A young lad behind me said, ‘Why are we just kicking it away – that doesn’t work in football anymore?’. Well said. I also think it’s noticeable that the relationship between the team & the fans is changing and most people leave on the final whistle instead of applauding the team off. These are worrying times & I keep thinking we’ll come good but, after yesterday, I’m not so sure.

    • I would normally stay and applaud the players & staff win, lose or draw. But I was so angry at full time I had to get out of there. 6 hours in the car and £100 in fuel, tickets etc to see that. Completely accept we’ll lose as much as win but that performance was embarrassing and totally unacceptable. I know they’re human and will have off days but there was no fight, they just laid down to die and that’s not what this club is about is it 🔴⚪️🔴

  6. There a certain saying that ‘the league table never lies’ and right now we find ourselves where we do and dangerously close to being sucked in to a relegation battle. However I agree with Gary that we do need to put some context on things. Yesterday was poor, very very poor . But all teams have games like this, just think Sunderland at Sincil Bank only a few weeks ago.

    In the main performances have been good under MA but they certainly haven’t yielded some of the results they have deserved. Let’s not forget that we are missing key players both through injury and through international call ups. This is whilst MA is trying to work with the smallest squad in the league and one that has many players who don’t necessarily fit his preferred system or way of playing. We have also had an excess of away games compared to home ones (or so it seems) and been unlucky in terms of when games have been played against teams who have had more break and rest time ahead of those games. Unless we get a date soon, we will also be about the only team who wont have played Bolton before they can strengthen their squad in January.

    I’m convinced we have a good manager and that we have a good squad. Yes it needs the imbalances addressing in January and I’m sure that will be addressed. For me the biggest priority now has to be to get Michael Bostwick fit and playing again as we just don’t look the same without him and in terms of consistency he has probably been our most influential player for the past 2 seasons. There’s not many teams who would cope with an extended run of games without their most influential player, and we clearly haven’t.

  7. I’ll judge him some time next season. He has another man’s squad and is working with it. The previous management team left us a dangerously unbalanced side. They might have been able to get a tune out of it as they had a set way in mind and had been building to it for a few seasons. But it needs addressing in the transfer window. Totally different circumstances but when we were in a relegation battle in the conference after Holdsworth left, Simpson came in and saved the day but on his first game at Woking he signed Nat Brown and I think Lee Beevers (?) who shored up the defence. Appleton has not been able to do this. The previous management were no doubt furiously applying for jobs at the time so adding an extra striker to the two there after Rhead left or an extra centre back obviously slipped their mind.

    • Every season managers are stepping into new clubs and work with ,,not their players”. Most of them are taking over in lot more difficult circumstances than MA, when their new teams are struggling and are deep in the crisis. Many of them can despite that get good results/points. Like Cowleys with Huddersfield…
      MA came here when we were sound and safe in the top half of the table. Now we are very close to the bottom. Is it really all Cowleys fault?
      It would be nice to judge MA some time next season but if we will be in league two I guess he won’t be here….

  8. “MA came here when we were sound and safe in the top half of the table” We won the first four games incuding Accrington and Southen who are below us, great. Then lost 3 in a row, beat Fleetwood, then lost another two before they finally left. So they won 5, lost 5. Take those first 4 games out and we have been pretty poor. We beat teams we would expect, plus Rotherham (who MA has beaten) and Huddersfield who were rock bottom at the time. We beat Fleetwood after the three game losing streak which was good. Then the calamity against Wycombe where the managers had said their goodbyes beforehand. MA has lost to 5th in the table, 4th in the table, 13th and 14th. But has beaten 9th, and drawn with 11th, 20th and 2nd. The 20th draw was most frustrating.

    You are already having a pop and he has barely had chance to get going. The reason we are where we are is for no other reason but the managers. Everything was set up around them and for them to their exact needs. Taking over from that is very difficult to do and takes time. I hope he gets it

    • ,, Take those four games out ”
      Why would I? We have won those game fair and square and played some good football in the process. We deserved to win….
      MA has beaten Rotherham? More like our reserves have beaten Rotherham reserves in the mickey mouse cup… 😁
      I am not having a pop at MA. But the thing is that he needs to win some games and get points on board as this is what he is payed for. ,, Not his players” is not excuse as he knew exactly what kind of job he is taking, what players he will have at his disposal and who’s boots he will be trying to put on as a manager of this football club. So far he managed only to went down the table. Quickly like on the slide….

      • You would take those games out to make a more realistic judgement. In the same way the Cowleys would probably not like to be judged for the time in charge of huddersfield by their first four games.

        “is not excuse as he knew exactly what kind of job he is taking”. Yes and he probably imagined he would have more than a couple of months before people started questioning him. But he didn’t reckon on the modern Lincoln fan…It is not an excuse, it is a reality. He has a squad that is completely unbalanced.

  9. I would not take anything out. Those first four games were excactly as important as other games. Who knows,maybe points from those games will save us from relegation at the end of the season ?

    I don’t know what MA imagined and not sure if I want to know if am honest. One thing for sure, we are getting beaten almost every game and we are into relegation battle which is not what we imagined and expected when he signed.

    Still early days I know, but so far results aren’t there and that is only thing that matters to me…….

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