I love football, let me lead in with that so we’re absolutely clear. I became a writer through football, I held my own at school despite having a ginger mullet, because of football.
The biggest thing I bond with my Dad over is football and, when birthday cards pop through the post, many are football-themed. I love Lincoln City, I love football. There.
What I am not, on occasion, is a blindly excited fan. I do not wake up on matchdays always thinking how great the day will be. I don’t post ‘it’s football day’ most Saturdays and, if I’m brutally honest, the last few Saturdays have been great, time at home with my dog and Fe. That’s not always the case, but when we played Everton in the FA Cup I didn’t get all giddy beforehand, you may recall I came across as a bit of a Victor Meldrew before the game. I found beauty and passion in the result and performance, but sometimes I think I’m guilty of studying football too much and not always enjoying it.
Yesterday, as those who follow me on Twitter will know, something felt different from the minute I woke up. All week I’d secretly been wishing we didn’t have a game; Fe is away, Charlie (my dog) would be at home all day on his own, we’re having the bathroom done next week and I needed to prepare, I just could have done with the time. However, instead of being apprehensive when the alarm sounded at 6.30 am and I had to get up and walk him in the cold, I was buzzing.
If I get time, I’ll write about my away day experience this evening. Sadly, with everything I should have been doing yesterday, today is set to be a grueller and is likely to be as far removed from a normal Sunday as anything, but I’ll have a spring in my step and a smile on my face. Why? Because Lincoln City won. That’s right. Michael Appleton got his first away win as manager with, what I have to say, was a masterclass of tactical awareness.
Let us be honest for a moment; few seriously thought we’d win. Maybe, if you’re one of those who get excited about every game and always predict a win then you got it right, but the grounded amongst us didn’t feel there was a win here. A point, sure. That would have been a great result but my Dad reckoned a 3-1 defeat. I was predicting 1-1. I feel that Michael has put the team in a positive place and I thought we’d look to remain tight, but fluent going forward. Then I saw the team.
I like John Akinde, but I was shocked to see him replace Tyler up front. It wasn’t such a surprise to see Jack Payne miss out, seemingly Harry came in for him on the wing with Jake Hesketh through the middle. With Bozzy available, I figured he’d start, maybe even in midfield, by Michael showed great faith in Ellis Chapman alongside Joe Morrell.
What we had to do was weather any early storm; if Burton got ahead it could instantly knock our confidence and that was going to be key; stay confident. We’ve had a bad run and although the record book will show that, it felt very much like a fresh start for some reason. The break seems to have cleansed that run a little, sectioned it off and left us with a new task. Without spoiling any possible away day blog, there was a lot of positivity on the terraces; it felt very different to some games we’ve been away to this season. I wasn’t the only one truly feeling it yesterday and all we had to do was maybe stay in the game over the first half an hour.
Instead, within a minute or two we’d taken the game to Burton. Our corners have been poor recently with Grant often on the bench and not delivering. Harry Anderson has been on the fringes recently too. I suppose the football gods already had it in their mind to write the storyline. One corner led to Ellis Chapman trying a volley, deflected off for another corner. Grant whipped it in, Harry strode away from his ‘marker’ and produced a header any centre forward would have been proud of to put us 1-0 up. Early pressure, early goal. Like I said, everything was different.
For a side in the Championship the season before last it must have been a blow and the 2,000 odd home supporters were stunned into silence, or at least that is what I like to think. It’s a nice little ground, but it must have been a bit of a struggle when the likes of Villa or Leeds wanted to visit. I get the impression Burton Albion never expected anything much more than League Two football, but through good management and hard work they got it. Their squad certainly deserved more vocal support because for the next 43 minutes or so they looked like getting back into the game.
Stephen Quinn looked especially potent in the middle of the park, Lucas Akins (called Atkins by me for two years, uncorrected) had a decent header before ten minutes into the side netting as they began to control play. I say ‘control play’, what actually happened was they played some nice football, we eventually won the ball and quickly moved forward, often losing it for them to try again. It wasn’t frantic, it wasn’t end to end, but it had a feel of too and fro without anything serious for us to worry about.
I did tweet (after eight pints) that the referee was having a bad game. That was based on what I thought was a harsh yellow card for Jake Hesketh, seemingly cut down but booked for a dive. I felt Ben Toner was a bit too card happy and the odd decision was questionable, but nothing directly affected the outcome of the game.
The first evidence that Burton might be rattled came with Ryan Edwards’ booking on 26 minutes. We got a throw, went to take it quickly and Edwards prevented us from doing so, petulantly. Something we fans don’t always see is that frustration in close quarters and I wonder if the likes of John, Harry and Shacks were letting their presence be known. Shacks certainly had Akins wound up early doors as well; this was a more streetwise Lincoln to what we’ve seen under Michael Appleton so far. We were tougher, dare I say a little bit nastier. Yes, we had the guile and craft, but with a little more emphasis and the bludgeoning and directness.
Big John almost made it 2-0 on the half hour mark with a great effort which bounced back from the outside of the post. He was having one of those games which fans don’t always appreciate; putting himself about, tackling and fighting but not always getting chances. It’s clear why he started though; the Burton back line was changed by suspension and John was here to give them a real physical threat. It worked too.
Burton still looked the better side though and Josh’s save from Boyce’s effort reminded us how fragile a 1-0 lead is, especially for a team like us in desperate need of points. That need also manifested itself in some dogged defending though, Harry Toffolo right in the thick of a scramble just before the break. By the time 45 minutes were up, I felt relieved that for their general control of the game, Burton had nothing to show for it.