It is easy to talk about the quality of performances. Last season, a number of supporters claimed we won the league without ever looking like Champions. For me, it is a results business and a win is a win, pure and simple.
Were we not at our scintillating best yesterday, but we were efficient and organised against a side that, in my opinion, are in a false position. Let me say this; if they’re one of the worst four teams in this division then the next six months really are going to be tough. Mind you, anyone getting Carl Boyeson as their match official is going to be rolling the dice and, after letting us down earlier in the year, he gave us a helping hand yesterday.
The day started a little differently for me as we had a Supporter’s Board meeting at the ground before the game. I like being on the SB, but it is a position of responsibility, not a perk. We do hear a little bit that perhaps can’t be put into the public domain, but that comes with a burden of keeping it to ourselves and understanding what issues we could cause with loose lips. This meeting was very run of the mill, nothing too contentious and with several absentees, thanks to the time of year and the 11.30 am start time.
From there it was out into the crowds to soak up the first-ever game at the LNER Stadium or to enjoy another afternoon at Sincil Bank. It’s clear that a national partner such as LNER brings a certain level of commitment out of the club; free scarves bearing the name, lots of branding everywhere and hastily-placed signage let me know that the familiar surroundings were not to be called something very different. I respect LNER’s commitment to the club and am wholly behind the name change in theory, but in reality it will always be Sincil Bank to me. I got a free scarf anyway; it’s memorabilia after all.
I elected to go into the ground early; usually, it’s 2.50 pm by the time I’m in my seat but in the absence of games recently I found myself in situ at 2.15. It was a wise choice, I got to catch up with a few people I wouldn’t see again before Christmas, including Gav who sits just behind us and Ian from the Priory who popped down to say hello. After last weekend I feel rejuvenated when it comes to the social aspect of the club and by the time the teams came out, I was feeling it once more. Just like last week.
It’s a good job the Christmas cheer was already spread around the stands because the air was cold and the football was tepid at best. Tranmere, the willing patsy to our resurgence appeared to be very unwilling to roll over and die. They’ve got a pair of players who would grace our side one way or another – Blackett-Taylor and Hepburn-Murphy. Double-barrelled names, double-barrelled Aston Villa connections and lively as two pheasants at shooting season. They ran, harassed, harried and had our full-backs on toast at times. Neal Eardley really struggled down the left flank at times and seemed to drop a little deeper to restrict the space behind.
With 25 minutes gone, we’d barely had a chance but the mutterings of discontent didn’t start. That win against Burton bought some respect for Michael Appleton I feel and perhaps his recent appearance on the podcast has helped a few as well. As many people listened to those two podcasts as have listened in the whole 30 day period beforehand and a few people remarked they were first-time listeners willing to give him a chance. I’m not arrogant enough to think it has changed the atmosphere, but I think several factors have come together to ensure that there were no moans even as Tranmere had the best of the exchanges.
I did like some of our patterns of play, moving left to right and then back really quickly. Jorge Grant impressed me immensely, some of his cross-field passes were sweeter than chocolate cheesecake soaked in sugar. It was unfortunate that Harry Anderson, for all of his commitment, was having a bit of a mare. He found space time and again but him and Eards just didn’t quite click on the day otherwise, we might have had more than a John Akinde header to show for our first half endeavour.
At this point, I’ll bring in another factor that worried me; Boyeson. He was the referee and you might recall him costing us points against Bristol Rovers by missing a blatant penalty and awarding them one from a dive. I felt he had a role to play, sadly, and when Big John was penalised for kicking the ball out of the keeper’s hands after he blatantly spilt it, I thought we might have him on the wrong side again. That should have brought a goal, their stopper lost the ball and John snatched it up; the linesman flagged for offside when that wasn’t the case, the ref made a cupping gesture with his hands to suggest it had been the keeper’s ball. He hadn’t seen it properly.
A rather quiet first half exploded into life in the space of just four minutes. Corey Blackett-Taylor, their best player in the first half, picked up a silly yellow card for a foul on Jorge Grant. He barged him from behind when I feel he had the pace to get ahead and make a tackle. It was a soft yellow but the ref had already given Bozzy one a minute or two before and obviously wanted to send a clear message. It strikes me that Blackett-Taylor, as good as he looks, isn’t one who gets a message because just four minutes later he foolishly stopped us taking a quick free-kick by blocking the ball. He looked exasperated as Boyeson strode up and flashed the second yellow.
It was a red, a really stupid one and I would imagine Mickey Mellon had a few things to say about it at half time because immediately we went in for the kill. Eards had a shot blocked, Ellis Chapman (who had again been superb) delivered for Akinde but it just missed the big striker and Harry Toffolo lashed an effort wide. We looked to have been massively boosted by their misfortune and they were certainly happier when the whistle went for half time.