As you all probably know by now, I’m not well. I have proper flu (not self-diagnosed either) and have struggled to write or even get out of bed for nearly a week.
Anyway, in order to finally deliver some content to you, blog reader Richard Godson has given me his insights into yesterday’s match. Thank you, Richard, and enjoy!
It’s Better to Travel In Hope
December 21st, the shortest day. I was thinking recently of things I have done on shortest days in the past. Five years ago, I mowed my lawn on the shortest day. Not very remarkable you may say (or even, ‘Is he on medication?’). After all it needs cutting every week or two if it isn’t to turn into a small meadow. But on the shortest day? Put it down to global warming. If you believe in that sort of thing.
In my teenage years, a very long time ago, no doubt there would have been a December 21st when, to quote Oscar Wilde, I would have joined the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable. As I say, it was a long time ago, but galloping across the fields of Lincolnshire at breakneck speed, leaping over hedges, walls and gaping dykes carried a certain visceral appeal to a red-blooded youth raised in that particular tradition.
Anyway my riding days are long since passed and having swapped my saddle for a plastic seat it means I’m off to Coventry (if you believe Eventbrite) or Birmingham if you’ve an ounce of common sense.
My job often takes me to meetings in Birmingham so the path there is a fairly well worn one, involving a drive from my office in Grantham to Melton Mowbray where I hop on a train that takes me straight to New Street. I loathe that station. In fact I hate it with a passion. I always manage to get lost there. As a surveyor, I like to think I have a good sense of direction and usually, it doesn’t take me long to orientate myself on a north, south or east, west axis. In most stations, finding your way out is simple as there is generally only one exit and it’s usually on one side or somewhere like Kings Cross, at or towards the end. Not New Street. It seems to have exits in every direction and I invariably manage to find any way out but the one I need.
Today, as my journey would involve a half-hour walk to St Andrews, finding my way out of that maze was going to be crucial. Planning. Planning is everything, even to the point of deciding to use the compass on my smart phone. You can’t fail with one of those, can you?
Travelling solo today gave me time to recall previous encounters with the Sky Blues. It doesn’t take long as there haven’t been many and only two that I have actually witnessed. There was a 2 – 1 home defeat in November 2017 and that rescheduled revenge mission at a half-empty Ricoh Arena the following April, kicked off in sensational style by Matt Rhead’s unstoppable bouncing bomb from the edge of the area. Even the Mohne dam wouldn’t have withstood that one. The Ricoh holds over 32,000 and you would have thought that thirteen and a half thousand scattered about inside wouldn’t make for much of an atmosphere. Not a chance. After that goal, more than 3,000 Imps were rocking all the way to the final whistle.
At just over 30,000, St Andrews, Coventry’s current temporary home has a slightly smaller capacity than the Ricoh but this term they are averaging a little over six thousand and I wasn’t anticipating an atmosphere anything like on a par with that extraordinary April evening a couple of seasons ago.
For all their small crowds, Coventry are having a decent enough season so far, on the edge of the play offs with 31 points ahead of this encounter having played one game more than Lincoln. They don’t appear to be full of goals though, having scored 25 in the league so far, compared with our 21 and they have conceded 22, one more than Lincoln. When you consider six of ours came in one game, my feeling ahead of this encounter was that whilst it might be something of a tussle, I was feeling we might be able to snatch a point if we could contain them. A good result would see the Imps close the gap to 4 points with a game in hand. A bad one and they stretch their advantage to 10. So, another six-pointer. Aren’t they all these days?
In the event, getting out of New Street was a relative doddle and I set out on foot for the St Andrew’s Squillionaire Stadium or whatever it’s called these days. A mile and a half, 30 minutes max surely? An hour and ten minutes later, seemingly having paced every street between Birmingham and Bromsgrove I arrived with 15 minutes to kick off. So much for the sat nav in my iPhone.
One thing I really liked at the Ricoh was the bars in the concourse where the staff wore Lincoln City colours and service was relatively swift and efficient even when dealing with over 3,000 thirsty customers. I don’t know whether I was simply unlucky to pick a particularly slow queue but oh boy. I got a guy who seemingly struggled to string two thoughts together, who could barely compute ‘a bottle of water and a hot dog please’ and then was incapable of operating the till without help. Thank goodness there were only 1,102 visiting fans today. Anyway, I got to my seat in the nick of time as Coventry began a 45 minute siege of the Imps’ goal. Thanks to some stiff defending and several sharp saves by Josh Vickers it wasn’t until the half-hour mark that the ball found the back of the net. Frankly it was no more than Coventry deserved. They were playing with confidence, passing freely and seemed to have no difficulty in pinning City back in their own half. I don’t blame Josh Vickers, who only a moment before had parried a fierce shot but could only partly deflect the follow up. Nor do I blame Ellis Chapman who was bundled over in possession on the edge of the area which led to the goal. Yes, you could call it a mistake, but he like the rest of us is only human and as they say, to err is human. It was one blemish in an otherwise creditable performance. Mistakes I can forgive. It’s lack of application and endeavour that I cannot. There was plenty of application and endeavour today but we were behind to the better side.
The back four continued to stand up to sustained Coventry pressure with notable interventions from Bostwick and Eardley in particular. We really do benefit from their experience and reading of the game. Watching them at work is always a pleasure. However, for the entire first half we seemingly lacked the means to escape across the halfway line.
I should have known better of course but at half time I was somehow drawn to the same slow lane at the bar and another ghastly hot dog and a cup of tea later I returned to my seat to find the second half had already kicked off and what’s this, the action taking place at our end again? Haven’t the teams swapped ends at half time? Well yes actually and what do you know, it’s the Imps laying siege to Coventry’s goal. From having nothing to do in the first half, Marko Marosi found himself as busy as Vickers had been earlier fielding efforts from Bostwick, Walker and Anderson. The latter had a shot deflected by a defender that looked a sure fire handball but the referee was having none of it and awarded a corner. Gradually Coventry got themselves back in the game and neutralised Lincoln’s attack to see the game out with three points in the bag.
I wasn’t expecting a win today so to that extent, I wasn’t too disappointed. The game and the result were as clear a demonstration of the status of both sides as you could imagine. A narrow win for them by a scoreline that did not fully reflect their dominance, certainly in the first half. Both sides are short of goals this season but Coventry managed to find the net once and that was enough. We didn’t. That is why they are in the pack for the play offs and we are not. We lacked creativity and didn’t seem able to unlock another resolute defence. The manager will be as aware of this as we are, as his early foray into the transfer market for the January window clearly demonstrates. As I left the ground, I overheard someone criticising the leaving out of Morrell from the starting line up. Perhaps that critic was right and Joe should have played, or perhaps he was carrying a knock or had been unwell. I don’t know. Decisions like that are what managers are paid for and from what I heard on the live podcast, I’d say we’ve got an intelligent boss at Lincoln. One who, given time, will forge a team capable of bringing further success to a club and its fans who have become rather used to that sort of thing of late.
I see Tommo selected Neal Eardley as his man of the match and I bow to his expertise. Neal has been my favourite from the first time I saw him play so I’m not surprised at this. However, my pick was Josh Vickers with an honourable mention for Michael Bostwick.
I shan’t hurry back to St Andrews. The atmosphere was very flat, not helped by a paltry 6,863 crowd meaning two sides of the ground were completely empty. It wasn’t until the goal that the home fans began to sing. Prior to that, it was the Imps who were in finer voice. If however, by some miracle, the Sky Blues find themselves back at the Ricoh, I’d go there again.
Remember that 80s sophisti-pop group Swing Out Sister? Their lead singer Corrinne Drewery, lived in Authorpe near Louth. Their debut album was entitled It’s Better To Travel and I recalled this as I pondered today’s game and reflected that the full saying is ‘It’s better to travel in hope than to arrive’.