It can be hard to change your attitude towards a football club when a seismic shift occurs. Not perhaps when they go from struggling to succeeding, but certainly the other way around.
I suppose that is why yesterday’s result, another 1-0 defeat away from home, brought the usual round of derision from some sections of support on social media. I’m not going to focus on what people are saying though, otherwise these articles would just become tiresome arguments with people who are looking for a rise. One such poster, with three followers on Twitter, drew comments from around nine or ten people in response to his ill-advised diatribe.
I didn’t go to the game, sadly I’m still poorly with the flu and was forced to watch on iFollow. It’s why I won’t be going through the chances and incidents one by one as normal because I don’t feel I have as clear a grasp as some who were at the game. Also, in the immediate aftermath, I went off to bed for an hour and therefore missed any post-match reaction from the radio too. I’m writing this very blind, I don’t feel iFollow lets you see the full picture in terms of who had a good game or not; positionally you don’t always get to see the runs and blocks that players make.
It would be very easy to look at the result, our second defeat on the spin, and start complaining about the current situation, but what has really changed since our back to back wins of early December? Nothing. I didn’t expect us to get anything from Coventry and Oxford and so it has come to pass. I don’t expect us to get a whole lot from Ipswich and Peterborough either, something I know will drag the trolls out even further, as well as some more informed criticism.
The trouble is, the larger parts of the problem are as apparent now as they were when Michael first took over. Creatively, we’re still not as good as we should be. Losing Bruno has actually been a big blow because we’ve struggled from the wings for real flair. I like Jorge Grant but many of his assists are from dead-ball situations.
Look at yesterday’s game as a prime example of what we are short of. As expected, Oxford had the best of the opening half an hour or so, but I didn’t think they threatened us too much. Josh Vickers, proving he’s a good quality League One keeper, made a couple of saves but we weren’t really troubled. Okay, we hadn’t threatened much ourselves, but that’s the way of the world at this level isn’t it? You go away, keep it tight and hope to break the home team down later on. It’s certainly what the likes of Shrewsbury and Bristol Rovers did to us.
Their goal came from a route we simply don’t have at the moment; individual brilliance. There didn’t seem to be anything on as Baptiste smashed an absolute belter into the back of the net. Sure, he could have been closed down a little quicker, but it wasn’t the sort of chance where you envisaged such a hit. We don’t have that; last season our long-range goals came from the likes of Freck or Shay McCartan, but we just don’t have that in our locker at the moment. I heralded the arrival of Jack Payne, but he’s not been the creative force I’d hoped. The same goes for Jake Hesketh as well and right now, Payne is being forced out wide, not a position I like him in, to accommodate the injured Bruno. Let’s not forget that injury situation either; we’ve been hurt with the loss of key players and that’s clearly affecting our fluidity.
I thought we came out well after the goal and controlled much of the second half. One big talking point to pick up was the incident where John Mousinho pulled back Tyler Walker and got a yellow, not a red. If I were simply looking on as a Lincoln fan I’d argue a red, obviously. It’s not the first such foul we’ve seen of late, I recall an Ipswich lad doing to same in the FA Cup and getting a yellow too. The rules are angled to try to keep players on the field as much as possible and Walker just wasn’t close enough to the goal or far enough away from other players to see a red card pulled out. I know it’s a divisive subject, but if the tug was one of our lads on one of theirs we’d be calling for a yellow.
I’ve seen lots of talk about the whole ‘no shots on target’ stat from the last two games, but how does that differ from October and September? It really doesn’t. We have the same approach, the same players and we’re getting the same results. The manager can’t change it just like that because his style differs from the squad he inherited. He likes to play out from the back, he likes the wide players to tuck inside a little more; there’s less overlap than there was prior to the last manager leaving. The squad, which is taking a battering from some quarters, isn’t that bad, it’s just weighed in favour of one man’s style.
We controlled play in the second half against a very good Oxford side who will be in the top six at the end of the season. We’re so close, we’ve proven that against Burton and Tranmere, but those matches instilled confidence, but not new players and additional support in key areas. I’ve felt we’ve been one decision away from a point in both matches we’ve lost, one lucky bounce away from a goal. Yes, we need more if we’re going to be a success at this level, but we’re not that bad. We’re not Southend, we’re pointing in the right direction we just need the shove to get us up and running.
I know people will say possession doesn’t matter if you’re not winning, or they’ll say it isn’t good enough because we were second and now we’re not, but this really is a bigger picture scenario. Michael Appleton is a respected coach whom I believe has helped keep us competitive against very good sides; we’ve not been outclassed by anyone really, perhaps Gillingham, but we’ve more than matched Peterborough, Oxford, Coventry, Ipswich (twice) and a host of other sides. Yes, football is about points but it’s also a game where you have to have certain things in place to progress. We have to have a game plan, which we do. We have to be able to do the basics, passing, tackling and heading, which we do. You have to have the right attitude, the fight and determination to succeed which I feel we showed yesterday. The key components are there, I firmly believe that.
I’m not hanging all of my hopes on January, not for the long term future, but there is little doubt that we need attacking options, both in the lead striker role and across the three behind. We’ve got arguably our best winger out for a chunk of the season, our strikers lack confidence and we can’t create from deeper at present.
Harry Toffolo said in the live pod he felt we had goals all over the pitch and that is exactly what we don’t have. He clearly meant the potential for goals and that is all well and good, but we’re not scoring from different areas. We’re lacking confidence in front of goal and the methods we’re employing do not always fit with some of our player’s skills. I think it’s why we see Harry Anderson having good and bad games. He excels in the fights, the wars where you have to scrap, push and battle for everything. However, for the games that are a step up, the Oxford and Coventry type matches, he’s yet to fully grasp the rhythm and pace of the game. It’s not just Harry either, players such as Hesketh, Payne, even Grant to a degree, just haven’t brought the attacking threat I hoped to see.
I firmly believe from number 1 to 7 or 8, we’re as good as any side around the top ten. Bold perhaps, but I do. I think we play decent football, we control the tempo, we’re committed and strong and never look like taking a proper thumping. The problem exists in the roles of 8, 9, 10 and 11; the players we need to create and score. It’s not a terrible situation to be in, getting 70% of things right, especially not when our manager has the contacts and influence to drive a decent transfer window.
Be warned though; this journey isn’t going to be without bumps, twists and turns, but I’ve seen nothing in the last two games, despite losing, that makes me overly fearful of returning to League Two.