I remember looking at the fixture list shortly after Michael Appleton took over and identifying how crucial autumn was. We had a run of games starting with Shrewsbury and ending with Tranmere in which I felt we needed three or four wins. We got two.
The reason I felt this was December and January bringing us no fewer than four teams chasing automatic promotion; Coventry and Oxford away, Peterborough and Ipswich at home. If there were three points in that lot for us, we’d have done well. That’s not pessimism, it’s reality. Look at those teams; their spending power, the time they’ve spent in the third tier (or above) and the quality of their squads. Coventry spent £750,000 on Matt Godden, Posh an estimated £1.5m on Mo Eisa. Oxford have got an experienced manager and strong squad whilst Ipswich should be walking the division with the players at their disposal. We are still ‘little ‘ol Lincoln’, no matter what we think.
The win against Ipswich gave us a real boost, especially after narrow defeats against Cov and the U’s. We deserved something from both those matches, or perhaps I should say we could have got something from both those matches, but heading into the exciting double header I felt we’d be nervously looking over our shoulder by the time we travelled to mid-table Sunderland on Saturday. Ipswich came ill-prepared for the task in hand and defended like a Steve Tilson side fighting relegation, whilst we finally found a route to goal. 5-3, happy days.
That brought us to yesterday and I appreciate this isn’t the usual way I start a match review, but these last few days haven’t exactly been conventional, have they? Seriously, 10,000+ at consecutive home matches is a first in my lifetime and that is as much down to the size of the visiting club as it is our own excellent support. I missed the Ipswich game with flu, as you all know, but I wasn’t missing the game with Posh.
I felt very differently about this game. I didn’t feel there was a win it in for us, but I did confidently predict a red card. Whilst the relationship off the field is decent, on the field the needle and provoking from the first game was always going to spill over. I wish I’d put a tenner on it now, but hey ho.
My day started with a visit to see my old school friends Craig and Dayle, plus their families, to welcome in the new year before a late change to the itinerary saw me picking up the old man and heading into Lincoln. It was a little later than normal so we parked in town (£8.50 in Tentecroft Street, rob-dog buggers). We had a mooch up the High Street and welcomed in 2020 by bumping into some familiar faces. Helgy and his partner Sam were first, with him telling me the real test of MA’s side would be if we were to go behind and come back for a win. In KFC, Casey talked up the ability of John Akinde and lamented the rumours he was heading off to Salford.
The ground was buzzing, whilst town was dead it seemed the whole city slept or laid on their sofas apart from those going to the game. I’m not sure I like the feeling that football is the only thing going on in the city, it’s a little eerie. Still, once we got in sight of the famous old ground the atmosphere ramped right up. People were hungover, but excited at the game coming up; these are the matches we live for as fans. In my opinion, Posh isn’t a local derby, you can be halfway to Scotland in the same time you can get to London Road, but it is a game that holds a special something. Maybe it’s the fact we do more deals with them than anyone, maybe it’s the number of ex-players in each other’s squad, I don’t know. 1,700 was a decent following too and although a few mindless idiots ruined it, on the whole, the visitors played their part in a truly exceptional afternoon.
I usually drop on to the game chance by chance, but I wanted to make a few observations first and foremost. I saw lots of criticism at half time of our tactics, namely playing out from the back. Both Cian and Bozzy are great defenders, but neither are ball-players. They head, tackle and bully but they don’t ping accurate 60-yard passes to feet. However, I don’t think we’ll see a change and I don’t think we should either. Michael Appleton has a way of playing football; that is really clear and obvious now. I’m going to touch on some of the patterns in a minute, but it starts with us coming out from the back, playing from side to side, trying to stretch the opposition across the field. If we were to start differently, it would throw out many of our patterns further up the field.
No, MA will play his way and will stick by it through good and bad. I’m beginning to think we’ll cheer and jeer in equal measure at first, lamenting giving away silly goals like Toney’s opener and Ipswich’s second, but revel in the slick attacking football that is finally bringing chances and opportunity. MA will stick to his approach and slowly bring in players to complement it, or develop the ones we have to adapt and embrace. I know a fair few coaches believe the very best in the business have a plan and stick by it, rather than change things around at the first sign of trouble. That’s certainly how I feel we’re going to be for the next season or three.
Up to Toney’s goal, I felt the game was fairly even. Posh are a good side and I’ve read they’ve got injuries, but in Maddison, Eisa and Toney their trio of real talent were all present and correct. Eisa was anonymous all afternoon though and Maddison strikes me as a player who needs his first few touches to go well otherwise he drifts out of the game. Toney is a different class though. He’s strong, direct, quick and can clearly finish from tight angles. However, before his goal on the half-hour mark, we’d matched our opponents and perhaps had the best chance of the game when a quick break by Harry Toffolo saw him launch a wonderful first time ball into Jorge Grant, who volleyed wide.
At this level though, a mistake is punished and we overplayed at the back, handing possession to Posh. Toney picked up the ball at a tight angle and looped a wonderful finish into the right hand side of the goal. That is what we’re up against; quality. You wouldn’t necessarily have been punished there last season, but with a player like him on the field, you get hurt.
My heart sank at this point, Helgy’s words still fresh in my ears. Still, we didn’t bow down and crumble. I found our response to be positive, strong and showing a lot of character, much like the Ipswich game. After the goal, Posh retreated and allowed us to come onto them and we certainly finished the stronger side. Tyler almost levelled before the break, only a super save by Christy Pym, still the best opposition keeper I’ve seen at the Bank in years, kept them in the lead.
Half time didn’t bring a goal, but it did bring a lot of positivity. All around me the chatter was about how well we played, with a few players standing out. Joe Morrell, Jorge Grant and Harry Toffolo were all excellent, Tyler Walker’s work rate was outstanding and when we switched from left to right, Harry and Neal Eardley posed a real threat. Cian and Bozzy weren’t being bullied either, although Toney was clearly giving them a game they wouldn’t forget, we didn’t look particularly vulnerable.
Next Page – The Second Half