Another fan’s view: The Talisman’s Still Working

Courtesy Graham Burrell

How many of us still cherish the memory of coming to the Bank with our Dad for the first time? It’s one of those rites of passage that every boy and I think, every Dad has to go through, writes Richard Godson.

In my case it was against Grimsby Town in 1967 although it wasn’t actually the first game I saw Lincoln play. That was against Scunthorpe the season before. However, going with my Dad is the one I recall with the most affection. I remember two things about it; that we won 2 – 1 and that there were some scuffles between rival supporters outside the St Andrews Stand after the game. Oh and my father’s wise words: “Stick by me and keep you head down boy”.

For my ‘boy’ it was the pre-season friendly against Newcastle United when Alan Shearer made his first appearance for the Toon and scored that very late and very dodgy penalty to record his first goal in the black and white stripes. Jonny managed to get the great man’s autograph in his programme which he cherishes to this day. He’s now 34 and living in Aberdeen, doesn’t get to see his team many times a season. Today was his second this term after Fleetwood way back in August. We won 2 – 0 that day and he remarked to me as we walked away after the match that he had not seen Lincoln lose since Mansfield at home in our first season back in the Football League in September 2017. On that day we went down to the odd goal in one when Sam Habergham cursed himself for letting a cross come in from which they scored. We know he cursed because we could hear him, He was right in front of us as the only 2 adjacent seat we could get that day were towards the western end of the Bridge Mac stand.

I derive as much pleasure if not more from these days together as he does and we make the most of his Christmas trips back home. Last season it was Cambridge away when, if my memory serves be correctly, we came back from a goal down to win 2 – 1, thanks to a wonder dead ball strike from the Postman and a perfect example of a forceful intervention from Big John. This year we have had Peterborough with Sunderland to come.

Cambridge away last season – Courtesy Graham Burrell

For today Emily in the commercial department had worked her magic and was able to seat us together right where I normally sit in the Selenity. Let me say at this point, I am not intending to render a blow by blow account of the game. Gary is a far superior practitioner of that sort of thing and to do so would merely bore you. Nevertheless, I can give you our thoughts and reflections on the build-up, the game itself and the aftermath.

My son once had an ambition, never realised, to be a sports journalist. When it comes to appreciating this and other games, he has few equals in my eyes. Alright, I’m biased, but genuinely, his opinions are intelligent and well-reasoned. Whether he ever had the discipline to sit down each day and knock out article after article, I doubt. I certainly don’t and in that respect he takes after me. Where he beats me hands down is in his encyclopaedic knowledge of not just football but rugby, cricket, racing, darts and a host of other sports besides. So I can guarantee that we will dissect and analyse a game in the half hour journey home.

We saw the new year in apart as he went to share it with friends of his own generation but he was back well in time for our scheduled 1 o’clock departure. He noted the standing water still in the fields we passed, not to mention the appalling state of Lincolnshire’s roads. I park in a different place this season and so the approach to the ground was one he had not made for a very long time. Two pints of 1884 and a couple of pies later we were ready to head for our seats.

We agreed the opening passages of play were scrappy with neither side in complete control of the game. Both sides were trying to play their respective game but not quite managing it. I had been telling Jonny about the soft goal we gave away to let Ipswich back in for the first time two days previously and, what do you know another case of fart arsing around in our own box, this time by, dare I even say it, Michael Bostwick, leads to a never to be spurned chance at the feet of Ivan Toney; one which he was to seize with relish, leaving a no doubt unsighted Josh Vickers firmly rooted to the ground. Until then, whilst we had intent, I rather felt we were, on occasion, a little too casual on and around the ball but this changed in the second half. The lads were up for a fight and clearly there had been some fairly critical self-analysis over the half time tea and oranges. Generally solid performances became impressive ones as the Imps began to fight their way back into the game.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

I’ve read on social media that the sending on of the Peterborough number 10, Siriki Dembélé was the turning point in the game. Clearly, his intervention was decisive, but not in the way Posh boss Darren Ferguson had intended. However, I rather think the introduction of our own number 10, Jack Payne straight after the interval was more influential on the outcome. That is not to say Michael O’Connor did not have a good first half. I thought he played well, certainly up to the moment he took a fearful clattering courtesy of yet another Peterborough player. They do seem to target him, don’t they? Whether the substitution was tactical, as I have heard, or out of a desire to preserve O’Connor’s fitness, I’m not sure. Either way, it worked as Payne seemed to bring a new urgency to City’s play as he, a resurgent Grant and the continually improving Hesketh began to dominate the game, linking effectively with Walker, Anderson, Toffolo and Eardley in particular. Bostwick and Bolger too were much more assured.

Peterborough became more defensive with Ferguson removing 34-year-old George Boyd and replacing him with Joe Ward, a defender known to City fans and 10 years his junior. Michael Appleton, by contrast, sent on the heavy cavalry in the form of John Akinde in place of Hesketh. Darren Ferguson’s mantra seemed to be ‘What we have, we hold’, whereas Appleton’s was clearly ‘We’re coming to get you’.

In the event, it was the industrious Tyler Walker who was to grab a somewhat fortuitous leveller by virtue of a wicked deflection that gave Christy Pym in the Posh goal no chance. That is not to take anything away from Walker whose game has sharpened up considerably in recent weeks. As I see it, this is partly due to his tremendous work rate and partly because we seem to be playing to his strengths. He appears to respond best to the through ball on to which he can run or after which he can chase. Neal Eardley seemingly serves these up like a waiter at Claridges for the gourmet, Walker to devour with relish. It should not be forgotten that the equaliser came while Peterborough still had 11 men on the field. From then on at least, I felt there was going to be only one winner. Peterborough of course, could still afford to play out the game for a draw. After their drubbing at the hands of Rotherham a couple of days ago and Donny on Boxing Day, a point would represent something to take from the festive programme. Dembélé put paid to that. Morrell must have irritated him by taking a quick free kick before he could withdraw but that is no excuse. You simply do not resort to violence in a game of football, whatever the provocation and his actions sealed his fate, leaving the referee with no choice but to dismiss him within a minute of his introduction to the fray. Look out on social media for the spoof heat map posted by a Posh fan after the game. It is both accurate and hilarious.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

After that, the forays of Eardley and Anderson on the right (an ever-impressive combination) and Toffolo and Payne with assistance from Grant on the left stretched and squeezed the Posh defence into submission. Between them, Akinde and Walker were causing mayhem through the centre. The coup de grace came with 30 seconds of normal time remaining. A foul outside the box and as the ball was placed for the free-kick, Jonny reminded me that it was in an almost identical position to the kick taken by Neal Eardley at Cambridge a year ago. This time, however the number 23 was back in the centre circle and the honour fell to Jorge Grant, this season’s dead-ball specialist. Our vantage point was directly behind the kicker and from the moment the ball left Grant’s boot, it was only ever heading for the back of the South Park net. Cue overwhelming joy on three sides of the ground and a rush to the exit on the fourth. The Royal Mail may have abandoned second deliveries decades ago but Lincoln City have acquired another postman.

After the game, we had another pint and waited for the post-match interview that is part of the deal in the 1884 Lounge. After Ipswich, it was the turn of Harry Toffolo with a couple of cameos from Jake Hesketh and the other Harry. Toff is great value in an interview with an easy delivery and relaxed manner. This time around Jamie McCombe was the sacrificial lamb and for all his other qualities, interviews are not his strongest suit, meaning interviewer Brian had to work hard to coax whatever he could from the first-team coach. Suffice it to say, he’s looking forward to Sunderland as much as the rest of us.

Barry Fry passed through the lounge chatting to a few on his way. He was in good spirits in spite of his side’s current run and he even took it with good grace when I asked him if we could play Peterborough every week. He is one of football’s characters and I cannot help but like him.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

So what did the boy and I have to talk about on the way home? The impressive midfield, the tireless front line, effective work down each flank, outstanding performances from Eardley and Toffolo. By the way, Neal is a born leader, deservedly wearing the captain’s armband. One must not forget the safe pair of hands between the sticks or the character shown by all those who played their part in another fine victory, whether from the off or when introduced in the second half. The sloppy conceding of another goal on the half-hour mark. That sort of thing will be worked on at the EPC, I’m sure. The nomination of Joe Morrell as man of the match; 100% correct in our view.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

The brilliant atmosphere at a packed Sincil Bank. Well if EFL on Quest can call it that then I’m sure I can. As we drove home, Chris Ashton in conversation with Michael Hortin on Radio Lincolnshire let go an interesting fact; what you might call a little Ashtonian nugget. Apparently, the Ipswich and Peterborough games are the first occasion we have had successive gates in excess of 10,000 since April 1976, the record-breaking fourth division championship season under Graham Taylor. When you see half-empty stadiums elsewhere in this division, either on the box or in the flesh, you soon realise what the secret of our home advantage is. 617 Squadron never fail in their endeavours and the rest of us draw inspiration both from the residents of upper seven and the red and white-shirted men on the pitch. When both are on song, as indeed they have been for the last 2 games, it is something to behold. The twelfth man is functioning as designed.

We also discussed Peterborough and in particular Alex Woodyard. We thought the early booing was unnecessary, undeserved and uncalled for. Fortunately for Alex, alternative blue-shirted villains offered themselves up and the persecutors switched to other targets. We also felt he had a decent enough game, winning a few balls, losing a few, distributing well enough. Crucially, we didn’t think he would make it into a full-strength Imps side. That’s how far we’ve moved on.