The Big Debate: Should we be playing out from the back?

Courtesy Graham Burrell

Another afternoon in League One was scarred by the Imps inability to make the right choices in possession. 

It has been a real bugbear in recent weeks, should we stop playing out from the back in order to stop the silly goals we’re conceding. Much of the social media chatter this weekend seemed to indicate it might be a sensible option, but we must be careful not to try telling the chef how to cook our breakfast.

On the face of it, the lads at the back are not comfortable playing out from the back. It has become more evident in recent weeks that our weakness, defenders comfortable in possession, has been spotted by other teams. It’s worth noting of course that we conceded against both Peterborough and Ipswich through our own errors, but we still won those matches. We kept clean sheets against Tranmere and Burton employing the same tactics and didn’t concede against Oxford through our own fault.

That’s why I’ve been very surprised at the backlash over the tactics, rather than focusing on the individual errors. By that I mean people expressing surprise that Cian Bolger found himself on the bench, despite two of the goals in recent games coming as a result of one of his errors. That may sound harsh, I rate Bolger, but it’s the fact he has been held up as the cornerstone of our defence whilst the errors are blamed purely on the manager.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

I believe there are several reasons people are incandescent with rage at us playing out from the back. The first is the anti-Appleton brigade. They’re out there, lurking. You’ve seen them on Twitter and merely by writing this I’m sure they’ll be taking to social media to say they’re only expressing an opinion, I’m the thought police etc. I understand everyone is entitled to an opinion and I always try to respect that, but I wonder if Danny had tried the same approach would there have been such anger angled at him or the players? In that instance, it might have been apter to target the manager as it would have been his players playing his way.

I also believe that some of the opinions being expressed are not taking into account some of the rhetoric MA has delivered since he arrived. He’s always spoken of his style taking time to come together and that there will be bumps along the way. I feel, despite the stupid errors, we’ve had such a promising Christmas. Ipswich, Sunderland and Peterborough will all be top ten at the end of the season, if not top six and we beat two of them. Sunderland were nothing special either, had we not still be in the mindset of giving gifts for Christmas we might have come away with something from the game. That’s because MA’s style going forward is beginning to bear fruit. Remember the days of September when we couldn’t score for toffee? Well, we’ve bagged now in five of the last seven against some half-decent teams. That’s part of MA’s approach, but his style is all or nothing.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

“The simplest way to deal with the pressure we came under would have been just to smash it up the field and play percentage football,” he said after the Coventry game. “But there’s no sustainability playing that way if you want to move forward.”

Basically, if you take out the element of playing out from the back, you take out everything that comes after it. You couldn’t simply say ‘the chef doesn’t grill bacon well, so we’ll take that out of the Full English’, because the whole product would fall down. Instead, you show the chef how to cook his bacon and in the meantime, you have to have the bacon he’s currently producing. Of course, I do feel sometimes, if the pressure is on, then the ball does have to move quickly forward. after all, if the bacon is rancid you don’t cook it at all.

I know someone reading this right now is thinking ‘what utter nonsense’ and doubtless, after the battering I’ve taken over the last couple of days, someone will be keen to tell me. I stand by the opinion that I’d rather have a manager who stuck to his principles when he could see progress, rather than one who changed his entire ethos because on aspect wasn’t working. If MA had come in, tried to do what he’s done and said ‘it’s not working, let’s try something else’, I’d begin to wonder if we had the right man. You see, employing him was a plan for the future, it was us investing in his coaching, his ideas and his whole approach. How could we respect a manager who immediately ditched his approach at the first signs of trouble. If we’d lost nine from nine and the goals were costing us points every week, of course the change should happen. That’s not the case though, is it?

Courtesy Graham Burrell

I maintain that the players involved in the debacle at the weekend should have known better. We conceded one goal after playing out from the back and, when the pressure came on, that was the time to hit it long; only when we have to. The other goals were just as inexcusable, not as easy to turn into funny GIFs or offbeat reports, but they harked back to losing 6-0 against Oxford.

Maybe, just maybe, the one area of the field I felt we were looking solid in does actually need some attention. Would a defender with pace have caught up with their forward after Shackell missed his header for the third? Perhaps. I must confess to being surprised that Callum Connolly came in, did well and then disappeared, given his pace and his passing range. However, I’m not going to tell the manager how to cook breakfast, just pass comment on how he’s doing it.

The point of this article is that I don’t think we should be hating on the system. It is easy for me to say that having not actually made the trip up north, but we’ve seen enough in recent weeks to show that MA does know exactly what he’s doing. Changing that at the first signs of trouble wouldn’t be wise. After all, this losing possession and giving away goals isn’t new, is it? We gave the ball up easily against MK Dons and Doncaster early in the season, but nobody wanted wholesale changes back then, did they?

Should we ditch playing out from the back altogether?

  • No (84%, 57 Votes)
  • Yes (16%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 68

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  1. The voting section doesn’t appear to be working? Unless it’s just my phone! But I agree with you, we need to let MA develop his system and get the right players to do that. When we play it out from the back well, and that is most of the time, it looks great, is very effective and we keep possession and push forward. But when it goes wrong, it is easy to say “get rid of it” and hoof it forward. Yes, there are times when that is the right choice. So yes, we need to let the breakfast fully cook. After all, you can’t cook a fried breakfast without breaking a few eggs.

  2. The problem of playing from the back and getting caught out is not unique to Lincoln, there has been “daft” goals from errors at the back in all 4 divisions even the Premiership.
    The issue appears when it can be done without pressing from the opponents there were 2 Sunderland players pressing when Josh made the error. I’m afraid it wasn’t the time to chip a forward it should have been in Row 7.
    My main gripe is although we conceded in the last 2 games we won !!! I’m of the old brigade why change a winning team, that is my gripe.
    I am sure that MA will get it sorted but he can’t be at fault from individual errors from experienced players
    Keep up the good work Gary and Happy New Year

  3. Only 6 points off a play off place and 2 or 3 more signings to come in.
    We are a decent side on paper and the road to the end of the season might be up n down. Don’t rule out the play offs with the striker we have in Walker and his eye for goal. A winger might just give him a few more chances. We are not far off!

  4. We all want to play from back and play beautiful football but in reality we are simply not good enough to do it , 2 goals against Ipswich one against Peterborough 3 against Sunderland when will we learn . Dont get me wrong we play some great stuff at times but for me we over play got to be more direct get ball forward

    • One against Sunderland Casey to be precise.. The other two had nothing to do with the way we play. (Or the way we try to play..).

      Football should be play in the right way and playing from the back, keeping possession is the right way for me even if It takes time to work..
      Also don’t forget that right choices made by the players will always be essential no matter what tactics. If it is safe go ahead and play your tiki taka. If it is not don’t do it.Common sense..
      Vickers and Shackell schould know better than this.
      Overall defending was disastrous… Especially from Shackell. As much as I admire him and his experience and talent I would play Bolger and Bossie if both fit…

  5. Casey makes it plain. Sure we want to play skilful, passing football and at times we do so but we ain’t good enough to play short passing across the face of the goal to get us out of trouble. If that’s how MA wants to play, get the players who can work the system. It’s exapserating to watch, especially when you’re waiting for the pass that’s a bit too short – the gift to a quick-footed opposition forward for little more than a tap-in.

  6. It goes into the folder marked “not in there lad!”. In this folder we have zonal marking, the belief you are more likely to score from your corner than concede, that if you are close to relegation the only way to avoid it is become long ball, that all poor first half performances can be sorted by shouting at the players in a small room for 15 minutes, and that a manager must never sit in a dug out but must be at the side line shouting at people.

    Only “we should only play 4-4-2” has made it out of the folder of late and after years of documented success.

    Some of our players will be on around £100k a year, I imagine the lowest paid on £50k a year. And still we think they shouldn’t be trusted to pass a ball 10 yards to another player and that they system is wrong to trust them to do that once or twice in quick succession?

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