We came out first after the break, another subtle change we’ve seen implemented recently, and we were straight into them. Both Walker and John-Jules were penalised for fouls on Curtis Tilt which made me laugh; a big strong centre back getting knocked about by two supposed lightweight strikers. I know it’s the game and had the challenges been 50/50 then the former Rangers tagret might not have gone down, but it seemed to reflect the way the whole game was going; the young pretenders were getting right into that teamsheet packed full of experienced players that I had feared as a fan. Fear though, is not something Michael Appleton’s team showed.
No, they showed flair, they showed composure and they played some truly magnificent football at times. The hours on the training ground are really paying off and for every misplaced pass I worried about from Tuesday, we saw something inch-perfect instead. I feared if we’d been as sloppy as I felt we were during a period of the 5-1 win against Bolton, we’d be punished. We weren’t sloppy though, not one bit.
Edun set the bechmark again five minutes after the break, flying into a 50/50 in the middle of the park, getting straight up and carrying the ball forward into the area before his shot had the sting taken out of it. It wasn’t a chance to make the highlights, but it stuck in my mind because it reeked of Joe Morrell, it reeked of early Lee Frecklington. Tayo Edun, if yesterday is anything to go by, will be a massive fan favourite at Sincil Bank.
Another chance that won’t make the highlight reel was Grant Ward’s wild lash over from 25-yards. Blackpool were always on the edge of creating something decent, but never seemingly having the answers when the ball dropped in the final third. The game was still anyone’s but had it swung their way we would have felt a little aggrieved. I lost count of the number of times I tweeted something like ‘great play from Lincoln’ and not one of the players was exempt from being involved. The passing out from the back was slick, one move started with Bolger and went through Eardley, Edun and Morrell before Jorge Grant’s cross was deflected for a corner. It was easy on the eye and whilst we weren’t dominant in the strictest sense, I think we can all now see where MA is taking this side, even those shouting words like ‘relegation’ in October.
On the hour mark, they took off the Big Lump and, oddly, Liam Feeney and threw on Nuttall and Madine. It was a sign of what was to come, a bombardment from above, Bomber County the intended target of a North West raid from the air. Our answer? The winning goal.
There was a slight element of luck about our goal, which I won’t complain about. Firstly, they had a free kick which ended up being nodded out for a goal kick when it was plain to see from our side of the ground it should have been a corner. Vickers delivered, the move broke down but Harry Anderson’s dogged persistence, still trying to shove that 20p in the meter, paid off. Walker picked up the ball, slipped in John-Jules and he showed all his class with a superb first touch to kill the ball before beating Howard. The noise level ramped up once more, with Michael Appleton’s very own song being sung loud and proud by the 617. City led, deservedly, and my pre-match fears were consigned to the back of my mind.
Blackpool immediately launched an offensive and John-Jules secured the sponsor’s Man of the Match with a double clearance off the line. It should have been 1-1, Vickers was beaten twice, but the ‘Thou Shalt Not Pass’ attitude of last season was abundant once more. Right in front of the boxes, John-Jules did enough to ensure he got the bottle of champagne on his first senior start. For me, perhaps it should have gone elsewhere but that’s not to John-Jules’ detriment. He was excellent.
Marc Bola curled a decent effort over from the angle which made the official highlights, but when Walker fired over a few minutes later the action was not included. I felt the official highlights showed Blackpool in a positive light, as if they absolutely deserved a draw. On the balance of play, 1-0 was perhaps the right result but nonetheless, it wasn’t an easy three points. Madine offered a presence, if not a threat, but he’ll be a big player for them as they settle down because he suits their style of play. That is if Grayson lasts because their fans were not happy at all.
There were chants of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’, something which seemed unlikely. On 88 minutes they almost snatched something else that seemed unlikely; a draw. Joe Nuttall, a player that social media reveals to be as popular as head lice in Blackpool, had two efforts saved by Josh at point-blank range before a flag was raised. It was the final action of the game, but hair-raising none the less.
Where to begin with the individual plaudits? Not one Lincoln player could be criticised yesterday; they all played 90 minutes which MA put down to a lack of height on the bench in the absence of Big John (which we’ll gloss over for now for fear of mixing fact and interpretation with speculation and conspiracy) and they never stopped running. If I had to point fingers at particular areas it would be the Walker / John-Jules dynamic which worked well, but was fed excellently from out wide and from midfield. Tayo Edun was my Man of the Match, I felt he settled quickly and dominated play in the second half. For a while on Tuesday we lost the midfield battle, but Edun complements Joe Morrell and leaves me full of hope for the future.
Max Melbourne slipped into the left back role as I slide into my well-worn slippers when I get home and MA told the printed press (and me) after the game that we’ve only seen 40% of what he’s capable of thus far. He also commented that Melbourne suffered cramp on 80 minutes and in the dressing room MA asked him what that was all about. ‘I’ve not played for ten weeks’ was the smart answer, leaving the boss chuckling as he recalled the exchange.
Neal Eardley did what he does very well, his combination with Harry is one of the final remnants of the tittle-winning side still being utilised. As for Cian Bolger; excellent. He was rarely beaten in the air and is a player who has been desperately unlucky this season. He’s hardly put a foot wrong in every game he’s played, but often finds himself dropped. I think he’s making himself undroppable.
I said last week after Shrewsbury that the next month was crucial for MA: the player adjustments, the integration of new signings and the way the opposition approach our games would all go some way to pointing to whether the new era was going to be a success or a false dawn. I’ve seen enough over the last 180 minutes to suggest this football club is going to be alright. We’ve weathered the storm of September to November, picked up the pace in December and kicked on into 2020. Crowds are not down, enthusiasm is still there and the new faces look very impressive. I won’t look up if I can help it (four points), but I peer down (15 points) and wonder when that goal of finishing fourth from bottom becomes a realistic top half finish, as predicted at the start of the season.
My one wish now, and I’ve saved it until the end, is that we all stop looking backwards. Things have happened, we’ve perceived them differently and reacted how we see fit, but looking back is doing nobody any favours. Football moves fast and four months have seen huge shifts in approach, personnel and attitudes at the club. I feel the light at the end of the tunnel is bathing us now, the football is good and whenever we pose a question of the team as fans, they answer it. It won’t always be smooth, it won’t always be a case of playing great football, getting lavish praise and six points from six, but I genuinely believe, as I always have done, that Michael Appleton is the right man for this football club. He’s the here and now, he’s the present and the future and he’s the only manager in the Football League we need to be bothering ourselves with from this point onwards.
Up the Imps.