Same result, different display: Imps 0-1 Rotherham

Courtesy Graham Burrell

Last night, not for the first time, I got called a pessimist for predicting a 1-0 Imps’ defeat on Twitter.

In my defence, right up until the team selection, I thought we’d see a draw when Rotherham rolled into town. They were always going to come at us, want to win the game and in turn, that would leave us spaces in behind. I felt we’d get an expansive, entertaining game of football with plenty of drama and excitement and I don’t think I was wrong. Most people I spoke to before the game tended to disagree.

My Dad disagreed. In town before the game, he even told me he was thinking of not renewing his season ticket. He will, but he likes to say stuff like that because he knows it winds me up. He did feel we’d get beaten easily though and he had the same apathy about him as he did prior to the Everton game in the cup.

In fact, all around the ground, it was the first time I felt a real drop in expectations. Few expected us to put in a big performance against Paul Warne’s side and even fewer expected us to take anything from it. That may just be because I surround myself with people who are equally, if not more pessimistic than I, but I suspect three defeats in a row has led to a bit of ambivalence towards the recruitment plan and the direction in general.

Not that we haven’t been warned there will be ups and downs. Michael Appleton has made it very clear we’re a work in progress and that patience is going to be key. Oxford fans have told us it takes time for the Appleton method to work, but when it does success will follow. Deep down, we can see what he’s trying to do and why. Some refuse to believe it will work, others seize on the chance to feed into the negativity that invariably follows a defeat. Me, I prefer to assess each game on its own merits and try to keep one eye on the bigger picture. With that in mind, I felt last night had plenty for us to be positive about, if not points or goals.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

Sadly, points or goals are what gets you up a league, but let us put that to one side for now, certainly in the context of last night, and talk about purely about the game.

I did change my mind about the score when I saw the teams for two reasons. They seemed to opt for (9/02 edit: there is some deliberation about this. It looked like a three in practice but I’m told it was a four) three at the back and wing-backs either making it a flat five at the back or a dynamic five in the middle. As you know, I often talk down our winger’s ability to play against such a system, especially Harry, who can’t use his arsenal when closed down into a tight space. It was a really smart move by Warne, especially as he hasn’t operated that way in recent weeks; it’s the level of awareness that became a hallmark of our success over the last three years. Also, and this isn’t me looking for a scapegoat, but I didn’t feel playing Hesketh as a ten behind John-Jules was necessarily a good way for us to get on the scoresheet.

I’m aware that my feelings towards Hesketh’s performances differ wildly to some, but I genuinely don’t see what he adds to our attack apart from ‘running around a lot’ and ‘trying hard’. Whilst those are virtues I admire, they have to be complemented by something else, like assists, goals, passing accuracy or a range of other abilities I don’t feel I’ve seen him display. Maybe, just maybe, I’m being harsh. Maybe it’s just that I feel Hesketh (0.72 shot assists per 90 minutes this season, 28.5% shot accuracy) isn’t as effective in the ten role as Jack Payne (1.18 shot assists per 90 minutes this season, 33.5% shot accuracy). If only there was a way to tell.

That’s why as Martin Coy (more on him shortly) blew to get the game underway, I was not at all confident. A little over two hours later, as I made my way back to the car with my Dad, I did not expect to feel hugely positive about what I’d seen, nor did I expect to hear so much positivity from people also walking back to their cars. Especially not as we lost the game.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

The early exchanges were pulsating, with both teams clearly being buoyed on by the great atmosphere in the ground. I spoke glowingly of the Portsmouth fans ten days ago and I can do the same for Rotherham. Okay, they haven’t travelled as far and they weren’t as loud, but they certainly played their part in making it an exciting and atmospheric night. Both teams had half-chances before the quarter-hour mark, which is when we should perhaps have taken the lead. Jorge Grant met Harry Anderson’s cross with a strong header which was clawed away by Daniel Iversen.

15 minutes later, after more action at both ends, we definitely should have made it 1-0. Liam Bridcutt and Jake Hesketh were involved in getting the ball across goal to Harry Anderson. unmarked but stretching slightly on the edge of the six-yard box. Iversen was beaten, the defence were beaten and all we needed was for the effort to be on target to go 1-0 up. Sadly, it flew over.

The game continued to ebb and flow and we never looked overawed. They’re a big side, Matt Crooks in midfield looked like an adult playing in a kids game, such is his size and stature. However, Liam Bridcutt’s steel in midfield was a big positive for us and if he continues to play that way, we’ll finally be competitive in that area against after a couple of weeks of being lightweight. Up front, Michael Smith is a bruiser too, but Cian Bolger dealt with his threat superbly all night. Bolger might not be the player you want passing out from the back, but he’s wonderful in the air and for me, has had a solid season.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

Sure, Rotherham looked more composed at times. They knew how to choke us, pressing high to prevent us playing out and looking for their defenders to gobble up anything Vickers punted long. Tyreece John-Jules looked isolated to me, he contested most balls in the air, but rarely won one. Hesketh struggled when we went long, as did Grant and Anderson, which meant we were forced to play out more and more. That’s where Bridcutt came in, certainly in the first half. Instead of it being Vickers, to Shackell, then either punt and back to Vickers and punt, Bridcutt offered a viable link between the back two and the midfield. It led to a few decent attacks and in my eyes, making it difficult to distinguish who was top of the league and who wasn’t. Luckily, we had the Rotherham fans to occasionally remind us.

Things broke down a bit on 32 minutes, not least because Martin Coy, the referee, decided he wanted to be a big part of the action. Jorge Grant was fouled and, as he went down, he was clearly kicked hard between the legs. The linesman didn’t see it and Grant reacted furiously. Coy wanted to chat to Grant but it wasn’t entirely clear as he seemed to point to their offended. Petulantly, Grant stood fifteen feet from the referee, so he called Shackell over. It was all pathetic, from our player and from the ref. The fact is Grant was on the end of a nasty stamp and it wasn’t the first; Rotherham spent ten minutes or so kicking anything that moved. it looked like frustration, but the referee didn’t deal with it. Max Melbourne picked up a booking for a challenge, the like of which we saw three or four times from the visitors with no punishment.

Half time arrived with no addition to the score, but plenty of positivity in the stands. Everyone around me was chuffed with how we’d played, pointing to Bridcutt as an obvious difference, but also citing Grant and Morrell as key players.

15 Comments

  1. Superb game to watch and Bridcutt looked a cut above. Shame we couldn’t finish the chances but we matched a team that’s far in front of us in terms of experience. Great effort and Scilly looks a good fit too.
    Exciting times if we have patience!

  2. No Walker no strikers. No strikers no goals. No goals no points.
    Tyreece is not up for it yet. Hopefully he will be at some point this season but as it stands he is very poor. Nothing from him. Maybe it’s time for Hopper to step up his game if he can ?..
    Not much from Hesketh neither. But that is hardly any surprise…
    Positives ? Bridcutt. If we keep him fit then him and Morrell will be the key to staying up.
    Bright short cameo from Scully.
    MK dons on Tuesday big game now.
    Oh, and where is our Irish wing wizard Zack ? Fell off the bench and injured himself 😅 ??

  3. Oh don’t be sexists guys, what knitting 😉? That was good for my grandma… 😁 Maybe it’s not very humble ok, but I need to defend myself here. I do know something about football. I had no choice as I practically grew up on the terraces. Entitled to my opinion too.Try to respect my view as I respect yours… What moaning? It’s all facts in my comment above. Tell me where I was wrong? Hesketh? Rubbish… Tyreece? Rubbish… Zack? So far just funny.. 😅 (early days I know). Bridcutt? Could be a great and important signing. Scully? Promising. At which point I showed lack of football knowledge ? I know I can sometimes overreact and jump into conclusions to quick but most of the times I’m right and this is because I know ,,your” game.. Peace.. 😊✌️

  4. Not doubting your knowledge, not being a misogynist, I am however saying that you are hardly ever constructive in your criticism. I’m sure the team love reading all your posts.

    • Not always constructive? Agreed. Sometimes I should just calm down before write a comment.. Team love reading my posts? I know😉 how could they not haha

  5. Apart from the all too regular Shackell Short-Passing Horror Show or How to Give Easy Goals Away, I thought we put in a decent performance. By rights we should have had at least a point out of the match. Somehow we must start to put our chances away – which we can’t do it at the moment. But I’m upbeat about the new side. Scully and Bridcutt look really promising. So, lads,don’t throw cold water on my enthusiasm and blow it on Tuesday. And Shacks – PLEASE – no short give-away balls! Three (better four) good wins and we can all feel secure and positive that next season will bring rewards.

  6. No crtisism anywhere about Harry Anderson! Irrespective
    of his industry… and indeed set piece goals that miss cost us big time last night. He is technically nowhere near!

  7. Agree George. Anderson was a liability as their fullback was creating havoc.he missed two chances he should have put away and the result would have been different.
    Great game to witness though!!

  8. I thought we played some of our most exciting football for some time. The 2 first half misses would have been goals of the season if converted.
    Certainly Bridcutt was at the centre of most of it and he looks a fabulous buy.
    Harry seems to have lost concentration and can be seen wandering about in the wrong place at times. Very bad miss but balls bouncing off his shins is part of his game!
    Shack is stil a key member of the defence: positionally good, cool and a good organiser. He is being asked to play the ball out from the keeper and this is new to him, I suspect. BUT it is an essential skill of a class football team. Pep introduced it into England and Man City gave away loads of goals in his first 6 months – it paid off though!

  9. Sadly I was not at the match as I was away with work. But it seems from conversations and reports on various platforms there was much to be admired in the display.
    I seriously think a sharp dose of reality is needed here . Three great seasons under the Cowley’s but lets face it we couldn’t sink much lower when they arrived and yes I have been watching them for many many years.
    MA is absolutely the right man for this period in the Imps development, it is clear where we are heading with a clear way of playing some exciting football and although results have not gone in our favour just recently, I actually think MA is ahead of where he thought he would be in terms of squad development at this stage.
    One or two more tweaks in the summer and I really think we will surprise a few people both at the LNER and away grounds in this division.

    In MA and the board we trust. I personally would rather have a club in the current form than one which may have been bankrupted by over spending on the playing budget.

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