Another game, more division and debate. After the strong showing against Rotherham, I hoped for the same again, although I did warn this wasn’t to be an easy fixture against a side experiencing a resurgence.
Michael Appleton made minimal changes to the team, dropping Max Melbourne and playing Tayo Edun at left-back. Tayo, who feels his best role is a midfielder, has played left-back for England so it wasn’t a completely random change. Max hasn’t been playing well and I’m sure MA felt it best to take him out of the firing line for a game or two, especially as the vitriol is beginning to build at Sincil Bank.
It’s amusing, Helgy posted something on social media about an early goal being the key to us going on and getting the win and I feel that is the case. This team is all about confidence; when the players believe in themselves they reach their levels and when they take a knock, they don’t. If we get our noses ahead you usually fancy us to get a result, whereas when we go behind we inevitably do not.
There is a famous saying about football being a game of two halves and I think confidence played a big part in last night bringing us a ‘half of two halves’. Straight from the kick-off we attacked, then they attacked and referee John Busby gave them a free-kick on the edge of the area. I could write a whole article starting each sentence with ‘referee John Busby gave them a free-kick’, because it was what he seemed to do. He was erratic, confused as to the rules and completely inadequate for league football. Maybe rose-tinted glasses had me seeing no infringement, or maybe the referee wasn’t up to the job.
Either way, they got a free-kick from a long way out and Rhys Healey showed all his quality to curl a wonderful effort over the wall and past Josh Vickers. My first thought was that Vickers might have been at fault, but now I’ve watched again it was just a superb strike. Credit where it is due. I didn’t think there was a big need for him to come and celebrate in front of our fans though, not with a couple of hundred of their lot over in one corner and not when he hadn’t received any abuse either, but some footballers are just like that I suppose.
That early goal knocked our confidence and I felt the next 20 minutes were poor from both sides. Aside from their goal, they created very little and played some decent football at the same time. I feel we’re not that different, us and MK. They play out from the back, they like to keep possession and yet they created very little. It certainly looked a lot like October / November Lincoln City to me. Our gameplan was less possession-based, trying to move forward quickly but on the floor and often with little success.
They got a succession of corners and for some reason, I feel nervous whenever that happens. We don’t seem happy defending balls into the box, Josh Vickers doesn’t like claiming them and the whole stadium draws breath whenever anyone delivers something in. They didn’t get any joy though and we went up the other end, played some nice football and Liam Bridcutt lashed home a superb strike from 20-yards. 1-1.
At that point, everything turned for me. Suddenly, our players looked to have confidence. Maybe it was the roar of the crowd, maybe it was Morrell and Bridcutt springing into life. For a few minutes we played with real zest and creativity and I felt there was only one outcome to the game. John-Jules, a player getting quite a bit of stick around me, had two chances, one of which should have brought a goal. Decent work by Jake Hesketh fed in Harry Anderson, his shot was blocked and dropped to John-Jules who had a gaping goal to shoot at. Two defenders were back but anything with power beats them and we’re 2-1 up. Too much power though and the ball goes too high. I have no need to tell you what happened.
That clearly knocked his confidence and when Joe Morrell picked up a booking a couple of minutes later he was essentially taken out of the game. Michael Appleton aid the referee told him ‘one more and you’re off’, poor officiating considering he’d committed few fouls on the night. I didn’t think his challenge warranted a yellow if I’m honest and a few around me didn’t either. I might be wrong here, but I think it came from a foul to which the referee waved play on, but MK put it out for a throw. Now, if he waves play on and they chose to put the ball out, is it not a throw? I don’t know, but later in the game, he stopped play for an injury that wasn’t a head injury (and as it turned out, wasn’t an injury) stopping us breaking. John Busby is not a good referee.
Anyway, Morrell is booked and loses his edge, John-Jules misses a sitter and loses his confidence, so we needed a big display from Hesketh. He had seen an effort go over not long after Morrell’s booking, but he didn’t know much about it as the ball cannoned off him and over the bar. He’s been a bit of a scapegoat for me and I tried desperately to see the good in his performance last night, but he made that very hard when, after stopping them playing out from the back, he went one on one with their keeper. His strike was so wild and unprecise that if he’d swung a fridge-freezer at the ball, attached to a giant crane, he would have achieved a more accurate finish.
Rhys Healey had a decent chance for them as the half drew to a close, but there was little to complain about at half time. We’d been knocked down, come back into the game and should have been 3-1 up, without a doubt. John-Jules and Hesketh both looked short on confidence, but as the sides trudged off at the end of the half I firmly believed we’d be taking home all three points by doing exactly the same in the second period.