We always knew after promotion that we’d have to accept draws as being a good result at times. Sure, after beating Peterborough and Ipswich at the Bank, it looked like we might get a hatful of wins.
Instead, things have settled to the sort of level we might expect; we are a lower midtable League One side at the moment and a point is often as good as a win. That’s especially true when you hear Tranmere have been beaten. One more game down, one more point the gap between them and us. Plus, we don’t have to witness the Steve Evans’ pantomime (featuring the jester referee who forgets about bookings and whimpering sidekick Paul, the Mutley to his Dick Dastardly) again this season, which is great.
The day got off to a good start for me. I felt we’d get something that whole day, I couldn’t see Gillingham beating us outright. Draw? Maybe, but given the expected changes we were going to make I felt an air of confidence. I had breakfast with my Dad in the Corn Dolly, had a drink (coke) with him and a few fans in the Treaty and then nipped into town to meet Fe for a coffee and a nice Cherry Bakewell. It might not be a conventional matchday routine, but it felt good.
Upon reaching the ground I spoke to plenty of fans of the site, many commenting on how much they like the dog walk videos, which amuses me no end. I spent a lot of time chatting to a fan whose name I sadly did not catch at the front gate, someone fearful we were still going down. We put the world to rights for a good fifteen minutes, hopefully I alleviated some of his concerns. As we stood together the team came out on social media, with the obvious omission of Jason Shackell. Will we see him in a Lincoln shirt again? Somehow, I doubt it.
I finally got to meet back up with Dad under the Coop Stand and his response to the team was ‘it’s pooh’ (although he used another popular word for pooh which I’ve avoided due to negative feedback over my occasional swearing). When pushed, he acknowledged it was only the inclusion of Conor Coventry, Tom Hopper and Jake Hesketh he didn’t like. One of those players would go on to prove him wrong.
We started brightly, much as Gills fan Lewis predicted in his piece with me before the game. Anthony Scully looked as lively as ever, getting away down the left and squaring for Tom Hopper in the first opportunity of the encounter. Hopper was just beaten to the ball by the defender, but it was a nice move that hinted at better football to come. I thought the Gills were half-decent too; they’re certainly not the best side to visit this season but in those early exchanges, they weren’t the worst either.
Much of the early action happened off the field, with Evans and his assistant constantly berating the officials. It was hard not to be drawn to the sight of him rumbling up the touchline full of fake rage and indignance, before sending his soppy mongrel sidekick up a minute later. To be fair, with less than 15 minutes on the clock, he had fair reason to complain. Jake Hesketh’s challenge on Ogilvie was horrible, a sure-fire straight red for me. I haven’t seen a replay so I may stand corrected, but it looked brutal. Tom Nield flashed a yellow card, as he did to Evans not long after (which drew loads of applause), but we could have easily been down to ten early on.
Still we pushed hard; a Neal Eardley delivery should have found an alive and alert centre forward, but we don’t have one, so the scores remained 0-0. Watching on from the stands in is obvious how much the loss of Tyler Walker has damaged us, Eardley’s ball would surely have been right in the area Walker liked to hunt. On yesterday’s performance, Tom Hopper hasn’t got up to speed yet and can barely be described as hunting, let alone as a centre forward. I’m not looking for a scapegoat, but aside from the odd touch here or there I’m not entirely sure what Tom Hopper brought to the party yesterday. The sooner Tyreece is fit, the better.
Our best chance fell to Anthony Scully after good work from a couple of players. To be fair to him, Hopper was involved which make a bit of a mockery of my last paragraph. Tayo Edun ended up whipping in a cross and Scully lashed it just wide. It looked a horrible miss but when I’ve seen it back, it wasn’t so much of a shank as an attempt to beat the keep close to his post. The young lad will be kicking himself to register the miss, but there will be plenty more for a player of his calibre.
In between Gillingham did get a few free kicks, launch a few longs balls forward, but didn’t really get anywhere. Their best chance fell to Max Ehmer not long after Scully’s miss, almost a carbon copy too. Josh Vickers made the save on this occasion, keeping it at 0-0. City’s defence was resolute and there is no doubt at all that Michael Bostwick’s return had everything to do with it. Bozzy is a warrior, fearless in the tackle and brutal at the same time. Liam Bridcutt offers the same and with the pair of them together it all felt very solid.
Even when playing out from the back, Bozzy coming in made things better. Sure, there were a few moments I panicked, but in the main, we looked more composed. Tayo Edun would have got man of the match for me, had it not been for the late referee decision. He’s so composed on the ball, rarely giving it away and always looking to overlap and work hard. We don’t harvest much from the wings at present but what we did manage to create involved Edun.
I felt Conor Coventry had his best game in a City shirt too. In the first half, in particular, he looked hungry, dropping deep for the ball, keeping it simple but also getting involved further forward. Sure, one or two of the lads got bullied a bit by their experience, but that was more Hesketh, Hopper and Scully.
Just before half time, Neal Eardley lashed a decent shot at goal after finding some space, before Jordan Roberts showed us what we didn’t miss at all last season by screwing horribly wide for them from 12 yards out. It brought a decent first half to a close. We hadn’t been rampaging and not everything had come off, but I’d argue it was the best half of football from the Imps since Blackpool at home. Let us not forget the conditions, the referee and the fact our opponents are on a 14 (now 15) game unbeaten run. We gave as good as we got and I felt we’d get something from the tie.
I mentioned the referee there and it might be a bit unfair, I don’t know. Through the course of maybe 89 minutes, I didn’t think he was too bad. He was indecisive, lacked consistency and missed some big fouls (for both sides Steve, before you start), but it wasn’t an easy game to manage. He drew my ire with a couple of drop balls though. On one, we were pressing, they had a guy down and he gave a drop ball which they got back, fair enough. In the last embers of the half, similar again, only we were seemingly clearing the ball, a lad went down and when he resumed playing he gave them a drop ball to further attack us. It seemed a bit odd to me.