There’s a title I never thought I’d write.
Anyway, as many of you know the Imps got back into action yesterday with a 1-0 defeat at Salford City. The result is really of little consequence, although I know doom and gloomers have already been out in force. The purpose of yesterday’s exercise was to get players back into match action, try a few things and just settle down. In reality, it was a glorified training exercise, but the eyes of the Imps’ fanbase were clearly on it. We haven’t played in over five months, probably the longest Lincoln City fans have ever gone without football, and that meant everyone turned their eyes to this game, even those who fail to understand the basic concept of a friendly.
Unless you get pumped 8-0, results mean little in pre-season. How many times have we had good wins (Middlesbrough springs to mind in the nineties) only to then have poor seasons? I’m not a huge fan of the pre-season game, I like to see new players in the squad, but the actual outcomes of the game mean nothing at all. However, as it was football and I’m an opinion site, I thought I’d dip my toe back into the water and see if I have a basic understanding of the game after all this time out.
I don’t watch Premier League matches, I’ve no interest in the Champions League either, so the last 90 minutes of action I saw was the 3-2 win against Burton Albion. I was hungry for some Imps’ action, as I’m sure you all were too. At one point the viewing figures almost hit 3,000, yet had this been in early July and not on YouTube, I wager fewer than 500 would have been there. If there’s one thing the recent pandemic has done for me, it makes me anxious for Imps’ action, and many of you seemed the same. My Dad even watched it on his big telly, having never dabbled with iFollow before.
I thought we started nervously, as you’d expect for our first game in five months. Salford have already played and it was little surprise to see them come out of the blocks a little quicker. It looked to me like we started 4-2-3-1, although at times it looked like McGrandles and Jones swapped roles. Tom Hopper led the line and a new, improved Zack Elbouzedi played left wing. I say ‘new and improved’, because he looked to have beefed up a bit over the summer. Across the back, we got to see Montsma in action, as well as the two full-backs I suspect will be the first choice, Max Melbourne and TJ Eyoma.
Their goals came from our first real attack, a simple ball to Henderson led to a smart finish from the veteran, and Salford had the best of the opening exchanges. I didn’t need reminding that this was the first friendly after a long lay off, but I suspect a few others watching did. Some players looked a little rusty, Conor McGrandles sprayed a few passes astray in the middle of the park and in took Tom Hopper a good 15 minutes to get going at all. However, when we did find a rhythm, I thought there was plenty to be positive about. Again, this is only a friendly and those positives probably mean as much as the negatives – nothing. Still, the left-hand side looked decent at times, Max Melbourne got forward plenty and Elbouzedi showed some real purpose in his attacking play too. The right-hand side was a little different, our mysterious number 14 was a proper little try-hard, but he did look like a triallist, not quite on method with the rest of the side despite being a threat. He didn’t play badly, by the way, that’s not what I’m saying, but the left looked more fluid, as you’d expect from players who had time together before the pandemic.
Chances fell to Tom Hopper, Zack Elbouzedi and James Jones in the first half, none of which ended up in the net. Jones was one who impressed me with his endeavour as he looked to get in the box, whilst Hopper might not have scored but he put himself about too. I thought Tom might have had a good penalty shout early doors, then he dragged an effort wide as well as having at leas tone (maybe two if memory serves) well saved. I know fans will get on a number nine’s back if they don’t score, but I worry if they don’t get in positions to score. His finishing might have been a little off, but I saw more yesterday than his first four games for the club and I’m hoping he’ll be a great number nine.
At the back, Lewis Montsma was the man who really caught my eye. He looked clever on the ball, strong in the air and he can pick a nice pass. He was wiped out twice by Thomas-Asante, the second challenge would surely have resulted in a red card in proper action. However, the youngster got up quickly and thoroughly impressed me.
I thought we looked to have a slightly different style too, it might be the fact it was a friendly, but we seemed more willing to get quick balls into the channels and into Hopper. I’d say that it looked more like the latter stages of 2018/19 than the first few months of this year, at times, whilst we also showed the usual willingness to play out from the back as well. I’m not averse to mixing up the styles either, we really struggled with that at times last season, but being two-dimensional will help us handle different types of opposition. Again, I know it was a friendly and maybe I’m reading too much into it.
The second half was clearly all about minutes and a raft of changes left us looking disjointed, as it did Salford. I thought Harry and Jorge were both quiet when they came on, but the flow of the game was disrupted as we got minutes into the legs of them, Cian and Sean Roughan amongst others. It was nice to see Roughan get a run-out, he’s a big lad for a youngster and if his ability develops as quickly as his physicality has, he’s going to be a real diamond. The biggest compliment I can give him yesterday is that he didn’t look out of place, whereas at least one of the other young lads who came on did.
There were plenty of plusses for those who understand what pre-season is all about. Bridcutt certainly looks pivotal and a lot of our game went through him, Montsma was perhaps around my Man of the Match, and Elbouzedi and James Jones looked comfortable too. Jones spoke to Lincolnshire Live after the game, saying: “It was a bit of a frustrating game. I think in the first 15 minutes, we didn’t quite get going. After that, we dominated the game and had a lot of chances – on another day we could have put them away.
“I’m a bit disappointed with myself. I had a chance or two that I could’ve done better with, but the main thing is that we’ve got minutes in the legs.”
That is all yesterday was, minutes in the legs, at least to MA and his players. To you and I though, it was much more, wasn’t it? It was Lincoln City, back in action. It was a glimpse of something we used to recognise as normal, it was something we might previously have taken for granted being cherished, welcomed and of course, analysed. It was football coming back. I’ve heard it ever since the Premier League returned or the Champions League resumed: football is back. I’m sorry, but that has been bollocks. Yesterday, for the first time since March 7th, football was back – the football I know and love at least.