The Best of Starts: Imps 2-0 Oxford United

Credit Graham Burrell

When you play a side like Oxford, who should be in the top half come the end of the season, you know they’re going to have a spell and I felt they got that in the opening exchanges of the second half.  They came at us a little more directly, looking to finally prise open the lid we’d snapped shut around Alex Palmer’s goal. Liam Kelly looked for an early penalty after an Eyoma challenge but was never going to get it, then the Spurs man put in a thunderous tackle of Josh Ruffels which I felt 25 miles away in my living room. The full-back landed awkwardly on his shoulder, ending his game, but the challenge was fair. Coupled with his challenge in the box against Crewe, Eyoma was showing his wide range of attributes and I could almost hear Steve Thompson purring with delight at an old-school challenge in the modern game.

On the hour mark, Oxford got their best chance of the game, Cameron Brannigan smashing a drive at goal which Alex Palmer was equal too. Brannigan was arguably the best midfielder at this level last season, but along with Kelly, he looked pedestrian at times. There was no space for him to exploit, which is why he tried his luck from range. after last year’s 6-0 thrashing, I guess it was worth a punt, but this is a very different Lincoln City team. Very different. Moments later, as Mark Sykes saw his close-range effort saved, I felt Oxford deflate. Two good chances, both of which could have brought a goal, had gone begging and it seemed only to fire City on.

I felt Oxford had their momentum up to the hour mark, but it began to drain away. Their passes became sloppy, their runs weren’t picked out by raking balls and we got a second wind. They made a couple of changes, former Hearts man Sean Clare had come on for Ruffel and Joel Cooper replaced the ineffective McGuane, but all that did was serve to disrupt any flow they had. Clare, a player I felt might be big for Oxford, shamelessly pulled down Scully and earned the game’s first yellow card, but Jorge Grant’s effort from the attacking left wasn’t accurate.

Credit Graham Burrell

Two minutes later Tom Hopper bought a free-kick from the attacking right. It was a weak free-kick, doubtless, happy-clappers will say it was definitely a foul but if it is given against us it would draw a few moans. Tom is clever like that, I think they usually say it is ‘using all his experience’ to get a free-kick. He knows when he’s going to be pushed or when a challenge might look a little rash and he rides them well. I thought Hopper had a decent game too, working really hard up top with little outright reward for his endeavour. Still, he won the free-kick and James Jones stepped up, delivering a tasty ball into just the right area. Two Lincoln heads were up, one of which was that Adam Jackson, making his Imps league debut. The ball sailed in and with 16 minutes left on the clock, it looked to be game over.

Oxford didn’t give up, they poured forward in search of something. Brannigan had a free-kick saved well by Palmer, who was impressing in the Imps goal. If the free-kick raised a round of applause on 80 minutes, his double save on 83 deserved a crescendo. You could imagine, in a full stadium, those two saves being cheered just as loudly as either of the goals. The first stop was from Matty Taylor’s volley, a solid save in its own right. The loose ball dropped to Mark Sykes and he looked to cooly stroke the ball home, but from nowhere Palmer recovered and made the second stop. If you watch it back, Sykes’ body language tells you he feels it is a simple finish, he’s confident and assured. it’s a good strike too, but genuinely a world-class stop from Palmer.

There was still time for late drama as Harry Anderson looked to score a Diego Maradona style goal (his good one, not the handball), but slicing through Oxford with one of his mazy runs. Perhaps, if it had been 0-0, Harry feeds in Callum Morton for a clear run at goal, but instead, he hung on to the ball running down the clock. Rob Atkinson, the Rob dickie replacement making his league debut for Oxford, lunged in and was shown a straight red card. He was off the floor but led with one foot and it is bound to cause some debate as to whether it was a red or not. It didn’t affect the game and personally, I’m not sure it was a red, but I know some feel it was nailed one. That was perhaps the only really contentious decision the referee made, aside from booking Roughan for taking his time leaving the field; the boy had made a stunning Football league debut and he hardly dallied, bumping fists with a teammate, but he picked up a yellow for it. Other than that, I thought the ref had a sound game and I wonder if we might see some good performances from the men in the middle without the sway of the crowd.

Credit Graham Burrell

That was the last action of a great opening day for the Imps. Oxford looked a decent side, but we showed the other side to our character, digging in, defending well and not conceding too many clear-cut chances. We made our own luck up front, delivered some great balls into the area and that is without the likes of Bridcutt and an up-to-speed Callum Morton. Throw Elbouzedi and Archibald’s pace into the pot as well and our attacking options look frightening.

I recall a conversation with my Dad a couple of weeks ago, where he said he didn’t know where our goals were coming from. Three games in and we’ve scored five, with hopper, Montsma, Anderson, Scully and Adam Jackson all bagging one each. A good side doesn’t rely on one player to get twenty, but on eight or nine players to get seven or eight each. We’ve gone from looking a little light up top to having a plethora of attacking options we can call upon.

I shouted Eyoma as my Man of the Match, Thommo picked James Jones and the Football League Paper shouted Alex Palmer (we assume anyway, they had Alex Bradley’s name down). I saw others praising Roughan, Montsma, Scully and Anderson. Even those not mentioned in the MOTM talk had good games; Adam Jackson looked assured, Jorge Grant and Connor McGrandles worked hard and Tom Hopper put in a strong shift too.

GOAL! – Credit Graham Burrell

Nothing is won or lost on the opening day of the season, not in terms of league position. However, looking down the results from yesterday, some fans (Peterborough) have lost optimism. Some fans (Southend) have lost hope and belief. We’re now three games into what many feel is the Michael Appleton era, the period of time he has his players playing his way, and we have lost nothing. If anything, we’re gaining belief, growing optimism and certainly earning some pride. The season is (hopefully) going to take place across 45 more games and we will win, lose and draw matches, but if we play with the same commitment, vivacity and organisation we did yesterday, I predict our win column will have a higher number than either the draw, or importantly the loss column.

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