If you were asked to define the second half of last season, how would you do it?
Weak goals conceded from silly free kicks and set pieces? Check. An inability to fight back after conceding a goal? Check. Poor choices playing out from the back? Check. Going further back, you could even add in something about Brett Huxtable I suppose.
Yesterday, in another sound win for Michael Appleton’s young guns, we confirmed the arrival of a new normal; not the dreaded ‘mask and don’t kill your granny’ new normal in the wider world, but a new normal for our club. Defending well, showing minerals in the face of adversity and me giving Brett Huxtable a retrospective pat on the back. Yup, 2020 is truly skewing reality as we know it.
The Imps starting line up was subject to so much speculation in the summer, but very quickly we have seen it settle and develop. If all players are fit and able to play, there are probably only one or two choices that Michael loses sleep over, or rather one or two players keeping him awake. Anthony Scully is one, a player with a couple of goals and the drive to make things happen. he was yesterday’s unlucky loser as Liam Bridcutt returns to fitness. For those saying things like ‘never change a winning team’, check the Bradford starting XI, then the Oxford one, then get back to me.
Liam has to be included. Michael has already explained how important he is for driving standards on and off the field. Along with Connor McGrandles and James Jones, we have a midfield three that will run like Duracell bunnies for 90 minutes. Jorge Grant loses out centrally, but his guile and craft are utterly vital and that means a shift around up top. It could have been Harry, but he’s been excellent too, so Scully gets benched. I’m sure that will reflect in his training and performances when chances do come around again.
The other dilemma is doubtless up top where Tom Hopper and Callum Morton are interchangeable. Hopps got the nod yesterday and those watching the pre-match show will know I spoke about Hopps ability to win free-kicks by bumping defenders and understanding contact. Well, within ten minutes of yesterday’s game, Tom Hopper had ‘used all his experience’ to grab a penalty. What was odd, is that Brett Huxtable awarded it and anyone with a long memory will know he doesn’t have a great track record when giving us spot-kicks. Was it a penalty? I’m not so sure, but Jorge Grant didn’t care as he stroked the ball home to give the Imps yet another early lead. That’s four goals we have scored in the first ten minutes of games this season (two at Bradford). In our last 17 fixtures in 2019/20, we scored just three goals in the opening ten minutes of games. New normal?
I can’t really go on much more without bringing in iFollow. I despair a little because the club is relying on high take-up of the service to keep money coming in with fans unable to go to games, but the service really is terrible. There is also an element of denial from those who do not experience problems, it feels a little like Covid itself. Some people just pootle on with no issues, and those who do suffer are told things like ‘it must be your connection’, or ‘you’re doing something wrong, why not clear your cache, change browser, press left four times on the directional pad and recite all the words to the Lord’s Prayer’. The fact is this; computer literate people with good internet connections are missing huge chunks of games they have paid money for because iFollow isn’t performing as it should. I watched the Oxford game, in full, without an issue on Microsoft Edge. Three days later, Edge won’t work and I missed half an hour of the Bradford game whilst the gods aligned. Yesterday, I tried logging in at 2.30 pm using exactly the same setup from Tuesday and it wouldn’t work. After 34 minutes, I finally got logged in after trying four browsers, two internet connections, two different platforms on my phone and two laptops. The feed worked on the app on my phone, but not in a browser. How is that my connection?
Let’s pick up the game on 34 minutes shall we? to be fair, I did listen to the first half an hour as I openly berated iFollow to my dog, MK clearly had a game plan, but the home commentators (yes, one platform let me log in to audio, but not change to Michael and Thommo) were lamenting their lack of firepower. They felt MK didn’t trouble our goal and that Harry Anderson was causing them huge problems. A flick back over the commentary on Twitter suggests so too: ‘Anderson fouled by Houghton’, ‘Anderson fouled by Harvie’. I notice a trend developing.
Another trend I’ve noticed is the one where Michael Appleton’s Lincoln City set up to combat the opposition very well. MK got all the possession they wanted, as was the suggestion prior to the fixture, but did very little with is. We were narrow through the middle, shifting left and right as they moved the ball. Look, it sounds like basics, but would we honestly say we got it right last season? Not always. The defensive performance actually reminded me of MK when they came to our place in 2018/19.
We probably deserved a penalty for a foul on the busy McGrandles later in the half, but it wasn’t clear-cut (more so than the first, but not obvious), and it would be a brave referee who awarded a second. As we know, that isn’t our friend Brett.
Post-match, Michael said we were spot on from start to finish, but there really wasn’t a lot more to shout about in the first half, was there? Chances were at a minimum, it was very much a game of chess and there is a reason they don’t show chess on TV; it isn’t entertaining. Without wanting to sound too negative, this wasn’t a game that sparkled and thrilled, not in the opening 45. MK were holding onto the ball in a pedestrian manner, we defended well but looked happy to simply soak up what limited threat they had and wait for the half time whistle.