At half time of Sunday’s game against Charlton, I tweeted that I felt we had got a real stroke of luck.
I didn’t use those words, I actually said it was the least deserved lead I’d seen in a long time. In retrospect, that might be wrong. After all, which team deserves to lead, the one that controlled the game, or the one that scored the only goal?
Let’s rewind to the beginning, shall we? Charlton’s visit to Sincil Bank was the first in the league for 60 years (60 years and three days to be exact). We had only ever beaten the Addicks once (5-3 in April 1960 courtesy of an Andy Graver hattrick). This is the sort of game which you really want fans to be at, one which breaks new ground for a whole generation of supporters. We have played Charlton at home during my lifetime as a fan, my first game was October 5th, 1986 and we last played them October 8th of the same year. It was a day that warranted supporters and although I keep labouring on the point, it is a crying shame we missed it.
Putting that aside, it was a big day for them too; their ownership issues have been resolved as Thomas Sandgaard took over, and they handed a debut to Dylan Levitt, a player I think will be influential for them as the season goes on. Lee Bowyer will definitely have wanted his lads to grab three points and looking at their side, I was apprehensive. I wasn’t asked for a score prediction pre-match, but if I had been I would have said 1-1 and meant 2-1 to Charlton.
Looking at their line-up, I was struck with how underrated they were prior to the game; Macaulay Bonne and Conor Washington have both scored plenty of goals, Bonne last season in the Championship and Washington whilst at Peterborough. The latter helped Sheffield United to the Premier League, albeit in a minor role, and should be a real threat at this level. Levitt I’ve mentioned, Jonny Williams got to the European Championship semi-finals with Wales and came on as a sub against Portugal. Alfie Doughty is being hunted by Celtic, whilst keeper Ben Amos represented England up to Under 21 level after emerging at Manchester United. Erhun Oztumer, a player I thought looked good yesterday, is a huge talent too.
I suppose this is the level we are at now though; we will see squads like this come to our humble city. Oddly, they feel they’re some way away from having a full squad, yet it is littered with real talent. I think that showed early doors too; they started at a pace, not unlike Liverpool. After playing seven games in 22 days, I thought we looked a little leggy. Our opponents had only played six in 26 days, giving them a fitness advantage. I didn’t think we would look tired, but given that seven of our lads started the game against Liverpool, I suppose it was expected.
I alluded to luck in the opening title and we got our first stroke early on. I have been critical of Conor Washington in the past, he dropped off a cliff after a decent time at Peterborough and I question whether him playing on the right-hand side of attack was wise for them. He started centrally in a 4-4-2 yesterday and got his first chance on four minutes. It was route one, Amos straight down the middle for Washington. Montsma misses his header after getting the wrong side of his man and Adam Jackson almost gets dummied before Washington screws the shot wide. It was a let-off, the first of a few in the half. Levitt drove over from distance, Doughty picked up another big punt from the back but fired over and Oztumer had an effort saved by Palmer, then another blocked. At this stage, there were 17 minutes on the clock. It felt like it might be a long afternoon.
Levitt (x2), Oztumer and Ben Purrington all had efforts within a three-minute spell on the hour mark, but still we held firm. It might be said we were riding our luck but were we? Or were we just defending doggedly, and firmly. Were we putting the players off their shots, causing them to screw wide? We might have been lucky, we might just have been making our own luck. Mind you, on 35 minutes, I did wonder how it was still 0-0.
In that same period of time, we had two shots at goal, both tame headers from firstly Tom Hopper and secondly the hugely impressive Sean Roughan. Harry’s little rush of blood on 15 minutes saw him drive high over the stand, but there had only been one team in it when everything turned. I’ve done a video on the goal on my YouTube channel, but I’ll cover it here for those who prefer to read than watch.
The first point of contention is the handball, coming from Darren Prattley. At the time, it flashed by and I thought it weak, but I’ve had the benefit of watching it back, again and again, and from the angle, I can see there is little to complain about. Eyoma lofts a ball in towards James Jones on the edge of the area, but Jones misses his flick and it catches the Charlton number 15 by surprise. It bounces onto his arm, which is a little outstretched. Look, if I’m honest, yes it is soft, but at the same time, it is a handball.
Then comes the penalty. Again, Prattley is the offender and again, there is no doubt. Charlton’s own media team were incensed, but even if it is given against us I wouldn’t have room to complain. Hops gets ahead of Prattley and the 35-year-old wrestles him to the ground before he can get a head on the ball. It’s great play from Hops by the way because he also loses Purrington which forces Prattley into the silly foul. The referee points to the spot and the controversy still doesn’t end.
Up strides Jorge Grant, stroking a weak penalty at Ben Amos. The former Bolton keeper saves it, but Harry Anderson challenges Purrington for the ball and Purrington clearly gets a foot on it and plays it back across goal, where Grant strides in to score. As I explained on the video, the first forward motion from a Lincoln player in Grant, who takes the penalty. If Amos saves and Purrington plays it back across goal, then at no point have we played a ball forward, so at no point can Grant be offside. Watching back in slow-motion makes me doubt if he was offside anyway. He is seen running in beyond the defence, but when Anderson and Purrington have come together looks to be playing Grant onside. Think about it, Grant runs in and strikes the ball, so at the point he strikes the ball he stops. Anderson and Purrington are running in to follow up and do not stop at the penalty spot to strike the ball, so their natural momentum is going to take them ahead of Grant.
Basically, it’s a goal Michael.
The whole debacle meant there was little time for the restart. The referee conferred with his assistant, Bowyer absolutely fumed on the sidelines and Mr Prattley, looking to make amends for the obvious penalty, argued until he was blue in the face. I thought he was lucky; there was a hard tackle on Liam Bridcutt he got away with in the first 20 minutes, he could easily have got a yellow for dissent so by the time his yellow did come in the second half, he could have walked. Still, half time, 1-1. Least deserved? Maybe on possession, but we had more shots on target in the first half than they did and, thanks to two late efforts, our xG was 1.89 for the opening 45, there’s just 0.7.
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