At around 4.45 pm yesterday, I should have been stood in Upper 3, Row J, Seat 80 screaming ‘we’re top of the league’ with my Dad stood behind me.
I should have been hoarse for, rather hypocritically, shouting all variations of ‘ginger rat’ themed abuse at Jon Nolan, despite obviously being ginger myself (the last bastion of seemingly acceptable political incorrectness going, by the way). I should have come away from the ground hoarse, frantically enthusing about another win, another exciting journey and increasing expectation. I don’t doubt, for one second, my Dad would have had a dig at fans calling for Appleton’s head after a month or two of his rein had passed either. That’s what we do.
Instead, I stood in my living room with a lukewarm beverage on the table, screaming ‘we’re top of the league’, as well as a bit of ‘ginger rat’ themed abuse, and of course issuing a manic laugh as Paul Lambert got sent off for his little show. I’d say happy days, and they are, but for the first time since this whole pandemic began, I really did feel a genuine, gut-wrenching upset at not being there. Sure, it was sad fans couldn’t watch us play Liverpool, or win against Plymouth, Oxford and Charlton. It was a real shame the Blackpool weekender was ruined and that we couldn’t celebrate the insane ending to that game, but at 4.45 pm last night, I felt it as bad as at any other point.
We’re not just joint top, or top after four games, we are clear top, having played the side previously top, and having bounced back from an apparent blip. Maybe, just maybe, we are in the top ten to stay this season. Who knows?
In amongst it all yesterday, there was a game of football that was just the same as any other; 90 minutes long, officiated by one man and contested by two teams who both wanted to win; or at least that’s the theory. For the first 45 minutes, dare I say only one side really looked like they wanted to win. As you all know, I’m a stat man. I love a good stat and xG is one of my favourite, something many lambast me for (hope you’re well Jack), but xG is a damn sight more of an indication of a side’s performance than possession. The opening 45 minutes show Ipswich had more possession, but like money, it is only useful if you do something with it. Ipswich frittered theirs away like Viv Nicholson (look it up), whilst we invested ours wisely, not quite seeing the returns perhaps it deserved. In terms of xG, the best team won by the way. In fact, it should have been 2-0 or 3-1, according to those stats.
I wasn’t particularly worried about the game, I’d written before that I felt they would be a team we could play our game against, but I hadn’t been expecting quite such a laboured and lethargic Ipswich. They played the ball around with little purpose, looking perhaps more like our side of a year ago, with players uncomfortably trying a style not suited to them. It would be unfair to taint all of their players with that brush, of course, some are clearly comfortable and much better than their style allows them to display. Jack Lankester and Gwion Edwards certainly wouldn’t look out of place in our squad, but Hawkins, Nsiala, Nolan and Wilson, amongst others, wouldn’t get on our bench. It’s sad for Ipswich fans to see, but most can see it, as demonstrated by the reaction to the result on social media.
This isn’t an Ipswich site though, it is a Lincoln one, and I’m pleased it is. Instead of vitriol and anger aimed at our manager, we get superlatives and plaudits across the whole squad. There is still a lot to come from our side, but we attacked with real verve and intent yesterday. Dropping Hopper for Brennan Johnson was a big call, one that MA has shown he isn’t afraid to make, and it changed the dynamic of our attack. I do wonder if it was done with Ipswich’s defence in mind; there wasn’t as much space down the wide areas due to their setup, so we seemed to be a bit more direct running into the channels. When we did get forward they tucked in and closed space down in the middle, which I think meant a pacey attack was always going to be the better option.
We could have had a couple in the first half, Jorge Grant blazing over after some superb work down the right, then not long before half time Brennan Johnson’s shot was touched away by Holy’s outstretched toe. Our best chance fell to Grant, a deflected shot bouncing up and off the bar with the keeper stranded, whilst Ipswich’s only really dangerous chance fell to Hawkins, whose looped header beat Palmer, but not McGrandles, who nodded away calmly to keep the scores level.
All in all, the first half was a joy to watch for Imps’ fans. Last season, we played Ipswich twice at home, in my opinion dominating both matches but losing one (FA Cup replay) and winning the other. I think we were better yesterday than in either of those, far more assured in possession, but just lacking that final moment of magic that would have unlocked the Tractor Boys defence.