Throughout my life as a Lincoln City fan, I was taught to take the small victories when they could.
Good starts weren’t rare, winning six and drawing one in 1989/90 had me dreaming of promotion, but it never materialised. Sometimes, those runs of six wins came at the end of a season, or on occasion, the result was just a win against a top side, like Preston in 1995/96. You know, deep down, that there are teams better than you out there, no matter what sequence we put together, That is what being a Lincoln City fan is all about.
Arguably, 2016/17 changed that to a degree, and of course we on the League Two title, but those were one-offs in a long run of acceptance. It’s not a terrible place to be in, at least we have those runs, right?
As Lewis Montsma rattled a 35-yard effort against the bar, I began to wonder if maybe this season was different. Not just because we reacted to our defeat, but because we are in the third-tier of English football and are not only the best team I have seen this season, but apparently the best the Crewe commentators have seen to.
I registered as a new user with Crewe Alexandra and paid for their service instead. Seriously, when is the EFL going to address this problem?
Okay, the last paragraph had a minor lie in it. I would have thought that if iFollow had done its job. I paid for the feed at 5 pm, but after coming in from doing Matchday Live, I was greeted with a message that read something like ‘you don’t have access to this video’. I paid again, got access and settled in to watch the game. Two minutes before kick-off, it cut out and again I got ‘access denied’. then couldn’t log in to the Lincoln City site, I kept getting a bouncing ball, so in the end I registered as a new user with Crewe Alexandra and paid for their service instead. Seriously, when is the EFL going to address this problem? It took me about eight minutes and I was logged in by the time Tom Hopper hit the post, but once again I missed some of the game due to the awful service. it wouldn’t be so bad, but we’re paying £10 a time, and not I have to wait to see if iFollow takes the other £20 off my card that seemingly went through, but then cut out. Madness.
Maybe I had my thoughts about our brilliance when Hopper hit the post, although I distinctly heard my dad say ‘for f*ck$ sake Hopper’ when he did, even though I wasn’t in Wragby tonight.
The first half saw an Imps side with just one change play some of the finest football Imps’ fans have seen in years, if not ever. We ebbed and flowed with a real purpose, tested both flanks with eager running and in reality, we should have been five nil up after 20 minutes. When someone says that about a game, I often treat it with scepticism, but we really were rampant. Crewe weren’t awful, Beckles looked a bit suspect, but they didn’t crumble. Instead, we were just good. Another aspect of being a Lincoln fan is having the opposition claim to be woeful and off it when you play well, diminishing your efforts. Not today. Also, David Artell won’t be lamenting a referee either, I think there was one booking all game in a match that flowed really well. Nope, no blame, no excuses, just a really, really good Lincoln City performance.
I’m not sure what my highlight of the first half was, up to the goal. Brennan Johnson’ purpose and poise are coming to the fore more and more, he teased and terrorised Perry Ng, a top young full-back. Every time Johnson gets the ball, you wonder if we’re going to score. Every time Harry got the ball in the first half, you knew we’d attack with purpose. James Jones looked eager to get a goal, Connor McGrandles was like a reality TV celebrity (he seemed to pop up everywhere), and Jorge Grant was just Jorge Grant. It was a very good performance indeed, but it lacked one thing.
May I offer a tiny bit of criticism? We must start putting the golden chances away. McGrandles, Montsma, Hopper and Johnson could all have scored long before Harry put us ahead. Mind you, when we did get a goal, what a strike it was. Harry showed great awareness receiving the ball on the edge of the area, turning smartly before firing a low finish past the keeper from the edge of the area. I thought Harry was our Man of the Match, and his goal was just reward for the Imps complete and utter domination of the opening 45 minutes.
I think had our next great chance gone in on 50 minutes, we might have got four or five. Johnson’s effort was palmed up into the air by the Crewe keeper, and somehow he scooped it away from goal as Tom Hopper came steaming in. The ball seemed to defy gravity as it twisted away from goal, bouncing out for a corner. I felt that we were a sure-fire bet to go on and get more, but gradually, Crewe got back into the game.
This isn’t a poor Crewe side, not one bit, and I guarantee you they won’t trouble the bottom four when the dust settles in May. They showed that by forcing themselves into the fixture as we looked to tire. Charlie Kirk started to get on the ball a bit and the game slowed down as the rain made the surface slick and slippery. We did occasionally tease forward, usually through Johnson or Anderson, but the balance of power shifted.
With 20 minutes left, Crewe brought on Chris Porter and Daniel Powell and that brought about a massive change in emphasis. Gone was their passing game, which to be fair had brought them little, instead, Beckles started pumping it forward. let us be a bit harsh here; the lad wasn’t getting much joy with his passes on the floor, but when he started pumping it into the big man, it worked much better. Maybe a bit of his Shrewsbury experience coming through there. Porter and Mandron came to life as the big balls kept coming in, and instead of waxing lyrical about our forward, I got a chance to see our defence in action.
Joe Walsh has started four games for City now, and has amassed four clean sheets, which is a fair reflection of how well he has done. As an attacking force, Lewis Montsma grabs the headlines and don’t get me wrong, the young Dutchman was excellent again, but with Walsh alongside him, we do look very, very solid. Montsma has to be up there as a possible Man of the Match too, he got in to turn a Powell cross out for a corner when another second would have seen it turned in for a goal, and either him or Walsh got their head to anything and almost everything that Crewe threw into the box. Almost.
It was backs-to-the-wall, all-for-one defending that showed that firm foundation I keep talking about
Crewe did get a couple of half-chances, Mandron could have done better after a cross from the left, whilst Powell caused problems on the rare occasions they got the ball out to him. Eyoma and Edun both knew they’d been in a game by the end of proceedings, as did McGrandles who prominently featured at the back in those dying minutes. It was backs-to-the-wall, all-for-one defending that showed that firm foundation I keep talking about. We’re pretty when we attack, but we can be ugly at the back as well. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: successful teams don’t just play nice football, but are rock solid and dogged at the back. Right now, we have both of those attributes.
As the minute ebbed away, you did wonder if maybe fresh legs would be an option, but instead, every player got 94 minutes, including stoppages, under their belts. Credit to each and every one of them, they battled hard for a 1-0 win that should have perhaps been much more comfortable than it was in the end. I always praise players for getting in positions to miss chances, and we proved in 2018/19 that even without a 15-goal striker, you can win titles, but I do feel we just need to be better in the eighteen-yard area. Yes, we have kept four clean sheets in a row, but in those four matches we have only scored twice from open play. Look, I’m not taking anything away from this side and I firmly believe we will keep getting better, hopefully that will manifest itself in us achieving our xG, because when we do, a bunch of poor buggers are going to get one hell of a thumping.
The evening ends with us still top of the table, 20% of the way through the season. Nothing is won and lost in October, not when the season kicked off three or four weeks late, but for many of us, finishing outside the bottom four is the first aim. Unless something goes catastrophically wrong, that will be achieved, and if we keep playing as we are, we might even be genuine play-off candidates.
Yep, you heard that right. That’s how good we are looking right now, and when you consider the players we have to bring in (Archibald, Gotts, Roughan, Jackson, Morton, Scully….) as well as the fact Bridcutt was missing, there is no reason why we can’t keep winning games, why we can’t keep more clean sheets, why we can’t hold our own right up there. The only two sides I am genuinely looking at with concern are Hull City and Peterborough, but I’m sure a whole load of clubs are looking at us and thinking exactly the same.
Remember, we’re the best side Crewe have seen this season, and we’re nine games in. Look what Michael Appleton has achieved with this squad in such a short space of time. His players, playing his tactics, have got us all on the edge of our seat, dribbling in anticipation like I do when they lay that sirloin steak out in front of me at the Bluebell in Belchford. Even some of the critical voices on Twitter are purring with delight. Maybe, just maybe, those preconceptions that I held as a Lincoln City fan are being brushed to one side.
Maybe, this really is the dawning of a new era. On tonight’s evidence, it might just be.
My apologies for the unusual optimism and perhaps outlandish talk of the top six, but the honesty shout is I’m finding it hard to keep my feet on the ground, as a lot of you will be too. Michael Appleton’s boys are the real deal. Oxford fans told us so, and they might just be right.