It was Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who, in response to a question from a journalist enquiring what is most likely to blow governments off course, famously replied “Events, dear boy, events”, writes Richard Godson. Known as Supermac, he is remembered for a number of quips, one of which, during the 1959 general election campaign, was paraphrased as “You’ve never had it so good”.
Which brings me to Lincoln City. At the time of the 59 election, the Imps were in the latter stages of a lengthy sojourn in the second tier of English football, then known as the Second Division, now called the Championship. On present form, some might argue we are heading back to what I once heard Chris Ashton describe as our rightful place as full members of the Football League. At the time of Mr Ashton’s assertion, those clubs in Divisions 3 and 4 were associate rather than full members. I have no idea whether this distinction still pertains and indeed I have never studied the structure of the organisation that now calls itself the EFL. But that’s how it was then.
Moreover, at that time in the early eighties City, managed by Colin Murphy and with a team brim-full of supremely talented footballers, many of whom feature prominently in the Stacey West’s recent poll of 100 best footballers of a generation were running away with the third division and a return to the second tier looked a sure-fire bet. In the event (that word again) they were blown off course and within five years or so weren’t even associate members of the league. So you’ll perhaps forgive me if I offer a few words of caution that now is not the time to get carried away with an excess of hubris following what must be one of City’s best starts to a league campaign in decades. Indeed, as Alexandr Orlov, the meerkat might ask “What can possibles go wrong?” Well, quite a lot actually.
We are currently in the middle of a frantically busy few weeks in what is an insanely congested season caused by the delayed start that meant a complete absence of match action throughout August. We had seven games in September, eight in October (very fitting) and we face another seven in November if we can negotiate our way past the quinoa munchers in the FA Cup and it promises to be a similar number in December. Yes, I know it’s the same for everyone and at least so far we haven’t had to contend with COVID postponements. I don’t envy those who have as the backlog is going to catch up with them soon enough. Nevertheless, squad rotation could play an increasingly significant role as we negotiate a congested fixture list. Actually, I am a little surprised more changes have not been made, but then I don’t know the players as intimately as the manager and nor do I see them in training week in week out. Appleton certainly does and you have to say his call has been pretty much spot on so far. I’ve not forgotten either that in the 2016/17 season the team played 60 games during which it won the National League and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and the semi-finals of the FA Trophy, even if the players were on ‘gas and air’ by the season’s end. A decent run in the FA Cup to say the fourth round would mean a total of 55 games this season. Progress in the Deep Pan Trophy will only add to that tally of course.
Injuries and Suspensions
Some have remarked at the recent lack of shooting power up front and may indeed point to the absence of Callum Morton, who we are told is going to be out of contention for a while. A short term loan of Jamie Soule was to provide cover but whereas Morton featured in the first five games of the season (coming off the bench in three of them) Soule has made just the one start, against Mansfield in what we are now told is to be known as the Pappa Johns Trophy. I’ve barely got over referring to it as the Checkatrade! I suspect his next outing will be against Manchester City’s kids.
Skipper Liam Bridcutt is going to be out of action for a couple of weeks or so and we are fortunate in the versatility that exists in the squad which means cover is available but it wouldn’t take many more absences to deplete the reserve. I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Harry Anderson emerged unscathed from Jon Nolan’s studs up lunge.
On the other hand Adam Jackson’s suspension has not reduced the effectiveness of the defence to the extent that it is not just opposition strikers find Joe Jackson impossible to budge but the man he replaced too.
I was also impressed that we came through Tuesday’s encounter with Crewe without a single booking. Card counts can mount up and suspensions result. It was noticeable too that Michael Appleton did not feel the need to make any substitutions on Tuesday evening, preferring to let the starting eleven see the game out. In 14 games so far this season Tuesday was only the second in which no substitute was fielded. In case you are wondering, the other was Fleetwood. Clearly, he is not afraid to ring the changes should he feel it necessary, but on the evidence so far, he’s not going to do it on a whim.
The January Window
City’s progress so far means we could become victims of our own success. The club’s clearly stated policy is to recruit youth with potential and we have already seen that potential demonstrate itself in abundance. I doubt anyone imagined Lewis Monstma would make quite the impression he has so soon in his Imps career but I wouldn’t mind betting the word is already out about the Dutch defender with a goal-scoring habit. Don’t forget Jorge Grant and Harry Anderson who have come on in leaps and bounds under Michael Appleton’s tutelage. And that’s before we get on to Sean Roughan and Tayo Edun or Connor McGrandles and James Jones, all of whom have impressed immensely from the off this season. People will have been taking notice and not a few agents will have an eye to a deal. I happened to sit next to one of our senior players’ agent at a game last season. He told me most of his clients are in the Premier League and Championship so he will know and have contact with managers and club executives at that level. I think it is safe to say there is fairly frequent contact across a network of contacts at all levels of the professional game. Agents will know which club is on the lookout for a particular type of player and they will make it their business to ensure it is their client who is brought to the attention of would-be potential buyers. I work in the property sector and my colleagues and I meet regularly to see what sellers and buyers we can put together. We make it our business to know what is coming to the market in the coming months so we can be first in on behalf of our buyer clients. Why should football be any different? What if we were to be faced with substantial offers for 2 or 3 key players come January? How big a hole might that leave in our none too populous squad? I imagine this possibility won’t be lost on the recruitment team at Sincil Bank but recent experience at least suggests that January arrivals often don’t truly find their feet until the following season, by which time the momentum for promotion this term may have been lost.
It’s Not All Bad News
The club has a strategy, it is not unique in that and I cannot imagine that in planning that strategy the board and senior management would not have considered the kind of scenarios I have articulated here and just because the transfer window has closed, for now, it does not mean consideration of and preparation for future rounds of recruitment are not already underway. I expect it is a constantly evolving and developing process. Many have remarked how the club got in ahead of the game with its summer recruitment this year and that smacks of foresight forward-thinking and thorough planning. Michael Appleton has admitted that the players they wanted were the players they landed and having seen them in action, albeit on the screen of my laptop, I’m not inclined to disbelieve him.
As for the supposed goal drought, it is worth remembering we have scored 27 goals in all competitions so far this season and 14 in the league. Our league total is level with Peterborough, one fewer than Hull, Ipswich and Doncaster and two behind Portsmouth. The real goal drought is at the other end where our parsimonious defence is the meanest in the division.
I’m an optimist at heart and whereas Stacey West founder, Gary Hutchinson feels it necessary to apologise for his unexpected bout of optimism following the game at Crewe, I tend to see a glass half full rather than half empty. The departure of Michael Bostwick and Neal Eardley among many others at the end of last season did not unnerve me in the slightest, honestly. No crown court jury delivers its verdict after hearing just the case for the prosecution. It wants to hear what the defence has to say too. We have seen that case in action and the verdict so far is pretty favourable.
Mind you; Events dear boy, events.