On paper, it looked tricky for the Imps this afternoon as we hunted a place in the second round.
The pre-match build-up was all about ghosts of the past; that FA Cup run in 2016/17, the previous wins against Mark Cooper’s men that are timeless and iconic. With injuries and other circumstances building up, this could have been a banana skin, a game which we wouldn’t look back on so fondly. Whilst the win might not result in a quarter-final appearance, and it might not turn around our entire season, it was a masterclass in attacking football from Lincoln City 2020, the next chapter.
In terms of team news, there was plenty for fans to digest. Out went TJ Eyoma, James Jones, Conor McGrandles and Tom Hopper, in came Max Melbourne, Harry Anderson, Theo Archibald and Tayo Edun. That didn’t tell the whole story though, with a major reshuffle seeing only Adam Jackson keep his place in the back four from Tuesday, with Roughan shifting across from full-back. The midfield saw Robbie Gotts join Tayo Edun and Jorge Grant, whilst Theo Archibald’s first Sincil Bank start against his former side.
Interestingly, Forest Green made a number of changes, with Jamille Matt, Jordan Moore-Taylor and former Imps trialist Eboue Adams all dropping out of the side. It meant an unpredictable game, one that was hard for so-called pundits such as me to call.
The first half-chance of the game came courtesy of Theo Archibald. His run down the right stretched the Forest Green defence, but a teasing cross just evaded the onrushing Brennan Johnson. Minutes later, the visitors got their first chance, a ball from the attacking left splitting Jackson and Roughan, neither of whom could recover to stop Bailey’s effort. Luckily, Alex Palmer didn’t need to either. Whilst the early exchanges hinted at a tight game, we did need a little slice of luck to go our way.
Should Tayo have walked before the ten-minute mark? His tackle drew the first yellow of the game, but it was late, high and if it came against us, we’d be screaming blue murder. Again, luckily for us, the ref pulled out a yellow. Two let-offs in a minute or so.
It was a slow start from the Imps and little hinted at what was to come. Max Melbourne certainly found it tough with a few stray passes, before giving a cheap free-kick away on the edge of the area. Luckily, again, the Imps dealt with a poor delivery, but the pressure continued, mostly down the right-hand side at Melbourne. With him and Theo appearing with each other for the first time, there did seem to be a lack of cohesion, earlier on in the game at least. Max grew into the game though, and once he had got rid of the cobwebs, he looked much more composed and argubaly by the time the clock struck 90 he had one of his best games in a Lincoln shirt.
One player really standing out for City in the first 15 was Harry Anderson, composed at the back but offering plenty going forward too. You do have to wonder if wing-back might be his position in a year or two, he has all the right attributes, pace and power which he uses well.
16 minutes into the game, the breakthrough came. Jorge Grant picked up a loose ball just inside the attacking half, drove forward ten yards and released a vicious drive past the keeper. It was arguably the best goal we have scored this season so far (maybe just better than Jones against Bradford), a truly wonderful strike that would be worthy of winning any game at all. It had shades of Ronnie Radford’s famous FA Cup goal according to Michael Hortin and it is hard to disagree. That gave us something to defend and gave them a reason to come out and attack us, which opened the game right up. It certainly left some space for us to exploit, and the midfield looked consistently dangerous. Jorge Grant threaded a ball through to Johnson who was marginally offside and not long after, Edun’s sumptuous ball almost cut the defence open again, but a last-ditch challenge stopped a clear Johnson chance.
On 22 minutes, Anthony Scully’s usual dogged persistence saw him get away in the area and the Forest Green defender was left with no option but to haul him back. It was blatant, and right in front of the referee. There was no other choice for the referee than to point to the spot, and that was that. Jorge Grant might have bagged a worldly to open the scoring, but it was business as usual from 12 yards as he stroked home the spot-kick to make it 2-0 with less than a quarter of the match gone.
Forest Green looked unsettled after that; they still looked hungry in attack, but Cooper was getting angry on the touchline, whilst the players seemed to be arguing amongst each other after the odd wasted chance. That’s the way we’ve beaten FGR before; get them to self implode. They’re a good side, there’s no doubt about that, but the Imps looked better and they didn’t like it, not one bit.
City looked likely to score whenever they went forward, with the opposition keeper in a real mess. One of his clearances was cut out by Harry Anderson, who dropped a ball into the path of Scully to fire wide. Their defence looked terrified by the Imps’ pace and running and Scully was one of their main antagonists. He was dropping deep, despite playing out wide, and fed in Brennan Johnson just past the half-hour mark. The Forest man scooped his lob into the keeper’s arms, but it was yet another good move from the Imps. It should have been 3-0 just before halftime, Scully again the provider for Johnson, who timed his run perfectly but his shot was parried. It fell to Robbie Gotts who couldn’t quite get a clean strike on it, but the young midfielder was close. He had a strong first half, shrugging off the disappointment of Pompey.
Within a whisker of it being 3-0, it should have been 2-1. Sean Roughan played a loose ball out which caused momentary panic, leading to a corner. The corner was nodded back across the area and should have been touched in at the back stick. It wasn’t, and a glorious chance to be back in the game slipped past the opposition. Even as injury time approached, Brennan Johnson created a chance for himself, charging the keeper down and dispossessing him, but the ball just ran too wide for him to have an effort at goal. It was still a great piece of closing down from Johnson, who had been as dangerous as ever the whole half.
It had been a good first half from the Imps, with the three midfield players having a strong game. Tayo Edun was looking very comfortable on the ball and found some key passes, playing what I would call the James Jones role. On the other hand, Robbie Gotts was perfectly emulating Conor McGrandles, covering every blade of grass and looking really busy. As for Jorge Grant, he was just doing what he does. Owning it.
Next Page – The mania of the second half