Michael Appleton’s side made it four points on the road in four days, with successive clean sheets and a leap up to third in the table.
It wasn’t always pretty, it wasn’t always attractive, but sometimes the result is more important than the process. That was the case this evening, as we avoided defeat at Swindon for the fourth meeting in a row.
The Imps made four changes from the team that drew at Accrington, Robbie Gotts and Tayo Edun coming in at full-back, whilst Anthony Scully and Brennan Johnson came in up top. That meant Jorge Grant dropped into midfield, playing alongside James Jones as part of Michael Appleton’s ‘Golden Triangle’.
The first proper chance of the game fell to Swindon, but it as a half-chance at best as a header was flashed over from a corner. Within seconds Adam Jackson’s errant ball fell to a red shirt, but the drive from Caddis was poor and Palmer was able to control it with his feet and get the Imps going again. Swindon looked to be brighter in the opening stages, a slip by Tayo Edun saw a swift move upfield ended by Matt Smith firing wide with Bridcutt adjudged to have got the defensive touch.
The Imps first real attack came after 15 minutes, with Brennan Johnson the culprit being a little greedy. He strode into the left channel with Edun on the overlap, but instead of looking for the former Fulham man, he drove over wildly. In his defence, fans on the pre-match show were saying we should try our luck from range more, but it felt like a panicked effort.
The next two Imps chances fell to James Jones, as City finally got a foothold in what was a tepid first half. A Tom Hopper flick-on found Jones in a little space, but he fired over and wide to the keeper’s left. Two minutes later, Johnson bullied the Swindon full-back in a footrace from Liam Bridcutt’s excellent ball, stabbing to Jones who again fired a shot wide. The Imps were knocking on the door, but just as suddenly as the chances came, they dried up again.
Swindon seemed to have more possession, but neither side were stringing passes together in a frustrating watch. Mathieu Baudry had an effort deflected over from a corner courtesy of Lewis Montsma, who was looking increasingly comfortable at centre half.
With seven minutes left in the first half, City finally got a shot on target. Adam Jackson switched play intelligently and found Anthony Scully. The former West Ham man had struggled to produce an end product for much of the half, but his sweet first touch brought the ball down well and he worked a shooting chance, but his effort was weak and rolled into the arms of Kovar.
One moment that did make me smile came just before half time. This season, I have screamed at my screen as opposition players have made their way up the line with ball in hand, stealing ten, fifteen yards a time before releasing the ball. We do it and, to be fair, I don’t scream as much. The whistle of Graham Salisbury screamed at Akin Odimayo as he went a little too far, and again when he failed to return to his position. It looked fussy, but Salisbury had a thoroughly unfussy game in the middle and rightly pulled the player up for it.
There was still a chance for a shot at goal from Swindon as the half drew to a close. Hallam Hope, who had been quiet, found some space on the edge of the area, but he released a tame effort at Alex Palmer’s goal, although a late touch on the player from Montsma might have had something to do with it.
Thus, ended a first half of football that I will struggle to remember in two weeks’ time, such was the lack of excitement, flowing football or incident. My gut feeling was changes might be needed at half time, with a little more dynamism needed on the flanks. Personally, I would have been tempted to take off Anthony Scully and replace him with Theo Archibald, but if I go on about Theo much more, people will start to think I’m his Dad (which, tragically, I’m old enough to be).
A stat which summed up the first half succinctly was the passing accuracy – 59% for the home side and just 69% for us. It was a disjointed first half which bore little relation to the Imps of earlier in the season. We found it hard to get Johnson on the ball, hard to find Grant in decent positions and when balls did go forward, it was often easy for the defence to mop up. That said when the ball did go well, and when the run was well-timed, we looked like scoring.