City went out of the FA Cup at the second round stage, despite more than matching Plymouth Argyle in an exciting game on the south coast this afternoon.
In a game which should have brought three or four goals, we drew a blank, and were shown why being clinical is so important. A cup run, whilst hugely important in financial terms, went begging but many will surely say league wins are more improtant. Perhaps, judging by the team selection, Michale Appleton felt the same. He made a raft of changes to the starting XI, with Theo Archibald getting a start on the left, Harry Anderson on the right and Anthony Scully in what he would surely deem his best position, the number nine. It saw the Imps line up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Brennan Johnson playing the ten role and looking to get in the box where possible.
Before the game could start, we had a minute’s silence for Diego Maradona, impeccably observed by the empty stands. It was FIFA directive which has been seen across the game and it wasn’t the only hold up prior to the game – Plymouth had to remove some dark green under armour and Brennan Johnson having the wrong colour tape on his wrist. It suggested the referee might have a picky afternoon, but in fairness, it was the only aspect of his performance worth commenting on.
When we did get underway, it was the Imps on the front foot with the first half-chance on three minutes, which came from a quick counter. Robbie Gotts dispossessed George Cooper, drove forward and fed in Brennan Johnson, who picked out Anthony Scully. He cut back inside before curling an effort over the bar.
Sadly, on six minutes, Plymouth took the lead from a set-piece. Alex Palmer punched a free-kick out for a corner, but the resulting delivery was inch-perfect, Luke Jephcott flicking a header past the former Pilgrims stopper. It was an early blow which didn’t reflect the balance of play, but it may have induced memories of our last FA Cup game here, a 5-0 thumping. In some respects, it might have been easier to take the resulting defeat if the home side had been rampant from there on.
The Imps quickly got back into the opposition area, a break started by Joe Walsh found Theo Archibald, who found Scully and then Anderson. His effort was parried away, but Johnson couldn’t quite get a touch on the saved effort despite taking up a good position. We had a great chance to get back level on 16 minutes, with Johnson cleverly winning a corner after pressuring the full-back. Sadly, instead of cleverly waiting for players to get into the area, he took it short and quick to Scully, who had nobody to aim for and the chance went away much to MA’s fury. Whilst it was wasted, the Imps were looking much better than Tuesday night, attacking down both flanks with plenty of success in terms of opening the opposition up, but not in terms of troubling their keeper. On 23 minutes it was the Imps again knocking on the door. Archibald found Gotts with a lovely ball, and he delivered a deep cross which Joe Walsh nodded back across goal. McGrandles arrived in the six-yard area but couldn’t quite get a decisive touch on the ball. In fairness though, only one side was showing any attacking intent at all.
Theo Archibald was looking lively, both on the left and centrally. He tried one of his long-range efforts, which we have yet to see pay off, but it flashed wide of the post. That shot came after three or four minutes of Imps passing, completely uninterrupted. Plymouth almost looked happy with their goal lead, even 28 minutes into the tie. Even a regroup from Ryan Lowe after an injury to the keeper didn’t help, City creating another chance on 36 minutes, but Harry Anderson’s shot from a tight angle was easily gathered by the aforementioned stopper. On the right, Gotts and Anderson were linking up well, whilst Melbourne and Archibald were the same on the left. Through the middle, Johnson looked frighteningly dangerous, whilst Scully was also working hard. Even Edun and McGrandles looked like they wanted a goal, the former firing wide from 20-yards out on 37 minutes.
The Imps came closest to levelling on 44 minutes, with Leeds man Gotts again the key man. Johnson, a constant threat in the ten role, found Gotts out to the attacking right. He had an effort from 20-yards which had the keeper scrambling across to make the save, with the rebound falling to Scully. The former West Ham man couldn’t find his feet with his back to goal, but it was as close the Imps came in a one-sided 45-minute spell. Somehow, as the man in lime green blew for half time, City trailed 1-0, despite utterly dominating from five minutes onwards.
The problem, and it is one becoming increasingly apparent as the season progresses, is the lack of Callum Morton in the squad. There simply isn’t an out-and-out centre forward available to us, not even Hopper, who wasn’t involved today. Anthony Scully puts himself about, but he won’t pop up on the end of a cross, or a corner, nor will you find him lurking on the penalty spot for a loose ball. We talk about flexibility within the squad, we talk about how well the players are playing and yet we just don’t have the clinical striker who could (and in my opinion would) have put us level. It’s no good having a bag full of bullets if you don’t have a gun to fire them and despite our very best efforts, we just didn’t have enough to kill off Plymouth, for all our great football.