Are we actual contenders? – Rochdale 0-2 Imps

City kept up the pressure on Hull City at the top of League One with a routine 2-0 win against Rochdale at Spotland.

Yup, that’s right. Kept up the pressure on the team at the top of League One. Pinch yourself, it isn’t a dream. We are a week into the advent calendar and Lincoln City are tucked into the promotion race nicely. Not just the promotion race, the automatic promotion race. We are just about a third of the way through the season and the challenge isn’t faltering, we are genuinely pushing for a spot in the Championship. It is just like a dream, a really good dream, that we dare not stir in for fear of waking up and finding we’re still on a terrace at North Ferriby.

Michael Appleton made three changes to the side which beat Wigan 1-0. Anthony Scully dropped out of the side, with Harry Anderson making a start on the right. Adam Jackson’s injury meant another start for former MK Dons man Joe Walsh, whilst TJ Eyoma returned at right-back, with Robbie Gotts dropping to the bench. Remi Howarth was amongst the subs, returning from an injury sustained against Manchester City Under 21s.

Just as was the case on Tuesday night against Wigan, the Imps were not quite at their best, and the early pressure saw the hosts pressing forward, without too much intent. Rochdale certainly liked to play possession football, with City having to bide their time between passages of play. The first serious chance of the afternoon, or perhaps rather half chance, came from the ingenuity of Jorge Grant.

Ingenius – Credit Graham Burrell

He had a free-kick 25-yards from goal, away to the attacking left. Instead of whipping it in, as expected, he slipped Johnson down the flank for a smart cross, which was hacked out for a corner. Seconds later Grant against looked to create, sliding in Harry Anderson whose deep cross was good, but behind both Hopper and Johnson who had gambled in the six-yard box.

A moment with ten minutes gone hinted at the end-to-end spectacle many hoped this might be. A nice passage of Imps play saw the lively Johnson get a shot away, but after taking a little too long it was easily telegraphed and blocked. The resulting clearance set Stephen Humphrys away for the hosts, one-on-one with Montsma, who got a foot in the nullify the danger. They were chances, yes, but no more than half-chances at a real push.

Tayo Edun picked up the first booking of the game on 12 minutes, having been adjudged to have handled Alex Newby’s cross. Edun went down holding his head, but replays suggested a deliberate block with a hand. The resulting free-kick for Morley lurking on the edge of the area, but his rasping drive was blocked by Montsma, who was having a strong half defensively.

If the Imps main threat came through Johnson’s quick breaks, then Rochdale’s was down the right with Newby. After two strong outs for Edun, he looked ill at ease with the task of keeping the lively wide man quiet, and Rochdale knew it. On the other flank, former Manchester United man Ollie Rathbone wasn’t getting much joy out of Eyoma. For much of the half, nobody got much joy at all, with misplaced passes and scrappy play beginning to take over proceedings. A long-range effort from Rathbone flashed wide, giving Michael Hortin something to raise his voice at, but on iFollow it looked further away than it must have done at Spotland.

Whilst the Imps’ threat looked to be coming from Johnson, it was the work of tom Hopper keeping us going up top. He received a pass into feet from James Jones just after the half-hour mark, and after cutting outside the centre half, fired a shot at goal which was deflected for a corner. The set-piece came to nothing, but it was the closest the Imps had come so far in the game.

Finally bagged a league goal – Credit Graham Burrell

The acted as a nice precursor to the games most fluid move on 38 minutes. Edun, who had a tough half defensively, got away down the left and smartly pulled the ball back towards the penalty spot. McGrandles ran onto it, but smartly stepped over for Jones to calmly finish for his first league goal of the campaign. It was a rare moment of real quality in a rather stagnant first half, but that didn’t matter one bit, 1-0 City.

It was also a degree of vindication for me as a pundit – I think Ben and I called him (or Archibald) to get a goal on the podcast and I suggested he might on Match Day Live too. It’s been coming for Jones and the delight on his face told the whole story.

After that, the Imps were able to soak a bit of pressure, nothing too serious, and see out half time. Ollie Rathbone and Jimmy Keohane combined to find space in the area, but the latter’s dangerous ball was dealt with well by Walsh, who had a comfortable half on his return to the first team.

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