What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago I sat in this chair writing about an electric Lincoln City performance against an awful Shrewsbury side.
Fast forward a week and I’m here writing about a poor Lincoln performance against an organised and committed Shrewsbury side. If you’d offered me a win tonight and defeat last week, I would have taken it. You didn’t, you couldn’t and tonight we looked a million miles from the team than left Shropshire elated last week.
The Imps made two changes from the side that lost 4-0 to Sunderland, with Remy Howarth and Anthony Scully coming in. The intent would be for a more positive approach than we saw against the Black Cats, but that really wasn’t the case. If anything, it was the visitors who looked more like scoring in the first 15 minutes or so. The Imps looked shaky at the back, with an early cross from the right causing momentary panic two minutes in. Eventually, the ball went out for a corner, but there seemed to be an air of nervousness about the Imps.
The first real foray into enemy territory came on the ten-minute mark, Scully instrumental in working the ball from right to left, only for Brennan Johnson to hit either a cross r a shot up and over the bar. The Imps were edging their way into the game and a quick corner on 15 minutes brought a half-chance, but Grant’s flash ball struck James Jones and bounced out for a goal kick.
There was little between the sides heading towards the halfway point, with a tame shot from distance the only work Alex Palmer had to do. Instead of chances, we got a number of niggly fouls, seemingly born of frustration. Watching on, I was frustrated to see two great crosses from the right go across the six-yard area, with Tom Hopper playing both balls and nobody running in to fill the position he vacated. That led to a challenge from behind on Grant which drew the first booking of the game.
The challenges continued, Scully was seemingly taken out on the edge of the area, but the ref played on. Hopper then took out Vela in the same passage of play, which the ref also ignored, before Eyoma was scythed down too. That was a free-kick and briefly, it looked as though tempers might boil over. Jorge Grant fired the dead ball into the wall and things calmed down, briefly.
On 33 minutes Tayo Edun was hit hard in the left-back role with nothing given, and not long after Johnson looked to take a kick to the gut which the referee also chose to ignore. The game threatened to descend into farce with challenges stopping play all over the pitch, but sadly the only farce came in our next passage of defending.
Lewis Montsma, so often the hero, got caught in possession 20 yards out, hitting Daniel Udoh with a nasty challenge as he tried to recover the ball. It failed, and Sean Whalley was able to push the ball home despite Joe Walsh and Alex Palmer blocking his route. It felt to me a bit like Palmer could have done better too, he stayed behind Walsh, unsighted, which gave the striker a better chance to beat both men at the same time. It was an awful goal to concede to a team known for being resolute and hard to break down.
The Imps best chance came on the stroke of half time and it was the Dutchman looking to make amends. Remy Howarth got away down the right and his cross appeared to be handled out for a corner, which the referee once again waved away. Our corners have been poor this season, but Grant’s delivery found Montsma who smashed the ball goalward from eight yards out. Somehow, the Shrews keeper got a block in on the line and stopped us clawing back their goal advantage.
Whilst that might have ended the half on a positive for the Imps, the truth is that we witnessed a poor half of football, where a solid Salop were not only hard to break down, but also quick to press and eager to chase every ball. All too often, we took up good positions in wide areas only for the ball to end up at the feet of Alex Palmer sixty seconds later. That is the method and it has worked in the past, but against sides who are compact it is tough to watch. Throw a goal lead in there and it didn’t bode well for the second period of play.
I also felt we lacked natural width in a game that might have benefited from runners. That was evident on the right more than the left, where Scully was often found coming inside and the ball not going with him. Two or three times it was Hopper crossing from the right, or Eyoma chasing a lost ball, when our usual approach sees strength in numbers on the flank.
However, Remy Howarth did have a decent half and he was one of the bright spots it what was a laboured and lacklustre opening 45 minutes.