It would be easy to write about a game of contrasting styles here, sitting on some sort of higher ground looking down on a long-ball side, but I’m not a hypocrite.
If you are a Lincoln fan crowing about beating the bruisers today, think long and hard for a moment. A more refined version of that style defined us in 2017/18 and the year after. Almost that exact style got us out of the basement division in the late nineties. ‘Long ball’ is easy to look down upon when you are not playing it, but as Lincoln City fans we have no place to comment on how Northampton approach the game. i think we let their booing supporters do that, or the ones ironically cheering their first shot on target on 83 minutes.
No, I cannot pass comment on that without feeling grubby and I won’t. What I will talk about is the Imps, unchanged from the midweek defeat against Shrewsbury. That’s a huge shout by Michael Appleton by the way, a statement to everyone ready to criticise after the game, of which I was, to a degree, guilty. He felt we did enough to win the game against Shrewsbury and he showed that by keeping an unchanged squad. What I will say is even with 15 fit outfield players, we never know quite what the team selection is going to be.
The key in a game like this, a game which could have become a war of attrition, is to strike an early blow and make the landscape very different. This was a game we expected to get a goal in, but the longer the game goes on, the more buoyed the home side become. With fans behind them too and our two recent defeats, we definitely needed to start on the front foot. I’m not sure how much more ‘front-footed’ grabbing a second-minute lead is.
Brennan Johnson was the creator, breaking at pace after a Northampton attack broke down before feeding in Anthony Scully. He kept up his strong scoring record and showed real composure in doing so, not flashing an instant shot but just snatching a bit of space and finishing coolly. Bear in mind he’s only started nine league games, that takes his tally to four in the league and seven in 22 across all competitions. That’s a good return in the wider context, but in terms of this game, he couldn’t have given us a better start.
With something to defend, you would have to back us and I immediately got a message from my mate Chris, saying he thought we’d go on and score four. I felt that bold, given how tough we found scoring on Tuesday night, but as ever this Lincoln team didn’t disappoint. Mind you, the scoreline suggests a rout, but it was far from an easy game.
We picked the right times to attack and the right times to go a little longer. There was little playing out from the back from us, very few passes to defenders from a goal kick, not so much fighting fire with fire than protecting players in possession I felt. Maybe Michael had watched a couple of their previous games and seen some stuff he didn’t like because Alex Palmer was quick to deliver the ball forward and take the sting out of any possession they had with prolonged periods holding onto the ball. The natives did not like that, as we wouldn’t if it happened at our place.
On ten minutes one such quick ball to Johnson saw him feed in Edun, who put in a teasing cross for birthday boy Jorge Grant to volley over. It was another sniff at goal and a sign the Imps were going for the kill.
It certainly wasn’t all one way and a corner on 18 minutes saw a header flashed at goal with Palmer more than a match for the effort. Three minutes later, another set-piece delivery from the home side saw Fraser Horsfall steam in, but his header flew over the bar. The Cobblers got forward quickly at every opportunity, but Montsma and Walsh looked more than a match for the intended targets. On the flanks, both Edun and Eyoma also stood firm whenever chances began to develop.
Remy Howarth, Man of the Match in midweek, was cynically fouled on the edge of the area on 24 minutes, a needless challenge from a naive defender. That gave Grant a chance to do what he does best, but his free-kick was deflected up and over the goal. Another set-piece moments later saw Grant whip a corner under the crossbar which Steve Arnold flapped at, with the ball dropping to montsma at the back stick. He shifted to one side, buying himself some space and powered an effort goalwards which Arnold parried. there were shades of his goal against Swindon in the move, only with a slightly less desirable outcome.
The impact of having fans in the ground was first heard on 28 minutes when a home attack broke down and they went back to Arnold – a chorus of boos rang out around the ground. This is a side with one goal in six homes games going into today, a team with a brand of football which is only pleasing when it brings results. Having 2,000 fans in does help if you’re doing well, not so much if you go back to your keeper with less than half-an-hour played, apparently.
The first of several inexplicable referring decisions came on the half-hour mark, as the Imps hunted a second. Some wonderful football saw Scully whip a cross in which was cleared, but he picked up the rebound and drove at goal. As he got into the area he seemed to be fouled, but the referee waved it away. I’ve watched back three or four times and I fail to see how it wasn’t a penalty. Maybe our reputation for ‘winning’ penalties goes before us, or maybe referee Robert Lewis was warming up for a rough afternoon.
The first yellow card of the game went to Montsma after he hauled his man down on 36 minutes and there can be no complaints. Benny Ashley-Seal had got the better of the Dutchman and he ‘took one for the team’. Much of the post-match talk will be about some of Northampton’s fouls and the referee decisions, but we did pick up bookings we deserved too.
Remy Howarth had a little rush of blood on 39 minutes which possibly could have given us a second goal. He did well to find space and drive to the edge of the 18-yard area, but he opted to shoot instead of feeding in one of two players in better positions. Johnson looked unhappy after finding all the space in the world on the attacking left, only for Howarth to drag his shot horribly wide of the goal. Three minutes later, all was forgotten.
TJ Eyoma did well to hold up the ball and win a free-kick on the attacking right, which Grant delivered with his usual precision. It spun across the front of the six-yard box, where Hopper bravely stuck his head on it to beat Arnold in the goal. He took a belt in the face for his troubles prompting a break in play, but it was the goal of a poacher, and a brave one at that. Maybe, at 1-0, the home side had a sniff of getting back into the game, but with one goal at Sixfields in 540 minutes or so of football, 2-0 put it beyond doubt. When half time came not long after, the home fans booed their team off. Welcome back.