When I was a kid, my Dad used to wander around the house singing to himself. Usually, it was one of his favourite songs, such as The Great Pretender (Roy Orbison version), or Billie Don’t Be a Hero by Paper Lace.
On matchday, the day before it and the day after, he would usually be singing football songs. Those who know my Dad know he was indiscriminate about the validity of the song, for instance singing ‘we are top of the league’ when we’re not. He did usually keep one back for Christmas though. and the first time I recall hearing this classic was 1987 after we beat Boston – ‘Hark now hear, the angels sing, the (insert opposition name here) ran away, and (unintelligible usually), because of Boxing Day’. sometimes the opposition would be ‘Grimsby’, no matter who we played, and if we lost you wouldn’t hear it post 5 pm on the 26th.
Yesterday, I found myself wandering down the stairs singing that exact same song, belting it out, loud and proud. I still don’t know the words to the third line, but you can bet your last pound it doesn’t matter.
Boxing Day hasn’t always been a treat for the Imps, in my mind we lose more than we win (Crewe, Oxford, Guiseley, Halifax and Grimsby have all made the day after Christmas very miserable indeed). It’s almost like that post-festive hangover descends on the team and even in our most title-winning seasons we lost on December 26th. I wrapped up Match Day Live predicting a 2-0 win, but secretly I could see the headlines being written, Eardley plonking a cross on Bostwick’s head.
Let’s face it, that was the narrative, wasn’t it? In commentary their names were mentioned as much as Lincoln players and given their exploits with the Imps, it was little surprise they dominated the story before and during the match. It was hard to look beyond them for the headlines unless we wrote our own. Luckily, this Lincoln City side are quite good at finding a new story to tell and within seven minutes of kicking off, the result wasn’t in doubt.
I had barely got my pad of paper and pen ready to make notes before James Jone pinged an exquisite 60-yard pass downfield to Anthony Scully. In days gone by, that’s a hopeful punt to a winger, but you see in Jones’ body shape and Scully’s movement it was all intentional. It wasn’t a ‘danger-alley’ hoof, but a perfect ball forward. Scully, who I had struggled to pigeon-hole a few weeks ago, carried on his superb form by getting down the line and teeing up Remy Howarth for his first goal in the Football League. It almost sounds patronising to say ‘I was delighted for Remy’, because he has got where he is on merit, but genuinely, I was. He’s such a down-to-earth lad, he loves life and often they’re the sort who maybe just aren’t quite good enough (Jake Sheridan anyone?). Remy is proving to have the right balance of groundedness and ability and he’ll cherish that moment, with hopefully more to come.
It’s the second week in a row we’ve scored early and immediately we smelled blood against the ageing Burton back four. Scully was involved moments later as he found Tom Hopper, whose ball across the box found Brennan Johnson with an even easier goal than Howarth’s. Before the clock had turned to double-digits, the game was over. If Scully had chosen to release Johnson instead of holding on to the ball on eight minutes, it could have ended up a cricket score. I think at 3-0, Burton’s heads would have gone completely, but as it was they were let off the hook and slowly looked to make the remaining eighty-odd minutes a contest of sorts.
At the time, we didn’t know the game was in the bag, although the commentary team of Mark Hone and Michael Hortin certainly felt that was the case, at first at least. In his post-match interview, Michael hinted at the younger players perhaps taking their foot off the gas, and the half wasn’t free of moments where you felt the Brewers might get back into it. Their play was laboured at times and they always looked like conceding on the break, but one or two of their players do have something about them. I liked Charle Vernam, the former Grimsby man, who was a constant threat down the attacking left. He got past Eyoma twice, on 12 minutes and 14, but fired over in both instances. They weren’t moments of worry as such, more reminders this was a League One fixture and not a Northern Premier team up against a League One side. With respect, that was the impression the opening ten minutes gave.
On the quarter-hour mark, an engrossing game almost threatened to become a contest again as Tayo Edun’s clearance dropped to Akins on the edge of the area. He’s a menace, or he could be in the right setup, but he fired over the goal of Alex Palmer to keep the score at 2-0. Before we hit 20 minutes, a quick free-kick routine between Grant, Hopper and Scully presented a chance for Johnson, who got the merest of touches looking to divert it past O’Hara on the Burton goal. It went agonisingly wide and was probably our last good chance of the half.
After that, things went a little off the boil. At times it was scrappy from both sides and we didn’t get the flow going again, not properly. There were half-chances for both sides, Vernam the obvious threat for them, although Ciaran Gilligan did have a good run forward resulting in a shot, which was never going to trouble Palmer.
I felt at half time the next goal would be crucial, but that’s such a tired cliche. Is anything more obvious at 2-0? Make it 2-1 and the losing team have something to play for, make it 3-0 and it is almost certainly game over (forget Forest Green in 2014), never more so than against this Imps side. The truth is were it not for the goal we gave Shrewsbury, we would have conceded six in nine matches, four of which came in one game against Sunderland. It does seem as if the opposition needs a gift to score, and even Sunderland needed a disputed penalty to get a foothold in that game. Just imagine, if we had bagged one of those opening two chances against them, as we have in the last two games, how different that game might have been.
Football is a game of ifs and buts though, and I’m sure Burton would have been saying ‘if we’d been tighter in the first ten minutes’ throughout the half time team talk. We hadn’t over-awed them the entire half as the opening ten suggested we might, but when you’re 2-0 up and top of the league, you don’t have to take risks. You just have to be sensible, solid and wait for the opposition to react.