City in isolation at top of League One – AFC Wimbledon 1-2 Imps

Football is a controversial game at the best of times, but in the current climate, it is becoming even more so.

Should today’s game have gone ahead? Probably not from a Wimbledon perspective, but then Sunderland might have said the same when they went there minus a handful of first-team players in December. Rightly or wrongly, it did go ahead, without Michael Appleton on the bench. Playing Devil’s advocate, would Wimbledon have been so eager to postpone the game just with the Covid problem, as opposed to having five injuries and losing Steve Seddon too? Maybe, maybe not. The mercenary Lincoln City fan will say the game going ahead with them missing more than ten players is a chance to get a relatively easy three points. For the record, that was not the case.

There’s one thing you always get with Wimbledon teams – fight. That’s probably why Alex Woodyard and Ollie Palmer fit in well there, one is a permanent fighter and the other knows which fights to pick. I’ll come to that in a moment because I’m three paragraphs deep and haven’t mentioned the fact Lincoln City won and extended the lead at the top of the table. Sure, teams have games in hand, games they have to win. We’ve won ours, three on the spin, bagging 11 goals in the process. The last two outings were straightforward, this was a little different.

Michael had to watch at home – Credit Graham Burrell

Michael Appleton made one change to the team that bagged five against Burton, Liam Bridcutt came into the side and took the armband, with Remy Howarth the player dropping to the bench. Harry Anderson had shown Covid symptoms and missed out on the squad, but otherwise, it was business as usual. Obviously, Palmer and Woodyard started for Wimbledon.

We have taken the lead early in our last two matches and yet it was the Dons with the first chance of this game. Jack Rudoni got a shot away at Alex Palmer’s goal, but fired over. That came on four minutes, whilst the Imps also had a half-chance after a deflected cross fell into the hands of Trueman at the other end, who had to gather at the second attempt.

It looked to be an open contest with Brennan Johnson a real dangerman. He found TJ Eyoma on eight minutes, who saw his cross blocked for a corner. From that corner, the Imps took the lead. Grant’s delivery was subtly flicked on by Tom Hopper, with Tayo Edun arriving on the edge of the area to slot home. The ball may have clipped a defender on the way through, but it was a succinct finish from the former Fulham man, scoring his first league goal for the Imps.

City looked to press home that advantage, as we have done in both matches at Christmas, and we could have been home and hosed before the clock struck 15 minutes. Grant was pulling the strings in a more advanced role than in recent games, and he looked a cut above as he always does. It’s all about his technique, the little drop of the shoulder or feint one way but moving the other. He found James Jones on 11 minutes, with the former Crewe man shooting tamely at the keeper. On 15 minutes it was Grant again, this time his corner was headed over by Lewis Montsma.

First league goal for City – Credit Graham Burrell

The home side weathered that spell and began to get into the game. They should have been level on 23 minutes, in a scare which foreshadowed later events. Alex Woodyard played a short corner to Shane McLoughlin, and his deep, teasing cross was met by Joe Pigott, who headed wide. Pigott has 12 goals from 24 outings this season and had he not just returned from injury, I’ve little doubt it would have been 1-1. From our goal kick, the same player got away down the attacking left, only to see his effort saved by Palmer. Twice in a minute we looked susceptible to Wimbledon’s attacks.

The game’s first booking came on 28 minutes and almost inevitably it involved a former Imp. I thought Woodyard played like he had a point to prove, and he certainly drew Johnson’s yellow card, fouling the attacker but then getting his body over the ball to prevent a free-kick. Stupidly, Johnson gave Woodyard a petulant shove and Lee Swabey flashed a yellow. It was a classic example of trying to rile a key player, something Joe Morrell was good at last year.

Three minutes later the focus shifted to another ex-Imp, Ollie Palmer. I had said on Match Day Live that he was poor in the air for us, so it stands to reason he should score with a header. A carbon-copy deep cross from McLoughlin found Palmer in exactly the same place he found Pigott, but the outcome was a goal for the home side. It was always going to happen, and the only silver lining was there was no away support for Palmer to run towards with a huge smile slapped all over his face. Small mercies.

Who else was ever going to score? – Credit Graham Burrell

The pendulum swung back in the Imps’ favour after that, with Anthony Scully looking lively, if not as effective as the past couple of games. His cross on 33 minutes was turned back by Grant into the path of Johnson, who slotted the ball just wide of the most. It was Scully again on 37 minutes, this time rushing onto a lofted pass and seemingly going one-on-one with Trueman. The challenge by Daniel Csoka was inch-perfect though, coming from behind Scully to scoop the ball away. Tom Hopper picked up the loose ball but fired over, a real let-off for the home side. I cannot emphasise what a great tackle it was though, Scully was a second away from getting a shot away from 12-yards when the tackle came in. Hats off to Csoka.

There was still time for the game’s second booking, this time Woodyard getting the card instead of being the reason one was given out. His foul on Hopper wasn’t vicious, but it was cynical and certainly justified. I did see some complaints about referee Lee Swabey online, that a few decisions had gone against us, but I had no complaints as we went in at half time.