Do not be fooled by my headline. this isn’t an article about disappointment, anger or even displeasure.
It is a headline which needs context. Five years ago, we were borrowing youth players from Peterborough. They were the big cousin helping us out, light-years from us in terms of development. They are a club who buy up young talent and sell at a profit, a club who sold a striker for £10m in the summer. They are also a club I am this afternoon disappointed we did not beat. Given that I said I’d be happy with a draw on Match Day Live, given that we had at least three first-team players missing with suspected Covid, and a number of staff members, to say we have dropped two points is actually a reflection on how well we played (at times) and where the expectation is right now. One year ago, beating this lot 2-1 was a huge result, maybe even a highlight of 2020, yet drawing with them 12 months on is disappointing. That is nothing short of exciting.
The preparation for the two sides could not have been different. They haven’t kicked a ball in almost a month and, unless I’ve missed something, have a clean bill of health regarding Covid. In the time they haven’t played, we’ve won three matches, lost our manager from the training ground due to Covid and on today’s evidence, at least three first-team players. Harry Anderson, Joe Walsh and Tom Hopper were all absent today, there was no Theo Archibald on the bench and remember we are still without Conor McGrandles and Callum Morton, both injured. That’s six players who would be in first-team squad contention, not involved. Michael returned to the training ground yesterday, so had 24 hours to prepare his team for this fixture, whereas Darren Ferguson has had all Christmas to get his troops ready. That’s football, or at least that is football in 2020/21, and you have to take the rough with the smooth.
Despite that, the Imps line-up did feel familiar. Adam Jackson returned to the back four, with Remy Howarth returning to the side to replace Tom Hopper. Given Peterborough’s lay-off, some felt they’d come out of the blocks all guns blazing, and that is exactly what happened.
Let’s not beat around the bush, for the first ten minutes we were beyond woeful. Tayo Edun gave the ball away after five minutes, a feat in itself considering we’d barely had the ball, only for Jack Taylor to drive an effort at goal. Posh got a couple of corners two in a relentless assault on the Imps 18-yard box, and we had no answer. For ten minutes I suspect you could count our meaningful touches on one hand, without using your fingers. Or thumb. Peterborough just played around with the ball and we chased shadows. It was absolutely no shock at all when Posh opened the scoring, Liam Bridcutt’s slip giving them a chance to get a shot away. The clearance off the line was the best thing we’d done all day, but it hit Eyoma’s ass and went in for 1-0. At that point, I wish I’d overslept this morning by about four hours.
I make notes as I go along ready to do the report and analysis after the game and the sixth note I’ve made reads as follows: ‘11 – first meaningful Imps possession, awful game‘. We looked like the team that hadn’t played for 25 days, in fact we looked like a team who hadn’t played together for 25 years. On 15 minutes we got our first booking after Johnson hauled back one of their guys looking to counter and it felt like a long, tedious afternoon was in the offing. My dog moved closer to the door, sensing he might get an inadvertent boot as I got increasingly irate.
Finally, just before the 20-minute mark, we got our first chance. Brennan Johnson got away, firing over when there might have been a square ball on. It was the first glimpse of Lincoln City that we know, but it was also the best chance of the game thus far. 17 minutes in, City had been terrible but also had the best chance. That didn’t reflect well on Peterborough and it was the first signs we might be still in the game. Having conceded early, and lost, against Sunderland and Portsmouth, I feared the same was coming here, but the Black Cats and Pompey are way ahead of Peterborough on this showing.
Liam Bridcutt got the game’s second yellow on 19 minutes, one of the last I recorded as I began to lose count (eight in total, including two for one player). Looking back, it was not a nice challenge on Szmodics and referee Will Finnie waited patiently before flashing the card. No complaints from me, and sensible officiating too. In fact, I felt Finnie had a superb game, allowing it to flow but also being strict enough with his cards to ensure it didn’t boil over. Hats off to him for that, it is easy to lash out at officials when they’re bad, but it is important to praise them when they do well.
Posh could have doubled their lead on 25 minutes, a deep cross finding Clarke-Harris who nodded tamely at goal. Lewis Montsma perhaps did enough to put him off and a Sky Sports quality replay showed Clarke-Harris’s little finger to be ahead of play. It wasn’t offside, but VAR would have ruled it so. Thank heavens we don’t have such a hindrance in our game. It was almost the end of a terrible 30 for the Imps, almost. I actually spotted one other thing, just before the 30-minute mark, which had the dog running to the kitchen looking for solace. Bridcutt and one of their lads went in for a 50/50 and Bridcutt let it go out, thinking he’d won a throw. He hadn’t, and Posh were awarded it in a decent position. It came to nothing, but it went against an old mantra of my dad’s – if in doubt, put it out. Bridcutt wouldn’t have needed to put it out, just get the bloody thing downfield if there is any ambiguity. I noticed us concede a corner this way too, maybe against Wimbledon, and it just irks me. It is easy to speak about though when you’re sat at home watching.
That saw the half-hour mark slide by and for me, it saw the worst of the game slide by too. Something clicked in City after that and for sixty minutes we grew increasingly more dangerous, inventive and ambitious. Anthony Scully, a constant danger, drove forward and had an effort saved by Pym on 31 minutes, our first chance on goal. On 35 minutes, Johnson fed in Remy Howarth, who really should have done better when in the clear in the right channel. His effort was either high, wide or both, when a shot across goal draws a save, and a cross could create a goal. On 39 minutes Johnson was fouled on the edge of the area, and Grant’s free-kick got around the wall and just wide of Pym’s left-hand post. Before half time, Adam Jackson had a half-chance from another free-kick too, making it four chances in 15 minutes for City. it wasn’t flowing, we weren’t completely ‘at it’, but it was four more than the visitors created. This with a player like Dembele in the team, valued at many millions of pounds, with Reece Brown and Szmodics in the team, both who are creative talents with goals in them, and of course, with Jonson Clarke-Harris who has failed to impress me whenever we have played against him.
As if just to give me a little unease heading into the break, a deep cross from Posh could have caused real problems after Montsma was caught out of position, but Bridcutt got back to stop it reaching the target with a wonderful interception. It is easy to poke players who play badly and for a good half hour, Bridcutt hadn’t been his usual self, but he is still vital at times and that underlined why.