Stalemate Sunday – Imps 2-2 Accrington Stanley

Credit Graham Burrell

Michael said after the game that he made his feelings clear at half time, and it showed as City finally came out with some purpose, and were level before ten minutes had passed. Grant impressed with a 40-yard ball to set Johnson free on 51 minutes, but the winger took one touch before seeing his hopeful shot blocked. However, seeing him getting into the channel was refreshing and he was there again two minutes later.

This time McGrandles was the architect, coming across from the left and playing a one-two with Grant on the edge of the area before spraying the ball into the path of Johnson. His delivery was absolutely delicious, and Morgan Rogers was more than happy to take what was served to him, deftly flicking a header past the despairing Baxter in the Accrington goal.

It had taken eight minutes of the second half to do what we hadn’t managed at all in the first, get a shot on target, and yet it didn’t knock the resilient visitors. Michael shook things up on 55 minutes, with Bramall an obvious candidate to come off, as well as James Jones who had been quiet by his standards. Scully came on and went attacking right, Johnson seemed to drift into the centre, with Grant looking to have swapped places with McGrandles in the four and eight roles. As for Bramall, I wonder if he might have come off at half time were he an established first-team regular, but Michael gave him ten minutes to avoid the stigma of being hauled off early. He certainly had a stinker of a debut, not rampaging forward enough and too often letting the ball run across him, or bounce over him. He will learn from that though, and doubtless still has a big role to play moving forward.

Goal! – Credit Graham Burrell

On 57 minutes a ball from the attacking right found Christian Burgess in acres of space, and he did the right thing heading the ball into the hard ground, but it bounced passed Palmer and up, over the top of the goal. It was a rare lapse in concentration from our defenders, certainly the central pairing, who had up until that point dealt with most balls.

Edun replaced Bramall and instantly looked to make progress down the left. He overlapped Grant on 61 minutes, with the captain having picked up a loose ball out of defence. He slipped it to Edun who delivered a super ball into the area, behind all three of the Imps attackers. All it needed was a McGrandles type run, ambling in a little behind play, for a simple stroke home.

The game began to open up a bit and a misplaced Montsma pass on 65 minutes almost saw the visitors create a chance, but their half effort was deflected and easily dropped into the arms of Palmer. From there City launched a ball forward which appeared to be running through to Baxter, but Tom Hopper chased it down and made the keeper slice it out for a throw. It’s fair to say Hopper was excellent, winning more defensive headers than our defenders and still chasing lost causes up top too. The throw-in saw us work a ball across to rogers, who looped an ambitious effort over the goal, stand and maybe even the cathedral.

Credit Graham Burrell

I had shouted Colby Bishop as a threat pre-match, but Paul Smyth was certainly enjoying himself. He’s on loan from QPR and he had two efforts in quick succession on 73 minutes. The first saw a poor clearance from us get picked off by him, but he hurried a shot wide. From the cleared ball Accrington broke, with Smyth carrying the ball down the attacking right, across the edge of the area and into space, but his shot was saved by Palmer.

At that stage it looked as though the visitors might get a winner, and from our corner they sprung a decent counter on 76 minutes. It was almost typical Lincoln, a half-decent delivery was cleared and Smyth broke at pace. He played a ball to sub David Morgan, who appeared a couple of times for City in 2012/13, but his shot was blocked by Regan Poole, who certainly put in the hard yards at full-back. The threat of Smyth even drew a yellow card for McGrandles, who felled him as he got away with ten minutes to go.

It could be argued we had looked better in the second half, but it would be a stretch to say we deserved to win the game, but on 84 minutes it looked as though we might. What we do have is intent, and in attacking areas when we find our flow, it is nice to watch. Jorge Grant seemingly left his studs in on Burgess on 83 minutes, giving away a free-kick and getting a yellow. The visitors gave the ball away rather needlessly, with us sweeping up field. Johnson chased a ball into the corner and earned a corner, but instead of another disappointing set-piece, we took it quickly, Scully finding Grant on the edge of the area. He teased a ball over the defence and in came Hopper, connecting with a header from a couple of yards out to give us the lead.

Outstanding evening – Credit Graham Burrell

Briefly, Accrington were shaken at it could have been 3-1 not long after. Tayo Edun, lively as a bag of ferrets when he came on, teed up Rogers beautifully, with the Man City man lashing a volley at Baxter which he parried. Johnson had gambled, but he was just ahead of the rebound and couldn’t get it under control when a goal looked possible.

It seemed there was still a sting in the tail of the game, and it came with a minute to spare. Ex-Imps have a habit of haunting the club and whilst we all shudder at Akinde, Palmer and Oliver, few would have batted an eyelid at the thought of playing against David Morgan. The midfielder, who joined us on loan from Forest and made six starts for the club, was making his Accrington debut after signing from Southport for an undisclosed fee on deadline day. He slipped a ball into Dion Charles, who finished with aplomb to level. His vicious effort managed to defy Palmer despite the keeper getting a glove on it, and whilst it was disappointing, it was no less than the visitors deserved from a game they spent at least 45 minutes well in control of.

I said ahead of the fixture that it was just as difficult as Sunderland, Portsmouth or Peterborough, but that because the name on the shirt was Accrington, few would see it that way. I suppose they suffer from that bloody milk advert, from being constant underdogs, but in a way, it works in their favour too. Nobody at this level drops points against Accrington and comes away happy, but plenty have done before us and plenty will do before the season is out.

Credit Graham Burrell

As for us, there is no hiding the fact we were poor in the first half. I’d go almost as far as to say it was one of the worst halves of football I’ve seen this season, even including Sunderland and Portsmouth at home. We lacked cohesion and organisation, and that is down to one thing in my eyes – the absence of Liam Bridcutt. It’s easy, and a little lazy, to start saying we shouldn’t change a winning side, or that Michael shouldn’t have dropped Edun and Eyoma, but that wasn’t why we were 1-0 down. Yes, Bramall had a tough evening, but I thought Regan Poole looked very good and he featured on a couple of different accounts voting for Man of the Match. As for dropping Jackson for Montsma, the Dutch defender could do no wrong three months ago, so why would him coming in be a disruption?

No, for me the problem hinged on Bridcutt not playing, and McGrandles not being suited to the four role, which is where he seemed to start. I get it, we wanted to keep our attacking flow with a virtually unchanged front five, but sadly that pivot between the defenders and midfield is the most crucial aspect of our game. Take Bridcutt out and we are simply not as good as we are with him in. It’s three or four weeks out for him now and my hope is young Max Sanders gets a game on Wednesday and proves to be the heir-apparent in the holding midfield role. Failing that, it has to be Grant, with McGrandles and Jones further forward.

Credit Graham Burrell

I’m not going to moan about the lads though. We’re playing two games a week, all at a high tempo, all against opposition hungry to knock us off our perch. It is mentally draining as well as physically demanding and if we want promotion, we are going to have to use Bramall, Sanders, Scully, Anderson and whoever else we can over the course of the next two months or so. It will be bumpy, no doubt, but let me suggest this before signing off: Accrington have Sunderland to play twice, Doncaster to play twice and Portsmouth to play twice too. Not one of those teams will turn Stanley over with ease because they’re tactically aware, organised, disciplined and highly functional. We’ve got them out of the way, and sure, we have two points from six out of matches against them, but I dare bet they take three from a couple of those big matches. That’s what it comes down to now, us relying on others to take points from each other, whilst we pick some up even if we don’t play well. Our goals this evening, both well-worked from crosses, proves that when we do function, we are a huge danger.

Last night was a blip, but it isn’t a disaster and we’re still ahead of everyone else, and nobody can catch us if we match their results like for like. I’d take that moving into the final 18 matches of the season, whether we play on a Friday, Sunday or any other day of the week.

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