It was another utterly abysmal night at Sincil Bank as Steve Evans got his biggest win against the Imps.
It wasn’t actually a terrible performance across the park, we had a few chances and certainly played better than we did at Rochdale at the weekend, but it doesn’t matter if you gift the visitors the game within minutes of kick-off. That’s what happened and I’m afraid once you shoot yourself in the foot, you’re never going to walk far afterwards, no matter how much you try.
The Imps made two changes to the personnel that lost against Rochdale, but shuffled the pack to accommodate a 4-4-2. That saw Edun back in the left-back role, captain Liam Bridcutt partnering Conor McGrandles in midfield and a two-pronged attacked with Hopper and Morton alongside each other.
To be fair, and I do try to be, we started quite brightly, finding space on the right for Regan Poole to create the game’s first chance. His wicked delivery flashed across the front of goal and despite doubling up on the number of centre forwards, we still couldn’t force the ball into the net. The problem hasn’t been scoring though, it has been conceding, and as the clock hit double figures the same ugly problem reared its head.
What is angering, and I do mean that as aggressively as it sounds, s any good work we do is always likely to be undone by absolutely awful defending at the minute. Quite how Vadaine Oliver got such a free header is beyond me, and whoever is doing the defensive coaching might want to go back to the Ladybird books, rather than advanced stuff when the players are next in. It was just so simple, ball into the box, free header, 1-0.
I thought the return of Liam Bridcutt would change things at the back, but it hasn’t, not at all. Suddenly, at 1-0 down, everything changed. Gillingham had a lead to defend and when they want to be, they’re compact and organised, and we just looked laboured. I thought Morgan Rogers had a decent first half, spreading some nice balls across the field and making positive runs when he got the chance, but we didn’t create anything clear cut before it went to 2-0.
Again, it was such a sloppy goal, with City not clearing their lines properly from a set piece and being punished. You have to give credit to Gillingham, of course, but where are the bodies on the line? Where are the blocks, the last-ditch tackles? As Dempsey strode into the area, I saw a powder-puff challenge that never looked like winning the ball, the complete opposite of at least two from their midfield in the first three minutes. It’s so, so sad to watch us do this to ourselves, but without playing badly we were 2-0 down.
Passes weren’t going astray like they did on Saturday, but we just never got a decent ball into a decent area. We had efforts, mostly from range from Rogers and one from McGrandles, but nothing that had Jack Bonham needing to warm his hands. At half time, it was seven shots from us, none on target. On the other hand, Gillingham had six, four on target, and but for Alex Palmer’s heroics, then a little rush of blood, it could have been more. He pulled of a great save to stop it going to 3-0, then committed too early and had to be bailed out not long after.
The sad fact is there was little between the teams in terms of play, but when Gillingham attacked, they looked hungry and we looked absolutely terrified. When we attacked, they looked organised and solid, whilst we just didn’t have the tools to break the wall down. It meant a first half that had me considering turning iFollow off and going away from my computer, which is how the last month has been making me feel. After all the excitement and pomp of earlier in the season, we look in serious danger of dropping out of the top six. I know that being safe from relegation was the first target, but it isn’t easy to watch what was a good football team capitulate when a bit of pressure is applied.
What more can I say about the first half? There is no blame; we’re not looking tired, we haven’t got six or seven players out, we’re missing one from the back, Joe Walsh. He didn’t play until Fleetwood away earlier in the season, and we had been top before that, so is him missing really the problem? I don’t know, I really don’t know what is, but if we keep defending that badly, then don’t worry too much about booking a holiday play-off final week, because Charlton, Blackpool, Sunderland, MK Dons and Oxford will all be taking advantage.
Normally, you’ll get a two-page, second half analysis but what can I really say that covers the second period? Yes, it was attack against defence, but why not? Gillingham were 2-0 up and needed us to break them down. Sadly, we never really looked like we’d got the right tools to do it. We had lots of possession, and we did create the occasional chance, but it was never a case of looking like we were actually going to get back into the game. If anything, Edun moving into midfield gave us a bit of an impetus, and that isn’t a sleight on Bridcutt who I thought had a decent game.
Edun probably came closest to giving the Imps a lifeline, his long-range strike was tipped onto the bar by Bonham, but it was probably the only save the stopper had to make. Regan Poole had a decent chance too, a decent delivery into the area fell to him 18-yards out, but he fired wide. Those were the pick of the chances, but not the major talking point.
Brennan Johnson got a booking, possibly for a dive, maybe for dissent, it isn’t clear, but it was a soft yellow. If it was for a dive, then it is safe to say Steve Evans’ antics before the game worked, as he got into Ross Joyce’s head. Edun then got one too, literally being told by Adam Jackson to stop talking to the ref, which he didn’t, and that saw him go into the book. Bizarrely, John Akinde then got the same punishment for a studs-up challenge on Alex Palmer. I wasn’t convinced by Ross Joyce when he last came here to officiate the 2-2 draw with Notts County, and I wasn’t impressed with him tonight.
Not that anything he did would have affected the result, because we simply weren’t good enough, yet again. We manufactured our own problems, giving the visitors a two-goal lead and then never looking likely to claw it back. The game ended on an even more sour note for the Imps, Cohen Bramall shoving Jordan Graham over in the area to give the visitors a chance from 12-yards. The same player picked himself up and fired into the roof of the net.
“It’s been a disappointing night in the end,” Michael Hortin said on the radio. I concur. In fact, it was an utterly demoralising defeat, one that simply makes me sick to my stomach. Dreams of the Championship are beginning to look just like that, for this season at least.
To take any positives, and I’m afraid I don’t mean from tonight, but we’re still going in the right direction, we just spiked when perhaps we shouldn’t have earlier in the season. I know this was said jokingly a long while ago, but we’re not going down and if we take this disappointment and accept that promotion is slipping away, we can almost take the pressure off ourselves for the last few games.
What I will say is we must be better than we were tonight, and much better than we were Saturday, if we’re to finish in the top six. However, if the worst thing that happens this season is we finish eighth, then whilst it will be disappointing, it really isn’t the end of the world.