City’s play-off dreams took another step towards becoming reality this afternoon with a hard-fought win against a tough and tenacious Bristol Rovers side.
The Imps were once again hit by injuries, both Adam Jackson and Joe Walsh missing out through injury. Such as been the Imps luck this season that as we take a step forward in welcoming Walsh back, we take two back losing both centre-halves. It meant Eyoma and Montsma partnered in the middle of the back four, with Bramall and Poole at full-back. Conor McGrandles picked up the armband, joining Bridcutt, Grant, Anderson, Jackson and Hopper (and I’m sure there are more) in captaining the side at some point during the campaign. I believe it’s my turn next week.
The supposition was this would be a straightforward game for the Imps. Joey Barton’s pre-match press conference saw him telling people he’d turned over during our 4-0 win against MK Dons to see how football should be played, then he described our game plan of four years ago as our current approach. They seemed ill-prepared in terms of knowledge, but like Steve Evans it did a great job of deflecting the attention away from his players, who had four points from two matches and a real chance of doing a job on us with two centre-halves, our captain, vice-captain and number nine all out.
That certainly looked like being the case as early as the second minute, when the first corner of the game saw Alfie Kilgour send a looping header over our defence and off the bar, although McGrandles appeared to be on the line in attendance had it dipped anymore. It was an early let-off for the Imps in an opening ten minutes which might have had you questioning which side were gunning for promotion.
Luke McCormick was the next to have a pop, Poole and McGrandles getting in a bit of a mix up which allowed the Chelsea man a shot which he hit wildly over. Just past the ten-minute mark, the lively Johan Ayunga won a ball in the air, turned smartly and also fired over. I liked Ayunga, I hadn’t seen much of him before the game, but if he were our Tom Hopper back up, I think we’d be happy. He was big, strong, used his body well and perhaps just lacks the finesse in the area that some Michael Appleton focused training might bring.
It had been a pretty average opening quarter of an hour for City, but with our first serious chance, we got the goal we needed so desperately. We’ve slipped behind early in too many games this season, and when we chased games, we make errors. In fact, one of the few I recall us scoring first in and losing was against Bristol Rovers earlier in the season, so it was nice to get ahead. It was a typical City goal too, starting with Regan Poole. He knocked a little ball into Rogers who in turn found Scully. He nudged it out wide right to Johnson, then made his way into the area as Brennan did what he does, jinxing in past a defender before teeing up Scully for the finish. Arguably, it was the first nice passage of play from the Imps, and it brought the vital goal.
It didn’t deter the home side though, and the troublesome McCormick tested his sights once again on 25 minutes. Poole headed clear a free-kick from the left, and the midfielder shot wide. It was Rovers again knocking on the door on the half-hour mark, McGrandles losing out on the edge of the area and committing a foul. Luckily, the free-kick was driven straight into the wall.
On 35 minutes, what had been a bit of a lacklustre encounter exploded into life without reason. What seemed like an innocent tussle between Upson and Johnson saw the latter held down by the former, seemingly with an arm across the neck. Some have said a punch was thrown, I didn’t see that, but I did see a melee immediately after, which suggests Upson’s actions angered some. Tayo Edun, never one to back down when a teammate is in trouble, got into Upson and was grabbed around the throat for his troubles. I have seen people claiming Upson eye-gouged Johnson, others thinking it was something and nothing all at once.
Once things had calmed down (at least on the pitch), Upson was sent off, whilst Johnson and Edun were booked. Personally, if the red card had gone against us, I might have been disappointed. I’ve watched it back a couple of times and whilst it looks unsavoury it didn’t have the serious intent of, say, a challenge in the last minute of the game which got a booking. Still, Will Finnie flashed the second red card in games involving us this season, and again it went against the opposition. I’m not committing, the iFollow feed is not entirely conclusive, but I will say that Finnie is not a man who flashes red cards like an M5 speed camera flashes BMW drivers (one got me once actually, but I was in a Vectra).
The game broke down a bit after that, Bristol Rovers clearly wanted to get to halftime to regroup, whilst we didn’t press the advantage as some might have liked. The only real half chance fell to Luke Leahy, another player who really caught the eye, but his effort was saved with ease by Palmer.
After the whistle, it seemed a few individuals were keen to have words after the red card. Oddly, David Kerslake headed for Joey Barton. Now, I didn’t watch the touchline and I don’t know what was said, but having spoken to Kers I don’t think he is the confrontational type. I did notice as we waited for the whistle, at least three of our bench were up and waiting to go to get in their manager’s ear. In the end, as things began to heat up, a Rovers staff member got in front of Kers and stopped him from getting a response from Barton. I guess when this incident draws more words than any Lincoln chance other than the goal, it tells you everything about the half.