I’ve said a few times that the bigger picture has to be the focus after tough afternoons, and from what I can gather, a lot of people thought this was a tough afternoon.
I didn’t. Maybe I watched a different game, maybe the perspective from the stadium was a bit different, but I actually enjoyed much of the football on show.
Much like the Charlton game, good honest analysis isn’t really applicable. We were playing for home advantage in the play-offs, something already established as nothing more than a minor advantage, if at all. I suppose there are a few people who would have liked us to avoid Sunderland, but when all is said and done I think we’re as good as they are. Yes, them having 10,000 in the SoL for the second leg could be an advantage, but it could be the opposite. Charlton’s fans turned on them when they returned for test events earlier in the season, how will those Sunderland fans react if their side is trailing from the first leg and start slowly? The weight of expectation is one them, not us. Frankly, we’re here for the ride and to see how far it takes us.
Rewinding a bit, today’s game didn’t serve up the sort of spectacle I hoped it might. It did open with a poignant minutes silence for the 56 who lost their lives at Bradford in 1985, impeccably observed. It was eerie as the whistle rang out around the ground to signal the end, only to be met with virtual silence. Usually, a big roar goes up, and it often feels as though it is a cheer for Bill Stacey, Jim West and those 54 souls from Bradford, but it just didn’t feel right having a handful of fans only to lift the roof immediately afterwards.
Once the action got underway, one or two looked to be in preservation mode, keen not to pick up an injury or red card which might impact our chances of facing Forest and Sheffield Utd next season. That said, I felt we started well and controlled much of the opening 25 minutes. I was lucky enough to be in a box for the game, having filmed the last Match Day Live of the regular season there. It was a treat, seeing these boys in action, and maybe the experience has made the game seem more lively to me. From where I was sitting, Brennan Johnson has their left-back on toast for 25 minutes and realistically, we could have been 3-0 up. Before you say you think I’m deluded, Sam felt the same (sorry Sam). Johnson certainly had one good chance saved, and Morgan Rogers’ saw an effort parried too. It then shocked me to see Twitter awash with anger, although I understand that was something to do with the Charlatans. My Dad wasn’t impressed by the game though, he texted me something to that effect, but for me, we looked decent without getting out of second gear.
Perhaps Conor McGrandles looked a little rusty after a couple of games out of the starting XI, Tayo took a while to get going at left back and whilst Tom Hopper worked hard there wasn’t a lot of joy, but they didn’t play badly, they just took time to get into the game. I don’t think this was a bad Lincoln performance and had there been anything on the line other than a negligible advantage, I think we had one or two more gears to cruise through before we hit our peak. I know some will say we should have been treating this as a dress rehearsal for the play-offs, but I also see the benefit in not overstretching and picking up injuries.
I tell you who was playing at 100%, full throttle, no prisoners: Liam Bridcutt. He was into everything and having seen him play in daylight for the first time in a year or more, I have got to say the lad has thighs that I’m sure could crack a brick open. He’s looking in superb shape and as he rattled into challenges and contested every decision, I got the feeling he was right at his peak. If we get him at 100% against Sunderland, we’re in with a big shout of getting a result over two legs. I did wince a couple of times as he launched himself into challenges with real gusto, praying he didn’t stay down. In terms of results, 0-0 might not be the one many wanted, but ‘0 Injuries’ is. Thank the good lord that is how we seemingly came out of the game.
As the half went on, we looked more likely to get a goal. Brennan obviously did score, and I think if Jorge hasn’t had a touch when he did, Brennan is actually onside, but the assistant called it right. We had a big shout for a penalty at the end of the half too, but Scott Oldham doesn’t award penalties. He didn’t when we played Oxford earlier in the season, but back then it was us committing the foul. From my angle, and I haven’t seen it back, I thought Morgan was felled, but the referee didn’t give it. Overall, he did let the game flow, but once or twice I scratched my head as clear fouls went unpunished for both sides. When I’ve been at home watching on iFollow I’ve often thought that a good thing, but watching a player pick himself up after a clear foul does cloud your view somewhat. On iFollow, if a player stays down for even a couple of seconds, clearly fouled, you don’t see it. In the ground, you do.
From halftime onwards my experience of the game changed. Firstly, from a vantage point behind the goal it is hard to see exactly what happens up the other end of the field, and I began to follow the other games with keen interest. I knew it was unlikely we’d face the team finishing in sixth, but even so, it was fascinating with Danny Cowley involved. Everyone kept going on about the narrative of us against the Cowleys, but I’ve had my eye on another one: us and Oxford at Wembley. I felt it inevitable in the EFL Trophy, but Sunderland scuppered that. Could it really be Appleton v Oxford, both with two defeats from two at Wembley, in the final? There’s a long way to go for that, but it smells like a real story.