Into The Unknown: Imps 0-0 AFC Wimbledon

Credit Graham Burrell

It didn’t help that we chopped things about in the second half and the rhythm of the game felt disrupted. They had the better play early on, but they never really threatened. At no point during the game did I think Joe Pigott, 22 goals this season and six from seven going into the game, would score. Nor did I feel Ollie Palmer, almost nailed on to do something against us, would get a goal either. I never felt, not for a fleeting second, that we’d lose the game. It might be over confidence on my part, but they played like a side not wanting to lose, obviously, but also aware they didn’t need a win. This lot stuck five past Accrington away a couple of weeks ago, did Ipswich 3-0 and beat Oxford United. Did you see any of the threat that suggests they have? Not really.

In the flesh, watching Rogers and Johnson is something special. I know ow both drift in and out of games, but a moment sometime around 65 minutes from Rogers looked brilliant. He got away from four Wimbledon players, and chipped the keeper, only for play to be pulled back. That sort of magic is driven by having a crowd, that sort of flair, and that of Johnson, feeds on 9,000 home fans all having a sharp intake of breath in anticipation as they burst forward. One of Brennan Johnson’s best games came away at Northampton, when there was a home crowd to silence. I think both could be key men in the play-offs, and not just in front of our fans. Genuinely, I think some players almost thrive as much on silencing opposition fans as they do thrilling their own. My instinct tells me Johnson, certainly, is one of those.

Credit Graham Burrell

I genuinely thought we’d scored with ten minutes left, Johnson’s blocked shot eventually finding Grant who hit a great drive. We were right behind it and it had venom and trajectory, drawing a super save from their keeper. It was a rare moment of absolute quality from City in a slower second half. Another move, which didn’t bring a chance, certainly impressed both Sam and me. It was a flowing move of about thirty passes, probing down one flank, coming back, across the field, down the other flank, lots of crips balls and nice movement. It didn’t bring a goal, but it was great to watch and again, in the flesh, it was even better. Watching the movement of players on one side of the field as action unwinds on the other gives you an idea of what an oiled machine this team is. There is always a runner, always space to exploit. There’s nobody will want to play us as we stretch the opposition and ask serious questions. We are wasteful at times, Hopper, Johnson and Rogers could all have scored, but I’d rather we waste chances than not create at all, because eventually, a team will take a proper good hiding. If we were to get to Wembley, the big open spaces of that field will definitely suit us. If we get to Wembley.

One moment late on had me chuckling. It was the last minute or so, and Liam Bridcutt came together with Shane McLoughlin right in front of me. It was a nothing challenge, a shoulder barge the like of which had been let go all afternoon. The assistant’s flag went up, and I heard as clear as day the reaction from the player. Liam asked her what the decision was for, a couple of times, whilst another player, who shall remain nameless, yelled from the penalty spot ‘what was that for? Learn the ******* game, man!’. I guess it goes on all game, every game, but for some reason it tickled me immensely.

Credit Graham Burrell

That was that. After heading in around a silent ground and into the box, I did the same journey in reverse, only briefly seeing Paul Owen on my way out. I felt honoured to have been at the game, delighted to be able to see the team in league action, and also a little sad that there wasn’t 10,000 other fans there to see it too. Sincil Bank without fans is like Red Bull without Vodka, bacon without eggs, beans, hash browns, fried tomatoes and a nice fat sausage. It just isn’t right. Luckily, that should be the last time the ground doesn’t ring out to the sound of a thousand or so Imps fans, at least.

We now head into unchartered territory, the League One play-offs. In all but one of our last six play-off campaigns, we have expected some degree of success. Only once have we gone into the end of season spectacle with freedom and no pressure, 2002/03, when we hammered Scunthorpe 6-3 on aggregate. Make no mistake, all the pressure is on Sunderland, all the expectation is on them too. If we were to get past them, Oxford and Blackpool will expect to be a big challenge, they’re both sides with extensive League One pedigree. Us? We’re just the new kids on the block, the aspiration squad that, at the start of the season, even the manager said ‘might surprise a few’ with what sounded like hope, rather than absolute, certainty.

Well, we have surprised a few, myself included. What a season it has been and whatever happens through the course of May, the future at this football club is very, very bright indeed.

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