City went out of the Carabao Cup last night, and I’ve got distinctively mixed feelings about it.
On one hand, it hurts. I hate my club losing and I especially hate it after turning in a good performance and having a decent lead. I’m not going to say there’s no worse feeling than throwing away a two-goal lead, but it’s a bittersweet position to be in. For 70 minutes, we saw the Lincoln City that could challenge for the top six, the team that Michael wants them to be all day, every day. Then, the game turned with an incident that is becoming all-too-familiar. A key player goes off injured, we lose our shape and collapse.
Am I concerned? No, not at all, I can just see the same issues rearing their head again – injuries putting paid to what could be a Championship-challenging side. To finish the game without any of our recognised centre backs is tough, but to do it less than four days into the season is the big problem. Adam Jackson might miss Saturday, Joe Walsh is missing again and now Lewis Montsma too. It’s a good job Max Melbourne is coming into form, otherwise, we’d be stuffed. Of course, having the right back able to play centre back helps, but wouldn’t it be much better if it were the left-back, the position we have cover for. We’re already patched up at the back, so more injuries are not what we wanted, not one little bit.
Look, that’s the negatives, but there were plenty of positives too. I had been concerned about the goals we lost from last season, but already we’ve got three and maybe should have had more. I hear words like ‘if we were more clinical’, and I think that will come through the season. Dan Nlundulu should be amongst them when he’s fit, and as we’ve seen Ted Bishop looks hungry and ready to go as well. It was good to see Tom get one, he’s good for 12-15 a season, and that’s without Chris Maguire and Hakeeb Adelakun settling in. My pre-season concerns in that area are slowly going away.
What were the other strengths, and weaknesses from last night’s performance? Here are a few key points for you to mull over.
First 70 minutes
It goes without saying really, but for 70 minutes we looked a cut above. The best spell came in the moments after the halftime break, where we looked utterly unstoppable. The passing flowed, we created some good chances and scored a couple of goals. It’s odd to moan about a period that saw us go 2-0 up, but perhaps we should have been further ahead when disaster struck and Lewis went off injured. Had we been three or four to the good, then the game would have been over. They say 2-0 is a dangerous lead (not as dangerous as 1-0, by the way), and as soon as Udoh got one goal, there was only one side going on and getting another.
Final 20 minutes
I’m not sure what the collapse was down to. The home crowd certainly helped, they sang loud and proud and although invading the pitch seemed a bit strong, I have no issue with it (nobody was assaulted or allegedly racially abused, so that’s good). They haven’t been in the stands in numbers for 17 months and they won a game they were second best in, so let them enjoy it.
The crowd might have helped them drive forward, it might have given us some nerves, but the changes didn’t help either. We just lost our way completely, we couldn’t get out, we couldn’t clear our lines and the more we panicked, the worse it got. It felt a bit like the game we drew 2-2 with Stevenage in League Two, where those final minutes felt like 11 against six or seven. I know some have got Shrewsbury down for relegation this season, but not me. They sensed a chance and took it, which is not necessarily the sign of a good side, but of one with fight and character.
Wait, Bridcutt didn’t play, how can this be a bonus? Think on this – for 70 minutes we looked excellent, and yet we did so without our captain. You would be hard pushed to find such a performance last season, when he didn’t play we looked worse for it. That’s a positive, although perhaps if he had played, the collapse wouldn’t have been so catastrophic. We need him in the side, but Max Sanders turned in a decent performance and maybe there’s a sense of slightly less reliance on the leader. Of course, that’s not to say we don’t need him, but I was encouraged by the performance we put in without his presence.
I’ve been impressed with a couple of the new signings in the last four days. Lasse Sorensen looked superb against Gillingham, and Ted Bishop put in a sensational shift last night. I can see why the Jorge Grant comparisons are being made, without a doubt. He’s got such good technique, and his goal was an absolute belter. I’m not sure there’s a better way to announce yourself to supporters than a goal on your first start, but his input was about much more than the strike. Remember, he hasn’t had much of a pre-season, so is likely to get better and better.
There’s never an announcement about captains, I would imagine Michael does that to keep all the senior players happy as potential leaders, but it was good to see Conor McGrandles get the nod. He’s industrious and is at both ends of the pitch whenever the ball is there, so he’s a perfect choice as captain. I think a captain leads not purely by his voice, but by his application and energy and you’ll find nobody in League One with a better engine. It’s a big season for us and Conor as he is out of contract in June, and for me, he’s one of the key components of our recent successes.
The last little moan of sorts is around the changes, but not the choices. We’re still some way off having a match fit squad, even with certain players starting the game. Hakeeb Adelakun and Lewis Fiorini are both needing time to get their sharpness and I think it showed in the changes. Hakkeeb came off, Lewis came on, but he struggled to get into the game. Lasse came on too, at right-back, and certainly didn’t impress as much as he did at the weekend. It’s not the player’s fault, one is coming back from injury, the other out of position, but it does highlight the need for reinforcements. The obvious need is at right-back/centre-back, everyone knows that and the sooner a deal is struck with someone (not anyone), the better. Remy had it tough as well, these are his games, the ones he needs to impress in, but he barely got a touch.
I’m not all that upset we’re out of the competition. It’s another game we don’t have to play, one we can’t pick up more injuries from. I even prefer the EFL Trophy to this, because at least we have a chance of winning that, and get decent prize money too. A cup run is nice, Liverpool at the Bank would have been great with a full crowd, but for me, it’s not worth the risk of extra games. Let’s concentrate on the league this season, and operation play off place.
So far we’ve played two sides who I feel we should be finishing above. In both, we’ve looked like the better team in spells and then drifted out of the game. That could be fitness, it could be simply that we’ve had two away trips, back-to-back, in grounds filled with partisan home fans getting behind their team for the first time since last March. That’s not the only reason, but we shouldn’t discount the bump that can give you. We now turn to two home games that could yield six points – especially with a vocal Sincil Bank crowd. Remember, the Stacey West end is opening for the game, so there’s absolutely no excuse for us not pushing 10,000 home fans this weekend. Let’s see if the two draws, solid enough in themselves, are a springboard for this exciting team pulsating with potential to push on and begin to shed the skin of last season’s play-off heroes, emerging as a team in their own right not judged by the players that left in the summer.