Last season, City’s campaign was disrupted by injuries to a point where it probably cost us a place in the Championship.
We’re now six games into the season, and already the same is happening. We faced against Manchester United U21s with just three players on the bench, one a goalkeeper and another an academy product. We finished the game with ten men, not through indiscipline but injury: Dan Nlundulu limped off with ten minutes or so left after Anthony Scully had already done the same. At that point, City were cruising, but just as we had against Shrewsbury, a collapse looked almost inevitable after that.
We should focus on the positives; the XI that Michael put out were utterly dominant for 65/70 minutes of the game. TJ Eyoma made his second Imps debut at left centre back, a role I wouldn’t bet against him filling this weekend. Cohen Bramall did drop in at left-back as predicted, with Regan Poole starting yet another encounter. I really liked the midfield dynamic of McGrandles, Fiorini and Bishop. In fact, I’d got as far as to say Lewis Fiorini was one of the best players on the pitch last night, especially for the period in which we dominated play. Obviously, Ted Bishop was quality once again; he’s got a real intent on the ball, a drive to progress up the field, which we need in games like last Tuesday, for instance.
Up top, I thought Nlundulu did well, although he did miss an absolute sitter. Remy Longdon chipped in with an assist and had a header cleared off the line, and Anthony Scully…. well, I’m not really sure what to say. Last season, I openly pondered where he should play, but this campaign he’s proving he’s not really bothered. If he’s on the pitch, you have a chance of scoring, and with three well-taken goals, he’s now on five in six matches. Did someone say we needed a 20-goal-a-season player? I think we have one, chaps.
It became clear from the opening half an hour why no Under 21 team has won this competition yet. Manchester United are meant to be one of the biggest clubs in the world, and they had a full international on the field in Hannibal (three caps for Tunisia), and yet I quipped it looked like men against boys (it’s funny, because it’s true, literally). They had some nice possession, but it was side to side, and yet when we got the ball, it was quick counter-attacking football, driving up the field with pace and purpose. Fiorini and Bishop dictated that pace, but Cohen Bramall provided it. I thought maybe he’d look a bit slower against the best young players in the country, but he didn’t. He combined with Scully on one flank, whilst Regan Poole looked to boss the other. I don’t get the negativity I’ve seen towards Poole, I think he’s had one bad game this season (who hasn’t?), and he’s started all six. Some of his crosses are wonderful, and had an early one been met by Nlundulu or Scully, we’d have been one up much earlier.
The opening goal was typical Lincoln under Appleton. Started by Bishop, a move saw Poole help McGrandles advance down the flank. He crossed into the danger area, with a defender poking the ball off Longdon’s toe and onto the post. It rebounded to the feet of Scully, who won’t score an easier one if he manages 50 this season. Sure, he had to be in the right place at the right time, and he was. From that point until the last fifteen, there only looked like being one winner.
If the first was typical Lincoln, the second had shades of Burton last season. Four minutes into that game, James Jones hit a 50-yard crossfield pass for Scully, who had dropped a shoulder, spun and left a full back for dead. It seems it was no fluke, only this time the pass was better. It started with a United attack; Bishop took control of the ball in his own 18-yard area before pinging a ball over the top to Scully. He’s a man in form, and once he set off, there was only two outcomes; either row Z, or back of the net. That’s actually the mark of a good striker though, isn’t it? Charlie Wyke missed as many as he scored last season, he just missed a lot and scored a lot. Scully had already almost hit the corner flag with an ambitious volley, but this time he rustled the net with a confident and assured finish.
At half time we were into double figures for shots, with three or four on target. The opposition had four, none on target, and debutant Sam long had nothing at all to do. He’d cleared a couple of balls, made a nice pass or two, but that was that. He’d be delighted with that as a full debut.
The floodlights were one by the time we wrapped the game up. Again, it was a typical Lincoln move; Montsma strode out from the back on his return to the side and found Longdon, who cleverly turned his marker. He made a progressive run down the line, then lofted a lovely cross onto the head of Scully, who made it 3-0 with a header. Rob Makepeace mentioned after the game Scully didn’t score many headers, but immediately Oxford last season sprung to mind. He does, he’s a real livewire and it was delightful to see him get a hattrick. The question was how many might we get?
Lasse Sorensen might feel a bit like a Fall Guy, because he came on against Shrewsbury and we lost a 3-0 lead, he did the same last night and saw us conceded two goals. He wasn’t to blame – Scully came off as a precaution and it coincided with United beginning to look forward rather than sideways. I remember chatting to Michael once and he bemoaned the fact many players coming out of U23 football loved playing sideways and back, not forward. United did it for 65 minutes last night, but as soon as they tried pushing forward, it paid dividends. By that time, we should have had five, Nlundulu fired wide when it seemed harder to miss, and Sorensen had a great one-on-one chance which Dermot Mee, which hit him in the face. With Remy Longdon having a first half header cleared off the line, it could have been 6-0.
It wasn’t, it was 3-1, and Billy Brooks was handed his Lincoln City debut through Scully’s misfortune. It took Brooks a while to get into the game, but one tackle late on certainly had fans delighted. By that time, a Hannibal corner had been headed home to make it 3-2, and City were clinging on. Hannibal didn’t like some of the attention he received and petulantly got himself sent off. Booked on 87, he should have got another in injury time, was given a reprieve and 30 seconds later committed another stupid foul. He’d been given every chance by the referee, who had an easy night up until then.
That meant it finished 10v10, but the Imps held on. After the game, Michael worried us all by saying only Liam Bridcutt could have made up the bench last night, suggesting Hayden Cann, Freddie Draper and Jovon Makama were injured, along with Adam Jackson and Hakeeb as doubts. He almost suggested that Tayo might not be fully fit, claiming we have 11 players injured. You don’t expect to have more injuries than goals at this stage of the season, not when one of your strikers already has five.
I was surprised by the attendance: 3,500, which would have been a great crowd ten years ago, and a decent one even further back. Man Utd supporters filled more of the away end than Fleetwood, and they seeped into the home end too. I know of a few people who took their kids to the game, my good friend Jim Newlin took his son Ted and partner Sally (the last time we went together, ted wasn’t born and we beat Guiseley 3-1). I didn’t go, I watched at home on iFollow, mainly because I don’t mind paying to watch a game against another club’s youth setup, but I baulk at a 60-odd mile round trip to do so, especially when the atmosphere will be very much like that of a friendly. It’s likely I won’t go to the Sunderland tie in this competition either, especially if we’ve already beaten Bradford City.
It remains to be seen how we progress player-wise from here. Saturday is a huge game, and we could be out of the EFL Group stage and into the knockouts by as early as next week as we travel to Bradford. That’s all well and good, but August 31st will be our eighth game of the month, with Saturday/Tuesday already the norm once again. We needed last night to recover and get players fit, but we weren’t allowed that by the EFL. The only saving grace is that we are only scheduled to play five matches in September, which goes hand in glove with Michael assertion we will hit our stride towards the end of the month.
If we stay fit, hitting our stride is an exciting prospect, as some of our patterns of play showed last night. The trick is doing that against men, rather than boys, albeit internationally recognised boys from one of the best academies in the world.