I know you come here for an honest reaction, not a one-sided bum-licking exercise, and not a knee-jerk overreaction.
You might appreciate that sometimes, I feel awkward because I get good access to the club; I meet the manager every so often and chat with players. However, that should never cloud my objectivity, and I try very hard not to let it. Some might say I don’t manage it; I look for the silver lining around every cloud, just as I try to find the cloud when the silver lining is thick and layered. I look for the good in the bad, and the bad in the good.
This afternoon, I will have a very, very tough time finding any positives at all. If you like to read positive comments, I suggest skipping today’s words because I’m not sure there is a lot to say. As I sit here, I’m going to try and dedicate a single paragraph to the positives.
Here’s the thing, as early as 2 pm I wrote this game off, and that’s not me being overly pessimistic; it’s the hard truth. As soon as I saw we lacked a centre forward and Tayo Edun, I felt we would struggle to score and might have problems with Oxford’s wide players. I don’t think Montsma and Jackson is an effective partnership, not as effective as Eyoma and either, or Walsh and either. I don’t even think that pairing is as good as Max Melbourne on the left and a right-footed player on the right. The whole team felt unbalanced, and without a striker, it looked toothless too. That’s a makeshift back four, which isn’t a good start. In midfield, McGrandles hasn’t looked on it this season, and personally, I’m yet to be convinced that Sorensen is going to play regularly when everyone is fit. I had fundamental worries about the game from the moment the team landed.
I think about it this way: of the four that started across the back, only one would start in my perfect XI (Poole), with Eyoma, Walsh and Edun making up the rest of the defence. The midfield was almost ‘full strength’, but I’ll come to that. Up top, we know we need new faces, and aside from Scully, would anyone make the first team? Adelakun is taking a lot of time to settle in, and would he be ahead of Scully? Maguire will play, Hopper should play, we need a new forward anyway and maybe a wide player… you could argue that of today’s first team, five are starters if everyone is fit and we get the right bodies in. Is that an excuse for the first-half performance? No.
Michael said he had an 11 that should have been competitive, and if he has that, they were left at home and replaced by eleven players who have never played together. Passes went astray, players ambled about looking a little lost and whatever we tried went wrong. How many times did we give the ball away? I might try to defend the performance when I’m calmer, but the truth is that first-half performance is indefensible, injuries or not. It should have been 4-0, out of sight, before halftime. Oxford are decent, they’re not brilliant, but we made them look like Manchester City. I despise being this negative, but if I were to come on here and tell you we were unlucky, I could never show my face as a serious Lincoln City pundit again.
I should say this doesn’t mean we’re going down. I’m not screaming, ‘it’ll be a long season’, nothing like that. I will say this is the third game where I’ve seen stuff that is not like Appleton’s team. Okay, maybe Bolton we were unlucky, but we didn’t look to have a killer edge. We deserved to lose last week, but at least we were at the races. This weekend, we weren’t even reading the racing pages around the kitchen table with a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich.
By the way, it wasn’t just the players, not one of which really came out of the first half with any credit. We didn’t set up right, the whole false nine thing is alright if you play an actual false nine, like Hopper, but when I hear it referenced in a formation where you don’t play a nine at all, it makes me cringe. I know it is injuries that forced us into the formation, but it didn’t work. It is as simple as that. Scully can play there, Adelakun could have a decent stab, and I felt Michael got it wrong (and that’s only an opinion, I don’t claim to know better), and when we shuffled the pack, we looked better. Marginally.
I take no glee in writing this. I hate being negative, but even with the injuries, we should be getting basics right, finding a player five yards away with a pass, keeping it simple, retaining the ball on the rare occasions we got it. We didn’t do any of that, even without a nine. To Michael’s credit, he changed the shape, and it worked, to a degree, we drew 1-1 after he did that, but the players didn’t really step up.
We were marginally better in the second half, but you have to ask if Oxford had already eased up a bit. Maybe, maybe not. I know that Adelakun looked a little better when he didn’t have to work as hard on the flank, which is an early concern (surely, he’s close to 100% now?). He wasn’t the only one who struggled; I didn’t think the midfield got a grip either – Bridcutt wasn’t bad, but McGrandles and Sorensen looked weak at times. I do wonder if, when we can go 4-3-3, Bridcutt, Bishop and Fiorini might be the nod. To be fair to the Manchester City man, he looked half decent when he came on, and I wonder if maybe he might be a shout for Man of the Match.
I suppose at 2-0, we’re still in it, then Oxford got a late penalty. Was it a penalty? I’ve watched it back, and he looks to get the ball for me, but it’s a problem at 0-0, but not 2-0 without a decent shot on goal. I don’t like Matty Taylor, which means he’s a decent striker you’d love to have on your side, and Henry revelled in getting his hattrick. Fair play to him.
If there were another positive to take, it would be the last five minutes, which saw an Imps goal, but it was from the spot. You have to get in the positions to be fouled, which Bishop did, and you have to score it, which Scully did, but the phrase ‘too little, too late’ doesn’t do it justice. At 2-0, if we get the penalty, do we go on and get another? Possibly, we certainly had a decent chance, Scully hitting the side netting, but we hear these words too often: ‘if’ things went different, ‘when’ players come back. Right now, as a standalone game, we were beaten, well beaten, by a side we finished above last season.
I’m not panicking; I’m not saying that we’re going down or anything like that. I’m not predicting doom for the next eight months, but I will say this – the next 72 hours or so are crucial. We absolutely have to get players in before Tuesday’s deadline. We need a striker if only to cover the two we currently have injured. We need a wide player, maybe a young loan, because I think we lack real attacking options, especially out wide. I don’t buy the fact we need a keeper. If we get one, no worries, but I like Griffiths, and he will be decent for us. We definitely need two through the door, if not three.
The two-week break from the league will also be a godsend because we’ve just not got going in terms of fitness. I’m holding fire on overreacting at the minute, but having so many injuries this early on is a concern; it has to be. Injuries ruined our automatic promotion hunt last season, and so far, they have contributed to us getting off to a poor start. If we’d had a nine fit, we’d have looked far more balanced. If we could get a settled back four, we’d start conceding fewer goals. There’s that word again – ‘if’. I’ll drop the other for you now – when we get players back, we’ll be more competitive, and one or two who are playing because they’re fit, not because they’re in form, can sit on the bench and work out how to get back in the team. When we get new faces in, they’ll add depth to our team and maybe the quality as well.
When that happens, we’ll see the real Lincoln City come to the fore, and I can get back to enjoying writing my post-match reports rather than this miserable 1500-word slog.
Luckily, at the time of writing, the player rating widget below wasn’t working properly. It might give you (and me) and chance to gain a bit of perspective as we pass judgement!