Two weeks ago, the Imps were well beaten at Oxford, playing without a number nine and looking unlikely to score a goal.
That game, rightly, drew criticism from some supporters. I criticised the outing, I wouldn’t try to gift wrap a turd for you and yet the panic button wasn’t hit on this site. As I said at the beginning of the season, the players we have, albeit one short of Michael’s plans are good enough for a top ten finish. You should never get too low when we lose, and never too high when we win.
Then again, you don’t always win 5-1, away from home, in an utterly dominant display of attacking brilliance, do you? So, for one morning only, I’m doing away with the ‘never too high’ mantra and I’m calling yesterday for what it was. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. In fact, I might even go as far as to say it was the most complete Lincoln City performance I recall seeing since October 2006, when we thrashed Rochdale 7-1. Were it not for the heroics of Dimitar Mitov in the Us goal, it would have been seven yesterday.
It’s hard to find a place to start. It was a great away day, which I’ll cover in another article, but there was a real buzz when the first team was announced. Ted Bishop, apparently a doubt, started. Both Chris Maguire and Dan N’Lundulu, players whose absence partly caused the Oxford result, returned to the squad. Jamie Robson got his first start and of course, the front three had a now-familiar look about it. There was no Morgan Whittaker, and I guess some fans might have been wondering if we’d be a little shot-shy given the apparent failure to land our final target on deadline day. Remember, a lot of people felt our entire window was poor.
It didn’t look that poor after 24 seconds, when a smooth passage of attacking football saw us take a 1-0 lead. It started with Regan Poole on the right. He fed Adelakun, who teed up Tom Hopper for our first shot on target, which Mitov saved. Scully recycled the ball quickly and Adelakun, who had followed play into the area, stabbed home. Cue absolute joy in the away end, with more than 1,000 Imps fans celebrating what has been a rarity in the league of late; a goal from open play. In fact, our last goal from open play in the league came on August 14th, almost a month ago, and a few nerves were immediately settled. See, we can score goals. It was nice to see Hakeeb get it as well; two goals in two games have gone some way to silencing a few of his critics, and hopefully proving me right about his capture being a big coup for the club.
When you go away and get an early lead, the temptation can be to sit back a bit. We did it at Wembley against Blackpool, and on one of my last away trips when we beat Burton 2-0. This Cambridge side are not bad either – they beat Bolton a week ago with a goal from Shilow Tracey, and both him and Wes Hoolahan did look handy when they got onto the ball. However, an Imps side criticised for their defending in the past didn’t look like letting in a leveller early, with debutant Jamie Robson, and dependable Regan Poole looking in good form. This was TJ’s first League One game with a crowd behind him too, but he just picked up where he left off, calm and assured. I think he’s a decent partner for Lewis Montsma, who also settled quickly.
Hakeeb had a shot saved, Hops had a good chance and that was all before the 16th minute, when we made it 2-0. There was an element of wry smiling when it hit the net again, as it was another man who has drawn a bit of criticism, even from this site, who got the goal. The midfield demographic has not looked quite right in recent games, perhaps the combination of Sorensen and McGrandles hasn’t quite clicked, with the latter not hitting the heights of last season. Until now. It started with Poole (hang on, that sounds familiar). He fed Adelakun (no, I haven’t just copied and pasted), who spread play out to Scully. McGrandles made the overlapping run, grabbed the reverse pass, turned inside and curled beyond Mitov for 2-0. It was a goal worth of winning a Goal of the Month award, and yet probably not even the best goal of this game. McGrandles wheeled away delighted, and the noise levels in the away end ramped up a little more.
To be fair, we’d had chances, but we weren’t swamping Cambridge. They had some good possession and probed a bit, but we just looked such a complete unit. Liam Bridcutt pulled the strings from his holding role, but the ease with which we spread play from left to right was impressive. There is an obvious Man of the Match, of course, but you have to tip a hat to the full backs, because almost everything we did starts with either them, or Captain Fantastic in the middle.
If we thought it couldn’t get any better, eight minutes later it did. It started with Regan Poole (seriously, have a look back); and involved Tom Hopper and Bridcutt. The latter lofted a high diagonal over the defence to Anthony Scully, already packing two assists. He took the ball in his stride, breezed past George Williams as if he were a statue and curled an effort across Mitov for 3-0. You almost felt sorry for Cambridge, who were 3-0 down and not actually playing that badly. Our goals were of our doing, no mistakes from them, just succinct and flowing football with finishes that a certain 36-year-old Premier League debutant might have been proud of.
It could have been beyond humiliating for the home side had we bagged our next two chances. Williams, having a bit of a torrid time, fouled Hopper (to put it politely) on the edge of the area. Scully stepped up and saw his excellent free-kick saved by the keeper. Within minutes Ted Bishop tested the former Charlton man, beating him but not the post. Had either of those gone in, I think we might have been on for a seven or eight goal thrashing. Before half time, the keeper had another save to make as Hakeeb rattled off a shot from distance as well.
Whilst the highlights show the goals, I think the two later chances are worth reviewing as well. Bishop hit the post after a lovely move involving Montsma and Bridcutt, and he recovered from being clipped to get his shot away. As for the Hakeeb effort, Scully’s ball back across the front of the area was dummied by McGrandles, with Bridcutt picking it up and feeding Hakeeb. he dummied, worked space and his effort was both powerful and challenging for the keeper. These weren’t half efforts, they were well-worked examples of Lincoln City at their finest.
When referee Sam Purkiss finally blew his whistle, it was almost a relief to be able to sit down and be quiet for ten minutes, given that there had been so much to cheer through the first half.