While sitting in the Corn Dolly having breakfast with my Dad, early this morning, we vowed not to talk about football.
All day I have had a sense of foreboding, the deep, nagging feeling that this was going to be Oxford all over again. No Tom Hopper means no starting number nine. Liam Bridcutt’s expected absence meant no viable holding midfielder in my eyes. With McGrandles, Jackson, Roughan and Walsh out, I just felt that I might spend yet another weekend away from social media, avoiding those who love our misfortune and bad luck.
Five years ago, on this weekend, we lost 2-0 at Dover. Burton lost at Norwich but drew 1-1 with QPR in the Championship three days later. That, for me, puts a little perspective on the game today, not just the result. It’s easy to forget where we’ve come from, and given the heady heights we hit last season, we’ve been spoiled to a degree. Here we sit (we’re all guilty), asking about why we have so many injuries, why this player or that player is in the side, and what do we know. Honestly?
Here’s what I thought I knew; our defence would be solid today, our midfield would struggle and although we’d threaten, we wouldn’t create anything real clear cut. We’re a team still playing towards fitness in places (Micahel’s words, not mine), and yet all of us, you and me (and my Dad) have opinions we think are gospel.
What was the truth of today’s game? On another Day, City win 5-1. On yet another day, we lose 5-2. That’s the type of game it was; frenetic at times, one both sides will feel they deserved something from but, on reflection, the right team won. I know it is easy for me to say that, but I do think we made more clear cut chances, and answered the questions we were asked more succinctly than our rivals.
The first half started at a crazy pace, with enough chances for it to be 2-2 before ten minutes were up. Dan N’Lundulu took a little while to warm up, but when he did, he showed a real presence. I recall away at Burton last season, praising Callum Morton for the way he stood up to Michael Bostwick, and I have to do the same to Dan. We know Bozzy; we know what he’s all about and how uncompromising and tough he is. When pep Guardiola spouts his shit about B teams in the EFL, it’s the likes of Bozzy he wants his players up against. Dan won’t have had an opponent quite like him in his career, and for me, he passed the test with flying colours. He didn’t score and maybe should have done (actually, there’s no maybe about it, his chance was one that I included in the 5-1 claim I made in the last paragraph), but he did put in a strong shift.
I said it could have been 2-2 in the first ten minutes, and we did get a goal, and it was a corker. I’ve been praising Lewis Fiorini to anyone who’ll listen, and I even half prepared an article comparing his start for us to Joe Morrell’s two years ago. Morrell was excellent for us and I think Fiorini is going to be even better. On the day he signed, I’d seen him curling goals into the net from range in the Eerste Divisie and I was damn sure we’d see more of that from him. Four games, three goals and all of them feel a little different. On this occasion, he picked his spot low instead of top corner and for the third time in five away games, City got the opening goal.
Burton weren’t relaxing though, and they put us under some immediate pressure. The back four looks young: Montsma and Eyoma wouldn’t be everyone’s first choice, but they certainly had an afternoon to be proud of. I remarked that Lewis didn’t win an aerial battle against Ipswich, but he certainly did this afternoon; he had to. Burton aren’t quite Gillingham level long ball, but they are direct, they are strong and our very young side could easily have been bullied. Instead, they stood firm, led by a man I want to heap praise upon; Regan Poole.
I like Poole, I was enthused about him signing and when others piled on, I’ve always stuck up for him. I think he’s going to be huge for us and today was a defining moment in his Lincoln City career. He wasn’t a bit-part player; he wasn’t just a cog in the defensive unit; he was the talisman, the leader and the role model. He blocked, he headed and he encouraged, and for me, he was a worthy Man of the Match. By the way, he only turned 23 in June. I’ve seen him compared to Lee Beevers, a player who was 26 when he left the club. Poole has so much potential, and he’s a great character too. He proved a big point today about his role within the team. Yes, he’s 23, but he’s not one of the youngsters in terms of experience, not with more than 150 games behind him.
Josh Griffiths was brilliant, again. He’s another who had a slower start, got some stick, but has since proven his worth. I’m even going to go as far as to say his saves in the last three matches have been as good as Alex Palmer, and remember he’s four years younger. He made a couple of good saves in the first half, but better was to come. Mind you, it wasn’t all Burton; we were controlled in our defending and waited for the counter attack, one of which saw Dan NLundulu hit the post. It was a great advert for League One football, and at half time there’s no doubt Michael was the happier of the two managers.