True Grit: Imps 2-2 Plymouth Argyle

Credit Graham Burrell

I love football, particularly how it is so subjective.

Two pairs of eyes can watch the same game, support the same team, and come away with completely different opinions of an encounter. I’m not sure there’s a single pair of eyes that watched yesterday’s 2-2 draw from the Lincoln end with the same opinion, looking at the reaction. For instance, Lasse Sorensen was included on the Imps official list of Man of the Match nominees. Lewis¬†Fiorini was on the Red Imps Community Trust list, yet my own personal star performer wasn’t on either list. When I looked into my pick (Dan N’Lundulu), I found some calling for him to be taken off in the first half. Nobodies opinion is less valid than the others, but the key is to be able to accentuate why we feel the way we do.

The truth is yesterday’s result was a good outcome against a team in the ascendency. I mean that in general; they’ve slowly built a team around the likes of Camara, adding (in my opinion) real quality in Broom and Houghton. Up top, Jephcott is a youth team product; Hardie is a striker who can be replaced if needed from the bench, but who adds a real presence. My worry was their defence, last season they looked shaky, but they weren’t bad in that area either. Remember, Danny Mayor is yet to come back into the Argyle side too. They’re not big spenders, but Ryan lowe has got them on the right track. I tipped them for the drop this season. I admit I was way, way off the mark.

Mind you, if our strikers missed the two chances they spurned before their goal, we’d be asking why we didn’t have another on the bench to bring on, without a doubt. I thought the opening 20 minutes were excellent enjoyment. We played with real verve and pace that made me think we’d get something from the game, but they were always ready to hit us hard on the break. I haven’t looked back over the Wyscout stats yet, but I thought we could have had an opener inside 20 minutes, but probably should have been 2-1 down. The quality wasn’t always there, but one move, in particular, showcased the best of our side; two backheels in a flowing move that saw a ball end up in the box.

Credit Graham Burrell

I’m going to start justifying my Dan N’Lundulu pick as well; I can see a raw number nine there who just needs a chance to go in. He isn’t going to have a Brennan Johnson impact, or Ellis Sims at Blackpool, but he is going to be our only number nine until the mythical free agent pops up, or until January. He gave the ball away on occasions, but I felt we at least had a focal point to our attack, a player to aim the ball at. In the early stages, we got a few crosses into the box and looked a danger. Those fans behind me (Dad included) were purring at how much better it was than Morecambe.

It was always tinged with a bit of danger though; we were living on the edge. One or two of our players looked leggy even early on, as if getting back into position was a challenge after an attack, and it meant Plymouth could break. It wasn’t quite ‘breaking at will’, but when they did get forward they had pace, power but not poise. Twice they carved us open like a Christmas turkey, but twice they didn’t add the trimmings and the game remained scoreless.

Sadly, when they did score, it looked too easy. Lewis Montsma had put in two strong tackles which raised a big cheer, and it felt like a moment that would lift the crowd (like Bozzy against Peterborough NYD 2020). Instead, he then jumped in early on Hardie, who easily spun him, waltzed in towards goal and stroked past Josh Griffiths for 1-0. It looked so very easy, and just seemed to undo any decent work we’d put in. As a young team, I felt we took the knock badly, and the rest of the first half was tough to watch. Backed by a brilliant away support, Plymouth controlled the rest of the half. Seriously, hats off to them; a 600-mile plus round trip, crap weather, a fuel crisis of sorts and they still bring more than some clubs around us. Their support was the best we’ve seen at the Bank this season in my opinion.

We didn’t create much after that, a Lewis Fiorini curling effort went just over, but we began to lose battles all over the field. We lost our captain too, Liam Bridcutt going off injured, and that was another big blow. 1-0 down, the captain out and the first of two enforced reshuffles against a good team. A friend of mine, Chris, who is a Sheffield Wednesday fan, said they’re the best team he’s seen this season, and I feared we were in for a collapse. When they bagged a second, only for the offside flag to go up, I feared the worst.

Credit Graham Burrell

I didn’t think the referee had a good game either. There wasn’t a big call he got wrong, but he bucked the trend of letting the game flow. He penalised N’Lundulu for battling with a defender twice or three times, but when he was seemingly fouled, he waved play on. A couple of fouls looked blatant and he gave them the other way; he felt like a timebomb just waiting to go off and affect the game. It turns out he was, but maybe in our favour.

As half time approached, we desperately needed a regroup, and only frantic defending could prevent them taking an extended lead into the break. If they’d been clinical, we could have been 4-0 down at the break, but if we’d been clinical it could easily have been 1-1, maybe even 2-1 to us.

In recent weeks, I’ve been told we can’t defend (no clean sheets this season), and we can’t score (one striker, and at half time yesterday, two goals from open play at home). I’m not so sure that was the scope of the problem yesterday; I didn’t think our midfield worked anywhere near as hard as it should. We don’t seem to press the opposition at present, and whilst I can understand us letting them have possession in areas away from the final third, they are able to go through the gears and move up the pitch easily. Liam Bridcutt is a terrier, closing down and harassing, but I didn’t feel Bishop, Fiorini or Sorensen did that anywhere near as effectively as we needed. All too often, our players were rounded with ease, and yet when we’re in possession and teams are at us, we’re penned in and forced into mistakes. That doesn’t mean we’re a poor team (as I saw us labelled yesterday), but we do need harder work in the middle and a couple of what I’m sure a purist would term ‘nasty bastards’. We’re too nice; when things are going well our midfield looks great (Cambridge, case point), but when there’s a fight to be had, it’s all a bit Joshua/Usyk. As well as Montsma played yesterday, and as much as we love Eyoma, I’m not sure we’re nasty enough at the back either; only Poole shows the sort of raw aggression we need and by his standard, he too was poor yesterday.