At half time, another friend, also called Chris, came and had a chat. He felt we were doing alright, that we could have been losing more heavily, but could be in the game too. He predicted more goals and I tend to value what he says; he’s into stats and tactics like I am and knows his stuff (he manages a real Sunday team, I manage Lincoln in my dreams). That wasn’t the shared opinion around me; some from the row behind opted to stay in the bar and watch the game on a screen rather than return to their seats.
They missed a rejuvenated Lincoln, coming out all guns blazing. I think Plymouth were happy with their goal lead, feeling we didn’t have the tools to unpick the lock. About 6,000 Lincoln fans probably joined them in that assumption. We certainly had the better of the ball, but didn’t launch a viable attack in the opening 20 of the second half. I got the impression Plymouth felt we wouldn’t score; it was a feeling I shared with them. I was impressed by N’Lundulu in the second half; he looked mobile, the ball stuck to him and he seemed to link up play nicely. As I said before, I just didn’t feel those behind him, the attacking midfielders, did well at all.
There was a moment I quite liked between Fiorini and Scully. The Manchester City man looked to feed Scully inside, as our leading scorer went outside, and the ball ran out of play. The two began to argue, and my Dad commented he didn’t like to see it. I did. It shows they both care. I wouldn’t want them slapping each other about, but a bit of passion goes a long way, and it fired me up a bit. Against Morecambe, you got the feeling at times one or two didn’t care (I’m sure it wasn’t the case), but there was no fear of that yesterday.
We found out why Poole wasn’t at his best on 65 minutes when he came off for Max Sanders, and within a second the game turned again. We had to shuffle things about like a Rubik’s Cube, but there wasn’t time for a negative impact. It started down the right, N’Lundulu playing a neat one-two with Sorensen before spreading the ball to Robson. he slipped in Bramall, whose cross was scuffed home by Sorensen, who’d made a good run into the box. The finish wasn’t a classic, but the move looked more like the Lincoln of last season. The cheer for the goal was as much relief as it was joy because Plymouth had lost their grip on the game, and we’d finally created something of note.
Four minutes later, we should have been 2-1 to the good, another good move started by Robson saw Max Sanders make a strong run into the box, feeding Scully. He delivered a great cross to the waiting pair of Bishop and Maguire, one of whom should have stepped away for the other. Instead, Bishop hesitated, and Maguire fired at the keeper.
Maguire was on for Bramall and his introduction was massive. He came on with that streak of ‘bastard’ running through him, agitating and annoying. He’s a player who will undoubtedly make enemies, and we need that; we need to be nastier than opponents. We’ve barely seen him, injured in the warm-up against Ipswich he was poor, so aside from 60 (ish) minutes against Rotherham, we don’t know what he’s about. I have a feeling he’s my type of player, and along with Sanders, he gave us a real lift. Let’s face it, any player coming back from injury and putting in 20 minutes or more is a big boost right now.
Sadly, the boost didn’t last long, as once again we switched off for a goal. Conceding sparked Argyle into the game again, and Broom combined with Houghton to draw a wonderful save from Josh Griffiths. Montsma headed clear from the corner, Plymouth lopped a ball back in and three players looked offside, with Galloway hooking the ball home. I was incensed until I watched the replay; all the Lincoln defenders appeal except one; TJ. His hand doesn’t go up because he knows he’s the player who hasn’t got out; he’s the player who plays all three onside. 2-1, and we had a mountain to climb.
Someone around me said ‘we need a dodgy penalty in this game’. Because we seemed to run out of ideas. I’m not concerned; seeing Maguire come back is a big boost, and with sanders putting in an impressive half-hour, I think we’re heading in the right direction. McGrandles is expected back for Charlton and maybe Joe Walsh too. Part of me felt we’d lose this game anyway, and even though it makes me angry, I could see a little light at the end of the tunnel. I think Maguire is the one; he’s got experience, he’s got guile and he can shake a team up when things are not going well. I thought he might be lucky when booked on eighty minutes, he seemed to catch one of theirs off the ball, but the ref only flashed a yellow.
Andy Woolmer, the referee, then got two big decisions wrong, in my opinion. The first was to our benefit; Maguire got stuck in on the right, and the loose ball sprang up to Sorensen, who fuelled with their goalscorer, Galloway, in the area. Sorensen went down, the referee pointed to the spot, and City had a chance from 12-yards. I didn’t think it was a penalty at first glance, and I don’t with the benefit of a replay and a photo. Last season, Plymouth lost at ours because of what Ryan lowe believed to be a dodgy penalty; on that occasion we’d suffered a blatant foul in the area a minute earlier which had not been given, and I felt the spot-kick was justified. This time, not so much.
Maguire wanted the penalty, he grabbed the ball, but Scully went to him and asked for it. I wondered if we might see a bit of bickering and maybe a missed chance (it’s happened before, can’t quite place who with). Instead, Maguire handed the ball over, and despite some intense pressure from a couple of black and green shirts, Scully fired home. As he did, the board went up, indicating seven minutes of injury time.
The only moment of note in stoppage time could and should have brought a red card or two. Chris Maguire tried to keep a ball in play and one of their lads (I was too nervous to note his name) picked up it whilst still in play. I thought that should be a yellow, but then players started piling in. Maguire was shoved to the ground by the throat, not what you’d term assault, but a red card all day long. A couple of our boys might have been in danger of reprimands too, Dan N’Lundulu put his sizeable frame in there, but when things calmed down, the ref just gave us a free-kick and moved on. he couldn’t be arsed with the paperwork, clearly. It was the only time he had shown any leniency all afternoon, and whilst a card at that stage wouldn’t have affected the result, it would have been the right decision.
It’s odd, before the game, I spoke to Rob Bradley and used a 2-2 draw as an analogy for our week; I said if we lost to Burton and won against Morecambe, we’d come into this game feeling positive, just like when you get a last-gasp goal to draw 2-2. However, we lost to Morecambe and beat Burton, and that felt like we conceded the last-gasp goal in a 2-2 draw. Funny, two hours later, we’ve drawn 2-2 and for my Dad, it felt like a win. Thank God too, as the clock hit 89 minutes I was dreading the drive home!
I was surprised by the reaction online; this team could have gone top with a win, but didn’t. It was a lot like us and Blackpool last season; we went there with them in a lowly position and us fighting at the top, and there was late drama, albeit us winning 2-1. They’d been the play-off contenders the year before, we’d been the struggling side, so there were parallels. I’m damn sure had they drawn that game 2-2, instead of losing 3-2, they’d have been delighted.
I think we were better than we were at Morecambe and I feel we’re not far away. I saw Jack Mulhall put the same thing on social media after Morecambe, and I’m with him, 100%. This isn’t a ‘bang average’ Lincoln side as I keep seeing; it’s a talented one lacking one or two players. Consistency is a problem; Bishop got rave reviews in August, but has tailed off. Lewis Fiorini has been great recently but was poor yesterday. Despite a goal and a penalty win, Lasse Sorensen wasn’t great either. Scully got a lot of praise; he’s certainly direct, but running into blind alleys doesn’t help anyone, whilst I can’t understand how people didn’t think N’Lundulu had a bad game.
Remember, we lost two captains during the game, and counting those we have 11 players out injured (Mair, Poole, Roughan, Jackson, Walsh, Cann, Bridcutt, McGrandles, Hopper, Makama, Draper, or a 5-2-3 XI). We didn’t get what we wanted on deadline day and the perfect storm of problems have dogged us since. I think under the circumstances, we’ve not done all that badly; we haven’t been great, but we have rarely been completely outclassed. Some of the reactions and opinions feel knee-jerk (I read three ‘long, hard season’ comments again yesterday), but I understand why people think that way.
The problem is that some fans come to the game expecting last season’s free-flowing performances, forgetting that amidst MK Dins, Northampton and Burton there was Rochdale, Fleetwood, Accrington and Bristol Rovers. It wasn’t always pretty last season, but because we weren’t there, in the cold and rain, enduring the poor performances, they stand out less. I genuinely believe fans have a rose-tinted view of some of last season (particularly the Morgan Rogers era), forgetting that we sometimes played out from the back, made mistakes and even struggled to score. In fact, through November (I think it was) I felt we were looking lacklustre up top, but we came through it and scored for fun at Christmas. The method hasn’t changed, and the personnel we’ve brought in haven’t settled yet. It doesn’t mean they won’t, or as I heard yesterday ‘none of them are League One quality’. If that’s your opinion, respectfully, I think you might be wrong.
We showed guts and courage to keep going yesterday in appalling conditions with two injuries to key players, and I felt we were worthy of a point. Sure, they could easily have won it 4-2, but we could have made it 2-1 before they scored and gone on to win the game. Could have, would have, should have, counts for nothing. The negative Nigels of the world are sure to tell me that when I talk positively after a defeat, so I’ll rebound it right back now.