Resilient City Get Deserved Three Points: Imps 2-1 Charlton Athletic

Credit Graham Burrell

Driving to today’s game, I had a chat with my Dad about the lack of connection some fans have felt this season.

As you know (if you listen to the podcast), I think it is all down to results. Win games; you feel a connection or get the buzz. Lose games, some blame other things (stewards, food, Coved, Brexit), others claim there are fundamental problems at the club, but the truth is, you can’t get quite as excited. It’s odd because we came to the conclusion that being in the middle of the pack almost made match days easier. There’s no expectation of a result at the minute. We don’t have to watch to see how the team in second do; we feel we’ve got enough to stay out of the bottom six, but not quite what we need for the top ten. It takes the tension away.

That changes when the first ball is kicked, especially if you then go on to utterly dominate a game drought with all manner of incidents and reasons to swear loudly and in the general direction of the pitch. I think that sums today up for me; I went to the game thinking ‘a draw would be good’, and yet with ten minutes left I had a rage coursing through my body that might not have been entirely well placed. I know that for me, there’s nothing changed down the club; there’s no real reason not to feel ‘it’. You just have to look for the positives, even where there are none. Luckily, there were plenty this afternoon.

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The first positive has to be the teamsheet. I’ve joked about Joe Walsh, but to see him start was superb. It’s funny, I claimed he wouldn’t start on the podcast and that Chris Maguire wouldn’t play up top for us. I was wrong on both counts, and those were the two major factors in us picking up the win. Maguire was outstanding, busy from the first minute to the last, and a great option playing through the middle. Walsh didn’t do anything that made you think ‘he’s back’, but actually, his mere presence made the defence look more stable. Is it really a coincidence that lewis Montsma has his best game of the season so far, and Jamie Robson looks outstanding, the same game in which Walsh drops into the back four? The answer is no.

I thought we started a bit tentatively, Charlton seemed a decent enough side who kept the ball well, but they didn’t go anywhere with it. The biggest performer of the first quarter of an hour was referee David Webb, who was very poor all afternoon. He booked Regan Poole after one of their players ran into him off the ball, and then seemed keen to even it up minutes later, giving Alex Gilbey a yellow for a cheap challenge on Lasse Sorensen. It set him up for an afternoon he will do well to forget; he regularly got corners wrong, throw-ins wrong and missed two big penalty shouts at both ends of the pitch. On 22 minutes, I think he should have brandished a red for Harry Arter for a horrible looking challenge on McGrandles, although to be fair, as soon as the card was shown Conor was up and about, so maybe it’s me overreacting.

After that early exchange, I thought we completely dominated the game, leaving the visitors camped in their own half. Sure, they got away on the odd break, but they never really troubled the keeper at all. Their back four was struggling, and that’s with a new-look Imps attack: if Nigel Adkins is still in a job come Bonfire Night, I’ll be shocked. Still, you make hay while the sun shines and as bad as they were, we did what we had to do.

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McGrandles was excellent, doing the busy work we usually see Bridcutt doing. Both full backs were able to push forward, as their opposite numbers didn’t look a threat. It’s not that they weren’t a threat; actually, Charlton’s right side looked handy, but Jamie Robson put in a brilliant display, all afternoon. He was one of maybe four players who should have been a contender for Man of the Match. As for Chris Maguire, who would have thought we’d find our nine, wearing ten? He was clearly the best player on the field, playing with control but showing some quality. His performance reminded me a bit of Grant at times last season, the way he is on the ball, composed and seemingly one step ahead of the players wearing black shirts. He was often found deep pulling strings, he was out wide at times, and I thought he’d be the one to score if we did score.

My only moan from the first half was we didn’t quite get the break we needed. There was some lovely football; Montsma hit his favourite diagonal more times than Deontay Wilder hit Tyson Fury last weekend. Robson was the beneficiary, and he popped some beautiful crosses into the box. We looked like we’d score, but the final touch just wasn’t there. There was a bit of an imbalance at times; Bishop isn’t a winger and I felt we lacked that natural width that Harry, Brennan, even Theo Archibald can give you. That was down to Charlton as well; they tried to be compact, but they’re shaky. If we think we can’t defend, then we need to think again after that display. Also, if our fans think we look uncomfortable playing out from the back, they’ll hopefully see what that really looks like. I’m critical of the Addicks because they were a shadow of the team that beat us 3-1 last season, probably the most disappointing side to visit the Bank since crowds got back into the ground.

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Despite that, we didn’t get a goal, and it just felt like a one-sided 0-0 was on the cards. There was always a bit of an unknown, though; the referee. Just before halftime, Maguire got a knock, went down and as we broke, he stopped the game. It wasn’t the only odd choice he made; in the second half one of their lads went down, he let them attack, but when it broke down and we were about to counter, he pulled play back. I was calling him at halftime for what I thought was a handball in the box as well, but he wasn’t the reason we were 0-0 at half time; just that lack of killer instinct stopped us from being two or three up against a really poor side.