Much Improved: Sheffield Wednesday 1-1 Imps

Credit Graham Burrell

There were always going to be plenty of talking points from a trip to Sheffield Wednesday. I just didn’t think so many of them would be about what happened off the pitch.

I’ll come to that later, but for now, I’ll settle into the on-pitch action. City were poor in midweek, not as poor as maybe some thought, but not good enough to break down a bang average Wimbledon team. I don’t think I’ve seen many teams who were better than us in terms of ability and approach this season (maybe just Rotherham), although some have matched us for effort and form. Sheff Weds you feel is a different matter; they play in a grand old ground, venue of FA Cup semi-finals for years, and they’ve got some quality footballers. Prior to kick-off, names like Barry Banna, Lee Gregory and Jack Hunt leap from the screen as Championship quality. This was a game that, on paper at least, we were expected to be second best in.

Still, isn’t that the Lincoln City way? Even last season, we beat teams I fancied to do well (Oxford, Charlton, Blackpool), but lost to those we were expected to beat (Rochdale, Fleetwood, Bristol Rovers). My fear with the current squad is we lose the game we expect to win, then bravely battle the ones you expect to lose, but still lose. Yesterday, that didn’t happen, and whilst it wasn’t a win, it felt like one. The table won’t reflect that, but only the very pessimistic fans will have watched the game and feel we are still utterly doomed.

Credit Graham Burrell

Obviously, Joe Walsh is injured again, so for yet another Saturday fixture we had a different back four. Only once have we fielded the same back four on successive Saturday fixtures this season, (Gillingham and Fleetwood), and even then we changed at half time against the Cod Army. I’m not saying that is why we concede goals, I think our defence have looked decent in the last three or four fixtures, but it doesn’t help with stability. Defenders don’t just defend now, they build an attack and perhaps that is where we’ve seen some inconsistency.

We also went to Hillsborough without our captain and leader, we went there with an attacking midfielder on the left wing and arguably without a number nine. Chris Maguire, excellent all afternoon, covered all manner of positions, but wasn’t the ‘fox in the box’ people expect. That’s not to his detriment by the way; the simple fact is our approach doesn’t currently accommodate an out-and-out number nine. Sure, I’d love a Mo Eisa figure, but we don’t play with all our focus on one man. I know this frustrates many, but if we did go with a proper nine, a selfish, single-minded striker, then our approach outside the box would also change.

This opening feels negative, but I wanted to underline the issues around our squad. We know what we lack, we know why we’re in the position we are, but I like to add context, not least if you’re reading this in 50 years in a dog-eared and hopefully valuable rare copy of one of my season review books!

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Against that backdrop, facing a team with not only the big names I’ve already mentioned, but quick, direct players such as Dennis Adeniran Fisayo Dele-Bashiru and Saido Berahino, I really didn’t expect much. That isn’t my negativity, it is just the way I felt looking at their teamsheet. Once I took my seat and surveyed the grand stage these players played on, I thought how crucial the first goal would be. Turn this 20,000 against their own players, and you win the game. Give them something to cheer, and you’re beaten. Mind you, it’s not like we give the opposition teams early gifts is it… In fact, I wish my partner was more like Lincoln City, because then the PS5 that is under the bed waiting for Christmas would be set up and updating sometime tomorrow (for those at the back, that’s an ‘early gift’ gag).

There was no early gift, and even better no sign that our young players were going to wilt in the atmosphere of the grand old ground. From my vantage point, it was quite subdued, not as much noise as you might have expected. We sounded loud, but then you almost always feel that way when you’re the away team. 3,000 in our area singing, or 5,000 spread around three sides of the ground? I know which I prefer.

The early exchanges suggested we were going to be allowed to play. Sheff Weds didn’t press high and that gave us plenty of possession. We didn’t completely dominate the stats, but they failed to hurt us much, and without being harsh, we should have been 1-0 up. Scully was busy in the first half and on nine minutes, had what looked like a glorious chance. From behind the goal, it looked like he just took a bit too long before letting an effort go, which Peacock-Farrell saved. Ted Bishop had made a good run, and I wonder if a ball back, rather than a shot, brings the opener? Not long after, Scully again got through, this time being dispossessed before he could get a shot away. The Owls backline looked a bit ragged, and whilst in the air Iorfa was dominant, I felt we had a chance on the floor.

Credit Graham Burrell

When called upon, our defence did us proud. Lewis Montsma gets the shouts for his goal, and that’s why some will call Man of the Match, but make no mistake, he put in a dominant performance at the back too. Adam Jackson had a couple of superb last-ditch tackles to make, picking up from where I feel he left off on Tuesday. In the wide areas, Robson and Poole were both calm, collected and an outlet for attack as well as tracking their men back. Jamie Robson is settling in very well, and whilst he isn’t quite the same type of player as Tayo, he is a worthy replacement who will get better and better.

Wednesday did have one decent chance, Berahino should have scored, but Josh Griffiths did what he was paid for. We had another effort too, Lewis Fiorini with a shot that Peacock-Farrell easily saved after great work from Maguire. The former Sunderland man is coming into his own, he’s such a livewire, always looking to get on the ball, always hoping to create. Personally, I’d love to see him playing as a ten in a 4-2-3-1, and us utilising a nine. I know we only had one in most fans eyes going into the game, but by the end of it, we might just have two. More on that, as they say, later in the show.

The first half ended with neither side on the scoresheet, but plenty of smiling faces in the City end. We’d put together a brave display, creating a handful of decent chances, arguably the best opportunity of the game, and we hadn’t wilted at all. Adeniran looked like their key man for me, he is quick, good on the ball and can carry play thirty or forty yards forward without a bother. Maybe we could have been a bit tighter, played a slightly higher press, but it would be remiss to pick too many faults with a 0-0 half time against a side like Wednesday. I’ll say this for them; they don’t look as threatening as Darren Moore’s Doncaster did, and I find that odd given the stadium, stature of the club and what you’d consider to be their pulling power. Oh, as for Marvin Johnson, the lad we were linked with in the summer, I only realised he’d been playing as I looked over the match stats this morning. I think that says a lot.