Football, it’s a funny old game, isn’t it?
One week ago I sat in front of my computer screen wanting to do anything other than write about our game against Wimbledon. Last night, one hour before kick-off, I felt a sweeping sense of concern as Anthony Scully, our leading scorer and creator, missed the game. Here I am, 14 hours later, bunged up with cold but feeling a euphoria I haven’t felt all that much since May.
I say that in the kindest possible way, I love my club, but this season has been more challenging than last; we saw so little negativity last season, and yet there’s been so little this campaign. There wasn’t a game last season we went into without hope, and yet last night, that is how it felt. Wigan, whether free transfers or not, are big spenders, they’ve been able to pay the sort of wages that attract Wyke, McClean, Cousins, Jones and Bayliss to the club. They’re big spenders, albeit in terms of wages not transfer fees, and why not, I guess? It feels a bit odd having them in this position so soon after being utterly skint, but they were treated horrendously by their previous owners and should never have been relegated in the first place. I guess there’s a part of me that’s utterly torn between the distorting of wages in this division, and the way Wigan were treated.
That’s hopefully justified the title, which I feel I had to do, just to cover my own bottom.
Instead of Scully, we got Dan N’Lundulu, a player who I’ve said for weeks needs a goal to kick his season off. TJ Eyoma replaced Adam Jackson, the latter nursed through two games a week, the former having not entirely settled back in since his move back to the club. I felt an element of ‘what do we have to lose’ going into the game. It wasn’t the free-hit that six points from the last three games would have given us, but a draw would have left me a very happy man.
I didn’t need to settle for second best this time, because we were bang on it from the first minute to the last. It’s a surprise how quickly things change in football, from Burton to Morecambe being a classic example. Putting aside the Sheff Weds game, could two performances, Wimbledon and last night, be any further apart at all? I know Michael believes we played well against Wimbledon, and I don’t think we were as bad as people say, but for every negative comment from seven days ago, we have superlatives now.
To a man, City were excellent. It was a real shift in both focus and outcome, with us happy to go a little longer at times, using Dan’s strength and power up top. He admitted he’s needed to snap out of the Under 23 mentality, and Michael even said afterwards if he saw him running to the ball, he’d take him off. We keep talking about he-who-must-not-be-named at Forest, and his main trait wasn’t just getting on the ball and getting forward, but making runs in behind, asking questions. That’s what we’ve lacked in recent weeks, and after Saturday, many thought we’d found the answer in Freddie Draper. Four days later, we’ve got two answers to the same question.
The goal came early, and it knocked me for six, I don’t know about much else. It was a bright start, one that we have seen often, but instead of scratching our heads after a string of misses, we got the opener. Lincoln City 2021/22 rarely go ahead in games, so to give the opposition something to think about was a huge treat. It was a delicious goal as well, served up by a wonderful ball from Ted Bishop. That’s what happens when a striker runs in behind and gives players a problem. Dan got his chance, and he finished with the panache and style you’d expect from a Premier League prospect.
Of course, Wigan weren’t going to sit back, and that solid defending we displayed at the weekend stood us in good stead for the Latics. James McClean, who has no business in League One, hit the bar, but it wasn’t just the frame of the goal that was rattled. Tackles began to fly in, and the experienced Wigan side hoped to bully Lincoln. Remember Rotherham at home, where we got bullied? Or Gillingham last season? Or Wycombe? Well, there was none of that, because we have a couple of agitators ourselves. Chris Maguire is, to put it bluntly, an utter shit, and I love it. He knows the game, the buttons to press to get players off their game. I believe his immediate reaction to the ghost goal helped get the right decision out of the officials.
That was a dodgy moment, a blatant handball gave them an equaliser, only for the referee I’d labelled as a homer days before to take his time, talk to his assistant and overrule the goal. It is sad when we feel we have to praise the ref for reaching the right decision, but it would have been easier not to and in recent weeks, we’ve seen some poor ones. Seb Stockbridge had a good game last night, and he showed good strength of character and reasoning to disallow the goal. Maybe we’ve had him wrong this whole time, like Professor Snape in Harry Potter.
Another player I want to heap praise upon is Jamie Robson. There’s something about him I like, and I’m not sure exactly what it is. He’s a good player, no doubt, but he comes across as a tough little bugger too. I think he understands the game in a similar way to Maguire; he’s maybe not quite as in your face with it, but I think he could be a Dark Arts Master himself. He’s definitely settled in nicely and he’s good getting forward too, but I think he’s more than that, I think he’s streetwise, another player who will help some of those coming out of 23s football. Sure, he’s 23, only a year older than Dan, but he’s played almost 200 senior games. Michael once said experience isn’t age, it’s games, and Jamie Robson is one of our most experienced players. It shows.
It could easily have been 2-0 before the break, Ted Bishop’s excellent drive bouncing back off the bar. Whilst the home team were looking to assert control, that moment showed we were still a danger, even if we were fighting to hold our 1-0 lead. People have likened it to Wimbledon’s approach last week, and I guess I can see that in the first half. In the second, we did what the Wombles didn’t though; killed off the game.