Last night I rushed home to join a group of friends at a Scarefest event at the excellent Waddngworth Maize Maze.
About halfway around the maze, I encountered a man dressed as Jason Vorhees wielding a chainsaw (yes, a real chainsaw), an utterly terrifying vision even without the imminent threat of death. I ran, obviously, as had done from a knife-wielding clown just moments before, but my thoughts were not entirely on the moment. Each time I paused, I wondered how Adam Jackson was. Those eight minutes or so in which he laid on the ground, in what appeared to be a neck brace, were unsettling. If I was still thinking about it at eight at night, how must his teammates have felt going back out for the second half?
I often talk about context and perspective, two things many football fans fail to hold on to after a game. I wonder, if you were at work and a colleague was taken to hospital, would you be the same an hour or so afterwards? You’d try, but would you be the same? I doubt it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is context. Perspective is remaining unbeaten in a game we lost last season, and remembering that this style, the one people are laying into for being too negative and unattractive, is the same style that got us to within a whisker of the Championship last season. I know the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome, but in football terms, the definition of madness would be a manager and team changing a style because a couple of thousand people from different professions, who spend as much time watching Liverpool and Man Utd as Lincoln, don’t think you get the ball forward quick enough.
I was very surprised last night when I got in, turned on all the lights, and settled down to fifteen minutes of relaxation before a sleepless night dreaming of a little girl ghost dressed in white following me around a maze. I expected to see some criticism, we didn’t win so it is standard, but comments about being awful, terrible, lacking imagination and the rest were a surprise. As for lacking atmosphere, I chuckle because that is one thing the players don’t bring. You might say they do, because they have to create chances, but Dan N’Lundulu had a great chance in the first five minutes, and we scored in the first half. How is that not entertaining? I’m not fan shaming, you support in the manner you wish to support, but you bring the atmosphere, not the players, They carry out the manager’s instructions, and if anything it is our job to lift them when they’ve spent the best part of ten minutes watching a teammate stretchered off with what looked (at the time) to be a serious injury.
The game went pretty much as I expected. We started brightly, with Dan N’Lundulu looking a particular threat. He had three centre halves to get past, and I thought he occupied two very well. Chris Maguire looked lively, and the midfield was working relatively well. Dan should perhaps have scored, but he made his early chance through hard work, persistence and determination. He looks a better player for his Wigan outing and he wasn’t far off Man of the Match for me.
We definitely had to deal with an aerial bombardment. Ryan Bowman is Jayden Stockley’s poor cousin, he was the replacement for Stockley at Exeter and he’s a pretty big lump, which is where Jackson came in. He could help head away those long throws and constant corners, whilst both Robson and Poole had their hands full on the flanks. Poole, in particular, had a tough afternoon against Ogbeta, who is just the type of player we didn’t get in the transfer window. I wonder how many more times I have to write that before January? Let’s be honest, if we’d had a player of his pace and directness running at a relatively shaky Shrewsbury defence, I think we’d have scored a couple on the first half.
That’s not to say Shrewsbury were poor, far from it. They were organised, a little shaky at the back, but we comfortable in possession and although they like to bombard the box, it wasn’t from big boots out from the back. I like Elliot Bennett, always have, and when they did get their decent players on the ball, they caused us problems. I know some fans will say ‘these are the games we should be winning’, but I’d ask why? Why should we be winning a game against an opposition we haven’t beaten at home in fifteen years? What right do we have to be beating a side who, until recently, were the big club in our Wembley final? We have no right, they’re a decent side and far better than others we’ve seen; Cambridge, Morecambe, Charlton, Fleetwood and even Sheff Weds impressed me less. It’s different football, an agricultural approach in terms of loading the box, but they’re no mugs. I underestimated them from the distaste some of their fans have for their manager, and I still didn’t think we’d get the win ahead of kick-off.
The game turned on Jackson’s injury. I didn’t feel the atmosphere was that flat before the injury, we had chances and it seemed a routine game. However, with Jackson laid prone on the ground, the air fizzed out of the game like it was coming out of a tyre after you run over a nail. It was almost an audible hiss… people went to the loo, chatted amongst themselves; it just took the momentum out of the game. Even the goal, didn’t help; we scored another well-worked goal that saw us go back, sideways, forwards and eventually deliver a killer ball for a good goal. Regan Poole provided the assist (didn’t stop some around me getting on his case, eh Gav?), and in truth it could have been two or more by then. Conor McGrandles, playing the Bridcutt role in his absence, grabbed one with his head, which is unusual, and clearly enjoyed it. At that stage, I thought we’d go on and win the game. I underestimated the impact of the injury, and Shrewsbury’s resolve.
Luckily, Jackson is thought to be okay, and we didn’t have a referee making things worse. I like Bobby Madley, and he handled the game very well. He spotted Udoh’s dive, which was a ropey moment, and the pushing and shoving that led to their disallowed goal. Generally, he had a good game. I just wish we could have him every week.