Test Passed: Imps 1-0 Bowers & Pitsea

I’ve had to check myself a bit this morning. 

I’m not in a good mood through another Saturday drinking and then not sleeping, but as I perused social media I had to recall my vow not to just fall out with people (friends) over football. I’ve had to resist asking at least three people which team they were actually supporting yesterday because all I can see is praise for the opposition and negativity towards us. In fact, I almost had to double-check we are in the top half of League One, because the reaction from some fans over recent weeks has made me doubt it. One defeat in seven, apparently, is not enough.

Yeah, I’m prickly, so it’s probably best that I focus on the match, rather than my feelings towards the attitudes of others. I’m not going to pretend yesterday was pretty, or even entertaining, but I’m pretty damn sure that drawing 0-0 with Carshalton in the FA Trophy was worse. The social media fall out wasn’t, but then I guess not enough fans particularly cared back then to criticise, did they? Damn, there I go again, getting prickly. I’d apologise, but nobody else ever does when they’re wrong or out of order on social media, so today, I won’t either.

I was always wary of this fixture, because there was no way Michael’s team could come out of it with any credit. If we’d won 6-0, it would only have been what we should be doing. If we won, but not by enough, we’d be hammered for lack of creativity, not finishing teams off, etc etc (you know the drill, if you don’t, just pay Twitter a visit). Anything other than a win and all hell would break loose. I was intrigued to see the non-league side, it was a game I felt would be fascinating. I don’t know what I expected, maybe a Maidenhead and Halfix or something. What we got was Billingham Synthonia 1989, or Welling in 1999.

Let’s start with early positives; seeing Sean Roughan back in the side was massive, given how he exploded onto the scene then disappeared like a November 5th firework. It’s been just over a year since his last league start, and whilst his inclusion was surely down to necessity rather than a natural progression, it was still nice to see. Let’s face it, any faces coming back from injury are welcomed right now, and whilst I expect Sean to be out on loan come Jan 31st, it’s encouraging to know he hasn’t disappeared altogether.

I was also delighted to see match-winner Max Sanders get on the field, and whilst Sam Long got Man of the Match for two saves, I felt that was just more misty-eyed love for the magic of the cup, rather than a proper reflection of the game. Sam did well, don’t get me wrong, but him getting Man of the Match felt like our fans going ‘look at the plucky underdogs, weren’t they great? We were like that once, now we’re the tyrant League One side’. Genuinely, I got a deep feeling that some of our supporters would have preferred to have been in the away end, supporting the underdog. Instead, I’m sorry to say, we were the League One side with 22 shots, nine on target. Still, the visitors, with one shot on target, are the toast of the afternoon and fans voted our keeper as Man of the Match? I’m genuinely surprised, I thought Sanders and Maguire both had decent games.

Credit Graham Burrell

I was surprised there was no Remy, we actually had a strong midfield out there and I confess, there looked to be enough in our first XI to win the game. However, we know that breaking a team down is hard, and the 9-0-1 formation Bowers employed made it difficult. The first ten or fifteen minutes must have been about 95% possession, but there were no cracks. I’m really not sure how the team could have done better. I see comments of ‘we should have stretched them’, but when we go side to side (which is how you stretch teams), the players get criticised. I genuinely thought within 15 minutes we’d win the game by four, and just waited for the flood to begin.

It didn’t begin. They had arguably the best effort, rattling the crossbar, but people on social media saying they were the better side are utterly bonkers. We completely controlled positive possession, as you’d expect us to do, but we found it hard to break down eleven men behind the ball. I’m not saying we played well; three or four players were well below par, but I’ve seen words like woeful and that’s madness. You know who were woeful? Sunderland losing to Mansfield. We were just poor in patches.

Credit Graham Burrell

I’ll get stuck straight into a backtrack now; Hakeeb Adelakun. I genuinely thought he was a marquee signing, and not because I looked at Wikipedia or whatever. I saw his highlights at Scunthorpe before his Bristol City move, and he tore players apart, he had goals and assists in him, and I felt he’d be a player who would terrorise defences in League One, let alone the Isthmian Premier. Sadly, aside from two games, I can’t say he’s convinced at all, despite hitting the post in the second half. He looks a lot like the talented kid at school who never wanted to pass the ball, although he wasn’t helped by TJ yesterday. The two of them looked terrified to put the ball in the box, especially in the first half. I think that had much to do with a box crammed with ten blue shirts almost every time we came to deliver – put a cross in and it’s cleared, you get groans. Don’t cross, you get groans. Sadly, Haks opted for a third option; ‘run until you’re tackled or fall over the ball’, and it’s a sure-fire groan inducer.

Let’s not think it was only him playing badly though; I thought McGrandles was below par in midfield, I’ve already mentioned TJ, and even creative players such as Bishop and Maguire struggled to do much with the ball. It didn’t help that Bowers were defending for their lives, but it made it a tough watch. As many of you will know, I had a gig in Leeds to attend which meant I had to slip out early, but at half time, I wondered whether it might be worth getting a head start on the A57 (I was going via Sheffield), such was the lack of entertainment.

Credit Graham Burrell

One thing I will say is for all the love of the magic of the cup, for all the slavering over our opponents and their great run, many seem to be forgetting some rather crude challenges throughout the game. They picked up five bookings, all (as I remember) for challenges that weren’t just unfair, but occasionally dangerous. Mind you, with some of our fan’s current mindset, if one of those crunching challenges resulted in an injury, it would be our player at fault for being a crock. If you watch the highlights, check out the tackle from behind just after they hit the bar; if that’s in the Premier League, a picky referee probably sends their lad off.

It’s also worth noting our only booking was for a player sticking up for his teammates after what looked to be a really poor challenge in front of the dugouts. Other than that, no getting involved in the fight they wanted, no riling us into panicking or a defeat.