If Netflix are looking for a new superstar TV show, given that some Netflix franchises don’t seem to be getting their happy ending, then maybe they should look to Chris Maguire.
Tonight is almost certainly going to be labelled the Chris Maguire show; he’s gone back to his former club, should maybe have been sent off in the opening quarter of an hour, then bagged a hattrick. In the midst of that, he’s refused to celebrate his first goal, used it to make a succinct point to Lee Johnson and earned City three points. Yes, it was the Chris Maguire show, but the supporting cast, all 14 of them, were utterly superb.
Let’s rewind and look at the wider context. On Saturday, we grabbed a surprise 2-0 win against Oxford, rejuvenated because Anthony Scully returned and our new face, Morgan Whittaker thrived. Three days later, Scully is injured, Lewis Montsma is injured and we’re down to the bare bones. Had we not recalled Max Melbourne from his loan spell we’d have had to cancel the game. That’s right, the Imps had a squad of 15, with only three outfield subs. I’ve seen foxes run over in the road, picked over by birds that have more meat on the bones than our squad. There is not a single Lincoln City fan who wouldn’t have snapped your hand off for a draw at the start of the game.
Consider the opponents; Sunderland were second in the table, have a habit of hitting five on a Tuesday night and boasted one of the best home records in the whole EFL. Packed with talent, Sunderland should be getting promoted at the end of the season, and if anything reflects the difference between the haves and the have nots, tonight was it. We have a manager I believe is one of the best in this division, but his toolbox isn’t as loaded as Sunderlands. In fact, most of his tools are bloody broken. You can be the best tradesman in the world, but if your tools don’t work, things will be difficult.
The team was certainly makeshift. Ted Bishop, excellent in multiple roles on Saturday, played right back. Cohen Bramall, who many (including me) wrote off last month remained at left-back and Max Sanders (the forgotten man of Sincil Bank) got a start in midfield. Hakeeb Adelakun is another who has come in for intense criticism, he started out wide instead of Scully. Makeshift, patched up and hoping for a draw. Funnily enough, my mate Chris messaged me earlier and said he thought we’d win, then added ‘it’s the hope that kills you’. Tonight, hope fed us, but it was desire and application that brought us three points.
From the first minute, Lincoln City were excellent. Tactically, Michael Appleton got it spot on, playing deep and not allowing Sunderland’s creative midfielders on the ball. It meant the home side got plenty of the ball, but they struggled to do anything with it. So much hard work went in off the ball, the midfield three were outstanding, and that includes Sanders. All evening, they had to chase and track runners, and rarely was there a slip in concentration. Sunderland looked dangerous, bit like a muzzled dog, it was all posturing and no bite.
The Imps had bite, Maguire in particular. The challenge which earned the Imps the first of seven yellow cards this evening should, perhaps, have been one of at least four reds. He was a lucky boy after a reckless lunge, but it made a big statement. Lincoln City have been powder-puff, weak and porous, but not now. It seems Maguire has sprung into life the last couple of months, and love his antics or (like most of Wearside tonight) loathe them, he’s the type of player everyone hates until he’s wearing your kit. The new Matt Rhead?
The opening goal will be a talking point for many, many years. Maguire took a quick free-kick, slipping it into Adelakun. He was wide awake, broke into the area and saw his effort blocked. It bounced back to Maguire, on a ridiculous angle, and he showed unreal technique to put the ball into the back of the net. He turned and held his hands up as to not celebrate the goal, then run a good fifty yards to tell Lee Johnson what he thought. I’d love to know what he said, not that it mattered. 1-0 City, and the home crowd turned quickly. Maguire will take the plaudits, but let’s not forget the quality of Adelakun, a player I’m convinced has been swapped with the one that has lacked confidence for much of his early time with City.
After the goal, it was back to the plan, frustrating the home side. It’s hard to pick out one player who excelled, because this sort of performance only comes from 11 players all focused on their roles. I have to mention Sanders; for a year now he’s had little more than a walk-on part in the Lincoln City saga, little more than an extra filling a few scenes, but tonight he was brilliant. Fiorini and McGrandles were too, the midfield is where we won this game, and Saturday’s. I once feared without Bridcutt we’d have little in the middle, but tonight was massive for us. If that’s where Sanders has set the bar, then he’s still got a big future here.
Of course, the back four were strong too; Ross Stewart is a top striker at this level and he barely got a sniff. When he did, safe-hands Josh Griffiths made the necessary saves. It was a strong, combative first half in which we gave ourselves every chance of taking a point. Genuinely, at half time, that’s how I felt; if we kept it tight, we might even sneak a win.
Into the second period, my nerves were settled quickly. Those 20 minutes after the break are something of a witching hour for us, a time when we’re vulnerable, susceptible, and can have all our good work undone. Not tonight, that was 2021 Imps, this is 2022 (whatever difference that has made). Nine minutes into the half, City took a two-goal lead. Yes, that’s right, a two-goal lead, again. It was from the spot, but it followed great work to feed Maguire, and Carl Winchester made a silly tackle to earn himself a red card. From the spot, Maguire was never going to miss, not against his former club. He clearly loved the goal, he didn’t celebrate it of course, but having played at the Stadium of Light he didn’t feel the pressure either. 2-0 City, game over.
Only, it didn’t feel like game over, because City almost grabbed a third. Conor McGrandles headed over on the hour mark, and when we did get to run at the Sunderland defence, I felt we’d score every time we went forward. However, the home side were always going to come onto us, and despite being up against ten men, Sunderland rallied.
On 67 minutes, they were given a lifeline. Max Sanders was adjudged to have committed the foul, although replays suggest he got the ball. It certainly wasn’t a bad challenge, there was no card, but it gave them a chance from 12-yards. Ross Stewart missed the spot-kick, Josh Griffiths saved it, but Stewart stabbed home the rebound. Should it have been allowed? A VAR moment from the Premier League earlier in the season saw a goal ruled out because the keeper had one hand on the ball, and is technically under control. Had it been ruled out, it might have been harsh, but to the letter of the law, Stewart was lucky to see it stand.
For a couple of minutes, much of our hard work looked to be getting undone. Regan Poole had to clear off the line, then Josh Griffiths had to make a diving save. I couldn’t stand it; I went to make a cup of tea (but turned the sound up so I could hear it). I was pacing the floor, the first time I’ve done that since our last visit to the Stadium of Light. I made three trips to the kitchen and back for nothing, plus two into the lounge to tell Fe what the score was. I had made the mistake of looking at the in-play league table before their goal and I felt a bit Bullseye; here’s what we could have won. Surely, surely we’d make this our night? Oddly, three weeks ago I’d be convinced we’d lose the lead. 135 minutes or so later, I felt we were in a much stronger position. I don’t know what has changed, but something has.
I know what changed on 75 minutes; we got our third goal of the game. It came from a Sunderland corner, a moment where you’re thinking ‘we need to be careful here’. No sooner was the corner taken than it was blocked, and Maguire sprinted the length of the field to kill the game off. It took a super ball from Hakeeb Adelakun to find him, straight between the two Sunderland defenders, and Maguires showed unbelievable energy to cover the length of the field, and composure to finish coolly under pressure. It earned him the match ball, a lot of booing and (most importantly) it got us three points.
There was still plenty to keep us entertained, not least a big old ruck on 90 minutes. It came from a horror tackle on Lewis Fiorini, which immediately saw Conor McGrandles get involved. Even Ian McCallum was on the scene, and Michael Appleton noted in his post-match interview it was something he liked to see. That’s not in an ‘aggro’ way, but in a togetherness from the team. The Sunderland player, Doyle, got a yellow and maybe should have had a red. McGrandles got a yellow too, Lee Johnson was sent off after manhandling our player. How Chris Maguire must have liked that, capping off a good night for him by seeing the manager that ruined his final six months as a Sunderland player trudging off to the stands with his tail between his legs.
I could write more about how good we were tonight, but thanks to iFollow everyone saw it. This was Michael Appleton’s Lincoln doing what we saw them do week in, week out last season. Personally, I think this started against Cheltenham, Ted Bishop’s brace lifted the whole club and since then we’ve been pointing upwards. Remember, we barely scored a league goal for two months, now we’ve bagged nine in four matches. That’s not the most important thing though; for me it proves tales of losing the dressing room and other rubbish are well wide of the mark. Those players were playing for their manager tonight, carrying out his commands to the letter and reaping their rewards. That’s back-to-back wins for the first time this season, and don’t rule out the Imps going on a run now. Even with 13 fit outfield players.
Hopefully, Netflix executives are already commissioning the Chris Maguire show, a one-off special about revenge and redemption. Until they do, you’ll have to console yourself with films currently on Netflix, one of which is ‘Don’t Look Up’. For the rest of this season, I’ll be issuing rather different advice; ‘Don’t Look Down’, because, on our 2022 form, we won’t need to.
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