Late Drama Delights City: Plymouth Argyle 1-2 Imps

Credit Graham Burrell

On 16th October 1982, E.T was on at the cinema, Musical Youth were Passing The Dutchie at the top of the charts, and Derek Bell and Gordon Hobson gave City a 2-1 win at Home Park in front of fewer than 3,000 fans.

Almost 40 years and 10 trips to Plymouth later, the Imps finally got another win, in front of more than 12,000. It came after 90 minutes of drama and excitement against a promotion-chasing club on the up. The fact is in those 40-ish years, we will have lost to far weaker Plymouth teams than this one. I’ve banged on about Ryan Broom and Jordan Houghton many times before, and they’re just two in a side I think have done extremely well after coming back into the division. I take my hats off to them, genuinely, for competing at this level as they have this season, and seemingly taking the loss of their manager (to some degree at least) in their stride.

On paper, we didn’t really stand a chance. I say ‘on paper’ because when Michael’s Lincoln are in full flow, we’re as good as anyone, but these are the facts; we went to Plymouth with ten players injured, four of whom were centre backs who would have undoubtedly all been ahead of the two that started (not now by the way, thanks to Regan Poole suddenly turning into Superman). Once again we have an attacking midfielder at left-back, but just to make it harder, we’ve thrown a 19-year-old keeper in for his league debut in the absence of our own regular number one. That alone would have been enough for many to mark a little line in their accumulator next to ‘Plymouth win’. Seriously how many of you reading this saw the news and thought a draw would have been a superb result? Plenty, I have no doubt. I know Nick Oxberry did from the text he sent me pre-match, and I won’t pretend I thought anything otherwise.

However, when you look further up the pitch, the quality begins to show, a quality we didn’t have six weeks ago. John Marquis was a £2m-rated striker three years ago and had 103 goals in five-and-a-half years (104 now). Liam Cullen has more Championship games under his belt than Peterborough will manage this season, whilst Morgan Whittaker is clearly the ‘Brennan Johnson’ figure we’ve craved since May. Our own pocket rocket, Anthony Scully, has returned to quieten the social media posters who think there’s a conspiracy around him playing and frankly that’s a front four to be afraid of. We’re almost playing the old-style 4-2-4 at the minute, and whilst the four at the back are a patched up, makeshift version of what we imagined our defence could look like, the front four are the stuff of dream, dreams we never thought would be a reality six weeks ago. It smells like Ossie Ardiles’ Tottenham team of many moons ago, who just went out to score as many as possible, ut inevitably conceded plenty too. Some might say it’s how football should be.

Debutant – Credit Graham Burrell

That’s the state of play here; we’re a danger going forward, but you feel at times we’re a danger to ourselves at the back. What is it, two clean sheets this season? Stats are great for making a point, but in this instance they don’t tell the whole story. That back four, so cobbled together and seemingly weak, have been playing really well, and that starts, for me, with Regan Poole. There’s little surprise then that the first action of the half, as tweeted by the club, was Regan Poole anticipating danger. Did a single tweet ever get something so right, so quickly into a game?

It was a thoroughly engrossing game for the neutral, a saying I despise because it means the 12,000-odd that paid to watch it were put through the shredder, but we saw two decent teams again, as we did last weekend. However, this time Plymouth were the ones coming out and looking for a result, hunting the points that would see them back into the top six. We were the side looking to stay compact and break at pace; not bad with four forwards on the pitch. The early exchanges I thought typified that, with chances at both ends.

It was clear very quickly that John Marquis is the type of player we’ve been missing in tom Hopper’s absence. His work rate is excellent and when we did get our first solid chance of the game, it fell to him. He blazed over, and any Portsmouth fans reading this might well smile knowingly as if that’s to be expected, but I think Lincoln fans are just thankful we have a number nine who gets in the position to miss a chance. Given how many openings we create, and how many haven’t been turned into proper chances since autumn, it’s a good sign.

Credit Graham Burrell

I’m writing about City, so it may be I don’t cover every Plymouth chance, and the truth is they probably edged the first half, but on 20 minutes the best chance, certainly of the first half-hour, fell to us. The creator? Marquis. His ball wasn’t ideal for Morgan Whittaker, but again that’s beside the point (at least when you win the game). We were carving Plymouth open at times with the sort of football that had us on the cusp of the Championship in May. I keep saying this, and I’m being proven right; nothing has changed in terms of what Michael gets the players to do, and the potential within the team. The difference is we’ve now got the attacking players to break teams down.

Sam Long pulled off a couple of decent saves, and it would be remiss not to touch briefly on him as well. A 19-year-old facing a team like Plymouth, with good attacking players, has to stay strong, command his area and be confident in everything he does. I thought Sam did that superbly today, and when the home side did take the lead, there wasn’t a lot he could do about it. Despite the nature of the game, it was the first time Plymouth had carved us open, and they took their chance well. Niall Ennis, once of Doncaster I believe, is a real threat with great pace, whilst Luke Jephcott is a homegrown talent of theirs with a great eye for goal.

Credit Graham Burrell

I thought that was going to be it; Max Melbourne wasn’t entirely convincing me, Bramall had been done a couple of times on the flank and I just felt with great home support behind them, the Pilgrims could go on and win the game. I’m perhaps still tainted by the lack of character we showed in the defeat at Sincil Bank against Portsmouth. I’ll be honest, that game hurt me, a lot, and since then I’ve always felt we’re vulnerable, a point proven time and again with late goals conceded. When the opposition score, I get a deep feeling that we’re going to struggle to pull it back around, and I had that in abundance as the first half wound down. I’m not a defeatist, I wasn’t on Twitter pulling the lads down, I just got a bit of a sinking feeling.

We finished the half quite strongly, which should have been an indication that my inherent pessimism is unfounded. Marquis and Cullen were linking really well, and Scully was having the type of game where you feel he could conjure something up. He had an effort blocked, Whittaker had a cross deflected onto the post, and as gutting as the goal was, we actually went in at the end of the first half in the ascendancy. Still, 1-0 was maybe the right score at half time, but only just.