For 25 minutes last night, Lincoln City looked excellent.
There’s no doubt about it; we played some lovely football, held our shape well and as Cohen Bramall netted the second, I thought we’d go on and score six. Sure, we had made a couple of loose passes, but the team selection seemed strong and even we couldn’t throw a two-goal lead away against Morecambe, could we? Funnily enough, I think if we’d been without Joe Walsh, that’s exactly what we would have done.
Rewind to the start of the night, and the team announcement. I was lucky enough to be a guest of match sponsor John Bates and had a lovely meal in the Legend’s Lounge (roast duck, just what I needed after a week of low-fat foods). I met some great new people and chatted about the team; it was a unanimous belief that Max Sanders should start around the table. Low and behold, he did as did Joe Walsh. It seemed we were back to those days when the team selection is something to look forward to, not to dread. Long may that continue.
The atmosphere felt very positive pre-match, plenty of hustle and bustle, lots of noise at kick-off and a real feeling of belief that we could get three points. Let’s be honest, this wasn’t a ‘must win’ game, they’re the matches against the likes of Aldershot, MK Dons away etc; this was a must not lose. A draw wouldn’t have been pleasing, but we’d have still been masters of our own destiny. Lose, and we’d be a bit deeper in the mire. Early doors, we didn’t seem likely to lose.
I’m not being harsh here, but Morecambe are the worst side we’ve seen at the Bank this season bar maybe Accrington. They did have the first proper chance of the game, but it came (of course) from a misplaced pass by Regan Poole, with Max Sanders eventually getting back to clear the danger. It was a little warning of what was to come, not that we knew it at the time.
After that little scare, City grabbed the game by the scruff of the next, eyeballed it and screamed ‘come on then you six-point bastard’ in its face. Our attacking right looked fruitful for the first time in a while, and our attacking left looked as good as ever. The opening goal came from the right, but courtesy in the main of left-winger Anthony Scully. The move started with Max Sanders, but was created almost entirely by Scully. His little step over freed TJ, who pulled the ball back to Scully. The chance looked to have gone; Morecambe’s Anthony O’Connor got back and cleared the effort off the line, only for Morgan Whittaker to stroke the ball home after he cleverly followed in the effort. Whittaker might get some stick for a rather weak second-half performance, but that goal was only brought about because he showed the foresight to follow in what looked like a goalward bound effort.
Usually, when the opposition score, we lose our focus for ten minutes or so, and that’s exactly what Morecambe did. With the 1-0 lead we looked to play with real verve, the silly mistakes dropped out of the game and we looked comfortable. Max and Conor McGrandles in the middle of the park seemed to be the midfield dynamic we’ve been screaming for all season, whilst Chris Maguire is a busier ten (or eight, I guess) than Liam Cullen managed. The game still felt stretched, and whilst we certainly played with the roar of a lion, we didn’t threaten to bite them all that often, until the second.
The move started with TJ Eyoma, who swept the ball across to Marquis, and on to Maguire, quickly shifting from right flank to left. He then served up a delicious ball for (checks note, nods knowingly) Anthony Scully, who again seemed to have let the chance pass by. He paused on the ball in the area, seemingly waiting for divine intervention. It turns out he was waiting for something almost as miraculous; the pace of Cohen Bramall. From nowhere the left-back streaked (not literally) into the area and brushed home Scully’s inch-perfect ball. 2-0 City, as my mate Gav would say, if I’d been sitting with him, a dangerous scoreline.
It is when it’s 2-0 at half time to Lincoln, and as the rest of the half petered out, I began to worry. Few around me did, but I felt a nervousness almost immediately, as if the ghost of Boxing Day past was invited in for a seat in the crowd. Slowly, we began to look edgier, we didn’t create anything of note and Morecambe finished the first half on a high. They flashed a header wide (from the first corner of the game on the stroke of half time, of course), which did seemingly give them something to cling to when they came out. It was their best chance of the half, a half that in reality wasn’t a good watch for the neutral. Mind you, I don’t care about neutrals watching the game; we were 2-0 up in a must not lose game,. Which probably morphed into a must win game the minute the second hit the back of the net. Why? Because drawing 1-1 in a scrap is one thing, but throwing away a two-goal lead, at home, against one of the division’s poorest sides, would have been bad.