For the past 18 hours or so, I’ve imagined what I might write as an opening gambit.
Last week, it was easy. I had to write something that pulled few punches, that called a spade a spade. This week, I have to be very careful not to get too carried away with one result. If one bad performance doesn’t make a bad season, one great performance doesn’t keep you in League One.
Football, however, is just like life; it’s a series of moments (I’m sure I’ve robbed that from a Hugh Grant film), and you have to take each moment, savour it and then move on. Some moments leave you feeling flat and alone, but you have to dust down from those and await the next one. Other moments might be fleeting, they might be utterly sensational, but they won’t be forever. If you don’t enjoy them, though, if you fail to savour the moments, to enjoy the wins, then you miss out on the innate beauty of life, and of football. Therefore, can I just say, get the f*ck in you Imps.
I didn’t believe we’d win yesterday, not in a million years. For me, Sheffield Wednesday hold a certain attraction. They’re a huge club, and I grew up with them as firm Premier League staples, with players like Waddle and Hirst, Sheridan and Nilsson, Carbone and Di Canio. More so than any in this division (sorry Sunderland) they feel like a big club. For us, little old Lincoln City, to be on the same level is an achievement in itself. Again, when you look at the big picture, it’s two teams in the same division battling it out, but with the context of 40 -years following football, it was massive for us.
Sadly, before the game I didn’t feel the anticipation and excitement. I’ll confess, all week I’ve felt dread, a deep-burning worry that we might lose and if we did, we’re faced with another tough game Tuesday. I’ve seen this Lincoln side for what it is all season: able to match it with the very best in the division, but just lacking the minerals to do the same against the clod-hoppers (as my Dad would call them), the anti-football teams wanting a point or a sucker punch. After losing at Bolton, and the pitiful surrender last week, I wondered if we’d lost the ability to turn it on, to thrill under the right circumstances. When you play well and lose, there’s something to take into the following week. When you lose with barely a whimper against poor teams, there’s nothing to carry you through the next seven days.
Genuinely, I’ve woken up most mornings this week and my first thought has been ‘is this it, are we going back where we came from?’. It shouldn’t be; my life is good, I have great people around me and a good job. I shouldn’t let a little thing like football cloud that, but it does, maybe more so because I don’t have a boss to hate, or kids I resent, or a damp-ridden bedsit I can’t get out of. Mind you, as soon as I met Dad in the Corn Dolly, I felt it. My good friend Roy was in there, and he wasn’t expecting much. I wasn’t, but I remarked ‘these are the sort of days when something can happen’. He chuckled, I chuckled. Neither believed it, or did we?
Town had all the hallmarks of a big occasion, and for some reason I recalled Huddersfield at the Bank back in 2003/04. Oddly, we won 3-1 that day, but it felt the same; a bigger club coming to our town, everyone up for it. In Gwynnes (far busier than usual I think), there was a real energy, people buzzing around the High Street being packed. On the streets, police were everywhere, it felt like an occasion for a fight on the field. The closer I got to the ground, the more I felt it.
When the team came out, there was confusion; what on earth were we doing? Three right backs on the field? No left back? To be fair, I’d called Fiorini coming back into the side, he’s a top lad on his day, and a couple of mates had shouted for a 3-5-2, or whatever variation you wish to choose. Last weekend, the 4-4-2 (I think) didn’t work, but once again Michael showed he does have a plan B. Okay, that doesn’t include lumping it to a big forward for 90 minutes, which some want to see, but he will setup differently and try different things. Casual observers might not realise it, but we do it regularly; Sunderland away being a classic example.
Sure, there were questions; could Chris Maguire haul back fan opinion after last week’s alleged outburst? Could Morgan Whittaker turn in the sort of performance that a Championship-loanee should be doing, but instead of the usual right wing position, playing a left wing back? Could John Marquis and Tom Hopper form an understanding a little better than last weeks ‘never met’ partnership we had to endure? All key questions, none of which had a straightforward answer.
In the ground, we were treated to a great atmosphere. Their support was big on numbers, contributing to the largest home league attendance since 1982. I thought they were quieter than some that have been in recent months (Pompey and Doncaster), but it was still nice to see an away end packed. The flashpoint down in the corner of the Stacey West and Coop Stand provided some interest ahead of kick-off, and all around it just felt like a proper football day, like when Mansfield or Grimsby used to come to town. “All we need is an early goal,” I said to Dad. “That’ll get our fans fired up and we might just have a game on.”
I assume John Marquis heard.
Even from the third minute, you could see this was the Lincoln I know we can be; playing for the manager, playing for the shirt and fired up. The team needed a firework up the arse after last week’s shambles, and they proved they’d had it with a well-worked corner that wound up rather fortuitously in the back of the net. Even before that, Lewis Fiorini had a vicious strike at goal saved by former Leeds keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, which led to the corner.
The set-piece itself had me groaning, for a second. It was a daisy-cutter, across the box to Morgan Whittaker, who took up a decent position but scuffed his effort. It mattered not, a miskick turned into an assist as it dropped for Mr Six Yards, John Marquis, who stroked the ball home. First blood, City, a great moment.
At that point, my first thought was ‘closer to a point now’, and we were. That’s the definition of pessimism for you; you open the scoring in a huge game and you think of it as a safety net for the inevitable goal that’s coming from the other team. Sadly, with two clean sheets in the league all season, we’re conditioned to think that way.
Mind you, City didn’t look done, and the Owls played their part. It was what I can only call a blood and thunder game, played at a great pace with a referee (Martin Coy) who was more than happy to let things go, time and again. Pulling, pushing, even the odd nasty challenge was only punished by a talking to after play broke down. I’m all for that sort of refereeing, and the only surprise was Maguire’s booking, which in the context of the game felt soft. Maybe the ref felt a card for him might cut out on some of his antics, make a point to the other players. It worked.
There was always something to look at; fans being ejected from the home end for cheering on the away team; security staff making a beeline for the flashpoint areas, the Real Slim Shady in his conspicuous lime green coat with little interest in the events on the field. Time flew by because even in the quiet moments, something drew your attention.
Sadly, before the break, it was three blue flares and a bulging net that drew mine. Marvin Johnson, an alleged target for us in the summer, ran a good sixty or seventy yards, relatively unchallenged, to cross for a simple finish for Berahino. Remember, they’re both players who have had big price tags on their head before; Johnson left Oxford (after being bought by Appleton) for Boro and Berahinho was once tagged as being worth £24m. Still, as Michael didn’t say after the game, if he’d been defending only one of the ball or player would have got past him.
One thing I really liked was how we reacted. There was no after-goal hangover, no moment where you thought ‘here we go again’. We were straight back on it, closing down, chasing and harassing. I liked that, and I still felt 1-1 was a decent reflection of the game.
If we played the same in the second period, we might just get that point I’d boldly predicted in Gwynnes ahead of proceedings.