I remember a time when coming away from a Lincoln City game was all about disappointment.
I remember when an away day was always good, in spite of the football, when the game was just the excuse, not the focus. In a way, that made yesterday a lovely reminder of what football is really all about. It’s not flag-waving, Sweet-Caroline-singing, nervous energy with something serious at stake. Sometimes, it’s just about seeing people, like-minded people, and then losing a proper shit game of football. That was yesterday, in a nutshell.
The story I shall tell my Dad when he’s back from his little fishing trip is about Roy not being able to find my house, despite having been here umpteen times. It’ll be about the food at the ground, seeing people I don’t always catch on a matchday. It’ll be about the journey and the craic, and maybe, just maybe, a bit about 90 minutes of football between two rather average teams, one of which is on a good run and the other of which doesn’t know what stringing three wins together is like anymore. That my friends, is football, and the only difference between this and most of the nineties is we’re doing it in the third tier, and sometimes, we beat big clubs to get that sense of elation.
Just under 500 made the trip yesterday, at a time when petrol costs more than your weekly shop, a week before the attractive away game at Charlton where three times that will attend, and I think that’s a good effort. The crowd wasn’t loud, not really, but there wasn’t a lot to cheer. This was a depleted Lincoln City side, battered around the ring like a haggard boxer taking weak blows, before eventually one moment, the only real moment of quality, ended the fight. I mean tie. Or fight, actually, looking at the foul count. The only difference between this and a boxing match is the referee didn’t stop it, but he didn’t really do that much throughout the game.
City certainly looked weakened from the off. My one excitement when I decided to go to the game was finally seeing us go three at the back against Shrewsbury. Every game since Wembley, we’ve had a flat 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 against their three defenders, and we’ve looked average to awful (the only exclusion being the EFL Trophy, which doesn’t count). In recent weeks, the three at the back have looked good for us, good enough to make me think we could get a point (yeah, that was my aspiration. A point. That’s football). Of course, this being Lincoln City 2021/22, we didn’t have enough defenders to go 3-4-3, 3-5-2, whatever our formation might be. Brooke Norton-Cuffy was on international duty, TJ Eyoma is out for the season, Lewis Montsma is out for the year, so it’s back to a back four we went. I should have known what was to come. The trouble with a back four is it needs Liam Bridcutt, fit and firing, to offer the protection. He didn’t get on the field, Lewis Fiorini is away on international duty, so we got a starting XI that could have played any number of configurations, but who in the second half seemingly didn’t play any.
It’s at this point I make my disclaimer for the game. My views differ from what I consider to be the vocal majority on social media. I’m not going to comment on what others think, because you’re reading this (I think) for my opinion, my take. Forgive me if it sounds arrogant, but you’re not here to read about how I disagree with people, you just want to know what I saw, and how I interpreted it, right? Otherwise, you’d just be on Twitter, where plenty of people disagree with each other, aggressively, single-mindedly and often quite arrogantly, without considering the other’s point of view.
How did I see it? I thought the first 15 minutes were very good from both teams, if I’m honest. I think there’s a misconception that Steve Cotterill’s sides play some sort of Gillingham-style hoofball, looking for the big bugger Bowman to flick on with his head and maim with his elbow. They don’t. They have some decent lads, not least Tyrese Fornah, on loan from Forest, who ran the midfield with the sort of style and panache we saw from Joe Morrell a couple of seasons ago. They have Daniel Udoh, a player booed by Imps fans every time he touched the ball, but who has got better every time I’ve seen him. If I recall, they signed him from Telford and I remember thinking ‘good luck with that’ at the time. He’s developed, but not over three months, or six, but two seasons. Think on that, when you’re calling a player who has been with us six months ‘shit’, please. They’ve persevered with Udoh, and he looked a real handful.
The reason he was booed was the game’s first turning point; the clash with Adam Jackson. I only saw it in real-time and, unusually, the Wyscout highlights are not up yet, but I initially thought Jackson had been smashed with a forearm. That can’t have been the actual situation, because the referee stopped the game for a drop ball, not a foul. It wasn’t a nice moment, and for the third game in a row with Shrewsbury, we’ve been forced into changing the defence partway through the game. In August, it was the EFL Cup and Sorensen went in at right back, and we folded. In October (I think), it was Jackson concussed for the first time, and here it was again. Do we get no luck?
The half probably belonged to us, just. A draw was a fair outcome, but if you had to award it to one fighter, then it would have been City. Morgan Whittaker looked likely to make things happen, flashing an effort just wide, whilst Ted Bishop curled another wide. it wasn’t relentless pressure, not by a long shot, but there was little to nothing up the other end; one Josh Vela drive that was going over before Jordan Wright tipped it over.
I felt quite happy at half time; a makeshift defence, again, were holding firm, whilst we’d marginally had the best of the efforts, which was a bit like saying the Mirror had marginally better news stories than the Star, but I was claiming it anyway. Then came the second half.