Fine Margins: Imps 1-3 Wigan Athletic

Credit Graham Burrell

For weeks I’ve been saying ‘if we were playing a decent team we’d have been punished’ after Lincoln games. That comes when winning, losing and drawing.

For me (and having read social media this morning, I may be in the minority), we did pretty much everything well enough except defend. Wigan are top of the table, next season they’ll be in the Championship and with good reason. They played well, the first half was even-Steven and they edged the second. There could have been decisions go our way that didn’t, but that’s football. Ultimately, we made three basic errors and were punished by League One’s best side.

It wasn’t woeful. Accrington at home was poor, Portsmouth at home was a shambles, yesterday was a tough game in which we could have got something, but didn’t really deserve it over 90 minutes. Mind you (again, I’ll put my tin hat on), it was a scratch side, put together from the creaking bones of an injured squad. The team choices created a problem for many, but it always does. ‘Why play Liam Cullen’ they ask, after Liam Cullen changed the game on Tuesday night. Short memories for decent performances, long memories for anti-manager rhetoric. That’s the vocal majority and it’s as tiresome as Chris Maguire’s on-field antics.

With Walsh and Jackson at the back, I thought we’d look more solid, but Walsh isn’t anywhere near his top form yet, and Jackson was utterly dominated by Josh Magennis, a player who over 90 minutes went from ‘overrated’ in my opinion to ‘essential’. He won everything, everything stuck to him and although he offers little in terms of ball at feet, he’s exactly what we need, especially now we have a keeper with the distribution of a playmaker (cue the club’s official media likening him to a Brazilian in a tweet this week, such as The English Taffarel). In the opening 15 minutes, that was pretty much the difference; Josh Magennis and our lack of a similar player.

Credit Graham Burrell

Case point; the opening goal. It was easy, ridiculously so, for them to get the first goal after we’d started really brightly. A simple ball over the top saw Magennis just push Jackson out of the way and nod down for Lang. He turned Walsh like I turn the pages of my current book (Agatha Christie, Towards Zero, thanks for asking), and scored with no problem at all. It was weak defending, and probably as typical of our season as any goal you’ll see. Their support, vocal and proud all game, ramped up the atmosphere and I feared a thrashing.

Instead, with the effortless Lewis Fiorini (that means making the game look easy, not lacking effort, for those of a negative disposition) pulling the strings, we got back into the game quickly. I thought that showed character, more so than we’ve displayed in recent weeks. Our goal was a well-worked move across the field before Fiorini’s effort was deflected into the path of Scully. He stuttered slightly, then finished with ease. I do wonder if the narrative ‘should have hit it first time’ has been mentioned anywhere, or do we just reserve that for players like Morgan Whittaker, already condemned as a poor player by many? I don’t know, you tell me. The fact was, Scully scored as did Whittaker last week, and we were level. We’d done what no team has done in the league since February 26th – score past Wigan Athletic.

That doesn’t get mentioned much, does it? We scored but that’s almost a by-product of the game, we didn’t create enough I’m told. Interestingly, over 90 minutes, we created more efforts at the Wigan goal (12/4) than these teams have done in recent weeks: Bolton (5/2), Morecambe (4/2), Crewe (7/2), MK Dons (7/2), Wimbledon (7/3), Fleetwood (5/2), Sunderland (10/4), Wycombe (9/2), Rotherham (4/2), Crewe (7/0), Charlton (5/1), Sheff Weds (10/4), Oxford (5/2)… I could go on. Aside from their last game against Accrington, we created more on their goal than any side going back to January 18th. Why can it not be the fact that sometimes, we get beaten by a better side? Why does everything have to be a shambles, not good enough, or whatever other negative hyperbole the same old characters reel out whenever it suits their narrative? It’s as tiresome as me referring to Chris Maguire’s antics.

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Maguire, already being booed after making the most of a heavy challenge, immediately went and celebrated in front of the opposition supporters. I get that if you’ve gone ahead late on, or if you’re getting back into the game with something at stake, but after fewer than 15 minutes of a game that’s a massive challenge? I’m not so sure. When Matt Rhead used to do it, it felt like a team thing, but Maguire went off on his own, making a rod for his own back, whilst his teammates celebrated the goal with each other. Maybe I’m just a grouch, but when we were doing ell in the National League, I could handle a bit of baiting the opposition, but fifteen minutes into a game against the Champions-elect when you haven’t even scored the goal? That’s just tiresome.

What’s also tiresome is the manner in which we conceded the second. We lost the ball in an attacking position, and within seconds it was 2-1. Genuinely, the moments between their second and our leveller, I thought we were in with a shout of getting something out of the game. Then Scully loses the ball from deep, they get a little bit of luck and it’s 2-1. The luck they got was five of our players not stopping a pass from one player to another, which I suppose is a form of luck. Within seconds it’s 2-1 and we have a mountain to climb. I noted a certain number 10 having a massive go at Scully after the goal for losing the ball; there were chances to stop that goal long before.

Credit Graham Burrell

After that I didn’t think there was all that much in it. Wigan are a good side, you can see that with the way they attack, but they weren’t outstanding. I’d say clinical; I’ve seen one or two who are on a par, but I really wasn’t blown away by them. That’s because we actually weren’t that bad at all. After their second goal, we had more possession, better passing accuracy and created the same amount of chances (5/1). Their chance came from a clear foul on McGrandles by Magennis and brought a great save from Wright and clearance from Poole. I want to ask this; if a player challenges for the ball, doesn’t make it but knocks the opponent over and then comes away with the ball, is it a foul? That’s a genuine question? If it is, then the referee let a lot go yesterday, mainly from Magennis. Anyway, our chance came from a nice Maguire cross, which Bishop drove into the ground and brought a good save from their keeper.

Honestly, as bad as some people seem to think we were, the first half was fairly even, xG was 0.97 for us, 1.11 for them, we had 8 chances, 2 on target (8/2 in case you’d wondered earlier in the article) they had 7/3 and we won slightly more of the duels too (45 to 43). Remember, this is against arguably one of the best teams in the league.