That’s it, folks; the Imps’ pre-season campaign is at an end, and all focus is now on Exeter City in a week’s time.
Bradley Dack’s goal just after half time separated the Imps and Blackburn Rovers yesterday, and the season is now upon us. It’s crept up quickly, and there will be plenty thinking that maybe, just maybe, it’s come a little too early. The open transfer window means we’ve not yet concluded our business, and we go into this season (in my opinion) looking very light in the final third. However, I’m not the Head Coach, nor the recruitment team; I’m a bloke who chose to spend the final Saturday of the pr-season watching live music in Leeds than a friendly at Sincil Bank, so what do I know, right? Luckily, thanks to a great network of people, I’ve had a good overview of the game and gleaned a bit from the interviews etc.
I do think the game yesterday did teach us some things; here are my big takeaways from the 1-0 defeat against Blackburn.
We’re Light in the Final Third
There’s no denying it, we’re light up top. With Danny Mandroiu, Freddie Draper and ben House all missing, there’s a real feeling of us lacking numbers in the front area of the field, and to be honest, it’s all a bit too ‘Lincoln City’ isn’t it? How many times under DC did we go into a season lacking numbers? Ditto, Michael Appleton. We’ve often lost players late in a window (Hawkins, Akinola, Whittaker) and I guess quite a few Imps might be looking to other clubs snapping up strikers and feel envy.
Firstly, I recall after the Whittaker saga, Joe Dodoo was available, and people were saying he’d be ‘better than nothing’. He wasn’t, and Doncaster were relegated, so settling isn’t an option. In Ben House, Charley Kendall, Freddie Draper and Danny Mandroiu (albeit he’s an attacking midfielder more than a striker), we do have some options. We’ve still struggled for goals, haven’t we? Aside from Gainsborough, we failed to score in 120 minutes against Sheffield United and in 90 minutes against Blackburn and Grimsby. With just a single goal against Hartlepool to show for every game since the Gainsborough workout, I guess fans have a right to be a little concerned. Me? I’ll be more worried if, five full matches into the season, we’ve only bagged a single goal. I can’t be too judgemental on pre-season when I clearly put no weight at all behind the results myself.
Midfield Dynamic Established
I can’t believe we’ve not kicked a ball in competitive action, and already I’ve seen ‘Max Sanders must start in (insert player name here)’s place next week’. We’ve been seeing it since the midfielder arrived, and if the team yesterday is anything to go by, he won’t be in the starting XI next week. Mark went with Lasse Sorensen in the holding role, with Ted Bishop and Tashan Oakley-Boothe in the advanced roles yesterday, which is how I expect it to be next week.
The interesting thing here is Lasse. I think many wrote him off last season, and after Shrewsbury, even I was struggling to see him making the squad this season, but with no McGrandles or Bridcutt replacement coming in, it’s going to fall on Lasse to play the holding role. After the Grimsby game, I got a message from a Cod friend of mine who said the ‘tall blond lad in midfield’ was our best player. Yesterday, more good reviews for Sorensen. I’m yet to be completely convinced he can do it on a cold Tuesday in Morecambe, but I do hope I’m wrong, because he’s a likeable lad who I want to do well.
As for the advanced roles; I don’t have a massive fear there. With Max, Ted and Tashan, as well as Danny Mandroiu to come in, we’re not too light, but overall I still think we need a central midfielder. We’ve lost three, McGrandles, Fiorini and Bridcutt from last season, and only brought in one so far. It proves we actually had more depth than we realised when everyone was fit last season, and fitness is something I (hope) won’t be as much of a worry for the campaign ahead.
Speaking of fitness, what is going on here? Rob Makepeace tried to find out from Mark yesterday, and it was brushed aside in a rather brusque manner. Rob asked about Joe and was told it was the ‘same as five weeks ago’. When pushed, Mark added he didn’t get involved in that sort of thing. The answer posed more questions than it answered. Is it the injury that is keeping him out? Surely, as Head Coach, Mark does get involved in injuries, so is he suggesting Joe is going the way of Chris Maguire out of the door?
I’m going to be brutally honest here; three pre-seasons now Joe Walsh has missed, and it’s something fans Rob Makepeace have every right to question. Players can’t help being injured, and we can’t be told everything that is going on, but surely Joe Walsh, one of the more talented defenders we’ve had in recent years, is a passenger, and there’s zero clarity over his injury. If it’s an injury, he’s got to be the most unlucky footballer we’ve ever had. As you know, I don’t think fans have a right to know everything that happens as a club (transfer fees included), but the complete lack of clarity over Joe’s situation is frustrating. It suggests to me more than an injury; if that’s not the case, perhaps clarity is needed. If it is the case, then the lack of information is perhaps more understandable.
Plenty of people have been talking up a solid-looking defence, bolstered by having two proper centre-backs (Poole and O’Connor) stopping the opposition forwards. TJ has been earning good reviews throughout the summer, and whilst I appreciate some don’t fancy Jamie Robson, I think he’s a grower at left-back. In this division, if you don’t concede goals then you’ll stay up; that sounds silly, but I don’t think Morecambe looked any better than Crewe in forward areas last season. What they had was a tighter defence and a decent striker (Stockton) and that’s why they stayed up.
If we can be tight at the back and take some 0-0s when we’d have lost the game 1-0 last season, it’s a step forward. We still need everything else, but not conceding stupid goals is right up there on the summer wish list. How many times did we dominate games at home, or a least match opponents, and end up losing 1-0? Wimbledon, Accrington, Hartlepool, Cambridge, Doncaster and Ipswich come to mind, whilst we should have beaten MK Dons (2-0 up at half time) but conceded silly goals. If we stop doing that, we give ourselves a good chance of a finish outside the bottom four and right now, that’s the first aim.
Mark Kennedy Interview Technique
As you know, I was in Leeds last night (watching Ferocious Dog, if you like The Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, Levellers, that sort of stuff, check them out), but before the gig even started, I had a message saying ‘have you heard MK’s interview?’ as if there was something serious to listen to. It certainly provoked some discussion; even this morning, as we tucked into breakfast, I had people commenting on how sharp he was with Rob and how his answers were evasive. I feared the worst, but when I fired up the Hope and Glory podcast for a listen, I didn’t hear anything untoward.
What I heard was a man who speaks plainly, who wants to stay focused on his team and who seems frustrated with the Joe Walsh situation. He’s someone who understands the importance of words; when asked if this week was about ticking over something that was a mere turn of phrase, MK picked up on it and shifted it around. I suspect in the past he’s been stung by an interviewer or had words twisted because he’s very careful about what he says and how he says it.
I can understand how some might have listened and felt the interview was sharp, but I didn’t (and I’d be happy to say if I did). I don’t think the Joe Walsh answers were what we wanted to hear, nor the transfer window ones, but I do think Mark told us what he felt he could. There’s only so much analysis you can do of a pre-season game and only so much news you can release to the world in the interview. I didn’t feel it was a bad interview, it just wasn’t what we’ve had from some people in the past. Everyone is different, and the reality is I don’t care if MK comes on the mic and just sings Nelly the Elephant after every game if we win. I certainly won’t be judging him on an interview that could be taken two ways after a pre-season friendly game.
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