We’ll know more at 5.00 pm.
That was pretty much the theme of every conversation I had with people before today’s game. There were so many variables, so many things that might or might not happen, that nobody could really call today’s game. It was a step into the unknown, like the first night’s sleep in a new house. You’ve looked around it, you can get a feel for what it is about, but until you turn out the lights, you just don’t know how you’ll sleep.
That was today’s game. We’ve seen the players, we know all about the new manager, but the only thing that matters is what happens when they step over the white line and go head to head against another team. Friendlies, in terms of getting an idea of where you are in the league, are pointless. Talk from the likes of me is pointless. Pundits, 1-24s, everything is pointless. We can take of much of it in as we want, but we’d only really know anything more at 5 pm.
The first game of the season might be filled with uncertainty, but it is also the return of a constant; for me that’s the Corn Dolly breakfast with my Dad, a pint in a pub somewhere (the Treaty today) and then down to the ground to see familiar faces. The manager, players and decoration might be new, but some things never really change, and that sense of belonging never goes away. Sincil Bank is my home, the home I share with 8,000 other people, and a good number of those say hello, nod, wave and just enjoy coming back together. I recall last season, the Fleetwood fixture, when we went back in the ground for the first time. It felt much like that today, and we’ve only been away for a couple of months. What a different a couple of months makes, right?
It does and it does. At 2 pm the talk was once again about who wasn’t in the squad. No Ben House (illness I’m told, should be training next week), no Charles Vernam (knock against Blackburn, back in a week or two) and the surprise appearance of the disappearing boy, Chris Maguire. Once again Just like last season, the team gave us a few surprises, even Ted Bishop sitting the game out for Max Sanders was a surprise. It was nice not to hear the team announced and have someone say ‘no Max Sanders again’, which is certainly a change from last season.
What was noticeable was the familiarity of the team. There were three new signings in the side, but that was more or less your lot. Ok, so TJ at right back wasn’t something we saw much last season, and a midfield of Sanders and Sorensen felt a bit ‘EFL Trophy’ compared to last season. Hakeeb Adelakun was frozen out for months on end, but Vernam’s injury meant he got a start; it was all a bit like watching a reserve fixture from last season. That’s not being harsh, it’s just underlining why comments like ‘players need to rise to the occasion’ are so valid. Sanders, Sorensen and Adelakun were, in many people’s minds, deadwood that needed shifting from the squad. Well, on today’s performance, those critics were wrong. One such critic said I’d never get a bet paid out today from my friend Gav. We had a bet last season, that after Michael Appleton the next Lincoln manager would (or in my case wouldn’t) be Danny Cowley. To be fair to Gav, he paid up. Lovely stuff; not the first time the critics were wrong about this afternoon.
We started slowly, there’s no doubt about that. Exeter’s vocal travelling support made the atmosphere much better than Fleetwood did a year ago, and their nimble, pacey forward line caused us a lot of problems. We looked nervous, and whilst we weren’t poor for the first 20 minutes, we weren’t good either. I felt we played a high line, and any ball over the top left us scrabbling to get back.
On 14 minutes we were carved open with a simple passage of play. Exeter started in their right back position, and in two passes Sam Nombe was through on goal. Our lack of pace at the back was exposed after Poole committed and didn’t win his challenge; a simple ball split O’Connor and Eyoma and Nombe just sauntered through to score. That lack of pace could be a worry longer term, but in truth, it was no less than they deserved.
The goal knocked City, and immediately afterwards they should have had a second, Jevani Brown (another I’ve rated highly in the past) putting a great ball across for Nombe, who couldn’t quite get his toe on it. Immediately it felt very worrying; Exeter’s forwards were getting through with ease and we’d barely got a foot on the ball. A few errant passes, not least from Jamie Robson who had a tough afternoon, kept putting pressure back on us. It felt like some of the bad stuff from last season, as if nothing had changed over the summer.
City swept up the other end and, with a decent passage of play, teed up Sorensen who struck a vicious shot wide of the post. Finally, something to gasp onto. Sorensen was one of the so-called pieces of ‘deadwood’ I’d heard about, but he looked anything but today; at last check he’s the club’s Twitter Man of the Match, as voted for by the supporters, and it’s easy to see why. He’s got a great engine on him and whilst he isn’t quite as composed on the ball as Liam Bridcutt, he showed plenty of energy to get up and down the pitch. He also misplaced an early pass or two, but never once let his head drop because of it.
As the half wore on, I felt we were the better side. Max Sanders, the darling of the supporters without getting a chance last season, got a chance. Guess what? He was excellent. I’m told he was BBC Radio Lincolnshire’s Man of the Match, and I could see why; he worked tirelessly, showed good feet in tight areas and as we crept back into the game, he was involved in most of the positive stuff we did.
One thing I noticed was our use of the big switch. We were much quicker when looking to shift from right to left, but it was when we went from left to right we looked best. I don’t know what has happened to Hakeeb Adelakun, or if he’ll maintain his form, but he was excellent today. He was my Man of the Match, he was the sponsor’s Man of the Match and whenever we looked for the switch, we was there picking the ball up and causing problems. He linked well with Sanders on that side of the field and I felt if we were going to create, he’d do it.
On 37 minutes, applause started for David ‘Picky’ Pickwell. He was a friend of mine, and a friend to many City supporters. The Exeter fans joined in, even holding up a banner in memory of a fellow football fan. It was an emotional minute, even the referee stopped the game and the players joined in. I know his family and close friends were there and I’m sure it would mean a lot to them. It shut me up for the next ten minutes too; Picky was going to write some stats articles for you this season, he’s had a look around Wyscout as recently as last month, and I loved his passion for numbers and for the players. I’ll miss chatting about obscure youth team players, or him messaging questions and asking me to look over the stuff he did for a popular gaming franchise.
I hope you’ve found your peace mate.
Supporters around the ground pay tribute to @pickyimp with a minute's applause.
— Lincoln City FC 🇺🇦 (@LincolnCity_FC) July 30, 2022
It was hard for the next ten minutes to get into the game if I’m honest. I’m sure everyone who knew Picky felt moved at the game stopping. I know we were on top, had a few corners and began to get control of the game, but it didn’t really feel important. In the grand scheme of things, maybe football isn’t that important. Maybe it just feels like it.