The Imps progressed to the third round of the League Cup last night, despite being just minutes from a shock exit.
It proved the fine margins involved in football that after a lacklustre display, we were three minutes from going out but then advanced within quarter of an hour of their second goal. It’s also amusing that yesterday I did an article on the silver linings to every cloud, and as Barrow took an 87th-minute lead, I thought, ‘there’s no spinning this’, only to have it spun for me by the time my consolation cup of tea was ready to drink.
I wasn’t one of the brave souls who went to Barrow, but whoever we draw, if it is at home, the club should give those fans a free ticket. It wouldn’t cost the earth, and it would be a huge gesture to some proper dedicated supporters able to make the journey. I won’t pretend if I didn’t have Covid I’d have gone, and I doubt many of the 6,000 season ticket holders can say they would have done. Hats off to those fans; they were the undoubted Man of the Match last night.
What I have done is watched much of the action back on Wyscout. Not the whole game, but every chance, every bit of xG and attacking action from both teams to get a feel for the game. For a 2-2 draw, I have to say it wasn’t a great experience. I appreciate it was a weakened Imps side, but to be fair to Barrow they didn’t roll out their full first team either, and I think the fact it was a mix of squads on both sides showed.
Obviously, we took the lead through an exquisite Scully goal, which was perfect timing given the media circus likely to descend on him if bids start coming in. For those who have criticised Scully over the past few weeks (indeed months since his January injury), I think we saw exactly what we’ll miss if he goes. I keep hearing from ‘sources’ that the lad is agitating for a move, every time he’s injured someone shouts conspiracy, but I’ve never seen a lack of effort on his part. What I see is moments of brilliance, and last night was one of them.
Sadly, the great start wasn’t built upon, and a sloppy goal from a free kick saw the home side level. I thought we look defensively very weak all night, TJ had a stinker in the first half and the pairing of O’Connor and Poole looked a bit ropey at times. Sean Roughan slotted in nicely, he’s now appeared in as many games over the first month of the season as he did in a season-and-a-half under the old regime. I’m delighted he’s getting game time and I think he’s playing with real maturity since returning from Drogheda.
The rest of the first half, from a Lincoln point of view, was a damp squib, a non-event in which we seemed to roll over and settle for a draw. I know that’s not the case, but a strong Barrow side, playing some decent football, looked to be our equals, if not better, and it didn’t feel like a good look. Progressing was hugely important after Saturday’s thrashing and at time, I questioned whether one or two of the players might have felt like a trip to Holker Street (or whatever it’s called now) might not have been the best medicine. It wasn’t that we were awful, if we had been a well-organised Barrow would have beaten us, but one or two just weren’t at it. I think it’s obvious Tashan Oakley-Boothe didn’t play much last season, and if rumours of a new midfielder coming in are true, he might find game time limited, especially on this display. I also hope TJ shows improvement on his first half showing, although to be fair to him he did look stronger in the second period.
The xG data suggests the home side could have been 2-1 or even 3-1 up at half time and whilst it sounds like me bashing the team, it wouldn’t have been entirely unfair. Some of the basic errors we made at the weekend started again – on 22 minutes David Moyo should have bagged after a terrible pass from Scully was cut out. When the cross was delivered, Poole had drifted forward to cut it out, but it went over his head, and O’Connor hadn’t come far enough across to track the runner. It’s schoolboy stuff, and on 27 minutes it happened again. This time TJ let the ball bounce three times before he was dispossessed, and Moyo took up a simple position between our two centre backs, but made a hash of his effort at goal. Those two chances should have seen us out of sight. My slight worry here is this wasn’t a makeshift back four; Poole and O’Connor are our preferred pairing, but they looked to be on different levels at times. TJ’s first half was as bad as I’ve seen from a right back for a long while, and he too is first choice. We’ve seen strong defending against Oxford and Portsmouth, but that needs to be the norm, not every other game.
After half time the game just died a death for both teams; neither seemed to get a grip on proceedings and it became scrappy. Between 46 minutes and 77 minutes neither team had a decent chance, and the travelling faithful must have been wondering whether to nip off home. Lincoln fans had genuinely been given nothing to cheer other than the Scully goal, and when a big Imps-related change happened, the writing was on the wall. Barrow brought on Robbie Gotts, a player I really liked when he was here, and Ben Whitfield., a clever winger we’d been linked with back in the days of DC. It didn’t change the game immediately, in fact Charlie Kendall could have done that. Sean Roughan recycled a blocked Sorensen shot and played a cross which fell to Kendall, who volleyed over from eight yards out. If that went in, the game was over.
Instead, Barrow turned on the style. Poole tried to play an ambitious ball out from the back, Sanders waited for it rather than go to meet it and in a flash, Barrow broke free. Remember, this is the 87th minute and we hadn’t been attacking, but when the ball came across there were two white shirts either side of TJ, with no other Imp in sight. Whitfield, who I recall bagged a late goal for Port Vale as we hammered them 6-2 a few season ago, snuck in to steal the game for Barrow. Or so he thought.
Go on, how many of you thought we’d get back into it? I didn’t, and yet within five minutes of them taking the lead, we levelled, just as they did to us at the start of the game. It was a goal rarely seen recently for Lincoln, a big punt upfield from the back, flicked on by Hopper to Scully. He ran into a blind alley, but the loose ball bobbled to Jordon Garrick, who fired home for his first Imps goal. City had snatched a 2-2 draw from an xG that could have seen Barrow win 3-0 (2.5 v 0.7). It’s been called character online, but if we’d shown the same intent for 70-od minutes we showed in one final attack, maybe we wouldn’t have been on the edge of our seats. Character? I call it luck. Luck we forced, but luck nonetheless.
Onto penalties, and remember Barrow have already held Blackpool in this competition before eliminating them; perhaps the draw wasn’t all that bad. I won’t be surprised if Barrow don’t remain around the top seven in League Two this season; Pete Wild has got them looking solid and they’ve certainly got some quality around the team. Still, we just had enough from the bench in Hopper and Garrick to turn the game, and that’s the difference between League One and League Two I guess, depth.
Usually, the last-gasp goalscorer would grab the plaudits, but instead it was the big figure of Jordan Wright. We have rarely seen a keeper save a penalty at City; even in shootouts we don’t have a great record (Alex Palmer v Hull stands out). Still, I always maintain for penalties having a big keeper is an advantage, and one thing people used to say about Farms was he wasn’t the biggest. I think he’s still a great keeper by the way, but if you’re stood looking to beat him, or a giant like Jordan Wright, I think Wright is the more difficult prospect.
It didn’t seem it after the first spot kick, smashed into the top corner to give them the advantage, but after that it was all Lincoln. Scully, Sanders and Tashan all confidently stroked home their efforts. Sanders bagged against Shrewsbury in the same competition last season if I recall, and you’d always back Scully from 12-yards. The outfield players did their bit, and Wright did his. Three times he faced down a Barrow player, and three times he made a save. The first penalty wasn’t great, low and to Wright’s left, but a stop he’d expect to make. The other two, both to his right, were great saves, the first diving low and almost all the way to his post to palm wide, the second higher up, but still quite close to the post. In both instances, he made himself big, went the right way and set us up with a third-round tie.
The truth is, the outcome was far better than the performance. We looked lethargic at times, we lacked a spark up top and seemed shaky at the back. Has that coincided with Carl Rushworth dropping out of the side? Perhaps, but Jordan Wright’s performance certainly didn’t suggest he’s to blame at all. For some reason, the rhythm and momentum we built up coming out of the Oxford game seems to have completely gone. We’ve now got Fleetwood at home, a game we really need to win, but one in which you wouldn’t dare bet on a clean sheet. That, sadly, was one of the features of last season, and I hope that the last two matches have been a blip, rather than becoming the norm, because I saw enough weak goals and powder-puff defending last season to last a lifetime.
However, credit where it is due, what we did not see last season was a belief we’d get something from a game we trailed, especially not deep into injury time, and that’s the sort of attitude that keeps fans onside when things get tough. For that, Barrow away was a positive experience, but for five minutes at the end of the game, those words didn’t feel likes ones I’d have cause to write.
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