I’m going to be honest; I hated Saturday.
I hated every kick of the dire, dismal affair. I think what made it worse is I’ve seen us take seven points from nine at Cambridge, thrashing them 5-1 last season in a game that had me dreaming of Championship football. That was the marker by which everything was measured last season, and the fact it was the Anthony Scully show made it even harder. One year on, Scully is gone, and we limped to a 2-0 defeat. It was against a team we feel we should be beating if we want to aspire to midtable, and we didn’t even compete. I wasn’t just unhappy on Saturday evening, I was proper angry, and I even laid in bed at night thinking about it. When we lose, I wake up the next morning, and my first thought is of the game. It was a blessing I got a Twitter ban; it really was.
I’ve had some time to reflect, and being brutally honest, I feel the same about the game as I did when the final whistle went. I’m not going to try to gloss it up now, I’m no hypocrite, and I stand by my assessment. However, I’ve had to study the cloud carefully, and there are hints of a silver lining. I always try to add balance and find the light in the dark, as well as the dark in the light. Well, this is the light in the dark article.
I’ve come up with a selection of reasons why, despite the poor showing, there’s plenty to be positive about.
You’ve seen this picture of Walsh a few times; it’s the only one I have from last season. That shows the injury hell he’s been through, but now he’s played two lots of 45 minutes, and we’ve looked much better for it. Let’s be honest; after the two stupid goals, we didn’t look like conceding, did we? Why? I think it’s a bit to do with this man. His return should see Regan Poole shift back to right back, O’Connor and Walsh partnered at centre back and then Roughan or Robson the other side of him. I think Roughan might be the shout; he’d learn a lot from Walsh, who is the best central defender on our books when he’s fit. Seeing him back is a delight; keeping him fit is a must, but if we do, we’re going to be better for it.
People joke that we didn’t lose the second half, and that’s true. In fact, we looked the better side in the second period, without a major chance, and much of that was down to Virtue adding some gravity to the midfield. In that first period, the back four and midfield looked muddled and lost, but Virtue (and Walsh) changed that. Remember, Virtue started Championship matches for Blackpool this season, he’s a really good player, and I felt he showed signs of that against Cambridge. We didn’t play well at all in the first half; the game was over at half time and simply having structure won’t help us score, but we don’t actually have a problem scoring, do we? We hit seven in three matches before going to the Abbey, and for those saying we’ll miss Scully, he only scored one of those seven.
Other Players To Come Back
That team was missing three key players, one I think was a massive miss. Jordon Garrick has that something special; combined with Diamond on the other flank would have given us a more potent feel. He’s a big miss, but he is part of the squad and is due back soon. I’d like to think the fitness issues are going to be worked through with the new medical team, surely we can’t be as unlucky as last season? There are no excuses, no short break over the summer; these are surely just teething problems.
On top of Garrick, we have Mandroiu to come in, who we know literally nothing about. His Shamrock spell was impressive, Brighton loved him, but Lincoln fans are finding it hard to imagine what he might be like. Max Sanders started the season well, and I can see him Ted Bishop and Matty Virtue as our starting three in the middle. That’s harsh on Lasse, but he can then pair up with Virtue when we need to defend, say when we’re 2-0 up against a team like Fleetwood at home?
We lost on Saturday, and it was not pretty, but we weren’t thrashed. We gave away stupid goals, but it shouldn’t have been 6-0 or anything. One or two players lost their individual battles, and that brought two goals, but we didn’t look utterly woeful. We were in the game in the second period, and I’m not defending it, but it’s not like we’re Burton Albion, getting pumped most weeks and already sacking a manager, is it? We’ve been played off the park once (Posh) and had three home games we should have won but drew. We’re going to struggle to get to the upper reaches of the bottom half, but isn’t that what we all said would happen anyway? Yes, it is. There’s no point in being happy at staying out of the bottom four, then getting arsey when you lose a game but are not in the bottom four.
Early Days of MK’s Reign
Mark Kennedy has never hidden away from the fact we’re a work in progress right at the beginning of our build. Some players are still settling into regular football, and others are fudging their chance once some return to fitness. It’s not perfect, but we’ve never been sold that, have we? MK isn’t a Peter Jackson-style showman, talking up our chances; he’s honest about where we are and what to expect.
This isn’t Michael Appleton’s team, it’s not the Danny Cowley team either; it’s a new focus in an ever-changing world. Costs are rising, budgets do have to be adhered to, and our recruitment hasn’t had a chance to be judged as bad or good, has it? We’ve seen signs of what MK wants to do; sure, drawing with Fleetwood felt like a blow, but we’d been excellent to go 2-0 up, is that not a positive sign? We should have been out of sight against Forest Green, and we’re one of the few teams to hold Portsmouth to a clean sheet.
This is a work in progress, we’re nowhere near the finished article and setbacks like this weekend will happen. What must not happen is the same again this weekend, and after that, we have to show we can still win the odd game or two. I always say if you stay in credit on points, you’ll just about be safe, meaning a win this Saturday would put us back on track.
Bad Week Made it Worse
For fans, there’s a perception we had a bad week. It looked like we missed out on Alex Gilbey to Stevenage when that’s not the case, and then we loaned out the lad everyone loves, Charley Kendall, without anyone coming in. That seemed bad on the face of it, only for deadline day to bring another key player leaving, and obviously no striker coming in. It felt like we’d take a step back (and the arguing over whether we have or not can rage on and on). We went into the game feeling like we should win with ease, having done so last season, so ultimately the performance and result played into the narrative that the week had taken.
Was it a bad week? Lots of clubs wanted Jack Diamond, and he looks a good capture. Matty Virtue will likely be a senior player for us, and we got a cash sum for Scully rather than nothing in the summer. We beat Barnsley with ease in the Mickey Mouse cup and earned £10,000 in the process, so was it really that bad? On the face of it, it wasn’t ideal, but what if we’d won 2-0, with Virtue and Diamond getting the goals? Everyone would have been lauding the great move by the recruitment team.
To conclude, we suffered a bad result. It stung because of last year’s result and the parallels that people were able to draw with Scully’s virtuoso showing that day. However, this result is only a warning, it’s not the outcome of the season. We can’t do that week in, week out, but prophesising doom is always too easy; people have done it since we played Arsenal, then lost the following week – social media was awash with us bottling the National League title. Cup runs have been lamented for a loss of league form, players leaving have signalled the end of the great days, and yet here we are, still in League One, still fighting. it’s August, not March, and there’s a long way to go.
Spoiler alert: we’re going to lose more games, probably more than we win, but nothing was decided on the back of this result, and whilst we were poor, there are reasons to have some degree of optimism this week. Let’s hope I feel the same way on Saturday at 5,30pm.