At half time, Mark Kennedy made a change, bringing Garrick off after a fairly tough opening 45 for the wide man. Charles Vernam came on, which for me underlined some depth on the bench, at last. I keep saying ‘last season’, but how often did we lack options from the bench. That isn’t the case right now, and the little shake-up helped us.
Those opening 15 minutes or so were City’s best of the game. I guess even at 3-1, if the home side come out all gun blazing then you’re up against it, and maybe at 3-2 things get jittery, but 4-1 kills the game off. Within six minutes of the restart, it was 4-1. Tashan’s long run saw him ride a challenge or two, before getting a shot away that was saved. It fell to Matty Virtue, who scored at the second attempt, capping a fine performance from midfield with his first goal for the Imps. City fans were barely able to break out into a rendition of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ before the fifth went in. Lasse lofted a delicious ball over the top for Diamond, who completed his hattrick with his fourth in two matches and probably the pick of the bunch. It felt a bit surreal and momentarily, you wondered if we might score seven or eight.
Despite the big lead, we still looked uncertain at the back, and Ryan Loft gave the home site a glimmer of hope at 5-1, but seconds after the ball had been placed on the centre spot for kick off, we added a sixth. House hit his third in two matches with a Van Basten-esque effort that saw Belshaw beaten, giving the Imps a four-goal lead, again. Amusingly, Mark Kennedy wasn’t celebrating the goal, he was going apoplectic at Lasse for giving the ball away for the Rovers’ second. I liked that, just as I liked him openly lashing out at us defending like under tens in his post-match interview. Yes, we may have scored six, but on another day we could easily have been two down at that point, and there’s no point in him sugarcoating it.
He was raging four minutes later when The Gas added their third of the game; again, we switched off to let them in and again, Mark Kennedy was furious. We had played 20 minutes of the second period, and there had been five goals scored. That’s exciting for supporters, of course it is, but from a coach’s point of view I can see why he was angry.
The final 25 were a bit quieter; Barton made three changes, Harry Anderson went off after a quiet afternoon but got a great ovation from City fans. John Marquis came on, but in truth he was as effective for them as he was for us after February last season. Still, we could have conceded again, Collins was well denied by Rushworth, but equally, we could have made it seven when Belshaw saved from sub Tom Hopper. Loft fired over for them, Collins did the same late on, but after six minutes of injury time, Tom Neild put the home side out of their misery with the final whistle.
It was the first time there’s been nine goals in an Imps game since we lost 5-4 to Fulham in 2005, and the first time in a 90-minute league game since thrashing Bournemouth 9-0. It was the first time we shared nine goals since beating Northampton 5-4 in February 1977; that’s 45 years. It’s the first 6-3 away win for the Imps since 1962, when my Dad was nine. I use those stats to underline exactly how unique today’s result is.
As recently as Monday, we hovered precariously above the drop zone, with two crucial games in a week, games which could help define what sort of autumn this was going to be. Evidence provided by games at Cambridge and at home to Fleetwood suggested it might be a tough one, but the last four or five days have proven there’s something here to be content with. When the transfer window closed, the worry was who might get the goals; Diamond has four in that time, whilst House has three from open play. Despite that, there’s still a worry in midfield, where we played quite fast and loose with actual positioning today, but also there’s insane quality; I thought Tashan looked very good in the second half, and I can see him growing in confidence with each game. Matty Virtue is a class player as well, and after Tuesday Mark Kennedy has him and the other new faces for ten days on the training ground, prepping for Bolton away.
The change in the team over the past two games has been obvious, and yet you can see the scope for improvement as well. However, if the change has been because of the enforced break recently and the training work that has been put in, then I can see positivity for the Imps over the next few months. October is challenging, with Bolton, Charlton, Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday on the menu, but we’re going into that with a great foundation upon which to build.
I’m a big one for ifs and buts, and if you don’t like conjecture then look away now. If we’d beaten Fleetwood, as we were minutes from doing, we’d be in the top six now. If we’d also beaten Forest Green, as we deserved to, we’d be the team everyone was saying looked like dark horses. That’s such fine margins, and to me it indicates this division is, once again, not as good as people think it is. As we’re a very early stages work in progress, that could work in our favour.
However, other teams will not be as soft-centred as The Gas. Other teams may be a little more clinical. We haven’t won 6-3 away from home in 60 years and we most likely won’t for another 60, but I guess that’s beside the point. What we’ve seen over the past few days is evidence that Cambridge wasn’t the new normal. We’re a long way from being polished, but we are improving, we are evolving and we do have a certain something that all the best Imps sides from history have had.
The clever line there would have been ‘and his name is Jack Diamond’, but it’s not just Jack. He’s certainly this year’s Brennan Johnson or Brooke Norton-Cuffy, the loan lad we’re going to fall in love with for his runs and constant menace, but the unpredictable nature of our attack isn’t all about him. With players to come back in, players not yet at their peak, there is a huge amount of potential here. I’m so much calmer than a fortnight ago, and whilst I know today’s freak result is as much to do with the opposition as anything, we were still ruthless enough to take our chances and that means a lot.
So, thank you Mark, Mike and the boys, for showing me that my pessimism of a fortnight ago was born out of fear, but not out of fact. I’m back on board; on to Doncaster and the Mickey Mouse Trophy. I’ll see you there.
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