City Lose a Lead Again: Imps 1-2 Doncaster Rovers (EFL Trophy)

Credit Graham Burrell

Last night was just so frustrating for a Lincoln City supporter.

I’m not a huge fan of the EFL Trophy, but I think it has more value than the League Cup. However, a 7pm kick-off, partial closure of the ground and low support makes these games feel like friendlies. The last time I went and sat in the stands for a game against opposition in this tournament was back in 2017/18, and the last game of any type I attended in the competition was against Manchester United U21s in 2019. It’s not that it doesn’t interest me, I just can;t justify the travel and expense for a game that few take seriously.

Mark Kennedy took it seriously, although with some of our injuries, he didn’t really have a choice. I’d stated I wanted to go to see Jay Benn and Jacob Davenport in action and in typical Lincoln City style, one was injured and the other went off injured. Seriously, I’d love to watch a Lincoln game where the team was announced, and there were no injury surprises, and the 90 minutes pass without someone hobbling off. It seems that as a squad, we’re as vulnerable as Mr Glass from the Unbreakable movie; you only have to break wind near one of our boys at the moment, and they’re out for a couple of weeks.

Credit Graham Burrell

Despite not getting to see Benn, I predicted ten of the other players correctly, and with the team we put out, this game shouldn’t have been a contest. Credit to Doncaster, they came and put up a good fight, but the first half was a non-event. I felt we were in complete control throughout the first half, with the defence and midfield never looking flustered. We played the ball around nicely, probed the right areas and pressed well. In fact, 70% of the team looked like a League One outfit.

Sadly, it never really gelled up top. Charles Vernam looked promising in patches but also seemed to operate on a different wavelength to Jamie Robson and Tashan at times. The odd little ball got knocked through without a runner, or one held his run and the other played the ball; it wasn’t messy, just lacking the polish you’d expect from a team that played regularly together. Tom looked isolated up top and had few touches, whilst on the other flank, Jordon Garrick worked hard but with little reward.

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This is reflected in the stats; 60% possession, twice as many shots as our opponents but nothing on target. Vernam had three of our four shots, with one coming back off the post, but the truth was it was a half chance. We waited until first-half injury-time for the only shot on target, and it came from the visitors but didn’t trouble Jordan Wright.

In fact, the whole game felt like a friendly. There were no nasty tackles, but somehow referee Adam Herczeg spotted 13 – a ludicrous amount for a glorified friendly. He was poor all game, from not letting us make a sub in the build-up to the goal that levelled the game, through to his inconsistency and pickiness. If I see his name on one of our league fixtures, I’ll certainly not relish the afternoon’s football.

The first half wasn’t bad, not in two-thirds of the pitch. We never looked like conceding, we controlled possession, and I thought the midfield three of Davenport, Oakley-Boothe and Sanders worked well. Max looked really committed, covering loads of ground, and Davenport looked calm and assured at all times. You already know I’m a massive fan of the former Blackburn man and his general demeanour and positioning last night impressed me hugely. It’s purely the reason I didn’t watch on iFollow; you can’t track a player’s run, or watch where he goes out of possession on the computer. For those who were not there, Davenport is definitely more like Bridcutt in terms of his awareness and posture than any of our other players.

I genuinely felt at half time we’d win the game, and in the 15 minutes after half time, we upped the ante. We had two shots on target, one of which was the goal, and we still looked in complete control. On 48 minutes, Jamie Robson got down the line and shot when perhaps a cross would have brought Vernam a goal, but it was a cracking run by the left back and so I guess he can be forgiven. I thought he had a decent evening; he certainly appeared solid enough until the final fifteen minutes.

After that chance, we got our goal. It was a nice move, Sanders to Jackson across the back, a hooked ball over the top to Eyoma, who supplied a cracking cross for Vernam. His header shouldn’t have beaten their keeper, it was directly at him, but it slipped underneath and went in for 1-0. There was no reason why, at that point, we wouldn’t win the game. We’d controlled possession, we’d dictated the tempo, and we’d never really looked troubled. To lose the game from this point would be criminal, and criminal it was.

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I’m happy to debate this, but it all went wrong for me when Davenport went off. That was 71 minutes, and at that stage, nothing more had really happened. Adam Jackson and Charles Vernam had efforts for us, Doncaster had wild swings at goal that were nowhere near, and it looked like fizzling out at 1-0. Davenport went off, Herczeg didn’t allow us to make a change, and we conceded a free kick in a silly position. I was above the dugouts, and let me tell you, Mike Gairrtiy was not happy with the officials for us being unable to make the sub. If we had, I don’t think we’d give the free kick away, which we did, but that’s football.

The free-kick wasn’t dangerous, and yet a simple nod down from a defender saw their sub strike through a wall of players and into the net. It came from nowhere, really, but after that, we went to pieces. We’d lost Tom Hopper’s physical presence up top as he went off, we’d lost Davenport’s industry, and we’d lost the lead, all in a minute. We never recovered. Doncaster battered us for the final 15; they had four shots, three on target and should have won 3-1. I do dispute their goal, the scorer looks to be a yard offside in the six-yard box, but they deserved it; if it had been a league game, I might have been a bit more hacked off.

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I was still hacked off; after the changes, we just fell apart. 30 of our 53 ball losses in the second half came in the final 15 minutes; we genuinely ended as badly as the Game of Thrones final series. We were utterly unrecognisable in those final 15 minutes, ambling around as if this were a friendly and we didn’t care about the result. I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but Mark Kennedy has every right o be angry. I think the fans who paid £10 to watch a friendly have the same right.

In the end, we lost £10,000, but not a lot else. There were a handful of players hoping to get Mark Kennedy’s attention, and for all the negativity, I imagine some did. The midfield three looked like a solid until Davenport came off, and that’s a big plus (the solidness, not his injury). The back four were rarely troubled until the goal, but then they fell like the Berlin Wall. Up top, we lacked inventiveness, and that’s still got to be a slight concern. Ben House and Jack Diamond do have eight goals between them in two games, but the lads we had up top last night didn’t look quite as sharp. It’s harsh on Charles Vernam, he did score, and he had six of our nine efforts.

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Tom Hopper won’t be happy with his involvement last night; he was involved in 37 ‘actions’ according to Wyscout, and just ten were successful. He got 17 minutes against Bristol Rovers and had the same amount of successful actions. Mind you, in our last EFL Trophy game, Ben House played 90 minutes and was involved in just 34 ‘actions’, five of which were successful; perhaps this isn’t the competition for strikers.

Last night wasn’t the end of the world; it was disappointing, but it’s a cup that (money aside) means little to people. What was frustrating was the lack of application we showed after going a goal up and a lack of character when a free agent without a Football League appearance for us went off. However, these games are glorified friendlies, and for that reason I won’t lose any sleep over it.

Neither should you.

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What is also baffling me is why this season, clubs playing away seem to be able to wear shorts matching the home team. Derby and now Doncaster have worn black shorts, which I thought wasn’t allowed.