City grabbed a share of the spoils against a good Sheffield Wednesday side yesterday in another stern test for Mark Kennedy’s young squad.
I always find it strange to write about us playing the likes of Sheff Weds, Derby and Ipswich. I know it is the norm now, and for some fans of a younger age, it might not seem that alien, but many of you reading this will know what I mean. Full away ends, 10,000 in the Bank, international players on display – it all feels a long way from the Lincoln City I knew and grew up with. Back then, a draw with Torquay or Darlington felt like a good result, now we’re going into matches against proper big clubs with some degree of belief.
We were never going to be in a position to play a team like Sheff Weds off the park. As I said last week against Ipswich, they’ve got better players and more depth than us – Lee Gregory and Michael Smith up top, for instance. Despite Ben House’s best efforts yesterday, having a physical presence up top like one of those would have suited us much more. Barry Bannan is a lad with no business in this division, he picks 50-yard passes out as if they’re second nature. Overall, despite us not being a ‘small’ club anymore, we’re not their size and never will be.
That puts the result yesterday into some real perspective for me. Three times we’ve played Sheff Weds over the last 18 months or so, and three times we’ve not been beaten. In this game we showed some huge character, something that is coming to define Mark Kennedy’s side. This was game 18 of his Imps tenure (league and cup), and we are beginning to see the direction the team is going. Yesterday typified some of the finer elements of the Kennedy way.
The team pretty much picked itself – with no fresh injury worries making any significant changes to the XI warriors that got through the Ipswich game would have been grossly unfair. Beforehand, all the talk in a heaving fan zone seemed to be around the possibility of us getting a draw. That was the aim for many supporters, just to stay tight and not get beaten. The visitors have a good record in the opening ten minutes of matches, so it was all about staying tight and compact, not giving anything silly away and hoping we’d nick a goal, as we did last weekend. If that’s not your bag, I’d suggest giving these big games a miss because that’s the game plan. It’s pragmatic, and frankly, I don’t care if every former Premier League team we play ends up getting frustrated and accusing us of parking the bus because we do it well.
I say we do it well, if we did it really well, we wouldn’t have been 1-0 down after seven minutes. Sadly, for the third goal in a row, it was an individual error that let the opposition scoring rather than their own craft and guile. That’s almost credit to our defence – a team loaded with creative players didn’t actually score of their own volition. That doesn’t tell the whole story, of course, but the last league goals we conceded that were not gifted were at Bristol Rovers, when we scored six.
Carl Rushworth will be kicking himself because his poor cross-field pass was easily cut out by Lee Gregory, the former Millwall striker. It was one of those moments you’ll probably watch over and over and never quite fathom what he was thinking, and to be fair to Gregory, there was still work to do. He did it with ease, and City were 1-0 down.
Last season, if that happened, you knew that was it. This period (October to December) was horrible for us, and we struggled to score goals. This time out, we don’t create a lot of chances, but we are clinical when one comes along. The goal didn’t change the game plan at all, not really. We still needed to keep it tight, we would still concede possession, track runners and try to nick a goal, but now the end game was a point, not three. Had they scored again, it might have been different, but in essence, all Gregory’s goal changed was the scoreboard.
I did feel for Rushworth, I would have liked someone to go over and put an arm around him or something. However, having met the lad pre-season, he doesn’t strike me as the sort who lets things get on his mind, he seems like a typically stoic Yorkshireman, and as soon as he got another touch a few seconds later, the mistake was gone. To be fair, he had a solid game after that, and like Adam Jackson and Sean Roughan post-Bolton, he just got on with it. I am told that Mark Kennedy immediately called to him, which I missed, so perhaps I’m being too picky.
The first half wasn’t great, but I confess to getting a bit riled in the stands. I’d enjoyed a couple of the Camden IPA from the Tipsy Imp before the game, so I had my big-boy pants on, and I got a bit angry halfway through the first period. We’d had a corner, the ball went out to TJ, who knocked it back towards the keeper rather than whip it in the box. Around me, several people booed. They booed a team only losing 1-0 at home to Sheffield Wednesday in the first half for not playing a ball into the box. People like that make me wonder if somehow I’m seeing football wrong. If it was you, shame on you.
I know the first half wasn’t brilliant, but it wasn’t awful either. I’ve seen hyperbole online around it being one of the worst halves ever (it wasn’t), but in truth, I thought we steadied the ship after their goal, and whilst they were the better team, we did show some intent. Ben House had a decent shot saved, but we got overrun in midfield. Matty Virtue and Max Sanders worked harder than Boris Johnson’s publicist, covering loads of ground, but Sheff Weds were just too good. It’s all about Bannan; he kept finding pockets of space to receive the ball and then found runners repeatedly. In fact, even though we played with a back five, I always felt they might get another in he first half. I didn’t really feel that against Ipswich.
They didn’t get another. Instead, the half just petered out, which worked in our favour. At half time, the discussion around me was around a shape change, possibly trying to counter Weds’ overload. Instead, we took a different approach – we scored.