On a weekend where people will be dressing up as vampires and werewolves, a toothless Lincoln City wrapped up an impressive October in true horror-story style.
As casualties piled up, with more injuries than in a Saw movie, it was the victims of most of the ill fortune, Port Vale, who got the deserved victory. They’re clearly a club reborn on the up, with a vibrant crowd that got right behind their team from the off. Of course, after our strong month, we were in good voice too, which seemed to suggest we could be in for a classic.
The big question ahead of kick-off was whether we could find a way to break down teams we ‘should’ be beating, but in fairness to Vale, there was no defensive formation, no attempt to stifle us. There didn’t need to be; we went with the back five again, a formation which has seen us defend stoically for five matches now. There was no Joe Walsh, he’s on a recovery plan, so Adam Jackson came back into the side. Up top, whilst the formation favours a bigger, more robust striker than Ben House, there are few options with Tom Hopper’s ongoing back injury. That meant a familiar imps line up, and one that had yet to prove it could dismantle teams, as well as stop them playing.
I thought for the first ten minutes we had good control of the game, without making any real inroads. It felt like the opposite of our game against Barnsley – we were the team that you felt might be in the ascendency, whereas the home side didn’t struggle, but they didn’t get a good grip on proceedings.
Ben House picked up a really quick yellow card, and I actually thought he might have been a little lucky. It pointed to Sunny Gill being too card happy, but he had a strong game in his first spell officiating an Imps game. His Dad, Jarnail Singh, would seemingly send one of ours off whenever we got him, but Gill handled things well from the first minute to the last.
Perhaps the fact I’m telling you about the referee in five paragraphs sums up the first half. It wasn’t long before the injuries started, and they didn’t seem to stop. Vale had a man down (and subbed) twice, and us once. It’s a blow for us: Mandroiu has been key to our decent run of form, earning us a point against Wednesday and the win in midweek, and you felt when he went off, our major threat went with him. He looked to be holding his hamstring and I wouldn’t expect to see him Tuesday night against Accrington. Given how his replacement Jordon Garrick played, that’s a massive blow.
With the changes went our rhythm and frankly, we were awful for most of the first half. Awful might seem a strong word – we were only really tested on a couple of occasions, but we had nothing going forward at all. It was the sort of frustrating outing that five at the back creates when you’re playing teams that you do expect to be competitive against. I actually didn’t think Vale were all that good; they were committed and had a few more ideas in the final third, but they’ll be somewhere in the bottom half come the end of the season. That says as much about us as it does them; they didn’t look like the team that had just come up from the division below.
The longer the half went on, the more it felt like they might take the lead, and were it not for a robust and commanding performance from Regan Poole, it might even have been the case. Poole was excellent almost all afternoon, and at times it felt a bit like last season in that respect.
I know, I keep comparing us to last season, but how does this sound; we started brightly without threatening, then go off the boil, and Regan Poole is our best player? It certainly sounds like 30% of our matches from last season, and in the second half, it shifted towards an even more convincing apparition of Michael Appleton’s 21/22 team.
Yep, that’s right, I’m at half time before we’ve hit the 1,000 word mark. That’s because we had nothing going forward at all, and I won’t go on about half-chances for the home side. Up top, House put a lot of effort in, but we needed a stronger focal point for our attacks, a lump the ball sticks to and gets runners overlapping. Of those runners, Garrick was largely ineffective, and Diamond shows lots of endeavour, but doesn’t always get the best outcome. I’ll tell you who Diamond reminded me a lot of today – Derek Asamoah. He’s got pace, on his day is unplayable, but also suffers occasionally from poor decision making.