Last night’s result was almost as predictable as Saturday’s, so much so that I don’t think I met anyone pre-game who didn’t say ‘draw’ against Accrington.
In the end, we got what I expected, but the method to get there has many frustrated and just as many quietly hopeful. It’s really interesting seeing some of the reactions, and it is the middle ground that interests me. There are people who called for Michael Appleton’s head and said we were crap last night – they’re probably eternally glass half empty (or three-quarters empty in some cases, eh Nick?). Then there’s the eternal optimist, who thinks we’re going up; I’ve little interest in those opinions. It’s the middle ground, those who were anti-Michael but are not so despondent right now I like to see because they’re opinions that waver and change.
This season, when we’ve been awful (Cambridge), I’ve happily said it. When we’ve been good (Derby), I’ve done the same. Last night wasn’t a game to get me cheering manically or proclaiming we’re on our way, but it wasn’t the dismal display of negativity many seem to proclaim. I do chuckle when I hear things like ‘get it forward’, then we get it forward, and the reply is ‘not like that’. Earlier in the month, we were not being creative enough, last night, we had nine shots, seven on target, and it’s not the right type of creativity. I bet some of those people are fun in restaurants “I ordered potatoes, chipped, but not chipped like this, take them back”.
We are a work in progress; we are only 20-odd games into a manager’s new reign, we have one of the youngest squads in the divisions, we’re eight points clear of the bottom four already, and we’re unbeaten at home. People wanted us to stop losing home games last season, but clearly not in the way we’ve stopped losing them now, in a different way. I’m beginning to think some Lincoln fans might see blurred lines between Manchester City, Liverpool, Lincoln and Accrington Stanley.
Mind you, the lines would have to be very blurred to see anything other than a long season of struggle in Accrington. I will take positives from the game, but the result was not one – they’re comfortably the worst team we’ve seen this season, home and away, and their antics were not appreciated either. The term ‘shithouse’ usually applies to a player you have a grudging respect for, but not in this case – they were a horrible team to watch, their behaviour was poor, and their 12th man, the one with the whistle, was almost as bad. Yep, I called Ross Joyce something rude in the past, and last night, I thought he was woeful in the middle. He was conned on more than one occasion; he bottled some big decisions in terms of cards and missed some blatant fouls on our players. He didn’t make game-changing decisions (apart from possibly bottling a card for the penalty and the blatant pull on Ben House as the last man), but I wouldn’t want him at one of our games again. Sadly, I don’t get a say.
The team did cause a few raised eyebrows, but it’s no doubt a couple of players needed a rest. Jamie Robson came in, and I thought he did really well all evening, especially as he hasn’t previously been seen as a wing back. On the other side, we know what Regan Poole can do, and in the middle, we finally got proof that Adam Jackson and Joe Walsh are not the same person! Here’s a stat for you – Joe Walsh and Adam Jackson started a Lincoln game alongside each other last night for just the 12th time, out of a possible 135 matches, or 8% of matches. Imagine if they’d been fit to play together for just 50% of the games we’d played during their tenures here.
Max Sanders dropped to the bench and Lasse Sorensen got a recall, with Danny Mandroiu’s injury ensuring a league start for Charles Vernam. It felt like a much-changed Imps side, and one perhaps that helped drive the pessimism before the game. Remember, we were without the man who bagged three in three recently (Mandroiu), our captain (Hopper), and our most creative player (Ted Bishop). They are significant losses to the team, and I mean that with no disrespect to the players who came in.
We didn’t start the game well, but neither did our visitors, who were just awful to watch. We weren’t much better, there seemed to be a breakdown between the midfield and the rest of the side. I don’t think we lack going forward, Ben House worked hard and the wide players were direct where possible, but there was rarely an inside ball. The trick to operating wing backs overlapping the attackers is to have a triangle, a midfielder coming inside to give an option – when that happens, you ask the opposition to cover two bases rather than one. I didn’t see enough of that, which often left Jamie Robson with little option but to turn back on himself or for the other wide players to cut inside and go infield. It made things tough to watch at times, but only because it looked like a man in a crash helmet running into a brick wall, falling over, getting up and going again. The wall wasn’t going to move, and for a while, we didn’t look like we’d stop running headfirst into it.
Throughout, I thought Accrington we just bullies. There was a moment before halftime when a little scuffle broke out, and Ethan Hamilton went down holding his face with nobody around him. It was shameful, and whilst the referee didn’t see it, I lost all respect for the former United man. I’ve liked him in the past, he’s a decent player at this level, but it was Chris Maguire-level shithousery, the sort that doesn’t make anyone look good at all. It typified some of their tactics, and I do feel bad saying this. They came to us for the draw, to kick, cajole, hold players and buy free kicks, and Ross Joyce fell for it. One foul saw a player of theirs on the ball jump across our lad and go to ground, earning a free kick. It was pitiful, but the whistle went, and they got their free kick. I think it was Virtue (might have been House) then demonstrated to the ref exactly what their player had done, but nothing more was said.
That, as much as our one-dimensional attacking football, did make the first half a challenge, but Vernam’s stinging drive drew a great save from their keeper, which was perhaps the best chance of the half. At the other end, our awful run of injuries continued, with Rushworth having to go off after getting a whack on the head. I think I saw the moment, he seemed to get a boot after claiming a ball on the ground, and it eventually spelled the end of his night. Jordan Wright is a competent backup, and he came on and had a relatively solid game, even if his distribution was, at time, lacking.