I always find it interesting to stand by the exit as fans filter out and listen to the reaction.
You only hear snippets, the odd groan as someone walks past, or a bit of praise fading as they head up towards South Park and away from the ground. Usually, I only have to wait a few seconds whilst Dad gets down the stairs, but yesterday I had a minute or two there. It was a beautiful experience because, for once, there was a single moan. I found that interesting, given that we’d done the ‘Lincoln’ thing of getting ahead in a game and seemingly retreating late on.
Indeed, in my view, yesterday was hardly any different to Accrington a couple of weeks ago in terms of our output. We had some good possession, got ahead, and then invited a bit of pressure on in the dying stages. Of course, the big difference was the result, and people filtering past me were almost all saying the same thing – we got over the line. For some, the performance was average, a team of sevens, certainly not eights or nines, but that’s enough to win matches. It wasn’t purely functional, but it wasn’t the free-flowing football festival we got last week, either.
It’s been 224 days since we watched Lincoln lose at home in the league – last season, we lost almost half of our home matches. I remember Gav, who sits behind me, saying how he was sick of watching Lincoln lose at home. The last time that happened was April, Wigan’s 3-1 win. Sincil Bank is not a fortress, not yet, but it is becoming a really hard place for teams to visit. In fact, Lincoln City are becoming a hard team for anyone to play, home and away. It’s utterly ridiculous in my eyes that we’re ninth right now. I know that sounds pessimistic, but to think we’re three points outside the play-offs, when just two weeks ago, a small minority were shouting about a change being needed blows my mind. Certain aspects are helping us out – this isn’t a strong division, and the little eight-team pack that we’re atop of are separated by something like three points, but we have been picking up points here and there, not actually losing many games. Look at it this way – we’ve lost four matches this season in the league, and the teams in fourth, fifth and sixth have all lost more. Also, had we gotten the results we ultimately deserved out of Accrington, Forest Green and Fleetwood, we could have been as high as fourth.
We’re not; we’re ninth, despite having several key players injured at any one time this season. We’re ninth despite having a new Head Coach who admits he’s learning a little on the job. We’re ninth, sitting above teams you’d imagine have a better budget than us (Charlton, Oxford, and MK Dons, three that immediately spring to mind). Right now is a good time to be a Lincoln City fan.
So, I’ve waxed lyrical about how we’re doing overall; how did we do yesterday? I was lucky enough to have a couple of Tipsy Imp pints before the game (thanks to those who kindly bought me a drink), and the team news crept up quite quickly. It’s no real surprise we stayed largely the same, with TJ coming in for Adam Jackson as the only change. Tom Hopper’s inclusion on the bench was a big boost, although I felt we’d be unlikely to see him for much more than fifteen minutes at the end of the game. That meant another start for Charles Vernam, a player who had forced his way in from the cold and who I thought looked good last week against Plymouth.
We finished last week’s game in the ascendency, and immediately we came out on the front foot against the Shrimps. In the first fifteen minutes or so, I thought we were utterly dominant, playing nice football, getting into good areas and making Morecambe look like the struggling outfit they are. Charles Vernam had our first decent effort of the game, a stinging 25-yard drive which deflected off their defender and forced the keeper into a flying save. What I liked was how the chance came about – he picked up a loose ball from his own errant pass and just drove into space before shooting. One thing Charles gives you is directness – he loves to get the ball and immediately ask questions of a full back, or carry the team into advanced positions. There are elements of his game that are developing, but he’s a great player to have in the squad.
City were the only team that looked like scoring, and after 17 minutes, we did. Referee Martin Coy awarded us a free kick on the edge of the area after spotting a foul, which Max Sanders fancied. His strike didn’t look dangerous from where I was sitting, but after a deflection from Joe Walsh, the Imps were 1-0 up. I’m not sure if Walsh or Sanders will be awarded it and frankly, I don’t really care. It felt like what we needed – in the fan zone before the game, everyone predicting a big win said an early goal would lead to Morecambe caving. Cue an early goal. Did they cave?
No. No, they did not. Quite the opposite.
After our goal, they seemed to shift to a more attacking approach, and whilst it didn’t lead to any outright chances, I thought we had more of a game on our hands. Morecambe were not as you’d expect a side with their budget to be – there was no kick and rush, no Accrington-style spoiling tactics. They approached the game fairly and cleanly and tried to do things the right way. I’ve always eyed Derek Adams’ career with interest as he did well at Plymouth but was belligerent and lost the fans, whilst many Bradford fans despised him. However, he does seem to be good for Morecambe, he got them promoted when they’d only ever been strugglers in League Two, and I think if they had a bit better budget, he’d have them away from the bottom four. However, they don’t.
Still, we should have been going in 2-0 up at the break. TJ Eyoma missed a glorious opportunity, and we’d had a few other half chances in a decent first half. You might read that and think TJ didn’t have a good game, but you’d be wrong. One or two around me shouted him as a possible Man of the Match. He looks comfortable on the right side of a three-man back line, he’s able to step out and carry the ball forward like a full back from there, but without the responsibility of having to support his winger. He did well.
Half time saw me head down onto the pitch to have a photo taken with Martin and Alice from the Foundation, Rob Bradley and Danny Mandroiu. It was to say thank you for the efforts in fundraising for the Foundation a couple of weeks ago, and it’s really for you lot as well, the generous people who put their hands in their pockets to support mine and Rob’s efforts. Thank you all very much, the Foundation appreciates the fundraising, and I am grateful for the support. There was no way Alan was getting me on the microphone though, not after three pints, two of which were Tipsy Imp 6% Camden IPA. Who knows what I’d say?