Half time saw the introduction of Cole Stockton, a man who had ruined us in the away fixture last season, and it seemed to give them a bit more of a push going forward. We didn’t ever look out of control in the game, but we certainly didn’t look comfortable, and there was a fear that perhaps we might see a repeat of the Accrington game. Morecambe had their moments – there was a Kieran Phillips header which Rushworth saved that certainly had me worried. However, it wasn’t like we were on the ropes, but rather in a game with a half-decent team who, with a few more quid, would be further up the table.
We could have had a second, and one chance you won’t see on the highlights was a lot better than Sky Sports or whoever puts them together gave it credit for. A Vernam free kick from the attacking left was chested back by Poole to Walsh, whose drive struck the chest of a Morecambe defender. In terms of xG (you love it), it was a 0.32 – better than the deflection for the goal. For a moment after that, it felt like we might have to endure a rather tough second half with the narrowest of margins.
Luckily, we got the one thing we’ve struggled with in some games recently, the crucial second goal. Poole and Robson combined to set up Oakley-Boothe, who showed neat footwork to get an effort away. It was saved but parried straight to the feet of Ben House for him to slot home his sixth of the season. It raised the roof on an already-rowdy Sincil Bank and gave us a two-goal cushion to defend. A couple of months ago, that might have been a worry (Fleetwood and MK Dons spring to mind), but the post-Bristol Rovers City never really look like folding. The only way Morecambe were getting back into it was with a quick goal.
Sixty seconds later, Cole Stockton caught Rushworth unawares and lofted a 40-yard effort over his head which came back off the post. It seems the Shrimps weren’t quite cooked and served just yet. In fact, the 2-0 lead lasted 14 minutes, before Jensen Weir, on loan from Brighton, gave them hope. He smashed in a drive after Jamie Robson’s clearance fell to his feet, giving Rushworth no chance. It was a bizarre moment because as the ball fell into the net, referee Coy blew his whistle, making everyone think the goal had been disallowed. However, he was signalling he wanted the ball back quickly, so Morecambe fans actually got to celebrate twice. In fairness, it was nothing less than their showing deserved.
The game began to get quite scrappy late on. Tashan Oakley-Boothe went down in a heap after a fairly innocuous-looking knock, and picked himself up a yellow as well. It wasn’t a foul, and the fact it seemed like we tried to buy one triggered the ref. Coy seemed to suddenly find his cards, booking all three Imps subs (Sorensen rightly so), as well as Jamie Robson. He angered Morecambe by waving play on from a foul; the resulting shot went out for a corner and yet was pulled back for the free kick. After a good 70 minutes or so, he just seemed to begin to lose control a little, but on the whole, neither side can really complain about his afternoon.
In truth, I’m not sure we could have complained too much if Morecambe equalised. We struggled to get out for the last fifteen minutes, defending quote doggedly against a team clearly full of belief they could get a point. It felt an awful lot like the corresponding fixture last season, and all the final chances and possession went to the visitors. However, when Weir lined up a late drive that looked similar to his goal, he sliced it horribly over the bar and stand. It was just a lack of quality and composure that stood between them and a draw, and perhaps that is a good metaphor for the whole game.
We did deserve the win – the xG data says so; we had more shots, more on target and obviously, scored more goals. However, it wasn’t the type of game anyone thought it was going to be, as we didn’t have to work hard with 70% possession, and Morecambe did set up to have a go at us, at least after our opening goal. It felt a lot like a step forward, as we were able to create going forward and could have scored more. In fact, our xG suggests we should have scored three, with TJ and Joe Walsh both having great chances to put us further ahead. Those worrying post-Chippenham about a lack of goals might be sleeping a little easier this weekend.
The game ended with the Imps not only getting three points but climbing to ninth in the table. When you consider last month’s RICT Player of the Month, Danny Mandroiu, is injured, as is our captain (Hopper), one of our most creative midfielders (Bishop) and a star defender (Montsma), as well as a relatively big loan signing (Garrick), I think it’s a cracking achievement. There’s a lot to be positive about, not least Joe Walsh’s continued fitness and the combination of Virtue and Sanders in the middle of the park. Ben House, perhaps edging Man of the Match for me, is a real handful, and in the pub after the game, a couple of fans had noticed how he’s always in the ear of the opposition defenders, nipping and pulling at them where he can. He’s got a nice habit of popping up in the right place at the right time, and whilst Tom Hopper might be coming back, there are no assurances he’ll be a starting striker for us as we enter the Christmas period.
Here are the headlines – if you’re a glass-half-full type of person, we’re three points outside the play-offs with a game in hand against a team cut adrift in the bottom four. If you’re a glass half empty, we’re 12 points clear of the dropzone, meaning, whatever happens, we can’t be in the relegation spots at Christmas. If you’re just a Lincoln fan who sees the good and bad in everything, we’re a young, developing side who have started to come together and shows signs of real promise. The team are clearly coached well, they’re adaptable, and we have a good foundation at the back and through the middle of the park upon which to build.
We go on to face Morecambe again in a couple of days’ time, knowing a win there could add to the transfer kitty for the winter, something doubtless heavy on the club’s agenda. I think we’ve got a decent squad here, but it’s always evolving and changing, and there’s no reason to assume this winter will be any different. After the pre-season pessimism shown by many pundits about our chances (including me) and the uncertainty of having a new Head Coach, I think the club will be an easier sell this winter, a strong prospect on paper with a little more certainty about our direction.
Plus, we only have one game to survive to register a remarkable stat of being unbeaten at home until Christmas, and that’s also massive. Sincil Bank was once a fortress, and our recent form is making it feel very much like Home Sweet Home once more. Long may it continue.
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