City progressed in the Papa John’s trophy last night in front of a meagre crowd of fewer than 1500.
That’s fewer fans than turned out for matches against Newcastle U21s and Doncaster, with a combination of ambivalence, the World Cup, weather and the opposition being the same as Saturday, keeping people at home.
Those who did attend were treated to a low-key affair, I’m told. I wasn’t one – I was kept at home by ambivalence towards the fixture. I know we got money for progressing and, in my eyes, it is important to do well if we can, but I just can’t get my groove on for this competition right now. I’m not boycotting out of politics, I’m just not going out of choice. I had enough of watching Lincoln play in front of 1500 fans back in 2011/12 onwards, I’ve zero interest in doing so now.
Unless we progress a bit further, then I’ll be on the bandwagon like all of those people who said they’d hate the World Cup until England won 6-2.
Anyway, I might not have gone, but like the Newcastle U21s game, I have found some positives to outline, which I’ve included below. Hopefully, they’ll give you an idea of why it was a good thing we won, even if several thousand fans chose to stay away to watch France against Australia or, as in my case, play pool with a couple of mates listening to tunes on my jukebox.
First and foremost, call me cynical, but the money for progressing is very nice, thank you very much. A win by any means was all that was important last night, because success in this competition can boost the coffers substantially. Judging by the number of League One teams progressing to the next stage, other teams feel the same.
What is notable is the so-called big teams with decent squads are not treating this competition with quite as much contempt as you’d think. That said, finalists in recent years include Portsmouth, Sunderland and Rotherham, all exercising their fringe players to decent effect. We don’t have the depth right now, but as players come back from injury we might, and further success will give us the means to expand our squad in January, so in that respect, last night was a right result.
I’m not saying Tom Hopper walks back into the team, but I am saying that his coming back, with a goal, is massive for us. We’ve been crying out for the second option at times this season. Ben House will run himself into the ground, but if you’re defending a 2-0 lead and need the ball to stick when it goes forward quickly, Tom’s your man. He’ll win defensive headers as well, and he’s a different threat to Ben. His coming back just gives us a more diverse look and will expand the attacking options on the bench, whether that’s Tom or Ben. There’s also scope to go two up top, something MK has done in games (3-5-2) which would also be another facet to our gameplan.
Big Keith used to say you can never have too many strikers – I do think two is a prerequisite and Tom coming back takes us to two.
Super Ted was on fire at the beginning of the month – he scored four in just two matches in August, but limped off injured just two matches later and hasn’t been seen since. Until now.
Ted coming back, albeit for a short period, is bigger news than Hops returning. I’ve constantly lamented our injury situation, saying how if we’d had some of our big-name players in, we’d have been higher up the league. There are few quite as influential as Ted when he’s on fire – he’s got Championship level skills and technique, the keys needed to unlock a stubborn defence. I can see him loving the tighter front three we’ve played in recent weeks, almost two tens behind the striker, rather than wingers. He;’s not and out-and-out wide man, but he is the sort of attacker who can change a game.
His return is great news.
Ok, so we drew last night, but there haven’t been many games where the Sofa Score attack momentum has been so heavily in our favour. I’ve watched some of the highlights back, and we didn’t really look like conceding, even when we did. I know there’s a negative in there, but we’ve played a struggling team in consecutive matches and created plenty of opportunities. Yes, we need to score a couple more, perhaps, but on Friday, if you’d offered me three points and progress in the Papa John’s, I couldn’t really have asked for much more.
The truth is we’ve played a struggling team (half-decent, but struggling) and never looked likely to lose either match. I’ve used the title dominant, and I mean that in a comfortable way – there’s been no point where you think, ‘we might lose this.’ Even when the game went to penalties, we looked confident, we sounded confident, and each spot kick was confident. There isn’t quite a swagger developing within the side, but there is a whiff of a plan coming together.
I remember once thinking we never got to see City in a penalty shootout, and that was fine by me. I hate them, but recently, we’ve had a good record from 12 yards. Last night, we deserved to go through as we’d actually won group matches – Morecambe hadn’t, but with two draws and penalty wins, they progressed. It’s a stupid rule in the group matches, but it adds to the drama in these games.
Jordan Wright is just the keeper you want on for pens as well. He’s huge, and after Barrow in the cup, he’s getting a name for himself saving spot kicks. Also, some of our players are proving themselves adept at taking penalties as well, and that could be huge. Remember, we were only a single spot kick away from a double Wembley appearance in 2020/21, and you never know when they might pop up. Winning shoot outs in games like this means more confidence when, perhaps, they come up in the League Cup at Southampton.
You never know. You can practice penalties all you want, but nothing is quite like the pressure of being involved in a real shootout, and the more we win, the more confident the players will be for the next ones. It’s why Germany win penalty shoot outs and usually, England do not.
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