Yesterday was one of the strangest football days you’re ever likely to have. The mix of a domestic game and World Cup quarter-final created a one-off, never-to-be-repeated set of circumstances that were perhaps more interesting than the Imps’ performance.
When it comes to England, I feel a bit detached from the hype. I used to be a shirt-wearing ‘patriot’ in the pub for every Euro 96 game, crying under a table after Southgate’s penalty and yelling at Phil Neville in 2000 for giving away a stupid spot kick. I almost got the sack from my job for feigning illness to watch England and Portugal in 2000 – it mattered. Up until 1998 (ish) I used to watch Match of the Day every week, gobble up games on Sky and all that, but Lincoln City changed me. When I took up Poacher, I just lost my passion for top-flight football I had no interest in. I supported England a bit longer, I guess; I want us to win, but nowadays, defeat doesn’t really get me like it used to. Last night, I was the guy in the pub with no anger, no sense of injustice, and no perceived pantomime villain to lament.
That said, I was still a guy in a pub, several pints down and caught up in the game, turning away for Kane’s second penalty (which I think almost broke The Ivy Club window when it landed). I think I got caught up in it because it was in the middle of a domestic season, because one world (Lincoln City) had collided with another to create a football day like no other. It might have been World in Motion and Three Lions over the sound system at the club; it might have been the fact we were out of the game and straight to the pub, making it a proper lads’ day with my Dad and mates. For some reason, the amalgamation of two worlds meant that I was as invested in an England game as I have been for a long while.
It started with Christmas shopping in town, and my day led me to the Red Imps Community Trust stand to sell some books and chat with fans before settling into my sparsely-occupied row in Upper 3. There were a lot of fans missing – our row had four absent, but behind us, there were four or five more not there – it meant nobody to protect us from the wicked winter wind whipping into the ground. The teamsheet provided some warmth; returns for Jordon Garrick and Danny Mandroiu, albeit as subs, certainly bodes well heading into the Christmas period.
If two worlds were colliding off the field, it felt like the same could be said on it. For a while, you’d be forgiven for asking which team Gareth Ainsworth managed. He popped up in the fan zone, meeting Lincoln supporters, and perhaps there was an irony for me that he was strutting his stuff at the Bank the last time I was truly invested in England, back in Euro 96. It was odd, two tournaments 26 years apart and yet somehow feeling connected, for me at least.
Then there were the styles of play which were sharply contrasted. Wycombe play the second-fewest amount of passes per 90 in the division and the most long balls. However, it’s not quite as blatant as the numbers suggest; it wasn’t like an aerial bombardment Gillingham style. It is still in contrast to our own game, and I felt we dealt with it really well.
Going three at the back leaves us far more suited to soaking up those balls, and I felt Brandon Hanlan, a player we were linked with, was nullified with ease. McCleary and Mehmti both have game-changing quality, but again we looked solid enough to keep them at bay. I think nullified is the best word to use for the game, as it is what both teams did. Us and Wycombe never serve up a classic at the Bank, and so it came to pass again.
I think that from 15 minutes onwards, even the most optimistic supporter would have to admit it had 0-0 written all over it. We created a few half-chances in the opening period – Charles Vernam looked quite lively, and whilst his decision-making isn’t always spot on, I can’t help but think he’s growing into his role out on the flank. He had our only shot on target, whilst Ben House was exceptional in the first half, working incredibly hard and almost creating an opening with some great closing down. In the middle of the park, Sanders and Virtue seemed to have the better of Scowen and Wing, without being dominant.
Despite the lack of goals, I found it an engrossing tie. Sure, it was cold, and there were few chances to get excited about, but I didn’t feel it was a bore draw as with Charlton. I never felt we’d conceded, even when they came close, and I thought if we got a lucky bounce going forward, we could nick it. Think back to the same fixture last season – they created enough chances to win ten matches, and we clung on, coming away delighted we’d bagged a point. Yesterday, few fans were coming away with the same sense of elation, and yet the outcome was the same, and the game was much easier for us in terms of control. Sometimes, when you take forward strides, the actual outcomes don’t come immediately.
Wycombe had one effort on target in the first half, a header from a corner which was an easy take for Rushworth, and I just didn’t feel they were a major threat to us. I’m not saying they’re not a decent side – they’ve got some good players, and they’re comfortable on the ball as well; I just feel we have a solidity about us that means if we’re going to concede, it’s either going to be a worldie for them or a mistake from us. There’s no doubt if the first half, low on chances, was to be awarded to a team on points, we’d have edged it. However, 0-0 was a fair reflection of the opening 45 minutes.