Six Years Ago This Happened

Courtesy of Graham Burrell

As we don’t have a game today, I’m drawn to the archives to keep you entertained.

December 17th is a date that seems to often throw up Imps memories – Emley away, for instance. However, this article is going back to another clash with a non-league side, one that is an undersung moment in our 2016/17 season. It’s the day we played Tranmere Rovers in the league, and something worth looking back on.

Here is how I called it on the day.

Courtesy of Graham Burrell

Once again, I think the end result was justified, but for a long period of the game, I did have a horrible feeling we were going to finish the day in second, at best. Tranmere are no mugs, and had they come away with a draw I’m sure a neutral observer would have said it was a fair result. It wouldn’t have been, and I will explain why.

As any Cowley team normally does, we started at breakneck speed. I flippantly said on a blog a couple of days ago that Nathan Arnold would score an opener for us in five minutes, and sure enough, he popped up in the box after a Sam Habergham long throw to give us a crucial lead. Of all the games we’ve played this season, I felt this was one game where we needed to get in front early. I know the biggest game of the season is always the next one, but on the face of it, I think today really was one of the biggest we’ve faced. Grabbing such an early lead was crucial as it meant they had to come at as. They certainly did that.

5500 home fans. Quality support.

After the goal, I felt the game imploded a little bit. Danny might not be able to say this, but frankly, the referee (Anthony Backhouse) was shit. Had he got in the Christmas spirit and handed a few cards out early doors, we might not have seen such a scrappy affair, but Tranmere got away with some horrible challenges. To give free kicks and no cards for certain challenges was bizarre; he wasn’t ‘letting the game flow’; he was just a bad referee. Louis Maynard should have got a yellow Christmas greeting from our match day referee for an early high boot on Alex¬† Woodyard, and maybe Jeff Hughes for a bruising challenge on Matt Rhead. It was nice to see Hughes with a bit of physicality to his game though because even when he was scoring goals here, he used to weigh about four stone wet through, and he’d blow away if the wind got up.

If I’m brutally honest, I thought for the last 25 minutes of the first half we were poor. We couldn’t get out, our passes were going astray, and although we were containing a decent side, we certainly weren’t threatening. Tranmere certainly threatened and on 29 minutes, they got an early Christmas present from a referee finally entering into the festive spirit. At first glance, I thought Andy Mangan had been fouled. I was lower tier in the Coop, and from the angle, it appeared that Howe just clipped the striker’s heels, and he went down as if he’d been cut off at the ankles with an industrial saw. The linesman didn’t flag, but as soon as the referee blew, I had no doubts it was a penalty. People around me were up in arms, but I felt my view would be exonerated with the luxury of a video replay.

I was wrong, Mangan cheated and looking back, it was a blatant and disgusting dive that the linesman (if not the ref) had a perfect view of. Former Imp Jeff Hughes struck a good penalty to make it 1-1, and for the next fifteen minutes, I felt we drifted out of the game. Perhaps it was the blatant injustice we’d just witnessed, or the strong travelling support willing their team on.

Danny said at half-time that you can either be a victim or a fighter and for a few minutes after half time I felt we might have become the former. The injustice of the penalty was clearly still playing on people’s minds, not least the people around me. That injustice was furthered when Terry Hawkridge was booked for a challenge that didn’t look any worse than two or three perpetrated by Tranmere in the first half.

I say, ‘didn’t look worse’ at first glance, I actually thought Terry might have got a red. It looked like a challenge born of frustration and anger and had one of their lads done it, I would have clamoured for a straight red. It wasn’t the only crunching challenge in a frantic ten-minute spell either, Bradley Wood rattled the bones of their wide man with a tough (but fair) challenge, and the big lump McNulty let Rhead know his card was marked as well. We appeared to be in a fight, and perhaps brute force would win the game.

800 away fans. Respect, it was nice to see a full SW.

Harry Anderson came on for Hawkridge, and the game turned in an instant. That isn’t a sleight on Hawkridge, but Anderson seemed much more direct and asked different questions about the Tranmere defence. For the first time since our early opener, we began to rise to the occasion, and we were desperately unlucky not to get a penalty when McNulty blocked off Theo Robinson. I suppose it’s hard not to be blocked off by a guy who is bigger than a tank and twice as slow. When McNulty runs backwards, I expect to hear a warning that ‘this vehicle is reversing’.

Theo then missed a great opportunity when a rare ball straight down the field fell at his feet, and he lobbed over the keeper and the goal. Overall I thought he ran himself into the ground this afternoon. It wasn’t to be his day, and we made our second change with ten minutes to go. At this stage, I had settled for a point. Barrow were drawing, Dagenham were losing, and on the face of it, a point would be enough. We still had a game in hand; we were still masters of our own destiny. Since his injury, Adam Marriott has been a bit-part player, and although the fresh legs might cause an issue, I didn’t feel we were under pressure to chase the game. I’m not the manager though, and our players wanted to be fighters, not victims. Danny wanted them to be fighters, and bringing on Marriott was a master stroke. He offers something different (again) to Theo; rather than legs and pace, he offers grace and a natural instinct for sticking the ball in the net.

Marriott’s goal showed all the poise and class that he threatened earlier in the year, and if he’s going to bring that to the table over the next few weeks, then Dover can keep Ricky Miller. He showed the cheat Mangan what a centre-forward should do, picking up the ball with a lovely touch and finishing with all the panache of a top-flight striker. Cue delirium.

Fan filter down to the front, but hardly any left before the 95 (ish) minutes were up.

Certainly, it made this writer forget he is in his late thirties and not as nimble as he used to be. Seeing the boys heading over in the rough direction of my seat, I seized the chance and charged down the steps to celebrate with them. I got caught up in the moment, arms flailing in the air in celebration and my gaze directed at the players now running away from me. Unfortunately, I was too fixated on them and not enough on myself; I slipped and went arse over tit down a couple of steps. I didn’t let it phase me; I got up and just managed to pat Marriott on the shoulder as the inept referee chose that moment to flash another card. Presumably, celebrating a winner with your own fans is a booking these days.

When I fell, I didn’t even do the terribly British thing of looking around to see if it had been noticed. Like a child at Christmas, I was focused on one thing and one thing only: celebrating the goal with those bloody heroes in red and white. I suspected I might be a little bruised when I finally stopped cheering and singing, but luckily that wasn’t until about 6.30pm.

We could have made three one in the last ten minutes, Harry Anderson had a good opportunity, but he opted to leave us hanging on through injury time rather than wrapping the game up. That’s not critical of him; he did make a real difference with his injection of pace. As the game got stretched, both him and the sublime Nathan Arnold found more and more space. The last ten minutes felt like a cup tie, end to end, with an ‘anything could happen’ vibe about it. Nothing did happen, nothing that would affect the score sheet or remind me to think about the growing pain in my wrist.

So it came to pass that Lincoln City will be top come Christmas 2016. Five minutes of injury time turned into eight, Matt Rhead left the field with a yellow festive greeting from the increasingly bewildered official, but we held on to secure yet another win, our second from ‘top v second’ games in just under a month. The Lincoln Loco rolls on and on. Not even a team with 800-strong travelling fans can derail us.

Every player played their part, and it is almost crass to single individuals out, but what the hell I’m going to anyway. Howe and Waterfall looked as assured as Raggett and Waterfall, and they dealt with almost every ball played in and around them all afternoon. I’m delighted for Callum Howe, he was a consummate professional when he went out on loan, and he showed a desire to impress whilst at Southport. Since he has come back, I’m sure he will have given Danny a massive headache with his defensive selections.

The other player I have to mention is Nathan Arnold. I always disliked Arnold when he was at Cambridge, Mansfield and especially at Grimsby, and that was because he always looked a class above. Now he’s doing his stuff for us; I’m finally able to appreciate this fine football player. His energy is superb, but his intelligence and application are what really stand out. If we do something well, he is usually involved; he works the flank excellently but also drops inside when he needs to look for the ball.

Even the library had very few spare seats. 6335 for a fifth tier match. To think we were excited about breaking 3,000 last season.

Farms made a couple of crucial saves, Rhead was the usual thorn in the opposition’s side, Brad was rattling the tackles about all over the place… even when we weren’t playing well, the lads were all still trying to make a difference. It would have been easy for heads to drop after the injustice of their penalty, but despite a lull, we never looked like we stopped trying. Refuse to lose.

I’m sitting here now, having been desperate to write about the match since I got home. Luckily I didn’t get home to suitcases in the hall (see my earlier blog), instead, I got back to chicken and bacon turnover, stuffed peppers and cheese, which was far more welcome.

Every game we play at present creates a memory; every game seems to better the last, and every game convinces me more and more that my bold prediction of champions back in August might just come true. Today we were faced with a blatant cheat looking to gain an unfair advantage, and we prospered. We faced an aggressive and bruising side, and we won through. We faced a good footballing side who were well drilled in how to try and beat us, and yet we still got all three points. Everything this league throws at us, we seem to gobble up and spit out, and I can only see the season-ending one way.

As for me, I’m tempted to get myself off to A&E (FYI – I did and my wrist was broken). The pain of my fall down the steps was masked by jubilation and adrenalin, but now that it has subsided, my wrist feels like it may have suffered significantly from taking the full force of my 16-stone frame (14 stone now, get in!) twisting it against the cold concrete. I’ve typed this out one-handed, and my fingers have gone cold on one hand…… my right hand. That’s my, um, typing hand.

Not that I care. We’re top of the league again. Now, where’s my tramadol?