Consistency is key; that’s an undeniable fact in football. Lincoln City are a decent football team, and if we turned in consistent performances week in, week out, we’d be in the top half of the League One table at a canter.
If referees turned in consistent performances, not just every week, but during actual games, we’d all know where we stand. Last night, for 45 minutes or more, Geoff Eltringham was so woefully inconsistent that you never knew quite what was coming next. It could be argued that he ruined a perfectly good game of football by sending Joe Walsh off, but after reviewing the evidence this morning, I’ve got a slightly different picture. He was poor, but he was poor for both teams, without a doubt.
Firstly, let me be really clear about two things. The 1-1 draw was 100% the fair result; two teams I think are midtable at best, putting in a decent shift and causing each other a few issues. Also, the criticism of the officials should not mask what was a really good Lincoln City performance, one in which we showed two sides to our approach. Firstly, we played with some attacking intent in the first half, and then we dug in, backs-to-the-wall in the second. We’re unbeaten in the league at home since April 9th, a phenomenal achievement when you consider we’d lost five in the first 12 weeks of 2022. Those are the key takeaways not just from last night but from the first half of this season.
Mark Kennedy has proven he’s not afraid to make big calls and dropping Max Sanders and Adam Jackson was a big call. I wonder if Jackson dropping out was with one eye on Monday’s game; him and Walsh have both struggled in the past, and by playing one or the other with games in close proximity, you’re protecting both. As for Max, he looked really out of sorts at Burton, and there’s no doubt that Mark isn’t afraid to drop players who play badly – there are no favourites in this Lincoln City team. In came Lasse Sorensen, hard-working without a doubt, and TJ Eyoma, perfectly suited to playing on the right side of a three. Last night, Matty Virtue and Ben House got the plaudits from sponsors and on the radio, but for me, TJ was almost impeccable and a strong candidate for the Man of the Match award.
The game started brightly, Bolton are clearly a decent side, but I thought they looked no better than us early doors. They’re in the play-offs, but we’ve lost the same number of matches as them; that’s where the consistency comes in. They’re a couple of seasons into Ian Evatt’s reign and they’re more consistent and understanding of his approach and method, which means they’re in a position to win games that perhaps we’ve drawn. That’s why Imps fans should still be positive; we’ve only lost a similar number of matches to some of the top six teams, demonstrating that we’re on the right trajectory. We have to turn some of those debatable;e draws (Accrington, Fleetwood, Forest Green) into wins, and we’ll be fine.
Backed by a good amount of fans, you’d have expected Bolton to really come at us, but it was us who drew first blood. A better-crafted goal you will not see at the Bank this season; the vision of Danny Mandroiu combined with Ben House’s sharpness resulted in a slick goal from a well-worked free kick. House, who was excellent all night, took his chance like a proper striker, firing past a keeper I thought looked shaky all night long. 1-0 City, and with a lead to defend, I really fancied us.
All over the field we competed well. I’ve already mentioned TJ, but I thought on the other flank Sean Roughan was excellent, never giving an inch. He’s 19, and yet he plays like a 28-year-old with a cold, hard-as-nails look on his face. He’s not afraid to get involved when the occasion calls, and the occasion called an awful lot last night.
It’s not possible to go any further without mentioning the referee. I might be controversial here, but I thought he had a good first half for us. I’ve watched back the first real flashpoint, Regan Poole’s yellow card, and we were lucky; very lucky. Watching back, it had shades of Ellis Chapman’s sending-off against Cambridge the other year; Regan was just over the top, studs showing. I think Evatt’s reaction was justified – that’s me being balanced. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but it’s not a nice challenge, and if the same happens the other way, we’d have been screaming for a red card. Evatt was also booked, presumably for leaving his technical area; more on that later. Even before this happened, I’d remarked to Matt that there would be a red card in the game; you could feel something bubbling under the surface, and looking at it retrospectively, we were lucky that card didn’t come in the first half.
That was the moment that turned the game because from then on, Bolton seemed hellbent on going down for every little challenge. I’m not saying some weren’t justified, they were, but the referee also seemed keen on giving them what he could. Here’s a stat for you – we committed 14 fouls in the game and got five yellow cards. They committed 12 and got one. Having watched the moments back, there were at least three occasions where we got a booking for something almost identical to Bolton, which went unpunished. The problem with that is whilst it didn’t affect the outcome of the game directly, it did contribute to a bitty, broken encounter which, up until a certain point, did not suit us one little bit.
However, as we got to half-time, I was perfectly happy with how we’d played. I thought we looked structured, happy to concede possession, but triggering a great press and never really looking like conceding. Everyone played their part in a strong first half, and I firmly felt we were in a good position to go on and win the game. Sadly, there wasn’t the consistency that I was counting on from the opposition, nor the officials, which meant the second half played out very differently.