I confess, I fell into a trap last night.
At full-time, after a bitty, broken 2-2 draw with a weak League One side, I felt anger rising around my impressions of the team, and I immediately reached for social media. It’s not like me, it really isn’t. I’m usually considered and balanced, but I fell into the trap. I felt we’d missed a golden chance to reach the semi-finals of a competition only 2,500 felt was important enough to attend, and we’d missed out on £50k that could have been used to improve our drastically threadbare squad.
I do have mitigating circumstances, which I won’t go into here as they’re not football-related, just general mood-related, but I should have been more considered. I should have waited 12 hours and only vented some of my frustration when I got in front of my laptop. Which is now.
I’m not going to analyse the game too much. Conditions made it a challenge for both teams, and neither looked like they really deserved to advance – I’ll be shocked if Accrington make the final because they’re still one of the worst teams I’ve seen at the Bank over the last couple of years. They were poor last year, and they were poor this year, but in the three fixtures, we’ve lost one and drawn two. What does that say about us when they turn up? If the Lincoln that played so well against Bolton and Ipswich turned up, there wouldn’t be any difference. We can’t beat the teams we’re ‘supposed’ to beat, especially not at home, and it’s been a problem for a couple of seasons, well before MK arrived at the club.
I’m still pretty angry. We took an unlikely lead through an absolute howler, and with the wind in our backs, we should have pressed on and got a second. If we go 2-0 up before half time, the game is over and we’d have another cup tie to look forward to, but instead, the first half remained this awful spectacle, two teams fighting the wind with little guile or craft. Remember, in Jack Diamond, Danny Mandroiu and Ted Bishop, we had a pretty strong side out, full of supposed creativity. What did we really create? Nothing, we didn’t properly test an eccentric and susceptible keeper at all.
They got their equaliser, a rubbish goal to concede where Eyoma and Jackson didn’t communicate at all, which gave them the advantage. The second half would see them with the wind in their backs, and I felt we’d get beat the second they scored their first. It might be the pessimist in me, but I messaged Dad at half time to tell him I thought we’d go down 2-1 in normal time. He was adamant we’d go to penalties, so he certainly knew more than me on this occasion.
The second half didn’t see us get much better. Sure, there were a few passages of play, nice touches and moments, but they were few and far between. Up top for them, Whalley and Pressley felt like a real menace, but for us, it was like a toothless tiger growling away but unable to do actual damage. Penalties loomed large until they got one in normal time, a stonewall, 100% penalty that demoted Paudie O’Connor into the blame zone, joining Adam and TJ after the first goal. Pressley scored, and in my mind, that was game over.
Then we did Lincoln things, perked up a bit and got the leveller through Tom, who at least looked a bit like the Hops of old. But, like Charlton, nothing happened once we got the goal that put us back in the tie. There was no surge forward seeking the winner, no drive to swing the tide of the game in our favour. I know the conditions didn’t help, and one goal kick where Rushworth’s clearance had to be flicked on by a centre-half showed what we were up against in terms of the conditions, but it’s no excuse; it was the same for them in the first half.
As for the penalties, I’m sick of them. I know we’ve won a couple, but the group stage ones don’t matter one bit and having watched England lose on penalties and now Lincoln (for the second time in three years going out of the competition on penalties), I’d rather we didn’t go through it. Your luck will always run out, and after three really poor efforts, City were out of a competition only a handful of people seemed to care about, including me.
I care about it because it’s money and a shot at Wembley. I care about it because it was 90 minutes that gave me indications of where some of our squad is, and I feel concerned with big league matches coming up. The last five matches have seen two poor defeats, two battling draws, and now a weak draw against a side I feel the players we have should be able to get past. We didn’t, and it doesn’t bode well for the next three or four games where, like last night, we face teams in and around us. This time, £50k won’t be at stake, league points will, and some of these games are six-pointers, without a doubt.