Not Good Enough: Imps 0-0 Cambridge United

Credit Graham Burrell

I’ve been staring at my computer screen for five minutes now. I can’t think of a single thing that happened during yesterday’s game that I can talk about.

I’ve got a ringing in my ears from copious amounts of alcohol consumed in town last night, and I could talk about the great time we had before, in the Treaty and Gwynnes, and enjoying something bought for me at the Tipsy Imp (apology accepted). I could talk to you for hours about the reverse journey up the High Street, and how we eventually ended up in Popworld. All of that is rich and interesting, with plenty of things to laugh about.

Credit Graham Burrell

The football? Nothing. Nada. As you know, I always try to pull something positive out of a game, and I’ve decided to focus on those bits first. We didn’t lose, for a start. It was a bit like a grown man fighting a five-year-old, with both agreeing to walk away and saying ‘I didn’t get beat up’. With respect, Cambridge are awful, as bad as I’ve seen at the Bank this season. Sadly, we’re just as bad. There’s no pride to be found in not losing against a team we should have comfortably beaten, but it is a positive, of sorts.

Also, we never looked like conceding. Again, I guess it’s like say the five-year-old never really looked like landing a punch on the grown man, but in this fixture earlier in the season we did concede, twice, so there’s progress of sorts. There were periods last season where we’d have given our right arm for a clean sheet at home. Now, it’s viewed as failure, as the cacophony of boos ringing out at the end of the game proved.

Credit Graham Burrell

Why? Why is the only unbeaten home record in League One a reason for the anger and booing at the end? Why when we’re still six points from the relegation zone, are the players booed off? I think it’s because of the fear of what is coming. I think it’s because there’s a huge shadow growing over the players, a growing apprehension of what might be around the corner. Here’s what worries me – I’m not 100% sure a couple of new players solve the issue.

Look, I can’t talk to you about the game, because it was just a horrible watch. Two teams kept lumping it up in the air with no purpose or poise. It reminded me of the days under Sam Ellis, or Phil Stant, where the ball just kept going up and we were hoping something might break. Seemingly, the intent was for us to get the ball to Shodipo or Diamond and hope they could do something with it, but as for helping them, getting players around them and passing in triangles, there was nothing. It was like at school, where one kid is better than everyone else, and you’d just give him the ball and say ‘do your stuff’, only the kids we gave the ball to yesterday were not better than everyone else.

Credit Graham Burrell

I quite like the look of Shodipo, but he didn’t get the help he might need to truly create problems. Jack Diamond is earning rave reviews from the media for his goals and assists, but he ran down so many dead-ends and dark alleys that I checked every one we walked past in town later in case he was still lost. Danny Mandroiu barely got a kick, whilst Ben House was contesting aerial duels against two centre hales who were (seemingly) both six inches taller, which seemed an excuse to avoid putting the ball into the feet of our midfield.

Is that fair? I feel like I’ve been scathing, I feel like I’m lashing out in a manner that is unlike me, but I can’t think of a single positive in terms of attacking intent. Usually, I break the game down into two halves, look at the approach and tactics, but I can’t today. It might have been the five pints beforehand, but I’m leaning towards it being the fact there wasn’t an approach, or tactics to speak of. It didn’t feel like it at all.

Credit Graham Burrell

The last time I went out after a game with the lads, town was alive with the news of Michael Appleton leaving, and every pub was an opportunity to gauge opinion. Sadly, last night felt the same, like something quite significant had happened (or hadn’t happened might be more accurate). There were too many people I spoke to for a list but the sense of dissatisfaction was obvious. Of course, everyone had a different opinion as to what went wrong (in a draw, let’s not forget, we didn’t actually lose the game). Everyone got the blame from one place or another: the players, the head coach, the whole club from top to bottom. Of course, I was asked what I thought was the issue, so here it is for everyone.

I don’t think there’s an ‘issue’ as such, because we’re not in the bottom four, we’re not losing many games and we’re not conceding goals. When stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, being incandescent with rage at not losing a game is the sort of rage I can probably handle. However, there was definitely an issue yesterday, and for me, it was around setup. I know we need a couple of players, but what will a centre forward bring to the team that Ben House could not yesterday? It wasn’t like Ben got the ball into feet, or had anything to feed off. If we do sign a striker, which we expect to, he’ll need something to go on, and yesterday we didn’t get that. We can’t expect Diamond or Shodipo to magic something up from nowhere; we have to create opportunities. Also, we’re hoping for a central midfielder, and perhaps that’s the biggest issue at present, but will one player help? Will we shift the approach entirely to accommodate a single player? I don’t know; I certainly hope so.

Credit Graham Burrell

What I do believe, firmly, is that the XI we started with yesterday should have had enough to beat a Cambridge side that were as bad as any we’ve seen this season. Ben House, Danny Mandroiu, Mide Shodipo and Jack Diamond should have been able to conjure up a shot or two between them. We were resolute at the back; we never looked like conceding and up to the halfway line we didn’t seem to have any fundamental problems. After that, we were really bad, and yet, in my opinion, we have the players to be better right now. That’s not saying we won’t benefit from incoming faces, but we have the players right now to be better than we were yesterday.

I think yesterday was awful; a tough watch and an even tougher game to write up. I fear that the good work we seemed to be doing pre-Christmas is long gone. I don’t see the plan of action; I can’t see where there’s progress being made on the field. Of course, we’ve been unlucky, losing Matty Virtue to injury, but it’s not a 2020/21 style injury crisis where three or four key players are out, is it? It’s weird because after the Cambridge game in September was the most apprehensive I’ve felt as a Lincoln fan since the days of David Holdsworth. That passed, quickly, but yesterday, walking away from the ground, I felt it again.

Credit Graham Burrell

I’m done for this morning; I’m going to watch Wragby in the Jock Mitchell Cup because I want to see a goal or two. I know manager Chris will have a plan to break down the opposition that will involve more than balls into a striker being marked by two big lumps (it’ll probably involve pressing). I’m hoping that as I watch that game, some memory of a shot, a chance or a passage of play that earned a little clap might be triggered from yesterday.

I’m not sure it will.

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