There’s no doubt it’s been a tough time recently. With no goals in two matches (none conceded), it felt like a relegation battle was imminent.
The squad looked short, the team lacked ideas and I didn’t see where we were going after last week’s encounter with Cambridge. It’s odd, I felt the same after the Cambridge game in September, and a week later, things began to pick up. Here we are, a week later, and I feel so much more positive.
I was drawn to thinking about a game we used to play on the BBC Micro in primary school called Podd (bear with me). You’d type something in, like ‘Podd can wave’, and he’d wave. You might type ‘Podd can gesticulate’, and the answer would come back, Podd can’t do that. The general idea was to develop language, correct spelling, that sort of thing. For some reason, I imagined a Lincoln City version, where you’d type ‘Lincoln City can defend’, and they’d get clean sheets (two in a row). You’d type ‘Lincoln City can attack’, and the message would pop up ‘Lincoln City can’t do that’. For a few weeks now, maybe even a couple of months, I’ve felt like I’m watching Podd stand still on the 8-bit machines, obstinately not attacking poor teams.
Well, Lincoln City can attack. Lincoln City can score goals. Who would have thought?
It might surprise you to know, but I’m a pessimist. I often fear the worst, and even when the team came out, I had a moan, not publicly, obviously. I said a midfield of Erhahon and Bishop was basically a midfield of Erhahon. That’s because the Ted we saw in the season’s early weeks hadn’t reappeared, and I could recall him at all last weekend, as if he wasn’t even there. It’s harsh, I know, but that’s how poor results get me. I get down about us being bad, more so when I know we’re not really that bad. I said all last month we needed two signings, a central midfielder as priority and a striker. Then we sign Erhahon, and I’m moaning because we’ve paired him with someone. What did I expect? Erhahon and Virtue?
🔵 TEAM NEWS ⚪️
— Lincoln City FC 🇺🇦 (@LincolnCity_FC) February 4, 2023
Whilst I’m being open and transparent, I moaned that we were going to a back three again but playing Roughan over Boyes. After all, Mark Kennedy said in a pre-match interview part of our attacking issue is not having the right profile of player to play 3-4-3, saying Roughan, Poole and Eyoma are centre-backs being asked to play full-back. Fifteen minutes later, we hear we’re playing Roughan at full-back with Boyes, a wing-back, on the bench. For some reason, it had me convinced I knew better than Mark Kennedy. Me, a man who writes about football, knowing better than a man who has spent his entire career in football. Still, that is what we do as fans, isn’t it?
I skipped the fact Lewis Montsma was back, a massive plus for the squad. I didn’t get excited that one of our biggest cash signings ever, Ethan Erhahon, was starting. I overlooked the positives for the negatives; I stopped being objective because I was still so despondent about last week’s result. We’d also laboured to a 2-2 draw with Accrington last month in the cup, never looking like scoring even though we got two. Then there was the goal of the month competition that included a penalty, a culmination of a poor month on the pitch, during which we only actually lost once.
I should have been more objective. Let me point out why. I usually put the attack momentum graphic further down my articles – often right at the end, where I hope people won’t see it. That’s especially the case on weekends where I say we’ve played well, then I find the graphic, and it’s reflective of us being really poor. Well, today, it’s here. Have a look at that. Drink it in. It looks like it should with the players we have now – comprehensive and complete.
I’m not saying we’re going up, or that we’re even going to climb the table more than a couple of places, but I am saying that we’ve seen the other side of the coin, the good rather than the bad. I keep saying we’re on this knife edge. We’re hard to beat, we don’t concede many goals, and we never looked like losing to MK Dons or Cambridge. That’s a great building block, but we haven’t been able to break teams down. We looked more of a threat against Southampton than anyone over the past two or three months, which perhaps says a lot about them rather than us! Seriously though, it’s such a balancing act. You’ll climb the table if you can find a way to attack well and remain hard to beat. If you make a little tweak and defensively, things go awry, for want of a better phrase, you’re up poo creek. I’ve been waiting for an indication that one of those things will happen, waiting for something to emerge from the white noise of the last three or four weeks to tell me whether my pessimism is misplaced.
Today, I got that message. We can attack. We can score. We can create. Podd can win games.
I thought we would struggle to play a team worse than Cambridge, but I called Accrington poor at our place, and I’m saying the same again. However, beating what is in front of us has been a challenge in recent weeks. From the off, this game felt different; it felt like a game we would always be in control of. We have good players; Diamond, House, Bishop and Shodipo are all players that would start for Accrington and be a part of 95% of other squads in this division. Finally, they began to look like it again. It’s harsh on House, I don’t think he’s been bad for us all season, but he’s often starved of the ball. Yesterday, he wasn’t. Yesterday he did all the hard work, but some of it involved having the ball at his feet, and my goodness, he is a player of some ability. I remember the first game he played for us; the opponent escapes me – he collected the ball and got out of a tight spot on the touchline, and you could see he was tricky, and neat in possession. He shows that now, but coupled with the sort of hard work and energy that makes a player a fan favourite.
Why? Why all of a sudden did our creative players look good? Why did Bishop purr like a lion rather than whimper like a scalded puppy in the middle of the park? Why did Diamond and Shodipo get a chance to ask questions? Why did House look like he could keep Luke Plange out of the team? Two words. Ethan Erhahon.
— Lincoln City FC 🇺🇦 (@LincolnCity_FC) February 4, 2023
I’m not usually prone to hyperbole, to outlandish statements about players after 90 minutes, but in Erhahon I see the answer to our questions. Football is a simple game; you must have a handful of fundamentals in place. A football team is like the human body – it can exist without arms, legs, eyes, ears, feet, all sorts. What it can not exist without is a heart, and since Virtue has been injured, we haven’t had our heart. I’m talking about the midfielder that puts a challenge in, dictates where the line is in defence, can alleviate pressure in possession, can pass, move and generally do anyone else’s job when they go missing. Liam Bridcutt, one of the finest footballers I’ve ever seen in a Lincoln shirt, did it perfectly. In years gone by (and I’ll get fired down for this) Scott Kerr did it, John Finnigan did it, Alex Woodyard did it. These are players that make others around them better. Ethan Erhahon does it (or after 90 minutes, he certainly seems to) but he does it at League One level, at the age of just 21.
It might be a flash in the pan, a freak debut (we’ve seen them, Mr Garrick), but I don’t think it is. He is the second coming, the prince that was promised (Westeros reference there). At least he was yesterday. He is the player teammates love more than fans, and if that’s actually the case, then his teammates are going to absolutely love him because, after a couple of tackles and nice moments in possession, he demonstrated exactly what we have needed.
Oops. I’m 1400 words in, and we’ve not actually started on the game. Let’s page break here, shall we? I’m getting carried away, and we all need a break from that.