28th January 2020, Portsmouth beat City 2-0 at the Bank. 3rd November 2020, Portsmouth beat the Imps 3-1 at the Bank. 23rd November 2021, Portsmouth beat the Imps 3-0 at the Bank. Five games, one goal scored, eight conceded. It’s fair to say going into yesterday’s game, I was going to be happy to take a point.
After 90 minutes of engrossing, if not always exciting football, did I feel the same? Absolutely. Not only that, but I felt it was a fair result, which is an achievement. The very best Lincoln side of the past few years lost 3-1 to Pompey in 2020. They travel in numbers, their squad is always packed with good quality, and they expect to be beating ‘teams like us’, a point I overheard a travelling fan make in The Strugglers after the game.
Firstly, Pompey. They’re a big club, having won the 2008 FA Cup, gone to the final again in 2010 and played top-flight football in my lifetime. They usually travel well, and over the last season or two, I thought they were by far the best fans to come to Sincil Bank. Yesterday? Not so much. Sure, they sang and made a bit of noise, but were they as committed to their support as Bristol Rovers last weekend? No, I’d say not. Plymouth? Louder. Ipswich? Louder. Wednesday? Louder. Derby? Louder. You get the drift. On the field, despite a collection of players I’m sure Mark Kennedy would love at his disposal, they looked average at times. Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday looked like big clubs in the wrong division, but that wasn’t the case yesterday. I’d argue that their approach, support and quality on the ball was much more Exeter, Port Vale or Oxford than it was Ipswich, Sheff Weds or Derby. They’re a big name at this level, but they’re not the force I thought they would be under Danny back in August.
What of us? Well, we were certainly depleted, not naming a full bench with Ben House and Lewis Montsma suspended. One can only imagine Joe Walsh is injured again, leaving the squad looking thin. It’s a bit of a turnaround from the last couple of weeks when we’ve been leaving players out, but we do have quality over quantity, which is a by-product of that. The two changes were enforced, Luke Plange coming in for House and TJ coming in for Lewis. In fairness to TJ, I like him in a three, and I thought he had a decent afternoon, given that he’s had to sit out recently.
I felt we started the game well, but it was clear that Plange isn’t quite the same sort of attacker as House. It hurts me that people are already on his case; football fans have zero patience these days. Some of it I can understand as he was a little clumsy at times but lazy? Nope. He’s a player I think will score a couple before now and the end of the season, but to be on his back already is really short-sighted. We got the same last season with Morgan Whittaker and Liam Cullen, and look what they’ve achieved this season. Plange didn’t get a lot of change out of Pompey’s back line, but I thought he worked relatively hard.
We started well, could have scored inside the first minute or two, and I never felt we were under the cosh. Our approach changed early with Adam Jackson’s injury, just what we don’t want. The affair had been even up until then, neither side had a shot on target, but Mark Kennedy clearly felt he wanted to get a bit more creativity into the side in Danny Mandroiu. It meant we went from a 3-4-3 to a 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1), which matched up more with Portsmouth. It worked at first – our best spell came at the end of the first half, and whilst there were chances for either side, I never really felt either would break the deadlock. We’ve seen enough 0-0 draws this season to spot one coming and I think it got to about 35 minutes before I ventured it might be 0-0. I’d plumped for 1-1 on my bet this week, but as I placed it Thursday, I’d also got Lewis Montsma as our scorer, so it wasn’t like I was bothered about the lack of goals!
I’ve seen some criticism of Jack Diamond today as well, and it’s something I’m going to disagree with. I’ve seen words like ‘greedy’ and statements like ‘if only he’d pass’, which was exactly the sort of stuff I used to read about Brennan Johnson and Morgan Rogers. When it comes off, nobody worries, but you have to be single-minded as an attacker. Did Jack make some decisions that might have been better? Yes. However, he also worked himself into a position to have to make that decision, and it’s really easy sitting in an elevated position passing judgement, rather than being on the field. I’ve been critical of Jack’s return in the past, but these last few games, he’s impressed me with his work ethic. He’s creating chances, and that’s a good place to be in. Of course, if he bags that second-minute chance the game would be different.
I’ve watched that chance, and the ball sits up for him at the last minute, which makes the finish a little more challenging. By the way – what a ball from Sean Roughan. I imagine he was a happy man this time out. It was the 3-1 defeat under Michael Appleton which saw the youngster disappear from the first team for a season-and-a-half, so to put in an assured performance as he did yesterday will have been nice. I think Paudie got Man of the Match, but Sean was right up there for me. Every week he looks a little better, and having come up against two big teams this week, he hasn’t looked out of place once.
As the half wore on, I felt we might be the team who scored, and we could have done with an extra fifteen minutes or so. We were getting forward more, and one chance for Plange, a smart turn and shot after a corner, was missed off the highlights but stuck in my mind. It showed Plange’s technique, something maybe he didn’t get as much chance to do. House is only out for one game, he’ll return next week, but if there’s an injury against Forest Green and we have to go 4-4-2, I’d love to see Plange and House together. In fairness, Danny Mandroiu showed decent touches yesterday, but took a while to get into the game.
Still, at half time I was happy we’d been marginally the better team, even if a draw was the fairest outcome from the half.