I think I said last week not every game is a pivotal moment, and not every performance is indicative of where we’re heading.
However, every time we play a team bottom of the league, we underperform in terms of the outcome. I think that’s safe to say – in fact, I dare say that a draw against the bottom team is as good a result we’ve had from whipping boys as I can remember. Southend (who were second bottom, but only to then crisis club Bolton) and Doncaster both stick in my mind as low points – by comparison, this wasn’t bad at all.
We’re still in that moment where you can make the results say what you want. 16 draws are not good enough for some, but they’re better than 16 defeats. We’re unbeaten in seven but have won just two of those matches. We don’t concede many goals at all, but we don’t score many. Lincoln City 2022/23 are yin and yang, glass-half-full for some, glass-half-empty for others. This was merely a reflection of that – it was simply more of the same, and depending on your disposition, that’s either acceptable or not.
For me, it’s acceptable. Offer me mid-table mediocrity back in August, and you’d get a handshake and a smile, no questions asked. We’re getting there, and the manner in which we’re getting there suggests there’s more to come. In August, we didn’t have a striker throbbing with potential like Ben House. We didn’t have a midfield powerhouse bringing cohesion to the side like Erhahon. We didn’t know we’d have Sean Roughan looking comfortable in two positions or Paudie O’Connor looking like a 44+ game centre-back, something we haven’t had since Michael Bostwick. All of those things are signs of progression from last season.
Yet, on the flip side, what we need is there for all to see. The ball into House was sumptuous, spotting a clever run, but it came from Regan Poole, a man who will be in the Championship next season. It didn’t come from our wingers, the players who should also be providing the bullets for our increasingly popular striker to gobble up. Mide Shodipo and Jack Diamond are not bad players, but they are not offering the sort of delivery we have previously seen from loan players. I would say that Diamond has had longer with us, Shodipo is still settling, and he does get into decent positions, but that is the area of the field we perhaps need a bit more, as well as backing up House through the centre. Ted Bishop is a Rolls Royce of a player, but like classic models of the car, you can never be 100% sure if he’s going to start or not.
Onto the game, because it is worth discussing for a few key moments, despite it being another chapter in a much longer series. The Imps were forced into changes, with Joe Walsh and Adam Jackson injured. Harry Boyes came in at left back to face his old club, with Sean Roughan tucking into left side centre half. Lewis Montsma served the second game of his three-match ban, so TJ Eyoma deputised at centre half as well, whilst Ben House returned to displace Luke Plange from the attack.
Forest Green concede a lot of early goals, and within four minutes, the Imps looked secure. With the wind behind us, Rushworth’s ball out found Poole, who hit a deep cross for House. The striker’s movement was superb, getting across his defender to finish with a side-foot volley, the likes of which are rarely seen at this level. It was a superb finish, one of the goals of the day and a sure-fire favourite for the Imps’ goal of the season. As House moved off to celebrate, I felt like a big win was on the cards.
The hosts looked nervous, with former Imps Garrick and Robson not getting a sniff. We clearly targeted Robson with the long crossfield passes, as teams did against him earlier on in the season, but we didn’t quite get the same joy – he won four of seven in the first period and subsequently only faced one in the second half. Still, neither player seemed particularly threatening, and if anyone was going to get a second, it was us.
Forest Green under Duncan Ferguson, in the first half at least, looked a lot as they did under Mark Cooper. They were keen to pass around the back, didn’t do it particularly well, and lacked ideas as soon as they came out of the defence. I’d put my house on them being relegated this season, they look fragile (in the first half), and their fans turned quickly. Our second looked like being only a matter of time, despite them enjoying a lion’s share of possession. Possession is nothing; that’s been proven by how little we have in games against big clubs and get results. It’s proven by the fact it should have been 2-0 midway through the half. However, it wasn’t.
We don’t create as much as we should; that’s not disputed. We attack quickly at times, and we have good players who ask questions, but our decision-making and execution, sometimes leave a lot to be desired. That’s certainly the case in wide areas, where Charles Vernam has been criticised by some, and yesterday it was the turn of Jack Diamond. However, in terms of execution, it was Mide Shodipo who should have put us 2-0 up. Given how we don’t create chance after chance, you sometimes need a little more of a clinical edge. Mide did well to get into the right position but blazed over the bar when hitting the target would have made it 2-0.