Halfway Heroes: Wycombe Wanderers 0-2 Imps

Credit Graham Burrell

Firstly, I’m not going to insult your intelligence today with a long match report. I wasn’t at the game, I was on a 12-hour session in Boston watching some quality bands at the Gliderdrome. I spent my afternoon in the shadow of the abandoned towers of York Street, and whilst an era has ended on that particular turf, another is well and truly on its way a little up the road.

At the beginning of the season, we looked to have a purpose but leaked a few goals. Mark Kennedy saw that and shored up the defence, but that came at the expense of attacking intent. In January, after our solidity had taken us on a cup run, we faltered, and our Goal of the Month competition included a penalty. We were shot-shy, so there were more tweaks, tucking the wide players in a bit. An injury crisis hit, and for a short while, we struggled to score and leaked goals. People point to Sheff Weds as the turning point, I think it came before that, away at Fleetwood. We looked a little livelier up top, and since then, we’ve shifted again, to a solid team at the back, with some decent attacking intent.

Mark Kennedy’s Lincoln City are halfway there. We’re clearly on the right path; despite the lack of wins early doors, we’re on course to finish on more than 60 points, tenth in the table, which (putting aside the unique Covid season) would be our best finish since 1982/83 – the era of Gordon Hobson, Trevor Peake and Glenn Cockerill. However we have got here; whatever winding path through defeats at Port Vale and Cambridge has led here, that’s what I’d call an achievement.

Yesterday, the term halfway there became literal as well as metaphorical, which I’ll obviously come to.

There’s clearly an issue with some tired, injured legs in the squad, but it really isn’t mattering as we extend our unbeaten run. Imagine, if we’d shown this form in January, people would have been calling us dark horses. As it is, where we are feels about fair, given out form against the teams above us, and whilst the form has come too late for a top-six push, I never really felt we’d mount a top-ten assault. With two games to go, we’re on course for that.

The starting XI still feels strong, even without Montsma, Walsh, Jackson, Bishop, Mandroiu and House (have I forgotten anyone?). Roughan looks as comfortable at left centre half as he does at left-back, and having our spine of Rushworth, O’Connor, and Erhahon ensures we’re solid, even if ‘some’ the personnel aren’t necessarily those who you would immediately think ‘first team’.

Wycombe isn’t an easy place to go. They’re an established League One club, they have good players, and we know they’re tough and organised. There’s an element of us hoping to emulate them, I feel – the clubs are a similar size, but they’re a year or so ahead. When next season kicks off, they won’t be mentioned among the relegation favourites, and that’s what we’re aspiring to do. I genuinely felt we could take something from the game, but I didn’t think that would be two goals, a win and a clean sheet.

The longer the game went without a goal, the more that would favour us, I felt. Unless, of course, we get the first goal before ten minutes. That favoured us more. We got the notification whilst watching Tony Wright from Terrorvision, and that was cause for a little celebration. Having watched back, it’s important to talk about this goal because I know the second goal steals the headlines. Make no mistake – this was a good team effort (again) following on from the themes of the last couple of weeks.

It’s a nice move started by Plange, and two backward passes find Erhahon. He spreads play, and Poole pings a 50-yard ball looking for Duffy. It’s not a big punt; it’s a deep, raking ball played with a specific purpose. Duffy, who impressed me the other night, grabbed his first goal for the club with a deft header, underlining his potential. We didn’t expect to see much of him before the end of the season, but he’s another we’ve chalked up in the column ‘reasons to be cheerful’ going into the summer.

From what I understand, the game then felt very much like an engrossing League One encounter. Harry Boyes was unfortunate not to open his account, whilst Rushworth got away with one on his return to the team. Wycombe needed a win to keep their fading play-off hopes alive, and despite having better possession, they didn’t necessarily lay siege to our goal. Not that it’d make a lot of difference – we’re keeping clean sheets for fun this season, and that’s got to be down to the three at the back, and a solid keeper. I never feel worried when a team attacks at present, as if I don’t expect us to concede. I’ve felt that way most of the season, and teams like Ipswich, Bolton, Plymouth, Wycombe, Derby and Sheff Weds have never truly had me clenching my arse cheeks together praying for the final whistle.

Of course, we’ve got to talk about the second goal, from the man of the moment, Lasse Sorensen. 13 months ago, I went to Shrewsbury, and Lasse came on at right back. He struggled, and I’d banged the drum for him almost all season, but I wondered where he went from there. After a decent start to the season, he dropped out of the side and again, I wondered where he was going. It seems he’s now found his calling. At right wing-back, he’s proven to be a revelation, growing in composure and confidence with every kick. One kick yesterday will have sent a big message to the rest of the Football League – Lasse Sorensen is a name to keep an eye on.

We got a video of the goal fairly quickly in Boston, and Chris and I both huddled around the phone whilst the gig was going on, marvelling at the strike. Lasse played it down, but there are two things I picked up. Firstly, whether there’s a bit of luck in catching it right is irrelevant. A player lacking confidence doesn’t try it, and a player lacking technique doesn’t even get it right, luck or no luck. Credit Lasse for that; he spotted the chance, felt he could give it a go, and he did.

I also liked Matty Virtue’s actions in the celebrations. Lasse seemed stunned, but Matty pointed him over to the away fans to celebrate. It could be interpreted two ways – firstly, it could have been Matty focusing on Lasse to head over to the supporters for their sake, to enjoy the moment. However, the way he then points to Lasse suggests to me he wanted the Great Dane to take the applause and celebrations for him because he deserves it. There’s no secret how highly thought of he is behind the scenes, and it’s almost poetic to see him getting that recognition and repaying it, game after game.

That’s my analysis of the game, I can’t possibly offer insight into it without having watched back, and, after 12 hours of drinking, I’m really not in the sort of state I need to be to watch back. Six or seven weeks ago, I said we’d learn nothing before the end of the season, and here I am eating my words. We’re learning a lot about the so-called supporting cast. We’ve seen Dylan Duffy give us a glimpse of what he can do, we’ve seen Lasse growing, and Roughan settling into what I think is his long-term position. We’ve just seen Mark’s Imps arriving at what I think is the halfway point of a journey that has brewed slower than a Game of Throne season (the early ones). This season has felt a bit like a good series, slow, tense, giving glimpses of quality but with the odd tough episode. I think I likened MK’s Imps to a series earlier in the year, I recall mentioning the infamous Fly episode from Breaking Bad as a weak episode in a great overall run, and I stand by that.

Shout out to a couple of the loans as well. Obviously, Rushworth is quality, but I think Shodipo and Boyes have done enough in the last six or seven games to suggest exploring a return for them is worthwhile. Boyes has grown at an unbelievable rate since Sheff Weds, and I really like Shodipo. Give him a pre-season with us, on loan or otherwise, and I think he’d be a real handful.

Overall, we couldn’t have wished for a better ending to the season than we’re getting. In fairness, a couple of those early draws turned into wins, which we’ve been capable of, and we’d be knocking on the door of the top eight. That is (pardon my hyperbole) a hell of a start from a fresh Head Coach and something I felt we could aspire to next season, but never this campaign. I love being proven wrong in this manner.

If you hit form in the last ten games, it sets a mood for the summer, and I think that’s certainly the case at Sincil Bank. More fans are acknowledging that the journey many of us talked about in December is continuing; it is developing into something worth keeping an eye on. There’s a lot of positivity around the place, not unlike 1991/92 when Steve Thompson won something like seven on the spin to leave us promotion favourites the following season. That won’t be the case this summer, we’d need to make huge strides to be top six candidates, but there’s no doubt our current form is going to alert pundits who wrote us off last year to the evolution happening under Mark Kennedy.

Most importantly, perhaps, it will show the wider football world that the project is ongoing and that we are a good place to come and further your career. If a player has to choose between us, in tenth and hoping to finish season eight unbeaten, or someone like Oxford and MK Dons, similar-sized clubs fighting relegation, where are they likely to go?

They’d be fools not to join the halfway boys, and get onboard as we chug towards the second part of the MK era. The start has been strong, but the future’s definitely bright.


Rate The Players

For those music fans who like a bit of folk/punk, there were a couple of bands well worth checking out from Dogfest. Millie Manders and The Shutup are a quite heavy, punk rock band who buzzed live. Black Water County was the opening act and could easily have been the headliners, given their energy. Of course, Ferocious Dog are just great. 

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