It’s been a while since City have been to Meadow Lane, with two clubs on different trajectories.
However, the Magpies are back, and their points haul last season made many think they’d go through League Two like a dodgy prawn curry. On tonight’s evidence, they’ve got a bit of work to do.
Of course, the League Cup is of no consequence when it comes to league position. The home side put out a mix of first-team players and reserves – there was no Langstaff, a player who grabbed all manner of headlines last season. John Bostock and Jodi Jones came off the bench, two players you’d expect to be key in their team this season. As for us, we did look particularly strong; Adam Jackson missed out (precaution, just a niggle, Mark says), but Roughan shifted to left centre back, making a back three of him, Eyoma and O’Connor. Jaden Brown came in for his full debut, whilst Ali Smith made his first start for the Imps in midfield. Up top, Tyler Walker was joined by Reeco Hackett and Danny Mandroiu.
It felt like we needed to go strong against County, but in truth, this was a canter, much like ties against Doncaster and Bradford over the last few seasons. On both of those occasions, big clubs for League Two put in weak and watery outings against City, and County made it three.
Notts County are eager to play like Man City, and when you’ve got Langstaff, Rodrigues, and the like against Dorking and Maidstone, perhaps you can. When you put some of your second string out against a strong League One team, it’s never going to pay dividends. Lincoln City fans didn’t learn a lot about their team tonight, but we did get what we wanted. Progression was important for fans, I suspect a win, a morale-boosting win with a clean sheet, was likely important for Mark Kennedy. We’re all going to bed happy.
Much of what we created in the first half came from the Magpies’ inability to play out from the back. Sam Slocombe, a keeper who never impressed me at City, rode his luck a couple of times but also saved his team on a few occasions. At the other end, there was the odd moment of indecision between Jensen and O’Connor, but without any real attacking threat from the home side, it was hard to know if that was a problem or not.
County had more of the ball, with City happy to let them play it around in their own half. When we needed to step in and take control, we did. When we got a chance to attack quickly, we did. Tyler Walker showed glimpses of the player who left us just before Covid, whilst Reeco Hackett looked like a constant menace, eager to cement his place in the starting XI for the return to the Bank on Saturday.
When we did get the goal, it came courtesy of a set piece. We turned our Achilles’ Heel from the weekend into our main asset, a whipped corner touched on by O’Connor to Roughan, who gobbled up his third goal for the Imps and our first of the season. Afterward, Roughan admitted we worked hard on set pieces in training, and doubtless, Scot Fry was happy to see it come off. It was no less than City deserved, and once it went in, the game never truly looked in doubt.
A goal at Notts County is always worth celebrating, and the 1700 Imps fans broke out into a chorus of ‘Your city is red,’ heard all the way across the Trent and halfway back up the A46. After the false start on Saturday at Bolton, it felt important to go here and get the win. We won’t win the League Cup, it’s unlikely (but not impossible) we’ll have a run as strong as last season, but it did feel important to put a ‘W’ on the sheet. The atmosphere certainly reflected that.
Aden Baldwin checked Walker’s run not long after, perhaps a bit needlessly, and picked up a booking. That would prove to be very costly later on, but it wasn’t the last action of the half. Mandroiu volleyed over from distance before Hackett forced Slocombe into a save resulting in a corner. One thing to note about Hackett is the cleanliness of his shots – most of his strikes were true and crisp, and they’ll be a source of goals this season.