City lost 2-0 to Derby last night in a cup competition that, with the greatest of respect, few care for.
When you’re in the grip of an injury crisis, coming through unscathed is surely worth more than £10k in the bank? When you’re up against a starting XI that wouldn’t be out of place in the Championship, and you’re playing two players with no senior league starts in football and three more with fewer than 20, defeat really isn’t that bad. We got through the game unscathed, and for those wanting a bit of a cup run, may I point you in the direction of West Ham United.
I know there will be calls of ‘you’ve changed your tune,’ but there’s a balance to be had here. I have previously put weight behind this competition for the financial aspect, and unlike Exeter City, I don’t think we lost with any shame, but sometimes you have to adjust your expectations. I said after the Sheffield United game that sometimes, football is about more than a few quid in the bank, and right now, if you asked me if I would rather beat Sheffield United and face West Ham or emerge from the EFL Trophy group stages, I know which I’d go for.
Here are some facts for you about the lineups last night. Lincoln City’s side had, collectively, 442 senior league starts across the starting XI, with 63% of those shared between TJ Eyoma, Ali Smith and Haks. Of those 442 games, just 5% were made in the Championship (Burroughs five, Brown 13, Adelkaun five), with Adelkaun, arguably the most experienced player on show in our squad, starting his first game for us in over a year. More than 30% of those collective appearances have come outside of the top four divisions in England and the top division in Scotland.
James Collins, the Derby forward, has made 442 alone, all in the top four English divisions. Derby, as a whole, had 2201 senior league starts across their squad, with a huge portion either League One or in the Championship. There should only have been one winner here, without a doubt. When we’re saying mismatch, we’re being accurate. When Exeter say ‘we played the kids’, but their average age was older than their opponents (Exeter 21.9, Reading 21.7), it doesn’t ring quite as true. When we say it, there’s absolute truth in it, and we only lost 2-0.
That’s why trying to do a breakdown of the game isn’t really going to be of benefit. I watched it on iFollow, and listened to the away commentary, and it was clear they had a very strong side out. Just think, our starting striker hasn’t started a Football League game, and one year ago, he struggled to get a kick for Brackley Town. How is it beneficial to criticise how he did coming up against Sonny Bradley, who helped Luton to the Premier League last season? The depth of our squad, lauded a couple of weeks ago, is now being exposed, with seven injured players missing last night (House, Walker, Vale, Jackson, Hackett, Mandroiu, Montsma). Derby had five starters out injured and could still play a team you’d expect to be in the top six at this level.
We did what we needed to do to compete. In a tame first half, with the odd shout echoing around an empty Pride Park, we didn’t have a single chance, but we were also rarely threatened. When I saw the teams, rather pessimistically, I said to Fe we might get beaten by four or five. That’s no shame on Gallagher and Makama or Jay Benn, recalled for the one game from his Solihull Moors loan stint. In actuality, whilst we didn’t look like scoring at all in the first half, we coped admirably with a strong Rams side, limiting them to a couple of snatched half chances.
What else can you say about the first half, a mere training exercise for both clubs? I know some will be foaming at the mouth, claiming a lack of passion. I saw one person hammering TJ Eyoma online, the same TJ who helped create our best chance of the game after half time. He linked up well with Jay Benn, who steered a wonderful cross into the area, which Makama got on the end of. It was our first effort on goal and a decent, well-worked move.
Sadly, moments later, Derby got a terrific goal of their own. There might be a question mark over Jordan Wright’s efforts in stopping the goal, but that would perhaps be a little harsh. James Collins threaded a nice ball through for Barkhuizen, who finished coolly – both of those players are good quality, the latter someone I don’t feel should even be in League One, let alone gracing the turf of an EFL Trophy group game. Since 2016, he’s played 199 Championship matches for Preston, scoring 33 goals, and could easily still do a job at that level.
After that, both teams made changes, and we did grow into the game a little, but Derby still had the upper hand. Their second goal came from Louie Sibley, Derby’s homegrown 22-year-old with England honours up to Under 20 level. He’s always impressed me when I’ve seen him, and he got a good goal for them after strong work from Mendez-Laing, another player of theirs I really liked last season. 2-0, absolutely fair.
We did look better when the likes of Erhahon, Hamilton, Bishop, and Sorensen came on, and we even ended up with three shots on target, which was a decent return, given the tepid nature of the first half. To my knowledge, nobody got injured, and we certainly haven’t come away feeling any shame. It’s almost as though these results don’t count outside of the competition – we talked about our proud unbeaten home run last season, completely omitting the 2-1 defeat by Doncaster in this competition. I’ll tell you this – if we go to Pride Park and get a result at Christmas, this result will barely ever get a mention.
If we must comment on the Imps’ performance, I don’t think it was bad at all in context. We had players out of position and young players making debuts, and did well to stand up to a strong Derby side. Jay Benn impressed me with his willingness to get forward, and I felt Oisin Gallagher had a good game in the middle of the park. At times we were a little sloppy in possession, but on the whole, we battled bravely and gave a half-decent account of ourselves. Wolves Under 21s have already beaten Notts County and are likely to have a tough game against Derby, so two wins should be enough to see us through, even though most of the fanbase is not all that bothered.
What I would say about the game is that the kit, which I do not like, looked decent against the white shirts of the home side. Why not have a peruse of Bubs’ gallery on the next page, and take the positives from the game?