They’re hard matches to get into, aren’t they? A half-strength Lincoln City side against a group of talented kids. I can’t bring myself to go to the games; the last time we played Wolves, I went to the ground to do a shirt display and left before kick-off.
I’ve only watched a couple of live games against the kids – Everton and Chelsea in our 2017/18 season, and then Man Utd for Michael Appleton’s first game at home. Other than that, I can’t be doing with the atmosphere; the hollow, sparse crowds remind me too much of Welling at home. That’s not the only reason – the games lack a tempo, and there’s not quite the same level of commitment from the Under 21s. They’re just not really proper games, are they? Notts County in a few weeks, sure, I can get on board with that, and I’ve watched us against them, Mansfield, and even Doncaster in recent seasons. However, when the kids come to town, Gary stays at home (and still watches on iFollow).
Of course, if we get to the semi-final and it’s Man City kids or something, I’ll be there with my ‘King Hypocrite’ hat on. After all, a trophy is a trophy, and as last night proved, a win is a win.
The problem for me is these are glorified training matches. I guess our line up looked strong when compared to teams like Exeter, but we use the games to get minutes into some fringe players and maybe try new things. We were stronger than I thought we would be, with Bishop, Shodipo, Roughan, and Burroughs starting. Haks started, which I think could be an indication of the fact he won’t this weekend, and Ali Smith came in, a player I think is growing into his recent move. Not that we’d really learn all that much about those players in this game.
Why? Because there’s no tempo, there’s no passion or anger. For us, it’s a game to get through unscathed. There’s £10k up for grabs, that’s nice, of course, but we don’t want to be losing players to injuries. It’s just a case of going out there, doing a professional job, and coming home with the money and those group points. Of course, with the penalties and silly two points for a draw, if you win spot kicks rule, it’s hard to work out the permutations for progress. One thing was for certain – lose, and we’d be out.
It became very obvious from the first 15 minutes that wasn’t going to happen.
We had our first shot within seconds of the kick-off, and one four minutes should have been 1-0 up. From a Haks long throw, Mide Shodipo headed over when it seemed easier to score than miss. Still, from the off, we looked pretty hungry. Wolves were trying to play Under 21 football, nice passes out from the back, but it just didn’t work. One such move, on 18 minutes, Saw Jack Burroughs win the ball and play in Haks, who took a nice touch before sweeping the ball into the back of the net. 1-0 City, and in reality, game over.
We can talk about being professional, about having a job to do and all that, and of course, if you’re not playing a half-decent game, you’ll lose. But in truth, Wolves Under 21s are not Man City, Man Utd or Chelsea. They’re the level below that, and it showed. All evening, they have five shots, one on target (which drew a fine save from Jordan Wright). We had 24 shots, nine on target, and really should have won four or five nil. The difference between a big scoreline and the one we got was Joe Young, a fine keeper who turned in a superb display as the night wore on. Young has spent time on loan at Telford, and on last night’s display, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him turn up in League Two next season for a loan spell. He’s played for England at Under 16 and Under 17 level, and he kept things respectable.
What were the positives from the seventy minutes that followed the goal? As we should, I thought we always looked to be in control. Wolves did have a slight spell, but we never looked to be in any danger of not winning the game. Chances came and went, the lack of a striker (I almost got through half an article) showing whenever we got around the box. However, we stuck to the plan, and I don’t think we ever got out of second gear, but we always had one eye on a potential threat.
I was most impressed with Jack Burroughs, who turned in a solid game at full-back. He had the same energy as I’d expect to see on a Saturday, whilst others, such as Ted, weren’t able to get into the pace of the game in the same way.
In terms of chances, Alex Mitchell had a chance to make it 2-0 from a clever short free kick, which saw Shodipo released down the left and pull a cross into the area. I thought Shodipo looked decent as well, especially as he hasn’t been playing competitive football for the last couple of months. Personally, I’d like to see us bring him in on a more permanent basis in January, but we shall see what happens.
The last 15 minutes of the first half, and maybe the first 25 of the second, were notable for almost nothing happening – a few half chances, a few nice passages of play, but nothing remarkable. Then we started making changes, bringing Reeco and Danny Mandroiu on, and we upped it another gear. In the last ten minutes, Young made cracking saves from Smith, Eyoma, and Makama, whilst Mandroiu and Reeco both had good chances to score as well. Finally, with injury time ticking away, Makama got a chance to break forward, and he took two touches, travelling a good sixty yards in the process, before stroking comfortably past the keeper for 2-0.
It’s hard to get too worked up about the win – they’re a no-win situation for the lads. Lose, and they’d get hammered. Win, and they’re supposed to, so no applause. Not that the applause of a sparse crowd would sound quite as enthusiastic as it will on Saturday, but that’s the nature of the competition. We did win, 2-0, and we’re now in with a good shout of qualifying for the enxt round.
What do we need in order to drag the competition out a little further? Well, Derby have played two, won two, and they face Wolves in the final game. One would imagine they’ll breeze through that, and if they do, we need only to avoid defeat against Notts County – even a penalties defeat would be enough to see us through. I’ve tried to break down what we need in the event of different results below, because it pads out what is a flimsy match report.
We did the job, we got a win on the board, and hopefully raised a bit of morale in the dressing room. The big question is this – can we carry that forward into the weekend’s fixture against Burton? If we can, then this game has served it’s purpose.
If Derby beat Wolves U21s – We can beat or draw with Notts County, and the outcome of penalties wouldn’t matter.
If Derby draw with Wolves U21s but win on penalties – We must draw or beat Notts County, and the outcome of penalties wouldn’t matter.
If Derby draw with Wolves U21s but lose on penalties – We must beat Notts County or draw and win on penalties
If Wolves U21s beat Derby by a single goal – Now it gets complicated. Assuming the rules are the same as last season, goal difference separates the sides first, then goals scored. If Wolves beat Derby by a single goal, their goal difference would be 0, so we’d progress with a win against Notts County. A draw, with either penalty outcome, would not suffice.
If Wolves U21s beat Derby by two goals – This is where it gets confusing. Assuming Wolves beat Derby 2-0, that would give them and Derby the same goal difference and goals scored; four goals and +1. Therefore, we’d need to beat Notts by two clear goals to give us a +2 goal difference, or we’d need to win by more goals, say 3-2, so we had +1, but having scored five. We could win 4-3, 5-4, 6-5 etc as well.
If Wolves U21s beat Derby by three goals – Now it gets interesting because a margin of three for Wolves gives Derby a 0-goal difference, so we’d be back to qualifying if we just beat Notts County.
Confused? Me too. It took ages to work this out, and I’m still not 100% sure I’m right. Put it this way – if Derby win in normal time, as expected, then any outcome that is not a defeat will be enough for us.
Basically, us beating Notts County in normal time should be enough for us to qualify in almost every circumstance. I think.
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