Football is all about narratives and stories, heroes and villains. Often, if you could see what would happen in the future at Lincoln City, you’d come up with lines like ‘You can’t write stories like that’.
I do disagree, of course. If you can write stories about secret bases on forest moons occupied by teddy bears wielding spears, you can probably imagine writing a story about a discarded footballer getting his revenge on (one of the) managers who wronged him. However, when it is real life, those stories feel sweeter; they enrich our passion for the game and build characters that last a lifetime. If, in May 2022, you’d have told me that Michael Appleton would be in the away dugout, watching Lasse Sorensen and Hakeeb Adelakun dismantle his Charlton side with aplomb, I’d have laughed. Anybody would have laughed. Literally, any single person reading this now.
Last night, the narrative was very much about a former manager who might be at the game, who people thought might be unveiled at half time. Pure pantomime: the sort of material the scurrilous gossip mongers get their teeth into nicely. There was little about the Big Apple returning, little about Tom Shaw looking for two wins from two. Nobody made a thing of Haks going up against the manager who signed him and cast him aside. Nothing about Lasse going up against the manager who signed him and started him just 19 times. Nothing about Sean Roughan going up against the manager who restricted him to a single outing against Bowers & Pitsea in the FA Cup.
Those were the stories we should be focusing on. Football fans, we’re not the brightest at times, are we? We just don’t see these fairytales coming.
When you think about it, the story really is amazing. Haks, only playing because two centre forwards are injured. Sean Roughan, dropped for the last two games, probably only playing because of the injury to Reeco, which meant Lasse played right wing, another new position for him. It might be harsh to say three misfits, as we have certainly seen the best of two of them over the last 12/18 months, but if you spoke to 2021/22 me, they’d be classed as misfits, failures and outcasts. The whole team were outstanding on a superb night for Lincoln City, but those three executed a revenge attack on Michael Appleton’s Charlton (revenge a-hak? No?). Boy, was it enjoyable.
It’s hard to imagine now, but as we got the team on the way to the ground, a 0-0 draw felt like it would be a great result. Saturday’s win could have been a one-off, and there was an element of backs to the wall in the second half. With Reeco injured we fielded a front three featuring players all out of position, and technically, we had more defenders on the pitch than anything. Working out the actual formation was a bit of fun, but it all felt a bit makeshift, unlike Charlton. Leaburn, May, Dobson, Fraser, and Taylor are all excellent League One footballers.
Plus, the two teams both featured in the lowest xG faced in the division, meaning it had 0-0 written all over it. I joked with the chaps behind me that after saying that, it would be 2-2 by half time. Instead, it was 1-0 before we’d seen ten minutes.
At the time, I blamed Jensen for their goal; from our angle, it looked like his mistake, but watching back, I’m not sure it was. Perhaps cutting the cross out better would have helped, but his hesitancy in going to get the ball was perhaps right. Funny, how you can see an incident one way, and it is very different when you watch it back.
Conceding the goal wasn’t the issue in my eyes – teams concede. The problem is that we had no strikers on the field, that we’ve looked shot-shy in attack for a while, and usually, conceding a goal means we’re likely to lose the game. How we reacted was going to be huge, and we reacted exactly as every fighter who ever gets knocked down should – we came out swinging punches. Not literally, luckily.
We didn’t just get at Charlton; we went for the jugular and never looked like giving up. All over the park, we rose like Lazarus, coming back from the usually dead position of being 1-0 down to turn in a super performance. I can’t put into words how good we looked (although I’ll try), but I can put it into numbers.
Our xG was 3.46 – not just the highest from a Lincoln team in the last calendar year, but the highest from any team, us or our opponents, in a League One fixture in that period. We had 22 shots – again, the highest number of shots by either team in Lincoln games in the last calendar year and double the average of 10.35 per game from that period. Shots on target? Nine, matched only by Northampton in our 2-2 draw and by us in our 3-0 win against Accrington last season. To put it simply, it was the best-attacking performance from a Lincoln City side since we beat Plymouth 2-1 in January 2022 (3.58 xG).
It’s not easy to put your finger on exactly how that happened, given the fact we had a makeshift front three. Lasse being a revelation on right wing helped, as did us using the long throw to great effect. I thought Haks delivery from the throws was superb (bar one in the second half, how we chuckled), but we were sensible with how we managed them. Lasse lurked on the edge of the area like a Henry Hoover at 4:59 in an office block, waiting for the go-ahead to begin sucking up the bits. Each delivery was defended well by Charlton, but there was Lasse, on hand to try his luck from anywhere. His efforts were vicious, drawing a save from their overworked keeper, and when he looked to be beaten, taking out our own man in Sean Roughan. Lasse’s strikes were almost always clean and crisp, and as the efforts got closer, you felt a goal coming.
When it did come, it was a cracker. Lasse (obviously) was involved, a succulent little turn finding Jack Burroughs overlapping and delivering a cross. Haks, a winger playing out of position, remember, took a lovely touch to control it and take a defender out of the game before rifling an unstoppable shot into the back of the net. If Dennis Bergkamp does that, it’s replayed a million times, it was such wonderful technique. I did wonder if we might get a Chris Maguire moment, a run past Michael in the dugout, but we did not. Haks isn’t the type; he just used it as a springboard to turn in a superb individual performance.
The undoubted star of the first half was Lasse, with eight shots. He could have made it 2-0 before half time with an effort that came back off the post and went out for a corner, an effort that he was desperately unlucky not to score. He was an absolute monster, and the only downside was that he was so good it overshadowed everyone else, including the likes of Smith, who was also very good indeed.
It’s fair to say at half time, there were no moans. There had been – around me, I’d seen one guy sarcastically clapping O’Connor for a misplaced pass, and berating us for going back to the keeper on one occasion. This was after about 15 minutes and I did bite my tongue, but found it hard. It was nice to see the same guy clapping the team off at half time. I guess some people just react very differently to others.