I wasn’t at today’s game; I didn’t watch it, and the only highlights I’ve seen are the ones that almost everyone reading this will already have seen.
Therefore, what can I offer you today in terms of Lincoln City analysis? There’s not a lot that I can glean from a game happening 250 miles away from me, is there? Possibly, possibly not. I know one thing: I’m not unhappy with a draw, although, on 80 minutes, it did feel like anything less than three points was going to be a bit of a blow.
Let’s strip it back to the beginning, shall we – City were making the long trip to St James’ Park, traditionally a tough place for us to go to, without four first-team attackers and still needing a permanent head coach. On paper, a point looked like it might be a good haul. Of course, you can temper that by saying the front line we played – Smith, Adelakun and Sorensen, were excellent on Tuesday night. Tom Shaw has taken over a team seemingly a little fractured, lacking in confidence and adventure and instilled a sense of bravery into them. It could be argued that we went into this game in as good a shape as any game since Sheffield United.
Then there’s Exeter – widely seen as a bit of a gimme, a team who have a -14 goal difference from two EFL Trophy games, with a long run of defeats behind them. People don’t see that they battered Wigan and lost 2-0, and it’s easy to forget they started the season on fire. They’re not relegation fodder, whatever the form table tells you. It should have had a draw written all over it. A couple of wins for us have lifted belief and confidence, but a point on the road smelled like a good outcome.
Until we went 1-0 up, playing with a bit of verve and belief. What I really like about the goal is it came from another long throw, a weapon we’re using to real effect. That’s consecutive Saturdays where Haks has launched something into the area, Paudie has become involved, and we’ve ended up leading 1-0. I’m delighted for Ali Smith as well – he gave an interview the other week where he admitted he hadn’t settled as he’d like, so to see him on the scoresheet was nice. He arrived in the box like you’d expect a midfielder, too, and executed a nice finish.
I was just completing a run along the Monsal Trail as the goal went in, and I confess I thought that was the game done. I fell into the over-confidence trap I often warn others about. I had this image in my head of us winning, beating Oxford, and Tom Shaw being carried into the manager’s office by the hands of 1,000 supporters.
You’ve got to make sure you close these games down, or should I say, you’ve got to make Shaw of the three points. I think we had an example of us doing that and an example of us not quite taking the opportunity.
The example of us doing it came from the big man in the sticks, Lukas Jensen. He’s pulled off a few good saves from what looked like a decent Exeter City side, one from a free kick I suspect he saw late and another clawed away in the first half. To be fair, Exeter are not great, but I feel they’re a bit like us – they lack a couple of key players in big positions. The difference? We have the players, they’re just injured or suspended. Exeter perhaps need another window to continue their rebuild.
Jensen did everything he could to ensure we grabbed three points, and despite a second half in which the home side were almost certainly the most dangerous, we could have snatched it. I’m not going to hammer Sean Roughan for a miss. He did well Tuesday night, and he’s not generally known for being a player who will finish chances for us. That said, he could have given us a 2-0 lead, an unassailable lead that would have resulted in another entry on Shaw’s job application.
Instead, they scored, something I hadn’t felt would happen. It’s odd that I had this absolute belief we’d win the game when all I had were Twitter updates! That does show a big shift in belief for me since September; 180 minutes of football has done that. Fair play, Imps.
Their goal isn’t great defensively. There’s a decent cross, which harsh critics would say should have been blocked, but it’s arrived at a red shirt despite the presence of three white shirts. As the net rippled, there were looks between Mitchell, Jackson and O’Connor, which underlined that they each thought the other might just be at fault. Someone was, but it’s not a blame game – instead, it’s a ‘don’t let it happen again’ moment.
I did like O’Connor’s foul late on. He dragged a player down with no intention of getting the ball. It might not be the sort of foul you like if it’s against you, and for a moment, I wondered if I was watching rugby, not football, but it was needed. It showed a bit of fight, a bit of ‘refuse to lose’ mentality, and whilst it could at best be described as uncouth, sometimes needs must.
I’m not going to pretend to have seen more when I haven’t. I’m writing this from the kitchen of an Airbnb near Bakewell after a great weekend with my Dad and brother; a weekend football hasn’t ruined. That’s where we are again now, at a point where I feel we’re doing ourselves proud. Two weeks ago, I sat after the defeat against Burton, thinking, ‘the injuries are not an excuse anymore’. Today? Well, I think you have to take into consideration the injuries – when they kicked in, I said if we clung onto the coattails of tenth and continued to do so until the players were fit, we’d be in a good position to kick on in the new year. That’s still the case, but I’m beginning to wonder if there are one or two fresh positives to take from the injuries.
Jack Vale is certainly someone who looks like he’s going to add value, and over the last 180 minutes, we’ve seen the Hakeeb Adelakun I got excited about when we signed. Perhaps, once Walker is back, Mandroiu and Hackett too, we’re going to have an even deeper squad than we’d hoped earlier in the season.
The draw was disappointing in the context of having led for so long, but it feels like it might have been the right result. I do think we can take comfort from the fact we’ve done it with injuries in a period of instability. There’s no reason to be overly concerned, and I certainly can’t be saying things like ‘two points lost’.
What I can say is I feel a sense of calm with what’s happening at the club. My fear was this period of stasis might be a slippery slope toward a relegation battle, but I think today’s result and the performances of the last ten days or so have proved me wrong. I can live with that.
Up the Imps.