It’s not very often I leave Sincil Bank genuinely angry. I usually have an argument to put to Dad, some method of picking him up from his post-defeat spiral that comes after a home loss. Yesterday I didn’t have that, I just had a concerned frown and a degree of silence to offer.
I was wet and cold, and for the second time in a week, I’d seen poor defending cost us a win. It’s November now, we’re what, a third of the way through the season, and we still can’t defend corners. That’s not the entirety of why I’m angry, nor the pure reason we are out of the FA Cup before the third round for the fifth campaign in a row.
It was a pretty solid catalyst for the defeat, though.
There’s no doubt yesterday was miserable from the minute we stepped out of the house. Drizzle all day meant I never got dry or warm. Around the ground, it felt a little bit flat, with far fewer fans than I can recall at any league or FA Cup game since we came back into the Football League. We have four home games in a row, something that surely put people off, alongside the weather. By the time I got to my seat, I discovered I had not one or two empty seats next to me but a row of seven or eight.
We went with a strong team, pretty much the exact team I called pre-game. I was surprised we didn’t play Jaden Brown, but it seemed we wanted to get Jack Burroughs to play in the middle for much of the game, leaving us looking more like a 4-4-2 than three at the back. The only other player I didn’t expect to see was Ali Smith, who got a start over Jack Vale. Outside of those changes, we were virtually at full strength.
Now, I know this is where I get told I watched a different game to you, and all the other things I usually get after defending a defeat, but I thought in the first half we were by far the better side. My prediction was an early goal settles the game – if we get it, they have to come at us more, and we can take advantage of that. If they get it, they drop deeper and would be hard to break down. Derek Adams has this Morecambe side punching well above their weight, and I respect that. As long as we respected that as a unit, acted professionally, and stayed true to what we were good at, we’d be in the hat for the second round.
It’s fair to say we could have been two or three up in the first half. The goal came from a lovely Mandroiu ball – he was in and out of the game, but when he was in it, he was a cut above. I know there are plenty of people talking about attitude problems and a bad dressing room on social media but, with respect, nobody is in the dressing room, and they’re judging attitudes on what? I didn’t see players arguing beyond anything I’d expect, I didn’t see players not committing to tackles or headers. I disagree with the perception we have a problem in the dressing room, I just think the hiatus in a permanent solution has left us, at times, lacking a little direction.
Still Mandroiu’s super ball found Lasse, who grabbed his fourth of the season with a smart finish. As far as I was concerned, that was the game right there. I told my Dad as much, and he chuckled; I knew he was waiting for the ‘you spoke too soon’ moment. In fairness, it didn’t come immediately.
Instead, we looked alright after the goal. I thought Ali Smith was looking very good as a kind of target man up top, linking well with Lasse. Haks was looking hungry, but I’m not convinced he suits the two up top system we played. I did find it a little baffling that we had two strikers on the bench and a central midfielder partnering a winger up top. I guess that just points a little to our injury situation, with House, Walker, and Hackett all still missing. I’m not using that as an excuse, you should set up to get the best from the players you have, something Tom Shaw underlined he tried to do (I think he said that in his post-match presser, to be fair, I found it difficult to listen through my mardiness).
We created chances, though, good chances – one crafted by Adelkaun for Hamilton really stood out. We hesitated to pull the trigger on a couple of occasions and missed the target on a couple of others, but I thought it was only a matter of time before we scored. Sure, Morecambe looked like a tidy outfit, arguably better than Cheltenham, Shrewsbury, and Carlisle, who we’ve faced this season, but I hadn’t ever felt we were going to concede. Until we did.
They get a corner, and they may as well get a penalty. That’s how I feel about the Imps and defending set pieces this season. My friend Roy messaged me after the Bristol Rovers game and said we have to learn to defend set pieces, and I tried to placate him, suggesting it was a temporary problem. Here we are, a couple of months later, and our inability to defend a simple delivery into the box has cost us a lot. It could have cost us a place in the next round of the League Cup and the FA Cup, and it has definitely cost us points in the league, with Carlisle and Burton coming to mind. You could argue it cost Mark Kennedy his job, and I dare say it may have cost Tom Shaw his chance of getting the role on a permanent basis right now.
Is it costing us bums on seats? Possibly. There were 900 fewer fans than the last time we played a League Two side at home in the FA Cup (Hartlepool), and only 900 more than when we beat Altrincham in 2016, before Oldham, Ipswich, and the big revival. I know there are other factors, but numbers don’t lie. I’m not hugely concerned as it was the FA Cup, but the first time we get a sub-7,000 league fixture, it might be a little more damning.
The goal was bad. It’s a free header from a corner, and then Mellon is able to turn the ball in despite being man-marked by Erhahon. I thought Ethan had a poor game again yesterday, and whilst I didn’t spot his involvement in the goal when I first saw it, I have now, and it’s not great. That said, Lasse and Ethan Hamilton are both in attendance when JJ McKiernan heads at goal. There are multiple reasons they shouldn’t have scored, but they did. We have to deal with it.
A corner is as good as a penalty against us at the minute
— The Stacey West (@Staceywestblog) November 4, 2023
I don’t usually tweet during a game, but I made an exception for that moment. In the last few months, how many players have scored past us from a set-piece delivery? I shudder to think. Still, at 1-1, I thought if we just came out and kept doing what we’d been doing (just not giving corners away), we’d be alright.
How naive am I?