Do you know what I want to see in these sorts of games? Something. Anything.
By that, I mean they’re often a low-key affair, so you’re looking for positive that you can point to afterwards and say, ‘That’s why they’re worth the time’. £10,000? Sure, we’ll take that. Qualification for the next round? Yep, that too. Any new head coach will at least have a cup to test himself in, as well as the league. That’s a chance to see fringe players in action, an opportunity for those outside the starting XI to show what they can do.
On tonight’s performance, one young man who has not started a league game this season might just be in a new man’s plans when he finally touches down. Step forward, Dylan Duffy.
There were a couple of players who needed a big night – Jaden Brown, TJ Eyoma, and Jovon Makama are both around the squad but not starting, and on tonight’s showing, that won’t change. Dylan, on the other hand, was perhaps the only player who showed what he could do for the full 90 minutes, proving to be a constant thorn in a Notts County side who didn’t seem fussed that a decent win for them would give them an outside chance of progression.
My predicted starting line-up wasn’t a million miles out. Adam Jackson’s rejuvenation into a Saturday/Tuesday man took me by surprise, as did starting with Jack Vale, but otherwise, it was pretty much as expected. Shodipo didn’t start, underlining why he’ll be gone in January, and we chose to leave the Exocet Adelakun missile throw on the bench as well. As predicted, Burroughs started at right back, and it was Ethan Erhahon who partnered Ali Smith in midfield.
Boy, did we start at a pace. Those first eight minutes or so showed everything good about the team, full of high pressing and good tempo. I felt an early goal was needed just to set us on our way, and we got it fairly quickly. It was a high press, winning the ball back from a sloppy county, and Jack Burroughs sauntered through to score with ease. That was the first blow landed by us, and it did make County’s job a lot harder – I think they needed to score four to give themselves a chance of qualifying. At 1-0, we weren’t scot-free (a 2-0 win for Wolves U21 would have eliminated us), but at 2-0, we’d be through.
That, you would think, would have been enough for us to start pouring forward, but if you asked me what happened between the goal and half time, there’s only one moment I could point to, and that was County’s only real chance of the game. That was not long before the break, where a cool Adam Jackson goal line clearance was both nonchalant and nerve-wracking at the same time.
In between that City, playing a 5-4-1, offered nothing and stopped the visitors offering anything either. It was beige, bland and utterly functional. I saw posts describing it as ‘dreadful’ at half time, possibly from people who would kick off if they found a tenner because it wasn’t a twenty. It wasn’t entertaining, but often, football isn’t. That’s a fact, it really is, and it’s one people don’t grasp. Never, in the history of my watching Lincoln City, have I seen four games, back-to-back, that offered 90 minutes of entertainment. We were functional, a bit below par in possession, but happy to let them do what they wanted within 30 yards of our goal.
It’s Kennedy-ball at its finest. I don’t like it in the league, but in the BSM Trophy, where there’s £10,000 and a place in the second round at stake? When we have first team players on the field who we need to be a little more proactive on Saturday? When we’re playing our sixth game in 17 days? Crack on lads, conserve your energy. Burroughs, O’Connor, Jackson, Erhahon, and Vale will all likely start against Port Vale, Smith and Duffy will surely be in the mix as well. I don’t want to see them making lung-busting runs or heavy tackles after 35 minutes of a game we’re leading 1-0 against a team seemingly frightened of actually attacking us.
I’m not saying it was good, but dreadful? I’ve seen us lose 4-0 at home to North Ferriby and 5-1 at Halifax Town; I know what dreadful looks like. Believe me, that ain’t it, not by a long shot.
It wasn’t entertaining, as the attacking metric shows, but it wasn’t dreadful. it was just, well, a bit bland, apart from Duffy.
Whilst Makama and Brown struggled to show anyone watching on why they should be around the first team, Duffy put on a virtuoso display of energy, application and drive. Even he got sucked into the drab final 30 minutes of the first half, but after a change around at the break, he looked back on it. That may have had something to do with a change we made – Ethan Hamilton replacing Ethan Erhahon in what I imagine was a pre-planned sub. Hamilton offered a bit more drive, and that seemed to help Duffy catch light once again.
The second half still wasn’t scintillating, but we certainly had some chances. Duffy created one for either Makama or Smith with a jinxing run and teasing cross, but neither man looked likely to get the ball. Neither busted a gut to get into the box and perhaps one, with 300 minutes of football over the last two weeks, could be forgiven for that. Still, it was nice to see a winger getting on the ball, dipping a shoulder and looking to beat a man.
When we did put the game to bed, of course, it was Duffy who created it. Clever play saw him feed Jack Vale, and the on-loan Blackburn man did the rest. Credit to Jack, whilst we’ll applaud Duffy’s work, the striker still had a lot to do. He showed a real instinct to cut across a defender, then fire back into the right-hand side of the goal when a curling effort to the keeper’s left looked on. It was his last involvement, a pre-planned sub likely being what ended a decent evening for him. It was a huge relief to see him get off the mark, and once again (as with Mandroiu last season) we see a player coming back from an autumn injury getting a goal in the EFL Trophy.
The game was over at that point, as was our qualification. With a plus two goal difference, any result tomorrow in the Derby and Wolves U21 game sends us through. Anything other than a defeat for Derby sees them top the group and us drawn away from home (I believe that is still the case). However, a Wolves win by two goals sees them draw level on goals scored and goal difference against Derby, and so we’d top the group. A Wolves win by three or more would see them top the group and us finish second. It’s not complicated at all – we’re through, whatever happens.
After the goal we looked better – the game had gone from County, and whilst neither Adelakun nor Shodipo were successful in creating a threat, both turned in decent cameos.I do wish we were able to make more use of Adelakun’s throws whilst we have them – they’re as good as a corner, and whilst Haks may not be a player that feels like he is in the team’s long-term future, that weapon is a huge asset in the short term. I feel there are goals for us, but we have to attack the ball when it comes into the area or utilise someone on the edge as we did with Lasse a fortnight ago.
Analysing the game too much will be pointless. However, if there is negativity (and I won’t bother with social media to find out), then I don’t get it. We gave fringe players a chance, we never really looked like conceding, and we’ve kept a clean sheet at home. Vale has his goal, Duffy’s admirers have a good performance to back up their calls for him to come into the side, and we have seemingly avoided injuries that could complicate things for Saturday. What else did we expect? I often say that the line from James, Sit Down, ‘If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor,’ is one that resonates with me, but I fear it it also describes the symptom of too much football being on TV. We are fed top-flight football through our TVs every day, to the point where we get unrealistic expectations of our local teams. I say ‘we’; I mean ‘other people’ because I don’t watch a lot of other football, but it’s like the argument around young people getting a false view of sex because they’re exposed to too much porn at a young age these days.
We’re through; take the positives, give Tom Shaw a pat on the back for getting us out of the group when that defeat at Derby left us teetering on the brink and let’s just be happy. I find it incredible that anyone among our fanbase could be negative about a team that has just won 2-0 at home against a local rival, progressed to the next round of the cup and done it under a caretaker manager whilst having at least four first team players out injured, and plenty more on the bench. There’s enough in life to moan about, from FA Cup exits to an injury list that includes the three players you’d most likely have put as 1,2 and 3 to finish as our leading scorers.
Look at it this way – a week ago, we lost 2-0 at home; I got dog mess all over my trainers and ended up having to abandon my car on the A158 thanks to a broken clutch. after finishing this, I’m going to get a warm cup of tea and go to bed. Take the wins because the next one is never guaranteed.
Up the Imps.