From the off, I’ll admit, for the entire first half and patches of the second, we were not at the races yesterday.
However, I always try to see the good in the bad and the bad in the good, and I can never come away from a game without asking myself what I saw that disproves the seemingly general mood on social media. If everyone is praising the performance, I want to see what bits they’re overlooking. If everyone is angry, frothing at the mouth, and full of baseless accusations and false theories of a collapse, I want to see what they’re missing. People are entitled to an opinion, and I’m lucky that you respect mine enough to be reading this. With that in mind (the main word being respect), here’s my general feeling about the game – it wasn’t as bad as people seem to think.
Cue a good fifty people clicking the back button and going about their business. No worries, I’m chilled with that.
A lot did confuse me about yesterday. For instance, I don’t understand why we started with Smith, Haks, and Duffy up top, but Jack Vale and Jovon on the bench. I’m sure there was a reason that is a little more compelling than the ‘acting head coach is useless’ opinion we were forced to listen to from some guy on the way down from Gwynne’s. Picking Duffy, a move many have been asking for all season, wasn’t enough to stem the criticism from some supporters, and that did include me. Haks, despite a great evening against Charlton, is not a centre-forward. He doesn’t run like a centre-forward; he doesn’t get into centre-forward positions. With two centre-forwards on the bench, I confess to not being strictly happy with that aspect of the team. I guess I’d hoped for maybe Duffy, Mandroiu and Vale, something akin to round pegs in round holes. Other than that, I imagine Alex Mitchell is still recovering from what kept him out in midweek.
He’ll have to recover a bit quicker before next weekend after what happened in the 90 minutes of football yesterday.
Firstly, as always, the Remembrance service was impeccably observed and was as moving and poignant as ever. The wearing of a poppy and the silent reflection on the memory of those who gave their lives should have no political purpose today – it is about respect, acknowledging sacrifice and being grateful for one generation’s staunch belief in the fight for what is right. It should not be newsworthy for any other reason or leveraged by politicians, nor the extreme left or extreme right, for their own purposes.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Cue the referee’s whistle when the cheers for the game break to measured silence, and thoughts turn back to a game of football. I actually felt there was a great atmosphere before the game, especially after the FA Cup game last weekend. The 617 were in good voice, and all it needed was for an energised Lincoln City to come out of their corner punching to ensure a great afternoon at the Bank. Instead, we stumbled out looking dazed, disorientated and disjointed.
Of course, it is easy to forget we have lost Ben House, Tyler Walker and Reeco Hackett from the front three, as well as having Jack Vale and Danny Mandoriu on the bench – they’re our top five forwards, the five players you’d expect to be vying for three spots. Whether that is by choice (as it may have been with two players) or not, it is still a fact. I know some sections of the support are growing weary with it, now citing it as ‘no excuse’, but it really is a factor, a catalyst for the disjointed appearances of our front three (or top line, which is one of the new football buzzwords). If you’ve got square pegs in your toolbox but can only drill round holes, there’s always going to be a degree of ‘making do’.
You’ve also got a Port Vale side who are not as bad as their recent run suggests. Ollie Arblaster looked like a lovely little player, with an air of the Lewis Fiorini about him. Uche Ikpeazu is a classic ‘lump’ of a striker, always making defenders think with his presence, and Alfie Devine buzzed around the pitch looking lively. They came for a game, they didn’t just put up a wall and see what we could do; they felt they could beat us. Respect to Andy Crosby for that.
As early as the seventh minute, it took a diving Lukas Jensen to tip Devine’s header onto the post, an early scare for City. It came from a quick free kick; Port Vale were far more switched on than we were. In fairness, that perhaps describes much of the first half – the visitors looked lively, and their support was good both in terms of numbers and voice. They almost had cause to celebrate on 34 minutes; Jackson and O’Connor were taken out of the game by a delicious flick from Ben Garrity, releasing Devine. His ball to Ikpeazu was saved by the feet of Jensen.
Here’s the thing – there’s a misconception it could have been three or four at half time, but three would have meant all three of their efforts on target in the first half went in. Jensen made two saves before their goal, and that was it in the first half. Yes, we were bad, and yes, they were neat in possession, but this narrative that we were under the cosh was not right. Actually, in. between that, Ali Smith missed a glorious chance from a Duffy cross, goal gaping, waiting for a well-placed effort to ripple the net. I was just delighted to see Smith make the run into the box and for Duffy to deliver the right ball – because, all too often, that didn’t happen.
We were stodgy and slow in attack, we had possession but without any real purpose. Port Vale were good, but not great, but few could deny they deserved their lead, even if the perception is they were creating more than they did. Their goal was a lovely move – Ethan Hamilton losing out in a duel with Lewis Cass, then a sweeping move ending with Ethan Chislett’s cross being turned in by an unmarked Ben Garrity.
At least it wasn’t from a corner.
The other major talking point was Ollie Arblaster’s first-half booking. I didn’t pick up on it at the time, but he’s led with an elbow, clearly taking out Ethan Hamilton. It was only when I heard Gav Gordon talking about it on the way home I thought I’d look again – I missed it as I was at the toilet (I didn’t want to miss any of half time looking at my phone), but it’s not a nice challenge at all. Craig Hicks, the match referee, perhaps did get it right, but a pickier ref may not have done so.
As half time rolled around, there was a feeling of frustration around me, and I got why. The top line (now I’m at it) wasn’t working, there was little cohesion. Haks isn’t a striker, and it showed. Ali Smith isn’t a winger, so we shifted at one point to a 3-5-2, but it all felt a little confusing. Lasse’s touch wasn’t on his side, despite his constant running, and Jack Burroughs looked to be unable to impose himself on the game. It’s hard to be critical of any single player because aside from Duffy and (in my opinion) the ever-dependable Adam Jackson, the whole side just felt laboured and short of ideas. It wasn’t like we were trying to break down a bank of six at the back, either. I didn’t feel Port Vale were organised across their defensive line, and the right run, coupled with a good ball or two, could have unlocked their defence.
The players walked off at half time, and I was happy not to hear any boos. I did hear one guy from a couple of rows behind me say something like, ‘we just want to be entertained’. Whilst some might feel that wasn’t the case at five o’clock, I personally feel we did get entertainment in the second half. It’s seemingly never dull against Port Vale.