New Era, Same Issues: Stevenage 1-0 Imps

Credit Graham Burrell

Before I start my write-up today, I want to stress something. These comments come purely from the perspective of a supporter. That might seem obvious, but it isn’t always the case.

I watch almost every game with two heads on. The first is that of a Lincoln fan, but the second is of someone who is expected to give an honest and unbiased view of the game. I watch from high up in the Coop Stand (GBM now, possibly? I lose track), I have a good view of the game, and I try in the hours after to dissect it in a fair manner. I watch 99% of games as a Lincoln City fan, but I try to see them as a pundit, an observer, and student of the game.

Yesterday, I did not do that. Yesterday, I watched purely as a fan, from one end of the ground (always harder), without my glasses (left on the bus) and after perhaps eight or nine pints of beer (which is why I left my glasses on the bus). There’s no doubt you get a different perspective on the game, one that perhaps won’t add a lot of value to your insights and observations. If anything, it gave me more of a sense of why there’s often anger, frustration and social media meltdown after certain games.

Credit Graham Burrell

I’m sure that sounds odd to you; you perhaps don’t have any other way that you watch a game, but for me, being able to put aside this write-up and just get carried away on a wave of (non) football was refreshing and infuriating. Why the latter? Because I know the game I saw and the game that actually happened are two different games. I now know why, after some of my articles, people will say, ‘you must have watched a different game to me’, because yesterday, I saw a different game, the one I would have done beer-free, wearing glasses, with a full view of the pitch. Who would have thought it? Football ability truly is in the eye of the beholder.

Honesty shout – I enjoyed switching perspectives, but I wouldn’t want to watch my football that way all the time. I like to be able to talk to you about pressing, possession, and tactical changes, but all I can really say is, ‘not much happened up our end.’ By that, I mean the goal right in front of the away fans. In the first half, we had a single shot on target from Stevenage and an xG of 0.33. In the second half, so I’m informed by Wyscout, we had two shots in front of us, one on target, with an xG of 0.07. It’s a good job most away days come with the motto ‘win, draw or lose, we’re only here for the booze‘ because if we were there for the football, we’d have been sorely disappointed.

With that in mind, I’m not going to insult your intelligence by coming on and telling you about a game I barely saw that almost exclusively happened 60 yards away from me. In fact, I couldn’t make out which dugout had our new man in it and which had Evans lolling about in front of it. How can I come on and tell you who played well and who didn’t? Later on today, Chris and I are on the podcast, and he’s watched the full game on iFollow, with the benefit of being able to see what was going on. He might tell me a thing or two I didn’t notice. Like what actually happened for 70% of the game.

What I do know is we may be into a new era, but it has already been plagued by the same issues that the last one suffered from – a lack of chances in the opposition box and a goal conceded from a corner. In my mind, this felt like a Mark Kennedy performance and result. I’ll temper that by saying I didn’t expect anything to change and that it takes time to implement those changes. Michael Skubala, in his post-match interview, basically said as much. We matched them in a dour first half (remember, from an entertainment point of view), but they made a change in the second period that we couldn’t cope with. I loathe Steve Evans with a passion. He is an odious man who employs the sort of antics and behaviour that I find outdated and reprehensible, but (I can’t believe I’m going to say this, even before I have a bit of sick has just formed in my throat), he knows football. He made a change, and they bossed the second period.

Credit Graham Burrell

On the day, I didn’t feel they did enough to win it. On reflection, they absolutely did. Okay, so their goal came from a set piece (again), and our set pieces were as dangerous as soggy kitchen towel (again), but that aside, they were still the better team. At the moment, coming away from the ground, I was full of so much anger that I refused to acknowledge they do what they do well. I couldn’t even say ‘how can you watch that every week’, because they could quite easily have come back and said ‘how do you watch that every week’, which yesterday would have been fair. We had four shots, all game, two on target. We could have played until Christmas and not scored, in my opinion.

Then I get brought back around to those crippling injuries – House, Hackett, Walker, Bishop (we assume), and now Vale (again), limping off in the second half. It’s easy to forget that we’re effectively short four attackers, leaving us much like an American Bully XL with rubber dentures. Although on yesterday’s second-half performance, a bit more like a two-legged American Bully XL, with rubber dentures. My comfort is it won’t always be like that. Michael Skubala will make changes, we saw that with the switch to 4-2-3-1 in the second half. That’s his preferred formation historically, and I can see it being the go-to formation in a few weeks. After the game, he said something like, ‘we went to four at the back, which they’re not used to’ – I could anticipate the ‘yet’, which never came.

Credit Graham Burrell

Having watched the highlights back, we did at last have a good chance in the first half, and I do recall us trying to make the pitch bigger and get down the flanks. We certainly limited a team that will likely be top ten this season to very little (hence me barely seeing the action up our end), and my initial assessment of ‘poor’ was perhaps harsh. However, in the second half, we were battered a bit. TJ seemed to make a few good clearances (again, hard to see up the other end), and the goal looks like a really weak one to concede. They had other chances, though, and in reality, losing 2-0 wouldn’t have been unfair. I did Stevenage a disservice with my assessment of two poor teams, but I won’t retract it on Twitter; only the Stevenage fans who bother to read this will get the full admission.

At half time, the Stevenage stewards did their best to live up to their reputation for being among the worst in the league with a display of whatever the opposite of common sense is. They let a smoker out for a cigarette but then wouldn’t let him back in again, claiming he knew he wouldn’t be readmitted, but he was happy to go out. The rank-and-file stewards admitted that it seemed silly and that to diffuse a situation, it would be sensible just to let him back in, but those with darker jackets, earpieces, and big egos came down from their towers and steadfastly refused, instead threatening others with ejection for fighting his corner. I don’t know what was said when our supporter went out, but surely once the game kicked off and the other smokers (many of whom just lit up in the ground anyway) had gone, they should just have let him in. Stewarding like that gives every yellow jacket a bad name, and I don’t think, in the main, the level of stewarding at ground across the division is bad.

Credit Graham Burrell

Anyway, we all got on the bus after the game, despondent at the result and fearing that perhaps nothing had changed. In the cold light of the morning, being 9th and having nothing change (I know we dropped a couple of places) isn’t such a bad thing. How can a new face make major changes in four days? He can’t. He clearly wants to, and there were parts of the game that were different. We didn’t create a lot, but then sides do struggle against the robust Stevenage, so why wouldn’t we? Could there have been a more challenging opening game that Evans away? Well, Wellens away is not going to be easy either, but once that’s out of the way, Barnsley might actually be the sort of game where the slightly more expansive game Michale Skubala wants finds a home.

Either way, I’ll watch those games through the eyes of a sober supporter, with glasses perched on the end of my nose, hoping to give you a proper feel for the game, not just a collection of observations that, in my heart of hearts, I know don’t really tell the full story.

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