Value For Money: Imps 2-2 Barnsley

Credit Graham Burrell

As I walked down Sincil Bank last night, heading towards the car, I felt an elation. 

Sure, we’d drawn 2-2. We’d given away a one-goal lead and conceded two fairly sloppy goals, but I was in such a good mood. It’s not hard to put my finger on why – from minute one to minute 90, I always felt we had a goal in us. Every time we got the ball I felt we wanted to attack, we wanted to get down the sides, we wanted to get runners in. For 90 minutes, I watched a team that was set up to play the sort of football that gets you off your seat.

Aside from the odd game here or there, I’m not sure that’s always been the case. I’d draw a comparison with our 1-1 draw with Plymouth last season, a game we could have won 3-2 or lost 4-3. Kamikaze football (which yesterday wasn’t entirely) will always have fans interested, and whilst it’s true you’ll always do well if you’re not conceding, it’s also true that if you’re creating chances, you’ll score goals and win games.

Credit Graham Burrell

There’s a lot to unpick, and I don’t feel I’ll do it a whole lot of justice in a single article, but I shall try. Firstly, the starting XI raised a few eyebrows. Ted Bishop and Jaden Brown, both absentees for the Orient win, returned to the squad, but Sean Roughan and Ethan Hamilton missed out, so that’s eight players still missing from the squad. Michael Skubala played his wild card, giving Jovon Makama his first start in the Football League. Haks kept his place, with Danny Mandroiu stepping into the first team. Jack Burroughs came in to deal with the threat of Barry Cotter, and Ali Smith dropped into his preferred position in the middle of the park. The only bit that was ‘as you were’ was across the back, where Adam Jackson, Alex Mitchell and TJ Eyoma remained. Obviously, (C)Lasse started right back.

That’s not a team I expected to be playing a league game at this stage of the season, not least against a promotion rival hunting their first victory against the Imps this century, and their first league win at Sincil Bank in 51 years. That’s no slur on Jovon, Haks or Smith, but their starts were expected to come in cup games. Smith is the only Lincoln player to have appeared in every single game this season, league and cup. Haks has now appeared more times for the Imps this season than Liam Bridcutt did in his final season at the club. 12 months ago, Jovon couldn’t get a kick for Brackley in the National League North; yesterday, he led the line for an aspiring Championship side. That’s what we are – we aspire to promotion.

Credit Graham Burrell

For the first ten or fifteen minutes, it worked a treat. City came out of the blocks on fire, looking to get at a Barnsley side who were in the hunt for three points. They’ve got a great following in terms of numbers (a bit quiet until they scored) and a squad that is surely the envy of most teams outside the top six. John McAtee looked lively – he got 16 goals in 39 for Grimsby as they were promoted out of the National League (again) a couple of seasons ago, and he spent time at Scunthorpe. I’d have loved him here, and I think he showed why.

Whatever you think of Barnsley’s side, it was a slick City that scored first. A cracking move released Jack Burroughs, and he was felled right on the edge of the area. Penalty, or not? The replay suggests perhaps Ross Joyce got it right, not that he got everything right through the game. I haven’t done my referee article recently (I will resume normal service), but had I seen it was him, I wouldn’t have been happy. Still, he pointed to the spot, and Burroughs celebrated like we’d scored a goal. Not sure I like that – celebrate when the ball ripples the net, not before.

Credit Graham Burrell

Danny Mandroiu rippled the net, proving me to be a miserable bugger who should have let Burroughs have his moment. The on-loan Coventry man was excellent for much of the afternoon, and we had a solid shout for a foul right on the edge of the area not long after that, which Joyce waved away. The early penalty unsettled the ref I think, and he seemed reticent to give some really obvious fouls as the game wore on. Anyway, it’s not about him; it’s about Lincoln City.

It was almost about Jovon Makama. He looked really lively in those opening fifteen minutes or so, using his strength to bully the centre-halves. One thing Jovon has in his favour is his physicality – when he adapts that properly, he’s going to be a handful. He’s a little ungainly on the ball, Ollie Palmer-esque, as I said the other day, but that’s not a bad thing – Palmer has made a living out of what he does and Jovon can do the same. He was unfairly punished once or twice, and should have had a free kick on a couple of occasions as well. He should have had an assist – he strode away from the defence after a defensive slip, with Mandroiu free in the middle. An experienced striker crosses it, and a striker hungry for a Football League goal has a shot. He had a shot, the keeper saved it, and whilst some groaned around me, I wasn’t disappointed. A striker should want goals, and he got a sniff – the xG for that chance was 0.18, so it was worth the effort.

Credit Graham Burrell

As expected, Barnsley came back into it, and for the last 25 minutes of the half, we began to crumble a bit. A couple of players had a really challenging time, Haks being one. Haks has proven a point, I think, coming in from the cold, scoring some goals, and showing the sort of attitude that fans love to see, but he’s just not a player I see having a future at the club beyond his current deal, or even when we get a few bodies back. He plays it simple and keeps himself away from doing too much that puts us in danger, but a lot broke down on that side of the field. Ali Smith struggled a bit, too – I do wonder if perhaps the games are taking their toll on the youngster. He’s played Saturday/Tuesday, he’s played in so many different positions, and yesterday, I felt he was a long way off his levels.

What I would say is despite us perhaps panicking a bit as the half wore on, getting sloppier in possession, I never felt we were on the ropes. The visitors were quiet, and despite having some good possession, the visitors never really threatened. Cotter looked a handful on the flank, despite getting a round of boos for appealing what was 100% a foul that wasn’t given on him. We all love a pantomime villain, but every time he was booed, I feared it would spur him on. He looks such a tidy player, quick, eager to get on the outside and with a decent cross on him as well. One to watch, right there.

At half time, I was happy. 1-0 up, had the better chances, restricted them to a couple of little half chances, and despite giving the ball away a bit, I felt we had stood up well against a good side, likely to be around the top six for most of the campaign. Remember, they were beaten play-off finalists last season, they’re no mugs at all.

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