Complete Control: Cambridge United 0-3 Imps

Credit Graham Burrell

The Skubala era is up and running, with another three points for the Imps as we sign off from League One action for a week.

Last season, the Cambridge away trip was painful as we went down 2-0, and the home game was equally so as we drew 0-0 in a bore fest. One of those games had me asking the first questions about the previous regime; the second was a turning point and had me openly telling people in the pub I struggled to back the boss. Once again, a game against Cambridge has helped cement my opinion, and in this instance, it is that Michael Skubala is going to bring an exciting era to Lincoln City.

The last ten days have seen Skubala’s Lincoln City play four League One matches, and in the next ten, we won’t play any. The battered squad desperately needs that, not least with the injuries piling up. Tonight’s squad was not only missing the long term absentees (House, Walker, Hackett and Montsma), but also Sorensen, Roughan and Ted Bishop. That’s seven injuries, something the tired squad has not been protected against in the recent games. We are without a game in all competitions this weekend, and the lads have a weekend off to rest and recuperate. They need it after the intense spell of fixtures but also after a really heroic and committed performance this evening.

Credit Graham Burrell

The big call was leaving captain Paudie O’Connor on the bench, with the back three of Jackson, Mitchell and Eyoma keeping their place. I thought O’Connor would come in, but it showed faith in the players we have that they were all preferred. Duffy came in at left wing back with Jack Burroughs switching to the right. It was nice to see Ethan Hamilton partnering Erhahon in the middle, with Makama getting a second EFL start with Mandroiu and Smith tucked in behind. It’s a makeshift XI, there’s no dobut that, but it’s also seemingly an XI that can easily hold its own in the upper echelons of the League One table.

The opening ten minutes certainly hinted at an open game. Sully Kaikai, a player I always felt should be playing higher, looked lively on one flank, whilst former Bolton man Elias Kachunga looked dangerous on the other. In the first ten minutes, they had a decent shot saved by Jensen before we had an opportunity. It fell to Duffy, who was taking every opportunity to get forward. A pinpoint cross from Smith found the Irishman on his birthday, but his side-footed volley was weak.

Credit Graham Burrell

The game then turned on two penalty shouts in the space of five minutes. Jensen and Ahadme contested a loose ball, with the former Norwich youngster going over in the area. It was a heart-in-the-mouth moment, but referee David Rock strode towards the striker and issued the yellow card. Not long after that, following a prolonged spell of impressive Imps possession, we got our own penalty. It was the first real glimpse of us in full flow – holding the ball, finding passing lanes and waiting for a chance. Duffy got the chance, released by a superb Mandroiu knock, but we didn’t get to see what might happen as he was bundled to the floor by Morrison. Rock had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

Mandroiu scored a penalty at the weekend, going to the keeper’s right. If Jack Stevens had been watching and hoping for a hint, he was thrown a curveball as Mandroiu went high and hard to his left. 1-0 City early doors, just like the weekend, and the Imps’ 2600th away goal, so Bubs informed me.

After that, the important aspect was for us not to concede. I felt if we kept it tight and limited their chances, we’d have a good chance at a second, and for 15 minutes, that’s what we did. Hamilton had a drive forward with the ball as he does, his shot ending up in the keeper’s grateful arms, but other than that, both sides looked cautious. We had good, controlled possession and never looked in danger, whilst the home side had a few spells but didn’t create a good chance.

Credit Graham Burrell

When the second came, it surprised everyone by being from a corner. On Saturday, we got a point after goals from the penalty spot and a corner, and we won the first half here with the same. Hamilton’s long-range effort was blocked, and after one failed delivery from Mandroiu, another was cleared. It fell to Duffy, prowling the edge of the area like a man wanting a present for his birthday. He certainly got one – the ball dropped to him in all sorts of space, and when his shot found its way through the crowd, the keeper felt like being generous, fumbling the save with the ball dropping into the back of the net. Happy birthday Dylan, with love from Jack Stevens.

After that, City looked like they might get another. Duffy had a good effort parried out by the keeper, but it was a straight canter to half time with little to worry us. Cambridge barely threatened in the first period 0 their shot in the first ten minutes was the only one they had all half. It was almost enough for me to go with a ‘thre-easy does it’ headline, but I can’t really figure out how to write three-sy with it making sense. Anyway, I say easy because that’s how it looked, but it wasn’t – it was a game we controlled by putting in hard work and graft, by working tirelessly and showing good control in possession. Few did that as well as Danny Mandroiu in the first period – he worked endlessly and always looked like he wanted to drive us forward. I’m delighted by that, because he had a tough spell after Kennedy left, but I think he’s beginning to get back to his levels.

Credit Graham Burrell

I could almost write the same for Ethan Erhahon, who was outstanding in everything he did in the first half, and subsequently the second. TJ has had a patchy period under MK as well, but he’s a player reborn, and from three composed and calm centre backs, he probably just stood out. I keep waxing lyrical about TJ, but I think there’s a Championship player in there, waiting to get out. He’s a bit like Lasse in that all he wants is to be loved, and he thrives on that.

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