Adam Jackson, Sean Roughan and Conor McGrandles hark back to a different era. Ted Bishop and Lasse Sorensen are old hands now. It feels like Reeco Hackett and Ben House are the same after returning from long lay-offs. Yesterday afternoon, on a tempestuous and controversial occasion at the Bank, the familiar faces paved the way for three points and stretched the Imps’ unbeaten run to five matches.
Unpacking this game will be like Vicky McClure trying to diffuse yet another bomb on the TV show Trigger Point. I’m going to tread carefully around some key incidents, but I imagine almost every opinion I have is at risk of blowing up on social media. I may as well wade straight in with the first opinion then, just for absolute clarity: I don’t like Fleetwood Town.
Most teams I find some sort of begrudging respect for, but with Fleetwood, there’s none. I’m not saying I want them to go down; I only reserve that for the Forest Greens of the world, but Andy Pilley’s antics seriously sent them down in my estimations, and that’s on top of them being a club largely living beyond their means. They have had transfer success, unlike Forest Green, so that is a slight saving grace, but they’re a team I’ve zero respect for.
I must confess I have respect for their supporters. They made a long journey in decent numbers compared to some ‘bigger’ clubs and made a fair bit of noise. What I really liked was their immediate reaction to the second Imps goal – I looked across as part of my celebrations (I occasionally gesticulate as well), and they were striking up their drum straight away. They feel like a set of supporters who probably deserve a club to follow with more integrity.
Anyway, I felt I needed to say that because I may let that disdain for them cloud some of my judgment, but I shall endeavour to remain as fair as ever. What felt massively unfair was the team coming out, and we’d switched, once again, to the surprise of who was not playing. Freddie pulled out late, and Ethan Hamilton also missed out, and that’s not good news. For Fleetwood, we could call on Ben House and Conor McGrandles, but will that be the case on Tuesday? Can we push House for another 70 minutes? McGrandles is almost certainly going to miss out as part of his loan condition, so it does pose a problem. Mind you, with Super Ted currently playing the most minutes and most consistent football since he’s arrived at the club, I do feel we might get through it. What this tells you is that pre-match, there was a degree of complacency amongst Imps supporters – we were in Gwynne’s thinking about Tuesday as if the Cod Army were there to be brushed aside.
Nobody is going to brush Brute Stockley aside, and with players like Ryan Broom and Gavin Kilkenny in the side, they’re always going to pose a threat. I had a niggly fear they might be more stubborn than most thought, but even I, the eternal pessimist, was backing City for the win.
I’ll clip the second bomb wire of the article and hope there’s no explosion – I thought we did okay in the first half. There’s a developing narrative that we were awful in the first and decent in the second. Gav, who sits behind me, summed up the first half as awful, and I wholeheartedly disagreed in the nicest possible way. The issue with much of the first half was situational bias – we were 1-0 down, so it must have been poor. It really wasn’t. Fleetwood, as expected, came to be compact and let us have the ball before hitting us on the break. I’ve no issue with that at all; we’ve made a living out of it for a couple of seasons now, so I’m not going to be a hypocrite. Give it to the big lump up top and let others pick up the bits and pieces. We had to be content with having a fair bit of the ball and probing for an opening.
We did as well as I felt we could without scoring. There were some good deliveries into the box – 15 in the first period, the most in the first half of a league game since February 11th last season, when we put 16 into Bristol Rovers’ box. Six of those found a Lincoln player, which I thought was impressive. Okay, we managed six efforts, none on target, but we were working our way forward. We had 13 touches in the box in the first half, once again the most in the first half of a League One game since February 11th last year. Those two numbers alone made me think we were far from awful.
There was an interesting moment involving Roughan and Erhahon. We had gone forward, found no joy and came back to start again, as we do. Roughan got the ball in the left defensive position; he had Erhahon square and Jensen back. He opted for Jensen, and I heard Erhahon yell in anger – I’m pretty sure he called him ‘Seanie’, but I might be wrong. He then turned to the bench, arms open, as if to suggest the plan is not to use the keeper but to try and go square to go forward again. Roughan had a good game, again, don’t get me wrong, but I liked the fact that Erhahon seemed to indicate a displeasure.
For the first 30 minutes, I had no doubt that we would win the game. Then, in a four-minute window, quite a lot changed. It started with Reeco – he picked up the ball just inside his own half, put his foot on it and looked for a pass. There wasn’t one on, so he checked inside, and there wasn’t one. He stopped, and the crowd just turned on him. It wasn’t booing, but the anger around me was really surprising. We’d been the better side, created a few half chances, but not through a lack of trying, and suddenly, the crowd were on the back of perhaps our most creative player in a single moment. I wondered if it might affect our confidence, although I’m sure that can’t be blamed for what happened a couple of minutes later.
The goal we conceded was just bad. Fleetwood had a single chance before the goal, a wild swing from Broom, but they went 1-0 up courtesy of a gift. Stockley’s ball over the top saw Omochere and Roughan in a foot race. The ball looks to be going through to Jensen, so Roughan slows up, seemingly happy his keeper is dealing with it. Jensen stays put, Omochere breezes in, nips past the big Dane and slides in from a tight angle. It is, sadly, a mistake by a keeper who has kept us in plenty of matches this season. Michael Skubala said after the game that Jensen held his hands up and apologised, so fair enough – no need to dissect further.
After that, we did have a great chance, Joe Taylor firing across goal, which was our best of the half. Had that gone in, I wonder if this ‘first half was rubbish’ narrative would have held up. I’m not sure it would. We were the only team showing complete intent to attack; we had a lot more of the ball (65% to 35%), and we just couldn’t break down a stubborn outfit. Yes, we went long a little, but it was mostly the big diagonal, and I get why we’d do that – we’re looking to stretch from one side to the other to make gaps. It’s why we would then look for deep crosses to the back stick, trying to draw defenders one way and the other to create a chink in the Fleetwood armour we could stab through.
The third bit of bomb diffusing has to be around the incident in the first half injury time. I’ve watched it back, from start to finish, and I feel it needs a bit more explaining. In different places, I’ve seen Stockley blamed, I’ve seen mistaken identity, claims of endemic racism in officiating, all manner of opinions. I’m going to tread carefully through this. Firstly, and this is important in my eyes, Lawal was already on a booking for one of those fouls I hate – he’s pulled Bishop back by the shoulder after being skinned in the middle of the park. It’s what Burton were doing all last week, what O’Connor was booked for at Exeter, and it’s too common. It wasn’t even a dangerous position, and it was a deserved booking that, in my opinion, could have amounted to serious foul play. It’s not a red; otherwise, Burton would have been down to six and O’Connor would be on his third red card of the season already, but it’s a stupid foul.
Point number two – the incident started from Fleetwood’s free kick, as House blocked Stockley’s run. If you watch the full match replay on iFollow, you’ll notice it top right of your screen. As we then try to break, Stockley does the same to House, but it’s an arm across, pulling him back. For me, that’s a yellow. Then it all goes off, Stockley and House wrestle, and you can’t quite see what happens, but I’d wager there’s enough for another ref to send both off. There’s stuff happening all over, and whilst Omochere and Erhahon do go head-to-head, Lawal is also bang in the middle of it all on a booking. There’s a push from Lawal at one stage, with the assistant referee’s eyes firmly on him. That is enough for a booking, and supporters are assuming that with Erhahon booked, it’s the coming together of him and Omochere that was drawing the yellows.
Either way, if you’re on a booking and you start getting involved in stuff like that, you’re walking a tightrope. Unlike Alex Mitchell last weekend, the first booking here was justified, and there’s no justification for him getting as involved as he did, on a yellow, in the melee. I think some people’s problem is that the referee seemingly needed reminding he’d already booked Lawal. Again, in the ref’s defence, I think he did the right thing, checked his book and sent the player off. However, it could be seen as an example of him believing he was booking Omochere.
Kudos to O’Connor, by the way. There are fines for players surrounding the referee, and whilst I’m sure we’ll still get one, the skipper was holding our players back, moving them from the referee and, in my opinion, protecting the ref from the usual harassment he faces.
I’ll deal with the calls of racism as well. I understand that some people might look and say getting two people of colour mixed up is racist, but it isn’t necessarily the case. Omochere and Lawal look similar – they have a similar build, skin tone, and haircut; it’s an easy mistake to make. Just like when I called Joe Taylor being on the ball, and it was Lasse – they’re both blond, similar skin tone, but at a distance, they’re hard to tell apart. Mistaken identity isn’t dictated by race; it’s dictated by two people having multiple similar physical traits to each other.
Hopefully, I’ve unpacked the bomb that was in the first half without blowing anything up. The second half is much better to discuss.