On Yer Bikes, Tykes: Barnsley 1-5 Imps

Credit Graham Burrell

Someone is going to get a thrashing one day. We’ve been saying it on the podcast for a while, and last week against Shrewsbury, we thought it had finally happened. It turns out we were only warming up.

Sometimes, I sit down and wonder exactly what I should write in my report. What angle should I take on these articles? It was proclaiming a late tilt at the top six for a while, but last weekend’s draw with Stevenage paid for that, or so I thought. Here we are, one week later, and if anything, the belief that we can be a part of that conversation is stronger than ever. Should that be my angle today, me being premature last weekend?

Or, should my angle be slightly bemoaning that horrible luck before Christmas, where we had no strikers to choose from? What if we had? What if we’d had strikers when we drew 1-1 with a poor Carlisle side? What if we’d been able to put players on with a natural inclination to finish when we drew at home to Port Vale? What if, instead of going down to ten men against Burton and Bolton and losing those games, we’d drawn them? All these instances are small, but we’d have a couple more points and perhaps a stronger case for looking at the top six and believing. Should that be my angle?

Credit Graham Burrell

What I’m going to do is neither. I’m going to take one 90-minute encounter as a standalone episode in a binge-worthy series and talk about it individually. The truth is, I don’t know what part this episode plays in the overall plot, whether we are indeed making a late run to the play-offs, or whether this is a build-up to something for next season. Sometimes, you just have to look at a work of art on its own merit. In 20 years’ time, few will remember what this game meant in the context of the season, but anyone who watched it will remember it as the day we thrashed a top side on their own ground whilst missing (at least) four players who would absolutely have been a part of the squad, were they fit.

That’s right – Barnsley we without a key player, Donovan Pines, but we were missing several. Let’s be honest – Tyler Walker and Lewis Montmsa would be in the squad had they been fit. Ethan Hamilton and Conor McGrandles would have played 100% had either been fit. Ted Bishop, had he not been omitted as a precaution, would have started. Hell, there’s even an argument that Jack Burroughs, back in the squad after his lay-off, would have played had he been two games into his return. Could we argue that there were six first-team players out? I’d say so, and yet we still had the option to leave Jack Moylan on the bench. Impressive.

Credit Graham Burrell

It meant a real shuffle around for City, with Danny Mandroiu playing deeper with Ethan Erhahon in midfield. Ben House played behind a front two of Freddie Draper and Joe Taylor, which gave us a really attacking feel. It felt gung-ho, given that our opponents are one of the best sides in this division. Do not forget, they started the day in fourth, three points behind second place, with a game in hand. Do not forget they’ve only lost once in the league since November 11th and only once at home since September 30th. Critics of Michael Skubala (who are few and far between these days) might argue that we had a relatively ‘easy’ February with Burton, Fleetwood, Exeter, Port Vale, and Shrewsbury, but this was far from easy. This was Derby and Peterborough territory. This was a big game.

This was a huge statement of intent for this season or next.

The enforced change, the square pegs seemingly pushed into round holes, worked a treat. We’ve had a habit of starting well, and we did just that despite being in front of the vocal 14,158 crowd. In fairness, almost 2,000 of those were City fans, and it certainly was the Lincoln boys making all the noise as the Imps set about the Tykes without fear.

There is a big difference between the lack of strikers in autumn, and the lack of midfielders now – we do still have a midfielder who is one of the very best in the division. Lots of people will be lauding the performance of different players tonight, but my Man of the Match, without a doubt, was Ethan Erhahon. He reminds me of Liam Bridcutt more and more, but he is just fitter and younger. He glides around the field, prowling like a security guard protecting the perimeter fence of Fort Knox, and when he gets on the ball, he’s as cool as a polar bear’s paws. He was outstanding in those first 15 minutes or so, and, indeed, throughout the encounter. Mandroiu slotted in nicely alongside him while the front three pressed high and hard. I had the away comms on iFollow, and they were impressed with our intensity and purpose.

Credit Graham Burrell

You’ve all seen the goals, but I guess I’ll discuss them for the purpose of preserving them here for the future. The opener was a carbon copy of our goal away at Plymouth last season. Barnsley, who looked dangerous if a little lax in possession, saw an attack break down. Mandroiu spotted the ball before anyone in the stadium, a wonderful up and over that was less long ball and more accurate ping than people may appreciate. Lasse was on his bike, and his one-touch cross found Joe Taylor in acres of space. He kept his cool to finish with aplomb past Liam Roberts to give City an unlikely lead.

I say unlikely, but I don’t mean surprise. I shouted on the podcast this week that I expected both teams to score (not the bravest prediction for a game involving Barnsley) and that I felt we could get something from the game. Our scoring in the match wasn’t a surprise; we’d started well and looked threatening, but I didn’t expect us to take an early lead. I confess, it did concern me. I felt we now had something to protect, and we might retreat, looking to take the slender lead home with us 75 minutes later. That’s naive of me – this is Michael Skubala’s Lincoln, not his predecessor, and there’s no sitting back. The game plan was for us to be on the front foot, defending from number nine backward, and we could have had a second, Taylor drawing a fine save from Roberts.

Credit Graham Burrell

Inevitably, Barnsley had their spell, and it came for the final 15 minutes of the first half. I don’t actually think the home side were that bad, despite what the scoreline suggests. Cadden had the beating of Sorensen time and again, whilst Adam Phillips demonstrated why he, rather than Reeco, just picked up the Player of the Month award. I’d say we rode our luck in this period, but we didn’t. We defended well, Jensen commanding his area and the back three blocking, tackling, and harassing whenever the need arose. It was a hairy 15 minutes, and usually, I’ll say something like, ‘I never felt we’d concede,’ but the truth is, I did. I did feel there was a goal coming for the home side, and whilst they’ll feel sick right now at the result, I still think, going forward, they’re one of the best sides we’ve seen in a few months.

I was thankful we got to half time without conceding. I’m also thankful I’ve got to half-time (and I could go beyond) without mentioning the referee. He was appalling when he took our game with Cheltenham earlier in the season, and despite a few fussy free kicks both ways, he had a decent game overall. I wouldn’t want him every week, but for someone used to League Two matches, this was a relatively big game for him, and once he got going, I thought he handled things sensibly. He does still like a yellow for dissent though, but rules are rules.

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