One Step Closer: Carlisle United 1-3 Imps

Credit Graham Burrell

Lincoln City recorded the fifth win in a row this afternoon in a game that was anything but routine to keep the pressure on at the top of the table.

Usually, a trip to a side doomed to relegation is a banana skin for us, but on paper, this had all the ingredients of a walkover. The Cumbrians have been poor all season, and we’re the in-form team in the division. I had no nerves before the game, which was a justified feeling. However, between 3 and 5 pm, I went on a rollercoaster of emotions. They say it’s the hope that kills you – I think it might be the belief.

Five wins in a row. The last time we won five games in a row was back in 2016/17, ironically including two matches over an Easter period, one away from home in the north of England. Oddly, the last time we won five Football League matches in a row was 2011, the season we went down. The most recent little spell certainly hasn’t been routine, and despite that it today’s result is that is important, not how we got there.

Credit Graham Burrell

My nerves were not helped before kick-off, seeing Danny Mandroiu was injured, and that was exacerbated when Lukas Jensen also dropped out pre-game. Those two tied for third place for last month’s Player of the Month, and both have earned rave reviews. Once again, we went into the game with one hand tied behind our back. However, Carlisle did too – Dylan McGeouch missed out, a game which has all-but confirmed him as a bit of a Jonah, experiencing relegation from League One in successive seasons.

I’m not going into a deep dive for this game (an hour later, it turns out I did) – tomorrow, there’s a day back at work for me, and there’s no learning to be had from these games. I spoke on the podcast about how this little run of six (now five) games are like a mini tournament, where we won’t learn much about the team, and we won’t be spotting patterns or possible problems. Instead, it’s all about results, five matches that could define the football club’s future. Look at it this way – for two years, we’ve been breaking down England’s performances, selections and tactics ahead of the Euros this summer, but the truth is when the tournament kicks off, it’s all about output, not learning, not preparation. That’s where we are right now. Five games. We know what we need to do, we know what the players can do, it’s just about the football. That makes good fanalysis challenging because I’m not looking for something insightful to tell you, but as a fan, it’s bloody exciting.

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Maybe I’m making this a little bit too basic. We did learn something; despite not featuring for the Imps since November and not playing a league game since April 18th last season, Jordan Wright looked comfortable and assured. I felt nervy when Lukas Jensen was ruled out at short notice, but Wright had a solid game. His first involvement saw him make a save from Dan Butterworth, a player I keep saying I admire greatly. Ironically, Butterworth was the last player to score past Wright in the league, scoring for Port Vale in our 3-2 win last season. On that occasion, Ben House scored not long after Butteworth’s goal. On this occasion, Wright saved from Butterworth, and Ben House still scored.

There was a period around the goal where I thought we could go on and get five, and the opener gave me the belief that it was achievable. It was a nice passage of play, a luscious deep cross from Lasse unselfishly headed back across goal by Joe Taylor. Ben made no mistake in giving us the lead; at that point, it felt like a formality. In fact, I dare say the goal itself felt like a formality. I haven’t ‘expected’ Lincoln City to score goals since the early part of the 2020/21 season, but I do now. When we play, I can always see us putting the ball in the net; there’s something about the way we push forward, the movement off the ball, and the space our players find that assures me we will score. It’s not arrogance, it’s not expectation as in ‘we should score here’, it’s more like ‘I believe we will score’. I have that every game right now, and so the opening goal was celebrated, but it was almost like I never doubted we’d score.

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I never felt we were in danger in the rest of the half. There were a few half-chances, one for Joe Taylor where he had a free header, but Carlisle looked really poor. Ted Bishop was outstanding, but in complete contrast to Friday’s game, we just had the run of the midfield. Carlisle had a half chance themselves, but I could clearly see why they’re where they are and, dare I say, why we’re where we are. A second, third and maybe even a fourth felt almost inevitable.

Carlisle offered next to nothing, and as Seb Stockbridge blew for half time, I felt completely at ease with where we were. Indeed, I spent more time looking at other scores, and despite Oxford winning, they made pleasant reading. For a moment, I wondered if Barnsley were going to lose, closing the gap on fifth to just four points. It’s always dangerous to get too comfortable in football, and maybe as I sipped a brew in front of iFollow, I felt comfortable.

Big mistake.