Imps 1-2 Grimsby – Cod Is Great

Something strange has to happened to me over the past couple of years. I’ve started to feel sorry for Grimsby Town. To drop one level below your natural position, as we have done, is one thing. To plummet through the leagues in the manner Grimsby have is entirely another. In September 2001 they topped Division 1. Now they play league games against Barrow. It’s too much for one club to take. So now instead of reacting to a Codland misfortune with mocking laughter I now find myself saying “oh dear”.

“Grimsby lost 5-0 to Braintree!”

“Oh dear”.

“Grimsby got knocked out of the cup by Salisbury!”

“Oh dear”.

And during the first half at Sincil Bank yesterday it looked like being another one of those “oh dear” days for Grimsby Town. Outplayed in every area of the pitch they went in at the break a goal down, but it should have been considerably more.

Conal Platt, on loan from Cambridge and a lively presence in the first half, opened the scoring after the Grimsby defence allowed him a lengthy solo run. City had other chances too, notably Francis Laurent’s close range effort early in the half that forced a quick, low diving save from impressive goalkeeper James MacKeown.

Immediately after the half it was all Grimsby. The travelling Mariners had emerged from their dressing room long before the Imps, clearly raring to get going. And so they did, going close early through Bradley Wood and Emmanuel Panther. The equaliser came when what initially looked like a well taken corner found the head of Scott Garner. In fact the taker had slipped. A fluke. Obviously the luck was with Grimsby today.

Nine minutes later came the winner, a pass played into the path of Liam Hearn and slotted under Paul Farman as the Imps back line struggled to adjust to the loss of Josh Gowling.

At that point it was clear that the game was up. The lowest scoring team in the league, one devoid of the confidence to come back from behind was done. Forty-five minutes of good work, undone in ten.

We hope for better in the rematch on New Years Day.

So why did we lose then? Simply, I think, complacency. Even the Grimsby management acknowledged we were the better side first half. The telling thing was the way both sides reacted. Our players went in high fiving each other at a job well done. Theirs came out early, gagging to get at us.

What do we need to do to win on New Years Day? Remember that the game doesn’t end if and when you take the lead.

Man of the Match: I’m too annoyed to nominate one.

Moment of the Match: Conal Platt’s mazy, jinking dribble to set up his goal.

Best Name of the Match: Emmanuel Panther.

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England 1-0 Spain – bolting the door

This weekend I turned my back on the honest toil of non-league football to visit Wembley for an England match for the first time. Swapping Barrow for Spain was a hardship, granted, but here’s what I learned.

1. Fabio Capello needs to credit Ottmar Hitzfeld and Switzerland for inspiring England’s victory.

I bet that during his preparation for this game Fabio watched a tape of Spain’s famous defeat to Switzerland in the group stage of the last World Cup, because the tactics were identical. For most of the game England played a nine man defence with Darren Bent or his replacement Danny Welbeck the only man permitted to be away from the penalty box when Spain had the ball. Spain were free to play their tiki-taka passing game in two thirds of the pitch, until they reached the final third when whatever they tried would get shut down. David Villa is good, but not good enough to deal with a defence of those kind of numbers. Neither was Fernando Torres when he was brought on later in the game to bolster Spain’s striking options.

Some have moaned about the way England played, notably Cesc Fabregas, but England did exactly what they had to do to beat Spain. Frustrate, defend in numbers and hope for a goal on the counter attack or from a set piece. Teams who play open football against Spain or Barcelona, who contributed five of the starting eleven, get destroyed.

Of course, Switzerland went out in the group stage of the World Cup, while Spain won it. Read nothing into this result.

2. The gap between top level international football and the Blue Square Premier is unbelievably huge.

There are some things you can only appreciate when you see a game in person, and the difference in skill between non-league football and the best team in the world is one of them. Watching Spain stroke the ball around, directly to feet, often without even looking I realised how bad Lincoln’s level of football actually is. They may as well be playing completely different sports, such is the gap.

3. Spain need a Messi.

Barcelona play teams that play like England did every week. The difference between Barca and Spain is that Leo Messi can unlock the most stubborn of defences while his clubmate David Villa plainly can’t.

4. Wembley’s unoccupied corporate seats are an embarrassment.

Walking down Wembley Way it was hard to ignore the flashing signs saying “MATCH SOLD OUT”. And it was. Not everyone who had a ticket turned up, however. Many of the stadium’s corporate boxes were empty and lots of the seats in the middle tier ‘Club Wembley’ section were unoccupied. The official attendance was 87,189, significantly down on Wembley’s official capacity of 90,000. If England v the World Champions doesn’t pack the place out, what will?

5. Leaving Wembley is a nightmare.

We left the game in the 88th minute, thousands did the same. A stadium that forces you to leave before the event you came for is over if you want to get home at a reasonable time is a badly planned, badly situated stadium.

Man of the Match: The sponsors gave this to Scott Parker, but I have to disagree. Joleon Lescott was titanic at the back and never looked in danger.

Moment of the Match: The goal. Absolutely absurd, completely against the run of play and oh so satisfying.

Bizarre ‘really?’ moment of the match: The booing of Fernando Torres when he came on. Is the guy English football’s pantomime villan now?

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Imps 2-1 Barrow –

Finally! A Lincoln game that I didn’t want to immediately forget about as soon as I left the ground.

This was a much changed, reinvigorated Imps side to the one that succumbed so lamely to Alfreton in midweek, bolstered by three midweek signings. In came goalkeeper Paul Furman on loan from Gateshead, excellent in covering for the suspended Joe Anyon. There was also Conal Platt, a winger deemed surplus to requirements at Cambridge United, but crucial in setting up Sam Smith’s opening goal on 20 minutes.

Also new for the Imps was former Sheffield Wednesday defender Richard Hinds, signed on until the end of the season who provided some much needed stability and experience at the back.

Two minutes after Smith’s goal (his third in three games) it was Jean-Francois Christophe’s turn to get on the scoresheet with an outrageous shot from outside the box.

Lincoln appeared to flag towards the end and allowed Barrow back into the game, but their 93rd minute goal was little more than a consolation.

So, we were decent then?

For once, I can say yes without having to qualify my praise. This wasn’t “an encouraging sign” or “a possible turning point”, this was a solid, competent performance by the Imps of the type unseen since our winning run back in January and February of this year. It was a performance good enough to rouse even the Echo Stand.

All good then?

No. Josh O’Keefe remains a concern, he’s simply never going to be the type of box-to-box midfielder he aspires to be.

What about Barrow?

Certainly a cut above some of the teams we’ve seen this season. They’re slightly more than your typical “run and fight” Conference team, although they did plenty of both. Excellent loud support too, until the Imps took control.

And our new guys?

Paul Furman has the longest throws and kicks I think I’ve ever seen from a goalkeeper, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has had more than a few assists in his career. Conal Platt was excellent, a lively presence down the flanks and created the first goal. Richard Hinds looked composed, a definite cut above the rest of our defence.

Man of the Match:

We all like to moan when the match sponsors take the cop out option and give man of the match to the goalscoring striker, but I’m going to do exactly that. Sam Smith, eight goals so far this season, you deserve it.

Moment of the Match:

Jean-Francois Christophe‘s goal and celebration. The goal itself was great, real punch the air, jump up and down goal. The celebration was even better, he ran all the way back to the dugout screaming his lungs out and joined the rest of the team in mobbing the new manager.

What the boss should be doing this week:

We’ve got two weeks off, pretty much. Holdsworth needs to concentrate on just one thing, fitness. Getting these lads into shape, Barrow could have snatched the game from us and it’d have been entirely down to the whole team running out of steam. This needs sorting, now. We won’t always go into the last ten minutes with a two goal cushion.

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Wayne Rooney – an Olympian?

OK so yesterday Wayne Rooney was banned by UEFA for the first three games of Euro 2012. The debate raged, do we take him, do we not take him?

Here’s an idea I’ve seen no-one put forward yet. Euro 2012 isn’t the only tournament being played next summer. We are actually hosting one too, the second most important worldwide football tournament.

I’m talking, of course, about the Olympics. The football competition at the Olympics is played with squads of players under the age of 23, with three over-age players in the squad. How about leaving Wayne at home when England head to Poland and Ukraine, and having him take one of the over-age spots to lead the line for Team GB in London?

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Imps 2 – 0 Bath – McCallum cleans up

A 2-0 win against the BSP’s bottom side was the minimum Steve Tilson’s men could get away with on Saturday and the duly delivered, dominating a poor Bath team from start to finish.

As so often this season Imps number 8 Alan Power was the engine room, tireless in the 30 degree heat. But it was Gavin McCallum who would play a key role in both goals. City’s first, on just 19 minutes, saw a McCallum cross from a quickly taken throw find the head of Sam Smith. Ten minutes later McCallum again surged down the left, cut into the box and smashed the ball past the helpless Bath keeper for his first of the season.

After the break things settled down, City appearing to fade slightly in the heat after a lively opening half. But if there was a team against whom they could take their foot off the pedal, it was Bath. Winless this season with just three points they offered little threat to the Imps. Their only real sustained period of pressure came towards the end of the game when they had a sequence of corners, but Lincoln’s back line proved more than equal to it. And by that time, it was far too late.

Moment of the match: Gavin McCallum charging along the wing on his way to bagging City’s second goal.

The opposition: Which cliché would be best here? “You can only beat what’s put in front of you”? “A win is a win”? Both true, this isn’t the season changing win we’re all hoping for, Bath lacked in every department. The tone was set in the first minute when Ali Fuseini was allowed to waltz through the whole Bath team and have a pop at goal. It was obvious from that point that they shouldn’t cause us any trouble.

Their only bright spot was midfielder Marley Watkins who at one point performed a perfect Zidane turn, but was bafflingly withdrawn from the game after just 55 minutes.

For Bath fans there’s plenty to be concerned about, not least a troubling lack of team spirit. When Lee Phillips went down injured the only people interested in if he was alright were Lincoln players, and when he was carried off the field it was by Josh Gowling and John Nutter rather than his own teammates. When players don’t care about the physical wellbeing of their own teammates…you have big problems.

Man of the match: Gavin McCallum was a decent shout from the sponsors, crucial role in both goals. Alan Power was excellent as always, though.

Possible nicknames for Bath City we made up during the boring bits of the second half: The bubbles, the taps, the mats, the showers.

Game in a sentence: Almost good enough Tilson, almost.

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What’s the matter with Lincoln?

Twelve games in, and things are bad. Fourth bottom of the league with only two wins all season we are literally at the club’s lowest ever point. But what’s gone wrong? Here’s some thoughts:

1. We play like a Football League team.

I genuinely think that this group of players, in League 2, would be higher in that league than we are in this one. The fact is, we play the wrong way for this league. Remember how quickly Forest Green resorted to the long ball on Saturday (from the first minute, pretty much), remember how physical the technically inferior Kettering were and note how difficult we find it to play that way, or counter teams who do. It’s all well and good playing the ball on the ground, but it’s obviously not working.

2. We have no self belief.

Aside from Forest Green at home, every time we’ve gone behind this season we’ve gone on to lose.

3. Our forwards aren’t scoring goals.

We actually have the 11th best defence in the league, could be better but our problems aren’t at the back. Our real problem lies up front, where we have the second worst forward line in the league. And it’s unfair to credit our “forward line” with many of these goals. The last time one of our forwards scored? Kyle Perry against Telford on August 23rd.

4. The fans are drifting away.

Look at this sequence of numbers: 2,448. 2,211. 2,152. 2,269. 1,587. 2,076. Those are our home attendances for the season, an obvious downward trend. We’re in danger of getting sucked into a spiral here. Poor team loses fans, the club loses money resulting in an even poorer team, which will lose fans and so on. The slow death of a football club is playing out before our very eyes, unless results start to turn around now.

5. We have actually been quite unlucky.

This is Tilson’s defence. And he’s right, to some extent. Listening to the commentary on Tuesday night, we had plenty of chances to take the lead and dominated the first half, until Barrow’s goal. On Saturday we really should have beaten Forest Green, we certainly had the chances. We should have taken a point at Luton, should have beaten Stockport and Wrexham too.

But we didn’t.

The bottom line is, if we don’t beat Bath City (W0 D3 L9) on Saturday, Steve Tilson has to go.

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Imps 0-2 Kettering – how much worse can it get?

Legend has it that at the opening match of USA ’94, between Germany and Bolivia, some of the local fans, ignorant of the rules of the game, began to leave the stadium after Jurgen Klinsmann’s opening goal believing that in football the first goal is the winning goal.

I can only assume that the Lincoln City squad suffers from the same confusion over the rules. Once again against Kettering we conceded and simply stopped playing. Just like Darlington (where the killer blow came after 30 seconds), Kidderminster and numerous games last season, as soon as we go a goal behind, we stop. Game over.

There are two Lincoln City’s (Cities?). The first is the one which was on the field between the first and sixty third minutes of the game. They outclassed the excuse for a football team that was put on the field against them. Without the intervention of the excellent goalkeeper and the post on two occasions we’d have gone into the break with a comfortable lead, and one which would have been fully deserved.

The second Lincoln City is the one that visibly surrendered as soon as Kettering snuck a goal with their first shot of the game. It seems to me that our problem isn’t tactical, or in personnel, or the manager.

Our problem is mental. We believe we’re going to lose when we go behind, fans and players alike. The groan that went round Sincil Bank when Kettering took the lead said it all. I almost stood up and left, there was simply no way we were getting anything from that game at that point.

I’m not yet on board the ever growing “Tilson must go” bandwagon (can we afford to sack him? who can we get in instead?) but…it’s not going to be long. And I simply don’t see how a group of players this low on confidence can be turned around.

Question of the day: What greater power has Lincoln City football club and it’s fans angered to merit this punishment? Who do I have to sacrifice a goat to for a home win?

Man of the match: Thought Alan Power thoroughly deserved the nod from the sponsors.

Fast improving “see, I told you he was alright” player of the game: Ali Fuseini. A class above at this level.

The opposition: The worst team I’ve ever seen. And they beat us. Enough said.

Game in a sentence: OH GOD MAKE IT STOP

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