Andrew Abbott's Blog

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

This is why Lincoln City have struggled this season.

Another day, another defeat and there’s no disgrace in losing to a side that are second in the league especially when it was a narrow 1-0 reverse to a team that had absolutely pelted us at Sincil Bank last November. Once again, the Imps were level and once again, one slip led to a defeat. Cian Hughton, who had waited patiently most of the season for a start, plainly not well regarded by the manager but the loss of Kelly and others forced Tilsons hand and start he did. He was interviewed after the game by BBC Lincolnshire’s Michael Hortin but unfortunately the interview is not yet available so no direct quote but what he had to say spoke volumes for this correspondent. It was along the lines of today’s performance shows that we are in a false position as we matched Bury. No Cian. No no no in the words of a well known Lincolnshire politician. Today’s performance does not show we are in a false position it shows why we are in the position we are in.

Those of us with very long memories may remember the last time the Imps were promoted. Easy victories were very few and far between. Promotions are gained by winning games such as this. Promotions are achieved by keeping going, scoring injury time winners and equalisers, never giving up, refusing to regard defeat as acceptable and being determined to put it right next time, being a winner. Matching a side is not being beaten by them. There are no points for moral victories. Cian Hughton will not be around next season and this attitude shows why. Frankly it would have been more impressive if he had come out and explained that it won’t be much of an interview as he was so gutted at losing but no. We matched them in a 1-0 loss kind of way.

Rant number two. Gavin McCallum was in the Lincolnshire Echo this morning returning to an old theme. It’s all our fault City don’t perform well at home, the players are frightened of playing in front of their own supporters, we get on their backs, boo them when all they did was get beaten by a whopping margin, making us sit there being laughed at and belittled by away fans who can’t believe their luck. What did you want, a standing ovation?

For Gavin and Cian, for all the players information we don’t want you to fear playing in front of us, quite the reverse we want to cheer you on, share your joy, feel your pain, be one of you just for a couple of hours, forget our troubles, forget everything, just for a couple of hours. Every now and then we want to cheer you to the rafters as you celebrate a promotion. People moan because they’ve spent hundreds of pounds for a season ticket or £18 for an afternoons “entertainment” only to get laughed at.

Monday will present another opportunity to go out on something of a high. Cheltenham are no great shakes. We will be down to the bare bones so those of us there will be your staunchest supporters. We will get behind you from the start, as we always try to do and we promise to try to keep going. We may groan at a mis-placed pass but please keep trying them. We want you to win but we accept that’s not always possible, just give it your best shot.

Monday is another chance, please try to take it. Rant over.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Tilsons future prospects

There is of course the small matter of negotiating the remaining four league two fixtures but Steve Tilson waved the starters flag on Wednesday evening for what is expected to be a lively close season at Sincil Bank. A large number of triallists featured in the reserves defeat against Middlesbrough. In fact, of the team at the beginning, only one player was actually registered to the Imps as Tilson signalled his intentions for what we are presuming to be a fairly comprehensive clear out, budget constraints allowing of course.

First , however we must complete the remaining games and the not inconsiderable obstacle offered by Bury who started off City’s alarming habit of being comprehensively thumped at home, winning 5-0 back in November. Since then they’ve lost their manager to you know who but have hardly broken stride and sit in second place. Anything other than another mauling could be considered a result but there again no one was particularly looking forward to Crewe and that turned out alright and might have been even better had the referee not decided that a team higher up the league should be deserving of a penalty but the more lowly placed must be faking it.

Sadly, consideration of matters up at the business end of the table are fast becoming a distant memory and we concentrate instead on the desperate end of the league and Stockport are becoming more detached with every game that passes. In fact City must mirror what the Hatters do, and that includes a loss, for one more game and if they do that will only have to fear being overtaken by one team to avoid the drop, for Stockport are eleven points adrift of the Imps and after Friday there will be nine points to play for. Burton have now caught up with everyone else in games but remain two points behind City and Northampton a point behind them. Barnet looked like making a real fist of their survival fight but, having lost their manager after a very short stay seem to be slipping back to their old ways and in reality the writing has been on the wall for them for some time, not wishing to tempt providence. It’s a sad state of affairs to be writing all this for the second, or is it the third or fourth season running and it’s to be hoped you all enjoyed those play off games and two final appearances because a return to those days looks a long way off. If our esteemed manager and his assistant can get us anywhere near them anytime soon they will deserve their open top bus tour. Has anyone told them in these parts we do that even for teams that don’t win anything? Generous souls that we are, or starved of success, take your pick.

After Bury it’s Sincil Bank on Monday afternoon for the visit of Cheltenham, surely a good chance of a win there? Then it’s Oxford away, well we’ve never done that well there until the dog days of the U’s demise when we finally did manage a win and then Aldershot at home and that’s it, that’s yer lot. Four, five points from that lot do we think. Just to sell a few season tickets? Would be nice, just like the weather.

We now turn our minds to voting for the player of the season, something of a hollow competition after the terrible season we’ve all endured. Wonder who’ll win, can’t begin to guess?

Monday, 18 April 2011

City are all the better for the experience

Steve Tilson was finally able to call upon the services of some wiser old heads on Saturday and it showed as the team arrested the alarming series of losses in the fixture against Crewe Alexandra. In the end it was, not for the first time, a case of so near but so far as with a kind of inevitability the team from higher up the table were awarded a penalty which many regarded as dubious and which was duly converted by Clayton Donaldson. All this after City were denied what looked a clear spot kick when Julian Kelly was upended in the first half.

Lets not get too carried away though, not many of us would have refused a point prior to the game against a side that had not so much defeated Cheltenham but had kicked their doors in to use an expression doing the rounds at the moment albeit in a different connotation. With the Imps propensity to leak goals with a vengeance latterly many feared a new, unwanted record against an outfit that had scored eight last time out but, thankfully it wasn’t to be as the manager was able to draft in Paul Green and Clark Keltie to provide some welcome know how in what were probably swan song appearances from these two who are unlikely to feature next season. Not that these players would not be welcome in a Lincoln City squad but more that a club like Lincoln could not afford the luxury of players who can not largely play a whole season, or near enough.

As it was, despite conceding in the seventy-sixth minute having led for much of the game a point from this game at least gives the team heart and dispelled the notion that no further points can be gained from the remaining fixtures leaving the club hostages to their opponents should they start to garner points themselves. In the event, those below them did not, to any great extent gain ground over the Imps. Burton squandered another game in hand last Tuesday but won on Saturday against Cheltenham who are having a torrid time at the moment and are a point ahead of City. Barnet continued where they left off before the Mad Dog’s brief tenure in the managers hot seat, Bury putting paid to two of our rivals in the space of a week, but of course we play them next. Stockport really do look dead and buried at the foot of the table and lost to Shrewsbury. City need to gain one more point to no longer fear the Hatters overhauling them.

It is difficult to see that point coming in the next fixture, away at Gigg Lane but there again who among us would have put their mortgage on a point at Gresty Road? Let’s not forget Chesterfield were dispatched on this ground recently. No toys out of the pram this time from Steve Tilson;-

“It was always going to be a tough game but, I’m proud of the lads today I thought they’ve done fantastic.

“I think in this situation you need your players to be brave, play with no fear and I thought we’ve done that today. We knocked it around really well, created some good chances, we should have won the game, no doubt about it”

Play with no fear, where did we hear that before? Oh yes, Lincoln City Mad called for just that on Friday so no complaints from us. Indeed, just for a change we offer our congratulations on a job well done. In the words of a fellow fan in the Echo Stand. “Let’s ‘ave another!”

Friday, 15 April 2011

Reasons to be cheerful?

As we sit gazing out of the windows at stately Mad Manor whilst the sun is not exactly shining it’s quite bright, there is the prospect of some lovely time off next weekend. The grass needs cutting meaning summer can’t be too far away, oh and City have not lost heavily for several days so all’s right with the world until at least Saturday at three when the Imps will take on Crewe Alexandra.

Crewe are one of those sides who kicked around with City for long enough many seasons ago, with the likes of Bradford, Tranmere, Barnsley and indeed Grimsby and then they and the aforementioned clubs departed our milky way for galaxies anew. Tranmere and Barnsley are both still up there for all we know glittering away in the heavens and of course the Mariners fell out of their lofty orbit straight past us and into a black hole that we ourselves are trying to avoid. Crewe and Bradford are back with us in our humble constellation, a constant reminder that no club has a divine right to success and also possibly that it does not bode well to forsake a careful watch at all times for there is plenty of debris around to catch the unwary out and give them a nasty surprise. The legacy that the sainted Keith left us has gradually been frittered away but, such is the generosity of our rivals that, even now, a win would probably dissipate the clouds that have gathered over us and see us over the line for another wretched season to contemplate life anew next term. If only it were that easy.

Is Scott Spencer our man for all seasons? He has said:-

“If I am selected I will give it my all for the manager, the club and the fans. I am going to go out there and give it my all and fight for every ball until the final minute”

Blimey! Is this the same Scott Spencer who ballooned the ball over the bar when it was easier to score or the one who got two in the recent reserves clash against said Mariners? Let’s hope it’s the latter because we could do with fighting talk like that.

That wily old campaigner Dario Gradi is urging his team on:-

“We need the performances to match the words and the challenge for them now is to win all five games and see where that takes us”

He knows, as do all managers in his position that it is about selling season tickets for him now. Lincoln City have other concerns. To those travelling, probably more in hope than expectation, maybe our team will surprise us. We’re due something surely. To the players Lincoln City Mad would say to you; cast off your fear, rise above your weariness. Make that run, insist on that ball, take that shot. The Americans say of the British that we are a people who stumble at every hurdle bar the last. It’s meant as a compliment. Be the players that saved the Imps and you will always be remembered for it. The alternative is not to be contemplated.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Just when we wanted to be wrong we were right.

Reading the Echo on Friday morning those of us at Mad Towers who had feared the worst thought perhaps we might have been over pessimistic in our assessment of City’s chances against Gillingham. The fans panel seemed to be more or less unanimous in their belief that the Imps would gain at least a point to ease the mounting pressure on our beleaguered team. How we wish the panel had been right and we wrong as City slumped to yet another humiliation and yet another new low. Our goals against column looks like the aftermath of the Somme and it takes a real effort to turn up at Sincil Bank to watch each new debacle with little thought of a draw let alone an elusive win and meanwhile all that is keeping our leaky ship afloat is the continued failure of our rivals, Barnet excepted who are doing this season what they did last. They have been derailed though by the loss of their manager, Martin Allen taking up the reins at Notts County . Despite that rare bit of good news, if we can be so heartless as to describe it thus, at this rate if the ceiling doesn’t fall in this season it will next as, despite the clubs up beat salesmanship, season ticket sales for next term surely will be nothing to write home about. The constant chopping and changing of managers, not that the latest change can be laid at the clubs door and more particularly the huge turnover in player personnel takes its toll on the budget.

Even that chirpy chappy Steve Tilson is now showing signs of losing his cool if the latest interview on BBC Lincolnshire is anything to go by and, rather as the government is finding out it’s only the other guy’s fault for so long and reasons start to look like excuses after a while. Were the players who have gone or lost their places that bad? Are their replacements better? Fans will have digested the gory details of the latest defeat either by seeing it for themselves or in the press or on the net so we will spare you any further distress.

Ashley Grimes, it has now been announced, will miss the next two games through suspension and of course we will miss him but, valuable though his contribution has been and we would not wish to belittle his very substantial contribution to the cause this season the considerable loss of Delroy Facey becomes more and more apparent as the season progresses, City’s form has simply been in meltdown since his injury.

We now look forward, if that is the expression, to away games against Crewe and Bury. Crewe lost at Barnet so will be in the mood for retribution (oh good) whilst Bury won at Northampton which at least kept the Cobblers below us but of course they will not want to do us any further favours at Gigg Lane. Readers of a nervous disposition will not wish to relive the game at Sincil Bank when Bury gave us the complete run around to win five nil in the first of a series of catastrophic performances fans have had the misfortune to witness. Perhaps it is really is darkest before dawn. It’s certainly inky at the moment. Hopefully the manager knows the way out of this very dark place we have got ourselves into.

End game

Until very recently, when the weather picked up it was easy to get lulled into a false sense of confidence about City’s survival prospects but now there are just six further opportunities for the acquisition of those elusive four points and even then the Imps would not be safe if those below them in the table had a dramatic turnaround in fortune unlikely though that may seem. Barnet are making an effort though, perhaps it is all the practice they have had in recent times. City are again mired in a slump and it’s difficult to see them putting that right this coming weekend. Nor does the remaining fixture list give an awful lot of reassurance, after Gillingham come Crewe and Bury away followed by Cheltenham, home, Oxford away, surely they won’t be so unintentionally generous on their own patch as they were at Sincil Bank and then we finish up at home to Aldershot. Frankly, your 50p would be better off on something, anything in the Grand National than on the Imps to prevail of their own accord although most of us in our heart of hearts expect them to still be around in League Two next year but it will be no thanks to the clubs efforts.

Your correspondent is usually a glass half full merchant so sorry to sound so downbeat but Steve Prescott was all over the back page of the Echo on Thursday encouraging us all to renew our season tickets and to get the best deal that would mean paying up by 9 May, that’s two days after the end of the season and one of those days is a Sunday. Season tickets go on sale next Monday. How many will buy then one wonders? All this is leading (honest) up to next season when no doubt we will all be fired with enthusiasm once again in the expectation that the Imps will be up at the right end of the table and challenging for a play off spot at least. Given that we know now that the manager will at best have no increase in his budget for the forthcoming term and presumably when the long suffering supporters vote with their feet when it comes to season tickets and casual attendees will wait to see how the team start off before putting their sandals away and turning up it is difficult to see any prospect for a big improvement save that most fans are still of the opinion that we have a very good manager and assistant but you know what they say about sow’s ears?

On to the here and now and City face Gillingham on Saturday. Gills are only eighth in the table so that’s all right then (stop it!) but City got their season off to a start at the Priestfield stadium back in August with Cian Hughton (remember him?) scoring to give the Imps a much needed win. Imps manager Chris Sutton (remember him?) said before the game;

"Ultimately, I am the manager and I have to carry the can for the results, but ultimately I want to do well here. It's not a job that's particularly highly paid, but that's not a grumble because it shows I am not in it for the money. Basically I am here because I want to do well and because it's a good club. Do I want to be manager of Lincoln for the next 50 years? With respect, no, I don’t. But what are the chances of me moving on if I don't do well at Lincoln? None, that's why I want to be a success. Management is tougher than it's ever been, because you never get the time.”

It’s a funny old world isn’t it?

Is it safe to come out yet?

It was always going to be a tall order of course such was Rotherham United’s superiority over Lincoln City over many, many games but the manner of Friday nights capitulation to the Millers, to be humiliated on our own patch and to have to listen to the jibes of their jubilant fans is very hard to take. Before we are accused of sour grapes let it be said here and now that Rotherham United were superior in every department and fully deserved the enormity of their win.

The people of our neighbouring county are of course well known for extolling the many virtues of Yorkshire, usually from a safe distance from it. We, in Lincolnshire smile indulgently and let it go, we have our rolling Wolds, our beaches and our market towns, our pleasant relaxed way of life and of course our beautiful city, our diversity. Our county is the North, appropriately, in the North, Southerly in the south (well almost) and Midland in the West. We are proud of our football team, well we were. Lincoln City’s struggle over the years somehow encapsulates the way we live, our isolation, we are unfashionable, forgotten even, yet those that come to visit often come away entranced by our Lincolnshire homeland.

On Friday night we played one of our nearest neighbours and our team gave the supporters of the Millers the opportunity to denigrate us, as had Chesterfield before them, another garden spot if ever there was one, in the most dismissive terms. Those of us that write about the Imps are committed fans, we buy our season tickets, and we try to find something good to say even when in reality there is little good that can be said but that “performance” made even the most diehard fan question his or her sanity. Once fans are gone it will be a long time, if at all, before they are back.

A defeat by six clear goals equals Lincoln City’s worst home performance. It could have been even more catastrophic and all connected with the club must shoulder their share of the blame. City went into this game with a boy in goal; the alternative was a goalkeeping coach. Let’s hope the experience hasn’t scarred him for life. Whose bright idea was it to drop Danny Hone, who had forged a good partnership with Adam Watts in the centre of defence? Who thought it would be beneficial to leave out a player in Jamie Clapham, a vastly experienced player when we knew we would be playing not only a very good team but one galvanised by losing their manager and on the end of a five-nil thumping themselves and replacing him with a player that has barely figured under this manager?

This column would prefer to only single out players for praise rather than criticism but in Patrick Kanyuka we have to make an exception. He put in a performance so abject that his most telling contribution was to get himself sent off in the most unprofessional manner possible. City, down to ten men at this point, improved considerably after the inclusion of Hone.

We now find ourselves looking over our shoulders again. March was always going to be tough but City have failed to garner the points needed to ensure survival in winnable games. They must now seek to gain them in some unpromising looking fixtures. Those two Aunt Sally’s Barnet and Stockport gained points, Stockport even won. Have we now reached a point when despite all the good and hard work to get in a decent position we are reliant on other teams failing to gain the necessary points rather than us rescuing ourselves? It rather looks as if we might.