Wednesday, 30 November 2016
The patrons of the Software Europe Stand are, ahem, the senior citizens of Sincil Bank. I started by the players tunnel which is where it’s always been when my Dad first brought me then I progressed to the Sincil Bank terrace with my mates then back with Dad again as my son joined us with his little stool to stand on and later in the Coop stand, then glistening and new. Now, like a lot of older supporters I suspect I’m more or less back where I started.
The fans in the stand are older couples, maybe with a nice blanket to keep off the chill. Granddad taking the boys out of their Mothers way for a couple of hours while she gets the housework done, professional people. But we all have our part to play don’t we?
Last nights match was going the way we expected, City imperious, the professional gladiators, sword glistening under the lights, Wrexham some poor bloke with a net. When Whitehouse scored it was surely the first of several?
Then fate interceded. Raggett lunged into a tackle. Wrexham were incensed. We were all stunned when the referee produced red. I’m not going to comment on that, the professional observers said justifiably so. Fair enough.
What would City do? There was a full hour to survive. They formed their wagons into a circle. They were going to tough it out. Now it was the Imps with the net and that’s a good analogy though I say it myself as they used it to great effect and said to Wrexham, if you want to beat us you’ve got to get out of our suffocating net first.
Wrexham were galvanised though, their impressive band of supporters, 75 on a night like that, raised their Welsh voices Wrexum, Wrexum they shouted in that funny way they have. But City were not for bending. On and on it went. Thirty minutes, twenty, ten. City had been running for that long with the red light on the dashboard they must surely splutter to a halt?
Cowleys elite troops had given it everything. The fans in the Coop stand, the Stacey Westers were giving it their all, non-stop as usual. The kids in the corner screaming their heads off, although this could only be heard by dogs and bats it was that much of a screech. The folks behind the windows in the boxes, the tea ladies.
General Cowley, or was it Sir Laurence Olivier looked round for help. His archers had loosed their arrows, the cavalry had charged, the infantry were dug in. What had he got left? Dads Army that’s what. He turned to the stand behind him, fixed us with a steely glare and commanded us to fall in behind him. COME ON, he implored. Come ON!
We did. Creaking limbs rose to their feet, the stand roared. Walking sticks were waved, prosthetic limbs, ear trumpets, anything that could be waved, anything that would make a noise and they shouted the Imps home.
And do you know what? It was Wrexham who were all of a sudden the taunted ones as City started to play neat little triangles around them, come on then, what have you got?
Nothing more was the admission. The referee, formerly not a favourite of the crowd it has to be said blew at precisely four minutes of the allotted added time and there was pandemonium. In the stands, on the pitch in the bars, in the dressing room presumably, on the radio.
Was that the night City took the league by the scruff of the neck? It certainly felt like it.
Tuesday, 29 November 2016
The games are coming thick and fast for Lincoln City which, I presume is how the players, not to mention us fans, want it. Certainly after Saturday’s extravaganza in the fog I can’t wait for kick off. I dare say for the players too they just want to play again as soon as they’d got their breath back. It must be wonderful to play in this glittering team.
When you’re doing as well as City are the pressure is always there but I’m sure we’re all thriving on it. As always, the game tonight is expected to be anything but easy. Away teams seem to be raising their game, whether because of City’s league position, the stadium possibly or the size of the crowd and the atmosphere. That won’t be a novelty to Wrexham who are one of the best supported teams in the league.
The Imps won the corresponding away fixture prompting the departure of their manager Gary Mills who subsequently decamped to York. He’ll be glad he won’t be facing the Imps again any time soon. They are now managed by our old friend Dean Keates who I remember as a very tidy player indeed when he wore the red and white stripes. A very popular player and I’m sure he’ll get a good reception.
Another big gate seems to be assured, despite the temperature. Will the gate top the 4000 mark? I’d like to think so.
Monday, 28 November 2016
I had prepared in my mind a rant about the attendance on Saturday. I think for a conurbation of well over 100000 a gate of under 4000, albeit just under, is not much reward for the efforts the team and management are putting in and in view of the excitement and joy, after all the fallow years, on offer.
I took a look at attendances on the Sunday morning though and it was the usual story, City, Wrexham and Tranmere well supported. The rest not justifying the notion that the National League is akin to league three. The top three are much of a muchness attendance wise . A glance at the gates for league two though makes interesting reading. The Imps would be well up the attendances table there too so maybe I’m expecting too much.
All this rather saddens me really on behalf of the missing fans. In a relatively small stadium and given that most people tend to find a favourite spot and stick with it some familiar faces, having sat through the seasons of dross have still not returned and I’m puzzled as to why. Some fans of course are simply not interested in non league. I can tell them though what we are seeing now bears no resemblance to the last few league campaigns and the set up is every bit as professional as it ever was. Much more so in the main. If things continue the way they are though I fully expect gates to rise and rise.
As to Saturdays game I got home elated. Somehow the murkiness of the day emphasised the sparkle on offer on the pitch and one can only hope that all this continues. Forest Green are one good example of how quickly things can change. They were potentially twelve points up on City before the fight back and, having lost again at the weekend incredibly are now just one point up on the Imps who have a game in hand. It’s the nature of this league that no one can feel safe even with a hefty advantage. In this season where everything finally seems to be going City’s way none of us can afford to be complacent.
It’s Wrexham tomorrow. We have been warned!
Wednesday, 23 November 2016
Just thinking about the last seven days you have to have a good memory to recall the last time Lincoln City won a championship and in order to do that you have to win an awful lot of games.
City’s week could not have gone any better and for that matter Forest Green Rovers could only just have been a little worse as the Imps hauled themselves five points up against FGR who were drawing against Tranmere whilst City were winning at York
I’m going to demonstrate my fervour for away travel by revealing that the last time I ventured to York to see the Imps, a tricky fixture usually, Steve Thompson was in the team! Typically City played well and dominated the game I seem to recall only for York to snatch the points. Somehow I’d wangled a place in the posh seats and at the end of the game Thommo launched the ball into what he must have thought was the York directors box but instead of taking it out of the enemy merely almost succeeded in making contact with my head. Maybe you won’t be surprised to hear he missed.
The performance at Forest Green Rovers was indeed what may turn out to be a watershed moment as City came back from the dead to claim the points in yet another last minute turnaround. I don’t believe these recovery’s are coming about by chance, there’s too many of them for that. Danny Cowley said before the season he was tailoring his training so that players will be as strong at ninety minutes as at five. Furthermore he said the team would finish the season more powerfully than they began.
John Beck used to say all teams will have a sticky patch. Have City had theirs? Are Forest Green Rovers having one at the moment? Certainly there’s going to be no let up at the top with a tremendous crush going on for the major places. FGR looked to have it all sewn up. Not anymore. City are second but by no means secure in that. A bunch of good, well managed teams threaten below.
It’s a great time to be an Imp that’s for sure.
Friday, 18 November 2016
There was a time Lincoln City wouldn’t have travelled to the south west the day before a match and certainly wouldn’t have been having a training session courtesy of Aston Villa. In fact courtesy of our old friend and favourite Terry Fleming who set up the facility for the Imps. How times change.
Tomorrow’s game v Forest Green Rovers is one City will be looking to get something from particularly a win as FGR are well ahead of the Imps in points if not in league position. If City are to close the gap they know what they have to do.
Danny Cowley told the Echo yesterday that he is willing to be patient in his quest for reinforcements although a little bird told me, well it was on BBC Radio Lincolnshire, that he will be talking to a possible recruit this morning. Well as the Imps are doing those of us with long enough memories will recall the Imps being at the top of League Two but did not reinforce at Christmas and subsequently fell away. We don’t want that this time but by the same token we don’t want to get a reputation for paying good money for any old players. We’ve had enough of those in the past.
Cowley explained that it’s not that easy in any event getting in new blood because of restrictions on league clubs which in turn makes them reluctant to move players on:-
"Even though we haven't got a window, it's still difficult," said the Sincil Bank supremo
"It's certainly more difficult this season than last season because there are more restrictions on the Football League clubs.
"As a consequence, Football League clubs are very careful about letting players out because they can only sign players during the windows. It has stagnated the market so we may have to wait until January.
"And what we don't want to do is bring people in for the sake of it, they've got to be the right players."
Whether or not City add to the squad today it’s unlikely to have much bearing on tomorrows team but I understand the meeting is at Sincil Bank so presumably we’re looking at a non league player who will fancy playing in such (relatively) well appointed surroundings in front of a well above average crowd.
It’s a big one alright and on TV too tomorrow. These really are momentous time for us Imps.
Monday, 14 November 2016
Prior to the game City put on as elaborate a commemoration of poppy day as I can remember at Sincil Bank with the last post, readings etc and top brass from the services in attendance. As you might hope and expect these days this was observed with the utmost respect by home and away supporters. There was warm applause for the squaddies as they marched off the pitch to find their seats in the stand after the ceremony showing that, in this corner of the country at least the dedication and professionalism of our armed forces is fully appreciated.
I’ll say right now, as I’m not entirely complementary later, Aldershot were as good a side as I’ve seen at Lincoln this season, apart from City.
I don’t know who was the most stunned at the Imps going behind, the team or fans and it took a good few minutes for them to regain their equilibrium but once they did, courtesy of Nathan Arnold to get back into the game and then got ahead again thanks to Arnold and it looked as if City would disappear off to the horizon. The fact that they did not was the result of, well, what was it the result of? I don’t know but the Imps went right off the boil and it was probably no great surprise when they went level and then behind again.
I’ll say again, Aldershot are a good team but in two games they have potentially had six points against teams first and second in the league and came away with one. I don’t know what happened at FGR but at Lincoln their main tactic went predictably wrong. I’ll give them some advice. If you want to see a game out keep playing. Shots were obviously a bit early for the pantomime season and spent a lot of the time throwing themselves to the ground hoping to delay the game, maybe get a free kick. City fell for it a couple of time and kicked the ball out to stop play.
However when they tried this deep into injury time City did not succumb and I don’t know of any team 2.3 down particularly a team in the promotion race, who would either. It wasn’t as if it was a serious injury or heads it was cramp (maybe), City played on and scored making Matt Rhead even more of a hero than he was and sending the crowd into the sort of raptures normally reserved for the end of a successful season. Aldershot were furious but they’ve only got themselves to blame. Sportsmanship is all very well, so is concern for your fellow professional but this was gamesmanship and they came unstuck. Quite rightly.
Friday, 11 November 2016
I suppose there’s a tendency to start to think the job is almost done after the marvellous run the Imps have been on lately. The fact that City are still in the cup all adds to the general feeling of contentedness I’m sure we’re all feeling.
You only have to consider City almost slipped up in the cup against Altrincham though to realise that the next iffy patch could come along at any time and the squad’s not that big that adversity can be averted by some personnel changes. City have some options but not that many.
Injuries take their toll but it’s good to read in the Echo that Taylor Miles is ready to go out for a month or so to get match fit to slot back in the squad. There was some talk on twitter yesterday that Boston United or Gainsborough Trinity would be as good as anywhere for him to get his sharpness back.
The manager, for his part is not letting his natural enthusiasm cloud his judgement and told the Echo he thinks he has addressed the sloppiness that nearly marred the cup progress. I think that was a wakeup call to us all.
I don’t think there are any easy fixtures for City now to be honest, not now we’ve got North Ferriby out of the way and Cowley is certainly not expecting an easy time tomorrow saying Aldershot almost upskittled Forest Green last time out:
"They equalised in the 88th minute and conceded the winner in injury time. They were very unlucky in that game,"
"They would have been good value for the draw.
"They're a footballing side who try to play out from the back and through the thirds. They've got a lot of good footballers and are well organised”
Yes well we should all try to play through the thirds. Yes alright, I have no idea what he’s talking about but as long as the players do that’s all that matters.
Danny Cowley did mention the way the Imps lost it a bit at the end of the cup game when the opposite has been the tendency but I’m willing to bet that won’t happen tomorrow. Cowley doesn’t seem to be a ranter and raver but I think he has his way of getting his views across forcibly and that message will have been well and truly drummed in over the week. The players won’t want be hearing about that again in a hurry.
Sunday, 6 November 2016
Every home game these days I exit the Sincil Bank Stadium and head towards Cross Street with the sound of the fans applause continuing long into the evening. It must be music to the ears of the players too. Yesterday that applause was joined by the tributes of the Altrincham supporters as they signalled their approval of a rip roaring second half in which their team drove the Imps all the way to the finish line but could not quite force the equaliser.
Yet for much of this FA Cup tie the most exciting moment was when a steward executed a lovely cushioned header to return the ball to the field of play as it flew into the Coop Stand. For some reason Alty’s manager had got his side set up to seemingly mitigate against the expected avalanche of City goals and when Sean Raggett fashioned a lovely header of his own that was what I expected but somehow it never quite happened like that. Altrincham changed things around after the break and emerged a much more adventurous outfit although their goal was more a product of over generous defending than anything else with Paul Farman not exactly covering himself in glory.
It all culminated in a proper FA Cup grandstand finish though as City hung on to their lead to claim the not insubstantial prize money and take another step towards a hoped for glamour tie in the third round although that is slightly getting the cart before the horse as City’s shaky cup form continued and we were reminded we have to get through the second round first.
Yet the game could and should have been put to bed much earlier as the Imps fashioned chance after chance the majority of which fell to Theo Robinson who was definitely having one of those days and left the field with a rueful expression, put out of his misery, not to mention ours, to give way to let Muldoon have a go which he did with his usual energy.
Alan Power also did himself no harm with another assured display capped off with a very well taken goal which kind of underlined the profligacy of Robinsons efforts and kept the Irishmans name very much in the managers thoughts although whether that will prompt a new contract offer in due course we shall have to see.
It was a tremendously exiting second half and just for once City did not let it slip and we can all enjoy the “unaccustomed as I am” sensation of seeing who the Imps get in the next round.
Friday, 4 November 2016
We’re going to have to get used to weeks like the one we've just had. You either have an up and coming young manager who is going to be linked to every management vacancy going or, more like our experience, a manager who is probably going nowhere fast. A bit like most of our history. I know which category I’d rather us be in.
It was the Grimsby Telegraph getting the rumour mill going and it’s a measure of our fragility that panic starts to set in on news of these suggestions. The Telegraph did had the decency to quote Danny Cowleys interview whereby he stated he was City’s manager for the foreseeable future but in all honesty he would have wanted, I’m sure, to be concentrating on plotting a progress through round one of the FA Cup where, frankly, we need all the help we can get to prevail even against relatively modest opposition.
Let’s keep our own minds on the job then and Cowley is certainly not underestimating the task in hand, confident though I’m sure we all are, deep down. He told the Echo of his thoughts ahead of the Altrincham game:
“They were in our league last season and have kept most of their squad together and now Jim Harvey has come in there," said the City boss
“He's a cup manager, as we saw with Halifax winning the FA Trophy last season.
“Sometimes, when a team is having a difficult spell in the league, the cup can give them a bit of freedom. And the magic of the cup is that it creates heroes and moments that individuals maybe otherwise wouldn't have been able to do."
How many times have we been in a winnable tie, even given our pathetic cup tradition only to fail miserably? Remember Whitehawk? You don’t have to have much of a memory.
Cowley is not going in for the fancy dan idea permeating down from the clubs above that the FA Cup is some kind of feeder competition that you can field your fringe players and youngsters in:
“We always look to try and play the strongest team available. That will always be our approach in every competition,"
“We're respectful of that and we need to make sure we reach our levels because we desperately want to be in the second round. We'll prepare very professionally for what will be a tough game.
“If we can win Saturday, then we'll be a game away from potentially doing something that we'll remember for the rest of our lives."
I do hope so. Reading that and seeing also the interview that Cowley was forced to give to Look North on the ever more tedious subject of the vacancy at Blundell Park I couldn’t help feeling that if he ever tires of football there’s a place for him in the world of diplomacy.