Monday, 3 January 2011

Northampton Town v Lincoln City - 3 January 2011

Venue: Sixfield Stadium, Northampton
Attendance: 4,112
Final score: 2-1

There’s an old joke in football, that it’s a game that 22 men play for 90 minutes, and then Germany win.  The sad truth for the Imps at the moment seems to be that 22 men play evenly matched football for 90 minutes, then somehow Lincoln lose.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened at the Sixfields Stadium this afternoon.

Imp’s manager Steve Tilson made some brave changes to his lineup following Saturday’s defeat to Bradford.  Carayol and Jarrett, usually two of Lincoln’s more creative players but both slightly jaded on Saturday, were dropped to the bench.  Moses Swaibu, at fault for Bradford’s opener, was dropped entirely and replaced by Danny Hone – newly returned from his loan spell at Darlington.  These changes led to the formation being changed from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3.  It was a bold move, but one that has to be seen as a calculated gamble to try and spark a much needed performance from the misfiring Imps.  Having conceded 9 goals in the last 3 games, it was surely a gamble worth taking.

Lincoln started strongly, as Northampton struggled to cope with Lincoln’s formation, especially in midfield.  In a half with few clear cut chances, but shaded by Lincoln, a scare came late on when a ball struck Danny Hone’s arm in the area.  The referee adjudged that it was a case of ball to hand, and the Imps survived.  That led to a surge of confidence from the Cobblers, who ended the half on top.  Despite that, it was a chorus of boos that greeted the home side as they left the field.

The second half began with a shot from O’Keefe fizzing past the post, but Northampton began to assert their authority as time wore on.  They made it count on 64 minutes, as a long throw into the box was poorly dealt with in the air by Watts, leaving Billy McKay with an easy tap in at the far post.  It came as little shock to Imps fans used to being cruelly punished for seemingly every defensive slip.

Lincoln took steps to get back into the match, bringing Carayol and Jarrett on for Hutchinson and Kerr, altering the formation back to the more familiar 4-4-2.  The impact from the changes was almost instant, as Hoyte whipped a cross into the box.  It was headed clear, but only as far as Josh O’Keefe, who smashed a half volley into the top corner from outside the box – his first goal for the club.  It was a stunning strike, and one that gave the Imps belief that at least a point could be there for the taking.

The game returned to a more even balance of play, and seemed to be heading for a draw which neither side could complain about.  Unfortunately for Lincoln, O’Keefe’s strike seems to have inspired Northampton’s John Johnson, who struck his own effort past Anyon from outside the area on 88 minutes to hand the lead back to Northampton.

As the fourth official indicated 4 minutes of added time, Lincoln’s luck further revealed itself, and Adam Watts went down injured.  After-match interviews revealed an ankle injury which will certainly rule him out for a short while.  Lincoln’s defence is already threadbare, and this is a cruel twist of fate with the number of games forthcoming.

The defeat leaves Lincoln in a perilous position in League 2.  Other crucial games today saw Barnet lose and Hereford win, leaving all three teams level at the bottom on 19 points, with the Imps only leading the group on a slim goal difference.  Stockport sit just above, but with a 4 point gap.  The situation is ominously beginning to seem like two of the three currently at the bottom will be leaving via the trapdoor.

New blood is desperately needed to bolster the squad, but obtaining quality players in January with very little funds is one of the hardest things for a manager to achieve.  With 4 out of the permitted 5 loan player allocations already taken, the loan route also seems limited.  Steve Tilson will have to be very canny indeed to strengthen this frail and threadbare Lincoln squad for the coming fight to the death.  The refusal of players to talk to the local media after the match because of the recent incident involving a defender, a chicken and a supermarket self service checkout only adds to the misery. I’ve omitted the details to avoid legal action, but it does indeed seem to be a nothing incident which unfortunately occurred on a slow news day.  If there’s one thing Lincoln fans don’t want to hear at the moment though, it’s tales of any rifts within the wider ‘team Lincoln’.  If the club is going to survive the current troubles, then players, management, fans and media are all going to have to pull together.

1. Chris Dunn
6. Dean Beckwith
8. Abdul Osman
11. Andy Holt
12. Nathaniel Wedderburn
14. John Johnson
16. Billy Mckay
17. Michael Jacobs
23. Liam Davis
25. Ben Tozer
30. Ryan Jarvis
15. Courtney Herbert for 30 (67)
28. Craig King for 16 (86)
2. Paul Rodgers
3. Marcus Hall
7. Ryan Gilligan
27. Greg Kaziboni
13. Paul Walker

1. Joe Anyon
28. Gavin Hoyte
4. Adam Watts
6. Danny Hone
3. Joe Anderson
11. Scott Kerr
14. Josh O'Keefe
15. Luke Howell
18. Delroy Facey
27. Ben Hutchinson
29. Ashley Grimes
7. Mustapha Carayol for 27 (72)
17. Albert Jarrett for 11 (72)
2. Paul Green for 4 (90+1)
9. Gavin Mccallum
10. Drewe Broughton
25. Cian Hughton
20. Paul Musselwhite

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