Saturday, 7 May 2011

Lincoln City v Aldershot Town, 7 May 2011

Venue: Sincil Bank, Lincoln
Attendance: 7,932
Final score: 0-3
Well, there it is.  The horrible inevitability of relegation has been confirmed.  An absolutely appalling run of results at the end of the season has seen City slip from a position of relative safety to the dreaded second to bottom spot, failing to pick up more than a single point in the final 11 matches of the season.  The feelings are, to be honest, worse than I thought they’d be.  Although I foretold relegation a few weeks ago (I hate it when I’m right), to be honest most City fans went into today’s game with at least a little chunk of optimism.  No matter how poor City were, Barnet still needed to get a result in their match to survive.  Sadly, of course, Barnet beat Port Vale 1-0 with a penalty at the start of the second half to secure their place in League 2, showing a desire and resilience that, quite frankly, City players could have learned a lot from.

I want to keep my thoughts on the season as a whole, the players, board, fans and manager out of this post if I can, as I intend to do an end of season review post.  That, however, will only be when I can view things with a tad more objectivity than I am able to at the moment.

This is the second relegation I have experienced as a Lincoln fan, but to be honest the first one hardly seems to count.  It was the relegation back to the basement division after our single season foray in the league above.  Needless to say, despite that season going to the final game too, the feelings then were nothing compared to what I and probably you are feeling now.  Listening to Radio 5 this evening, hearing fans describing their agony at being relegated from the Championship made me think that they should really swap places with Lincoln or Stockport fans.  Being demoted to officially being a ‘non-league’ club carries a blow to the pride that I don’t think any other relegation can deliver.

So what happened this afternoon?  City had played Aldershot as recently as February, fighting out a well earned 2-2 draw and with the ‘Shots having nothing to play for, City saw a win as a not unrealistic possibility.

City’s starting lineup had to be changed from the defeat against Oxford, due to the suspension of Danny Hone.  Paul Green moved to the centre of defence, Cian Hughton dropped back to fullback, and Jamie Clapham returned to the side after a long absence in central midfield.

The good folk of Lincoln had turned out in force, die-hard fan and casual supporter alike, to try and cheer the team on to victory, and the noise was impressive as the Imps kicked off.

The Imps started brightly enough, with McCallum getting a long range shot on target early on, and the team generally knocking the ball around well.  Some nerves were visible however, particularly when Aldershot had the ball.

Despite Aldershot causing a few jitters in the Imps’ defence from set pieces, the away side offered little threat in the opening period, and it was the Imps who could have taken the lead on a number of occasions.

City were causing more trouble from corners than they had done all season, and Grimes twice came close to opening the scoring either side of the half hour mark.  His first shot was deflected wide and his second put over the bar.

The best chance of the half fell to Aldershot a few minutes before the break.  Parrish did well to rush out and tackle Hylton but the loose ball fell to Vincenti, whose shot was blocked at close range.  The ball again ran loose, and this time found its way to McGlashan, who had a clear sight at goal with Parrish still trying to scramble back into position.  Thankfully for the Imps, Clapham was there to block what seemed a certain goal.  Clapham’s first half performance was ironically one of his best in a City shirt, the veteran player showing commitment, intelligence and some nice passing.

City had given the large home contingent cause for hope as the halftime whistle sounded, and with Barnet also drawing 0-0, the Imps were still a league side.

The second half had barely kicked off when news filtered around the ground that Barnet had taken the lead against Port Vale through a penalty.  The pressure was now on City to get a result, or to hope that Port Vale could muster an equalizer.

Aldershot had obviously been spoken to at half time and began the half on the front foot.  Green had to header a looping shot off the line after a few minutes, before a controversial incident almost single-handedly doomed City.

McGlashan cut inside Anderson and into the area, but the ball bounced away from him.  As Clapham came across to clear the ball McGlashan went down, and the referee pointed to the spot.  It seemed a soft penalty to give in such an important match, and the tension and disbelief in the crowd were palpable.  The fans behind the goal did their best to distract Hylton, but they couldn’t stop the Aldershot man putting the ball past Parrish.  As if the goal weren’t enough, Hylton further endeared himself to the City fans by goading them with his celebration in front of them, grinning when he was met by a chorus of boos.  Charming.

Sadly for City, the season now seemed to be slipping away, as scoring one when the score was 0-0 was still possible, scoring 2 was not something City had proved good at at Sincil Bank.  It was looking more and more like Port Vale would have to be the Imps’ saviours.

It was obvious to all that the City players’ confidence had taken a major knock, and Aldershot were now full of self belief.  On 69 minutes Gutteridge was allowed an embarrassing amount of time and space, and duly fired home from the edge of the box.

The game was now effectively dead as a contest, as City could only muster the occasional foray into the opposing half, with increasingly lacklustre play.

When the third goal came, on 86 minutes, it hardly made any difference.  Connolly collected a long ball on the right wing, and fed Gutteridge, who had made an unmarked run to the edge of the box.  He fired a clinical first time finish into the bottom corner.

When the final whistle sounded there was still time to play at Barnet, but few fans held out hope.  As the crowd filtered out the final confirmation came through, and it seems that City’s faith in Port Vale had been misplaced.  Having had a massive win last week and needing another one to have a chance of making the playoffs, City hoped that Vale would be hungry.  It seems, however, that once Barnet had taken the leas, Vale had ceased to put up a fight, leaving Barnet to stroll to victory.

Although many City fans and commentators are criticising the way in which City went down without a fight, I would have people remember that City played well in the first half and that the harsh penalty turned the game.  Had City taken one of the first half chances they created then they had every chance of holding out for the win, making Barnet’s result meaningless.

Ultimately, I have to say congratulations to Barnet.  The points they picked up towards the end of the season, and the fight they obviously showed right to the death leaves me unable to shake the feeling that they deserved to stay up.  Rather than blaming misfortune, or pressure from the Lincoln fans, the City players (wherever they next show their faces) would do well to learn from Barnet’s example.

As I said at the start, watch this space for my thoughts on the season as a whole at some point in the next week or so.

24 Elliott Parish
25 Cian Hughton
2 Paul Green
4 Adam Watts
3 Joe Anderson
8 Clark Keltie
19 Jamie Clapham
31 Ali Fuseini
15 Luke Howell
9 Gavin Mc
29 Ashley Grimes
27 Ben Hutchinson for Fuseini (71)
10 Drewe Broughton
14 Josh O'
26 Tom Kilbey
39 Scott Spencer
40 Patrick Kanyuka
1 Joe Anyon

1 Jamie Young
2 Ben Herd
15 Aaron Morris
6 Anthony Charles
21 John Halls
17 Jermaine Mc
4 Luke Guttridge
11 Anthony Straker
12 Danny Hylton
9 Damian Spencer
23 Peter Vincenti
19 Reece Connolly for Spencer (71)
8 Ben Harding
16 Clayton Fortune
24 Doug Bergqvist
25 Tim Sills
35 Adam Mekki
31 Jordan Clement

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