Saturday, 27 August 2011

Lincoln City v Stockport County, 26th August 2011

Venue: Sincil Bank, Lincoln
Attendance: 2,152
Final score: 1-1
Sometimes you just don’t get what you deserve in football.  In this battle of the relegated teams City battled, strutted, played some sublime football and generally worked their socks off.  Unbelievably, the match ended in a draw, though City created enough chances to win three matches - in the end being denied the win by the woodwork, a stubborn Stockport defence and a less than convincing refereeing performance.

Stockport sat just above the Imps on 6 points before the game, having drawn both their previous away games.

After a miserably rainy day, the evening actually turned out to be good footballing weather – balmy and with no wind.  The wet surface certainly made it a night for testing goalkeepers from range, however.

City made two changes from the team that won at AFC Telford, with Perry and Barraclough, the two substitutes that had made the difference in that match, brought into the starting 11 at the expense of Taylor and Smith.  I find it interesting that Perry and Taylor haven’t yet been paired up front together at all, considering that they have the best goalscoring records at this level and would surely fit the 'big man, small man' template.

City set out their intentions from the start, attacking aggressively, with Gavin McCallum tearing pieces out of the Stockport right back Brahim-Bounab (who would be subbed halfway through the first half).  McCallum seems a different player this season – his confidence, pace and close control seeming a world away from the player we saw last season.

The lead was taken early, and it was Power who scored the goal, though it was more about precision than power as he curled a neat shot into the far corner from just inside the area after a scramble in the box.

The referee was letting the play flow in the early stages (in sharp contrast to his later behaviour) and it was allowing City to find their feet.  A second goal was denied the Imps after an inch perfect freekick found Gowling’s diving head, and the City skipper swung away to celebrate, unaware that the linesman had flagged for offside, though from where I was sitting it seemed impossible that the Imps’ skipper himself had strayed.

The threat of being caught by a suckerpunch was ever present, and it was Stockport’s bulky striker Tom Elliott who looked the most dangerous.  Although not getting much service, it was clear that Elliott is a very good player at this level, and his touch and movement seemed effortless whenever Stockport had the ball.

Just as City were looking to hold out for half time, it was Elliott who provided the blow that would ultimately deny City all three points.  His glancing header from the edge of the box sneaked past Anyon before clipping the inside of the post, and rolled slowly across the goal before crossing the line.  It was a good header, but the contact with the post could have taken it anywhere, and it was cruel luck for the Imps that the woodwork favoured Stockport now and would prove just as unkind in the second half.

The second half would be marked by a noticeable change in the referee’s consistency, and the love affair that seemed to have blossomed between him and his whistle over halftime.

Stockport actually came out of the blocks flying, and for the first five minutes it seemed as is City wouldn’t be able to regain their first half dominance.  That doubt was soon laid to rest, however, as City began to once again hammer on Stockport’s door, Barraclough in particular looking lively and dangerous.  I think Barraclough is another player I’m going to like this season – he has a great desire to run and has the ability and confidence to take on defenders.  If I had to make a tiny criticism of him, it’s that he often tries to take on too many defenders when a simple pass would be the better option.  His passing was often off target, however, meaning that he is wont to give possession away a little too often.  However, he is still young, and I’m sure his decision making will improve in time.

City came closest to retaking the lead when McCallum (who else), smashed an audacious 25 yard effort off the front of the crossbar, with Glennon well beaten.

The danger of conceding a sloppy goal yet again reared its head, though, as a scramble on the edge of the box almost led to Stockport getting a clean shot at goal, before Gowling cleared with a bizarre (if a little reckless) ground level diving header.

The woodwork would yet again come to Stockport’s aid soon afterwards, as a freekick to Lincoln well outside the box was pushed to Power, whose powerful effort took a slight deflection before hammering against the underside of the bar.  After conceding from good freekicks a few times already this season, it was unlucky that City couldn’t benefit from one.

City had two late penalty appeals as Stockport’s defending started to get a little ragged.  First McCallum seemed to be pulled back in the box, then Smith was clearly dragged over while stretching for a ball at the back post.  Both were good shouts for penalties but the referee, who had been giving niggly decisions throughout the second half, seemed unable to make the big decisions, no matter how blatant they were.  I’m not one of those fans who likes to blame referees – they do a very tough job – but sadly the standard of refereeing and linesmanning (is that a word?) in the Blue Square Premier seems poor, and I fear that more frustrating decisions await us in the games ahead.

The blowing of the final whistle meant that City had only gained a point from a match that could, and should, have yielded three.  However, the work rate and quality of football were recognised by the crowd, and the players should be under no doubt that the fans were proud of them.  I would stick my neck out and plainly state that I don’t believe that this team would have been relegated from League 2 last year.

I think we need to be careful not to get carried away, however.  This was City’s best performance of the season, and comes on the back of two other good performances, but we’ve seen in seasons past that good attacking form can come to an end (especially if performances are not turned into goals and wins).  Instead, we should see this as a very encouraging step along the road. Let’s not forget amid all the excitement that we didn’t actually win – we couldn’t turn chances into goals, as a top of the table side surely would have done.  We also failed to keep a clean sheet, when Stockport were restricted to very few chances in the match.

So overall, a very solid performance from the Imps, another point gained, but we need to keep this level up if we are really going to challenge for the playoffs or better this season - the bar has been set.

1 Joe Anyon
13 Tony Sinclair
4 Adam Watts
5 Josh Gowling
3 John Nutter
8 Alan Power
10 Ali Fuseini
15 Simon Russell
30 Gavin McCallum
9 Kyle Perry
19 Bradley Barraclough
7 Jamie Taylor, for Barraclough 74
14 Sam Smith, for Perry 81
6 Danny Hone
17 Nicky Nicolau
27 Jean-Francois Christophe

1 Matt Glennon
21 Nabil Brahim-Bounab
5 Danny O'
22 Carl Piergianni
3 Euan Holden
7 Sean Mc
14 Sam Sheridan
4 Jon Routledge
10 John Miles
19 Nick Chadwick
20 Tom Elliott
16 Ryan Mccann
, for Brahim-Bounab 21
24 Elliott Chamberlain
, for Miles 74
8 John Nolan
, for Chadwick 81
9 Martin Gritton
12 Ian Ormson

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