Fan’s View 2019/20 – no.14 – Lincoln Away

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, September 22nd, 2019  

LINCOLN AWAY

Our Opponents

Only a few years back I would say that OUFC were a bigger club than LCFC, quite a bit bigger. Now I’d argue that in the past few seasons we’ve fallen behind the team from Sincil Bank in terms of size. Or more accurately they’ve gone past us on the back of the momentum that saw them promoted from the National League in 2016/17.

At the end of June they announced that 5,850 season ticket holders had renewed for the 19/20 campaign. We finished last season with 4,500 season ticket holders and in early June had shifted 2,500 with a target of 5,000. I assume we did not reach this goal otherwise it would have been headlines in the local press and on the official Oxford United website. This season Lincoln are averaging 8,689. That’s 1,828 more than us.

In their NL promotion season their average was 5,160 but the year before had been just 2,799. In their first season back in the Football league that had shot up to 8,812 when they made it to the play-off semi-finals and twelve months on when they won the L2 championship that had gone slightly higher to just get above the 9k mark.

Lincoln’s impressive rise came with the appointment of Danny Cowley and his brother Nicky in May 2016. The former is the main man and from 2007-2015 he was manager of Concord Rangers who were in the Essex Senior League (the equivalent level to the Hellenic League Premier Division). By the time he left they’d progressed three tiers. He then spent just one season in charge of Braintree of the National League before heading to the place with the cathedral on the hill. He got Braintree to the play-off semi-finals. That season his team were knocked out of the FA Cup 3-1 by Oxford United in a replay at Minchery Farm.  I remember how tough a game it was at their place and how well drilled Braintree were.

If you put aside for one moment that Huddersfield only have one point from seven games and look on them as a team with a future in the Championship the Cowley’s ascent is an even steeper one than that of the Imps. On the 9 September they moved on to John Smith’s Stadium. These things don’t just come out of the blue. Lincoln won their first three league games. I wonder if there was a time when the Cowleys took their eye off the ball because they lost and won just one of their remaining four league games at the helm. There were also defeats in the EFL Trophy, a competition which they won at Wembley in 2018, and the EFL Cup although this was against Everton.

Since the brothers’ departure Lincoln have lost at home 1-0 to Bristol Rovers and come away from Rochdale with a point.  It’s a big question, will they be the same without the Cowleys? Coaches Jamie McCombe and Andy Warrington were temporarily placed in charge of the first-team and without the boost of a new permanent man in the hot seat it would have been a pretty good time to have been playing them.

We knew it was almost certain that Michael Appleton would get the job but it began to look like contract negotiations would not be concluded prior to our visit. Then on Friday evening they were. Bugger, that will give them that boost. I thought for one brief moment that the football gods were going to even things out for us after we had to face the new revitalised Bolton.

Lincoln’s league position at first sight appears rather comfortable in eighth place on 13 points. Ours very dodgy. However, we’ve both played nine games whereas all but five other clubs have played fewer. A win would place us just one point behind the Imps.

And I will say that although the home team will be out to impress their new boss I’ve in no way written this game off. It took Mapp quite a few months to get things clicking as he wanted when he was with Oxford. His is a passing style and, not that I’ve observed closely, Lincoln’s is more direct getting the ball forward quickly. As he’s not officially taking over until Monday he will probably steer well clear and leave the preparation to the temporary boys but it would be nice if he were to have a few words and confuse those in red and white stripes.

Without looking it up I had not a clue as to who owns Lincoln City FC nor the state of their finances.

Lincoln City Football Club accounts to y/e 30 June 2018 show a sum of £2m on the balance sheet. In the year they lost approx. £1m and during that period they issued shares worth approx. £677k. More recently they’ve issued a further set of shares worth £5.5m.

Staffing costs were £4.43m (annualised to £4m).

“The company continues to be supported by its parent company and underlying investors.” As they took advantage of Section 444 of the Companies Act 2006 which allows small companies to exclude a fair bit of information it’s not easy to deduce much. It’s not clear who the parent company is. Lincoln City Holdings Ltd? Sportsvest Capital are involved somewhere along the line.

There’s no doubt Lincoln are in a much more sound financial position than we are. That is down to massively increased gates, the EFL Trophy win, reaching the FA Cup 6th round in 2016/17 and all these new shares.  Cup successes never are repeated year after year, there’s no guarantee that gates won’t quickly dwindle if the team starts losing much more often and surely there’s no way shares will continue to be created at such a rate is there? This does though seem like a good way to get money into a football club without creating debt and falling foul of financial fair play rules unless I’ve missed something.

In an interview in the summer the Imps Chief Exec, Liam Scully, said, “Our financial model is going to be, broadly speaking, about 33 per cent match day revenue, 33 per cent commercial and sponsorship while the other 33 per cent has to come from the owners and investors.”

He also said “While gaining promotion to League One was a fabulous achievement for the Imps, who are looking forward to locking horns with illustrious names like Sunderland, Portsmouth and Ipswich Town, there is no real financial benefit from the step up. We’re up against much bigger clubs and businesses. The challenges just get bigger”.

Defiant home fans at the final whistle expecting a bright future under Michael Appleton

Lincoln City 0 Oxford United 6

For the record I have witnesses to confirm that before this sensational result I said “I’m feeling more optimistic than I should be”. That was to Mrs FV on Thursday and in the Cardinal’s Hat before the game. Not that I, or anyone on the planet, saw this coming of course.

It was one of those games. No wait it can’t have been because I don’t think there has ever been such a match in Oxford United’s history. This was after all our record away victory in the league and I think the performance was almost perfect, if there ever can be such a thing.

As ever the importance of the next goal when the score is 2-0 cannot be overstated. If it goes to the losing side, particularly if they are at home, a one goal advantage can look very precarious as momentum is likely to shift significantly. On the other hand at 3-0 as a contest the game is all but over. When Jamie Mackie got the third at the start of the second half that was very much the case and by the final whistle Lincoln were not only very well beaten but also completely broken.

There were so many aspects of this display to rave about. Recent weaknesses had either been eradicated or were on the day irrelevant because they were not exploited by the home side.

We got stuck in from the very first whistle and there was no apparent light weighted-ness in the way we were going about our business. Alex Gorrin was bang on it doing the breaking up and tackling in central midfield plus he can pass a football too.

As much as getting so many goals (A 1-0 win brings the same number of points as a 6-0 win) is pleasing beyond words I was just as happy with our third clean sheet in a row. I can only recall Simon Eastwood having to make one proper save. That was when Harry Anderson came in from the right and beat Josh Ruffels just before the interval.

Everything else was blocked or dealt with in exemplary fashion. John Mousinho brings a calm assurance and has quiet leadership skills. He’s rightly captain and the way he’s playing at the moment makes my previous claims that he’s not really a centre-half look well wide of the mark. From behind the goal and therefore with a closer view than usual I’d make the observation that he’s stronger than I’d thought. Also I can’t remember him getting beaten in the air. That may have been down to the fact that Lincoln weren’t getting in any quality delivery or didn’t have height up front. That said though their second half substitute John Akinde is an inch taller than Mous.

His partnership with Rob Dickie looks to be the best one to go with at the moment even if it did come about out of necessity when Elliott Moore was struck down with back spasms. Dickie hardly put a foot wrong and as we were controlling the game was able to show positive intent bringing the ball out from the back as well as doing everything required defensively.

Our movement of the ball and movement of those in white was such that their red counterparts were chasing shadows for much of the game. Our passing was quick and incisive, often first touch and with a look to doing it all going forward. When there was nothing obvious on we just played it patiently across the back which is totally the right thing to do, particularly when you are leading and the onus is on your opponents to get the ball and get back in the game. If you play that right you can stretch them and make space for yourself, which we did.

We never let up until the final whistle even when the game had long been won. The battling and closing down was continuous as was our search for further goals. We pursued this in a totally professional manner, never exposing ourselves at the back.

I did not detect any noticeable unrest towards their team from the fans as Lincoln were getting this right royal stuffing. (If it had been us suffering thus I think the atmosphere would have been bordering on the poisonous). There are however, as within our fan base, those who let rip on social media in totally negative manner with a dose of bad language when their team suffers a bad day (or two or three) at the office. On occasion there are grains of true to be had from such outpourings. Here’s one from a Lincoln Fans’ forum:

But if we play like that frequently we will be back in League 2. It was a fucking disgrace. Hopefully MA is the man to polish the turd that the Cowleys left us. 2 weak keepers, an absolute lack of pace at centre half, no fucker in the middle who can tackle, 1 and a bit strikers and 87 ‘attacking midfielders’. Sorry I forget the knackered fullback and the midfielder we signed cause he’s a nice lad but ain’t good enough to actually play. No wonder DC legged it, he laid the turd and realised it can’t be polished. Twat.

So we’ve beaten absolutely nothing and it’s all the Cowleys’ fault. Quite an entertaining post though.

In the glow of such a wide margin triumph it would be easy to forget that our second goal did not come until five minutes before half time and until then the Imps in no way looked out of the game even if they weren’t creating anything.

Although we marshalled him well, son of Des, Tyler Walker does have an eye for goal and has scored this season at the rate of a goal every other game. Jack Payne has undoubted skill on the ball but as when he was with us, looks very flimsy.

There’s no way that Lincoln fans should write their team off and although it is unlikely that Mapp will turn their side into a footballing one overnight I can pretty much guarantee that they will be a different proposition altogether when they come to Minchery Farm on Boxing Day. Form can turn either way very quickly. Just look at Tranmere. We couldn’t recall a worse side visiting us just a week earlier yet since then they’ve got a point at Peterborough and beaten Burton who turned us over with not too much trouble.

This win has made the League table look so much better. We’ve shot up to 12th although importantly every team below us bar one has a game or more in hand. We do now though have a positive goal difference of four. Now averaging 1.9 goals a game scored this is only bettered by the Posh who can boast 2.2. Defensively we’re playing catch up. We’ve let in exactly 1.5 per match and only come out joint 16th best. (I.e. there are only six teams with a poorer record).

Leaving the ground I told two old Lincoln fans that Appleton would sort it out for them. I’m not actually totally convinced he will but I just felt sorry for them. One of the two said, “You had some good shots”. I think they were suffering from shell shock. I’ve also read on line from Lincoln fans that everything we hit went in. Well yes it just about did but that’s down to absolute quality in our finishing and it’s not often we can say that. What’s the point in trying speculative shots when there’s very little chance of scoring? Another comment was that our goals were “random”. No idea what that means but I’ll guess they meant they were all very different.

So different and all things of beauty in their own way that all are worthy of mention.

1-0

Alex Gorrin won the ball from a Lincoln throw robbing the light-weight Payne. Ben Woodburn, who I initially though had a quiet game but was actually involved in a lot, knocked the ball straight back to Gorrin who beat Payne and played it to Chris Cadden. Our full-back had space in front of him and with Lincoln players chasing passed to Tariq Fosu on the edge of the box. He gave it to Jamie Mackie and immediately got it back then with his right foot touched it to his left before cutting a left footer back and inside keeper Josh Vickers’ left hand post. There were seven Lincoln players nearby but none were able to lay a glove on our men as we showed how well we could work in tight areas.

2-0

Mackie brought the ball forward towards the half way line then gave it to Woodburn on his left. Before it had arrived at our full-back’s feet Fosu was pointing where he wanted it played. With his second touch that’s where Woodburn put it. A superb pass. Fosu was quicker than the defenders and with one just behind him took it wide then angled it in as Vickers came out putting it under/through the both of them.

3-0

Midway in our own half Gorrin played the ball to Fosu who moved it on first time to Cameron Brannagan. In acres of space with his second touch he bent a pass of the highest calibre with the outside of his right foot. Through sheer determination Mackie raced on to it getting there before Cian Bolger. Mackie’s first manoeuvre of the ball to get a shot off was countered by Bolger but the tiniest of touches with his left foot than again with his right worked an opening for a shot. A shot that would go close but never go in. I was looking at it all happening head on. He bent his foot into the ball. It was a glorious effort and the curl on it was incredible. It seems to take on a life of its own in mid-air and went in by the post with uncanny accuracy. No keeper in the world would have stood a chance.

4-0

James Henry went past Payne and played a forward pass to Woodburn. This was typical of our constant positivity. Woodburn had got the wrong side (right side for him) of his marker and when his shot was blocked it shot skywards. With six defenders watching Henry came forward and smacked a volley one can only dream of into the back of the net.

5-0

Fosu got the ball in our own half and was able to run without challenge until he decided to beat Callum Connolly whom he left on his knees. He was left with the freedom of the pitch ahead. Able to progress at his leisure I was thinking you need to pass now. Cadden was free on the right and there was an option to slip Matty Taylor in.  With Connolly having picked himself up and approaching, Fosu decided to go for it from 30 yards out. Up and up it went then it dropped perfectly in the top corner.

6-0

Gorrin faced by Joe Morrell passed to the seemingly always available Cadden and continued his run. Brannagan made a run too, there were options all around. Cadden had enough room to centre and Taylor was in the perfect position to head in his first Oxford United goal from close range. Woodburn was available too.

More crazy celebrations. The players just like the fans were loving it.

Another comment from a Lincoln fan was that we’d travelled in good numbers but were quiet. I’d argue that 668 is quite poor given that we had not quite sold out our “initial” allocation but that is probably understandable as we’d not really produced much on our travels. As for no noise I thought there was quite a racket going on with such a low roof above our heads. It makes a real difference.

One final plus point is the strength on the bench. Taylor has now got off the mark. Anthony Forde replaced Henry with no noticeable change in our play and the quarter of an hour we saw of George Thorne showed what a presence he can be if full fitness can be achieved.

I suspect we’ll see quite a few of those that didn’t start in this doing so against the Hammers on Wednesday. That’s totally understandable but it would be rather nice to see the side that did so very well here perform against altogether different opposition.

Fosu with the match ball. Photo Simon Jaggs 

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