Fan’s View 2021/22 – no.29 – Lincoln away

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, January 9th, 2022  

FAN’S VIEW 21/22 – NO.29

LINCOLN CITY 2 OXFORD UNITED 0

Some football fans, possibly the more straight to the point types, or possibly the less articulate ones, have only two settings in response to being asked how their team played: “well” or “shit”. Sometimes even those who mull things over and come up with a more detailed analysis can still end up fairly confidently summarising that a display had indeed been “shit”.

So, do I think we were “shit” at Lincoln? My answer is not quite but nearly. Just about everything about this showing was “shit” except that we didn’t collapse and only conceded two. The score line says that we were not totally screwed over. That said, if the Imps had got one, or even two, more that would not have been an unfair reflection of what went on.

We all know that just about every team on the planet to some degree goes through ups and downs over a season.

This was our first away defeat since September and it could be that this and not being able to beat Cheltenham at home last week is just a relatively minor blip before we get back to winning ways.

Nevertheless I cannot but ask, can a season unravel over a couple of games? Seems a bit like it at this point in time. Only a draw at home against, at best, mid-table Cheltenham and getting out-played in all areas of the pitch from start to finish by a team that are close to the bottom and had lost six, drawn three and only won two of their previous league games at home.

Okay, Lincoln are probably in a false position and played some excellent football here, completely bossing the game, but come on, we’ve got to be way better than this if we’re to make the play offs. (Automatic looks a pipe dream).

Back to the unravelling – it’s not just the points we’ll not be gathering now that we are without Herbie Kane, by common consent our best player, for three games – if there is no successful appeal. It’s also Cameron Brannagan injured and possibly distracted by a pushy agent and Blackpool poking their noses in. Others out of contract soon, watching and waiting to see what our football club will offer, competitively and financially, going forward. Still no news on the takeover. Permission to get a little edgy sir. At least give a tiny clue what the issues are other than “these things take time”. Not for some clubs they don’t, well not this long.

This was one of those games where the opposition appeared to have at least one man more on the field than we did. They were able to overload us in most areas. Our full-backs were left facing more men than they could cope with and often one man was more than they could handle anyway.

Number 7 Morgan Whittaker, on loan from Swansea, was a particular threat and Chris Maguire was pulling the strings. We got nowhere near being able to stop him doing with them what he wanted at will let alone claiming them as our own.

They found space but we didn’t. Everything they did seemed to be at least one notch above what we were doing or trying to do. But realistically we were not at it when it came to off the ball work and preventing Lincoln having quite a free rein. A first half incident stuck in my mind. Young keeper Josh Griffiths, on loan from WBA, rolled the ball to a colleague just outside his penalty area. That man got to the half-way line without having to rush. No black shirt engaged. If we weren’t pressing you would think that we had some really solid lines further back but that wasn’t the case. So what the **** were we up to? Had Mapp come up with a master plan and comprehensively outthought Karl?

I honestly can’t recall one single move that we put together worthy of the name where we linked up as a team and cut through the Lincoln defence.

I can’t say any of our starters had a good game. I thought Gavin Whyte was particularly poor and Mark Sykes hardly got in the game. Slightly surprised therefore when it was Ryan Williams who went off when Nathan Holland came on but there was no getting away from the fact that the Aussie had not influenced anything or been able to make any penetrating runs at all.

The three subs we brought on, James Henry at the same time as Holland and Marcus McGuane for the injured Brannagan just before half time were for me probably our three best players, although there have again been comments that the latter needs to work harder.

Playing as we did renders Matty Taylor ineffectual and that highlights with massive alarm bells ringing what we already know, the need for a viable alternative that offers something different. Plan B? No can do, not got the tools.

We hung on for some time but didn’t make it to half-time level. There had been a nasty injury to Lincoln’s Lewis Montsma which required lengthy treatment before he was taken off on a stretcher which led to lots of added minutes before the break. During this hiatus a fair number decided to head to the toilets, me included. Also this gave our manager the opportunity to gather his men around to advise, encourage, motivate, bollock, re-organise or whatever it is they do in such circumstances to bring about improvement.

As I was squeezing back along the row to my seat Anthony Scully gave the home side the lead. KR had not galvanised the troops. Oh dear.

It was a well taken goal from a man who can find the back of the net but we were “shit”. We got what we deserved. When the ball was played square to him he had the freedom of the county to do as he pleased. Someone should have had the job of stopping him doing so.

Lincoln’s second came in the 56th minute. We’d given a glimmer of hope that we might be different after the turnaround with something resembling proper pressing when Lincoln had the ball at the back. That is pretty meaningless when we were still crap at much of the rest of it.

It was 3v3 down the Lincoln left flank near our penalty area. Sam Long did well to win the ball but then played it straight to teenager Lewis Fiorini, on loan from Manchester City. From afar it looked like a penalty might be awarded but on closer inspection Williams put the brakes on, held his hands up and made no challenge. The Lincoln man went to ground anyway. None of that mattered one iota because the ball fell to Whittaker and there was none of our guys near enough to stop the shot being taken.

I’d started this FV with the intention of making it a short one and rattling it off relatively quickly.

I could draw a line now but that would be ignoring important parts of the narrative. It’s the usual two things, the refereeing and the shithousery.

Seb Stockbridge is a referee we’ve come across before. On Saturday I and many around me were perplexed as to why he hadn’t got his yellow card out on quite a few occasions. There were some challenges from both sides that in 19 out of 20 other games would have seen a booking. Lenient was the word. To some extent I didn’t mind this. The crunching tackle a striped shirt put in on Luke McNally as he brought the ball forward was a joy to behold (well perhaps not if you are an Oxford fan). The defender didn’t stay on his feet but he took the ball perfectly in good old school style. (Proved how much they wanted it, but that’s a different subject). Kane got the next touch knocking it forward with Stockbridge having to quickly step out of the way. Our man running after the ball went to play it side footed as another Lincoln player slid towards the ball in the same fashion as the first getting there marginally first. Nothing malicious from either but of course he got caught. When Stockbridge blew there was at least one of theirs moaning that he should have waved play on. I thought what’s all the fuss about? Then to immediately see a red when yellows had been kept hidden had heads being shaken. Did Kane endanger safety? If he did I would argue the defender endangered his own safety by flying in like that. (I keep coming back to writing this whilst doing lots of other things – it is currently half time in the WHU v Leeds FA Cup tie. I’ve just witnessed a few minutes ago Lewis Bate go in studs up and catch Antonio. Nastier than the incident I saw live. No card from Stuart Atwell of any colour. Not even a free-kick. Explain that one)

As for cards, I found the Chris Maguire/Mark Sykes incident most baffling. My take on it was that our ex-hero had done a bit of shithousery, kicking MS when they were both off the field with the ball out of play. Not totally sure but Sykes’s reaction told that something had happened. Those standing near me said arms raised and a push. I thought it was what looked like a punch to the side of the head. Not with the greatest of force but a punch. I was fully expecting the first card to be shown then and it not to be yellow. Either the officials didn’t see what happened or chose to ignore it. I thought the raising of hands was an automatic red but have long ago been tricked by listening to pundits and failing to read the latest guidelines.

There was plenty that was ignored though, including when a very rare event took place. We had a player through on goal. It was Sykes. He was pushed from behind. Stockbridge waved play on. It’s a lottery. It’s a mystery what goes on in their heads.

Heads, strange ones some footballers have. Get kicked in the leg or brushed up against by an opponent and there’s a need to hold their noggin, fall to the ground and pretend all sorts. It happened here. Stockbridge fell for it. L1 is nowhere near getting VAR and it isn’t covered by the people poring over screens at Stockley Park for the Premier League but if I was in charge I’d have the officials at base looking out for blatant cheating. Spot it. Tell the referee, send the player off, fine him heavily and suspend him for x number of games.

Right is that it? Well, no. I’ve got more after all.

There are some people who don’t know me that well who think I travel away with the Yellows more for the beer and company than the actual football.

Since Covid and recently the Omicron assault I’ve been quite cautious in my choice of places, particularly indoor ones, to visit. Quite careful research was undertaken before a Lindum hostelry was selected for our pre-match liquid refreshment. We’ve been in the Cardinal’s Hat before. It has a “large ground floor bar (a bit disputable) plus smaller atmospheric snugs and rooms”.  The beer had been very good previously and this time it tasted even better. The three of us that had travelled together managed to take over one of those small rooms and for a while it felt like nirvana. Quality ale, good conversation and a view through a window down over the back of the bar to the staff serving the customers. It felt like a temporary home. Eventually someone popped their heads in and we said come on in moving our coats off the chairs and stools we’d taken over in addition to those we were sat in. We got chatting immediately and discovered the two couples were not from Lincoln but out Scunthorpe/Grimsby way. The conversation, which was constant until we left for the match, was all football. The blokes had occasionally watched Scunny and the fish lot but Man U was more of a true love. We covered games we’d played against them starting with Alex Ferguson’s first game in charge. Can’t beat re-visiting that one. They asked about 1986. “Yes, of course we were there”.  There’s nothing like the British pub for meeting people. Absolutely loved it.

Would I swap all of this and a defeat for having gone in an awful pub and drunk dreadful beer and a win? 100% yes. Even for a draw.

Still not quite finished. Bear with me.

Whenever my heart and first (and possibly second) impressions register negativity I feel obliged to search for evidence that tells me I might be a tad incorrect.

So the stats. We had 53% possession, won 56% of the duels, won 69% of the aerial duels, had 14 shots with 3 on target (Lincoln 10 and 4) and also had a better tackle success rate than they did.

Looking at the highlights again.

In the first half:

Some sound defending by Elliott Moore to get the ball off the goal line and away.

Williams did manage to run half the length of the pitch and get a shot away, albeit a weak one. Taylor had joined him, taken up a good position and a pass would have been a better option.  No other Oxford player was anywhere near this action.

Kane hit a tremendous free-kick towards the top corner of the goal only for Griffiths to get to it.

On another occasion Taylor was played in by Williams but Griffiths came out and blocked his attempt.

In the second half

McGuane fired a shot just wide.

Has that made me feel better about it all? Just a touch. The fullness of my glass has crept up just a little towards the half full mark. Beat Wycombe and it will likely be way above that line.

This entry was posted on Sunday, January 9th, 2022 at 8:48 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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