When your striker breaks his duck and your goalkeeper gets the assist, you couldn’t care less.
The month of September is gonna be a long haul for us. We’ve almost got more games than I’ve got fingers and it’s not like there’s an easy run in those games. Some big league games, a run of 6 games in 3 weeks and a cup game that looks winnable but could be a thorn in our side. This month could really set us on our way or grind us to a halt.
Coincidentally, our first game is against the favourites to win the league in Luton Town. They’ve had a strong yet similar start to our own as they are yet to lose in the league. As this is our first game and we’ve had a week break, our strongest available XI starts with August Player of the Month Gergo Lovrenscics and Wharton keeping their places. I really debate between Harrison and Palmer starting but I pick Ellis as he still needs a league goal under his belt. Hopefully the momentum of his Brighton brace is still pushing him on.
It doesn’t take long to set a sour tone when early Luton pressing results in Justin finding Shinnie free 8 minutes in. He loops a header over the sprawling Allsop to make it 1-0. Well shit. The game does settle and we play ourselves back into the game with our first chance coming 20 minutes later. Green slots Harrison in behind and uses a heavy touch to beat his man. Despite his pace, he can only get a foot to the ball to try chip the keeper but he’s too close and smothers it well. In the 38th minute, Woody runs forward and plays Harrison. He lays it off to Stewart who rolls it in front of him before curling a great effort off the far post. First half ends with us 1-0 down.
The second half is absolutely silent. We try to push on and bring on fresh legs in the last 20 minutes but there’s no real chances worth mentioning for either side. Our first loss of season does leave a bitter taste in my mouth as we could have took something from this game but if we were going to lose to any side, I understand if it’s Luton Town.
Our next game is Stevenage away and after a positive start from their first 5 games, they are sitting in 3rd place. I give Vickers a start in goal, Sam Ham and Vasil come back in the side. Vasil was a used substitute in one of Bulgaria’s games which he seems pleased about. Chapman starts alongside captain for the day Woody. Pett comes in as our attacking midfielder with Green dropped. Harrison remains up front. Stevenage winger Chris Whelpdale is the top goal scorer so far with 4 goals already while Alex Revell is leading the line with 3 goals to his name also. Busy day for the lads at the back today.
3 minutes in, Pett plays a good ball over for Stewart who’s first time lofted effort is caught. We stay on the attack as 10 minutes in, a great volley from Stewart is turned over for a corner. It’s whipped in and after Bozhikov has his header saved, Chapman leaps and connects well. Unfortunately, he hits the crossbar.
12 minutes pass and we concede a corner. It’s headed clear by Gergo and Pett picks up the ball to begin a counter on his own. Harrison is in support but he beats three men, sending one tumbling over. He must have ran 80 yards before hitting an effort just wide. Harrison was open for the cut-back but I can’t blame him for wanting to finish an amazing run on his own. We’re finally rewarded for our good start as intricate two touch passing between Harrison and Pett leaves Rowe to cut inside and finesse into the back of the net. 1-0. We very nearly make it two just before half time as Rowe cuts inside again but holds it until Chapman darts into the box. He hits it first time with too much power over the bar from 12 yards. He’s been unlucky not to score today.
The second half is calmer with a Pett cross in the 59th minute accumulating to a Harrison header from the edge of box but the keeper gets down to his right to save. 10 minutes later, Harrison rises again but from just six yards to force a good save. Anderson and Freckles come on as Pett goes out wide with Woody pushing into CAM. He’s been great with the ball at his feet and finding passes so I want to see if he can play further forward. The game pretty much dies down until the last minutes when Anderson pressures King to pass to his namesake in goal. Anderson continues his pressing and it pays off as he pounces on a poor first touch to run it into the goal to wrap the game up. A strong 2-0 victory to bounce back from our first loss shows big character.
Chapman comes to my door the next day and thanks me for playing him again. At just 16, Ellis is very humble and quite shy but he shows up when he’s picked and always makes sure to show his appreciation. A manager’s dream.
Pett also comes to see me not long after and requests to start against Forest Green mid-week. After his last performance, I decide to agree and let him start. Our fellow promoted side have had a very average start with 8 points from a possible 18, tied 10th with Grimsby. 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses. In order to make sure that the correct number changes to a 3 on the league table, I start Palmer up front. Wharton is back in for Vasil with Pett starting on the right. Green comes back in behind the striker in his play-maker role.
The first 20-30 minutes is all Lincoln. A flurry of shots at the Forest goal with the best chance falling to Palmer with a free header from 8 yards put wide. As I’m thinking that it’s not going to be our day, an unorganised Forest back line leaves Rowe in space on the right. He runs forwards into the box before squaring to Palmer to smack into an open goal. He jogs over and celebrates with the away fans in the far corner. Where would we be without Ollie Palmer?
In the penultimate minute of the first half, Scott Laird bombs up from left back and is free on the left. A great save from Allsop denies him the goal first before the offside flag denies him a second time. A brilliant reflex save regardless. Freckles has a bit of a knock coming in at half time so I take him off as precaution and ask Wilson to push into CDM. Vasil comes in at the back.
Four minutes in, Palmer lays off Green after chesting down a Woody cross. He laces it over the bar. 10 minutes later, Palmer sets himself from 30 yards and hits a dipping effort off the crossbar. It would have been an amazing goal to solidify our lead but I still feel very comfortable.
It doesn’t take long for my comfort to be disrupted though as in the 63rd minute, Campbell is played in and squares to Reuben Reid who strikes hard and low. Allsop’s palm can’t push the shot round the post as it hits the side of the net. 1-1
Things go from bad to worse as only 5 minutes later, the same combination link up. Reid gets in front of Wharton and directs a tidy finish into the bottom right to make it 2-1. I cannot fucking believe it. It’s their 3rd, maybe 4th shot of the game and they’ve stripped us of three points in the space of five minutes. I bring Anderson and Harrison on in retaliation and change the team to a 4 triple 2. There’s no further chances for either side and Forest take the three points. I’m furious with the result but not so much with the squad. We played well and deserved something.
Due to the inconsiderate nature of our fixture list, I only have three days to sulk about our second loss of the season before our next game against Mansfield. They’ve had a decent start picking up 12 points so far sitting in 6th place.
Luckily, Freckles knock wasn’t anything serious and he’s ready to go again. Seeing how the team re-acted after losing him last game, I decide he will take the on the temporary captain’s role… permanently I guess. Basically, no more changing captains unless he isn’t on the pitch. Sean Long starts with Sam Ham as our two full backs after they both come to ask for more game time. Vasil starts next to Wilson and Knott gets his chance to impress with Harrison still leading the line despite his goalless streak. He has a bit of a heart-to-heart conversation a couple days prior asking for patience as he’s only even played for Bristol apart from two starts for Hartlepool on loan. I sympathise with him for now as I can’t keep sticking my neck out for him with the fans growing a tad restless.
Knott very much commands the game for the first half hour, making moves and finding passes. There’s no chances however until the 33rd minutes when Allsop comfortably catches an in-swinging corner. He looks up to throw or kick but all his options are marked or double marked. He runs over to his right, drops the ball and starts running down the touchline.
“Oi Ryan” I shout from the dugout. “What the fuck are you doing, get it out!” He ignores me and continues to run. I look over at Kev in disbelief who’s patiently watching, looking relatively unfased considering our keepers 20 yards out his box. As the winger finally comes to close him down, he plays a great pass up the pitch and into the feet of Harrison in their half. Before I can even finish my sigh of relief, Ellis fakes one way and bursts past Hunt, charging towards the box. Pearce does well to get between Harrison and the goal but he cuts inside of him and whips a shot with the inside of his left foot. Olejnik manages to get a hand to it but can’t keep it out as it bounces off the far post before nestling into the opposite corner. I’m jumping all over the place as Harrison sprints over to the corner flag and impersonates Matt Ritchie pretty well by kicking the shit of the corner flag. Ryan gives me a cheeky wave from his goal line once we calm down. Alright mate, I’ll let you off this time. You’re not Manuel Neuer just yet.
After that moment of excellence, the rest of the game is quiet. I make a triple sub in the 75th minute, congratulating Knott especially for impressing me today. In the final moments, Mansfield give Sincil Bank a scare when Danny Rose (no, not that one) hits the post from close distance. Thankfully, it’s a goal kick and once Allsop clears it upfield, the whistle goes. 1-0 doesn’t sound impressive but when your striker breaks his duck and your goalkeeper gets the assist, you couldn’t care less.
I have a bit of a crisis as we play Exeter away midweek for a chance to advance to the Round of 16 in the Carabao Cup but we have Notts County in the league who are currently 1st with a whopping 22 points from a potential 25. I consider the fact we’re already overachieving in the league (we were predicted to finish 15th), and decide a cup run early on would be much more fun. I start our main back six players with Anderson replacing Green and Stewart playing central. Ollie Palmer starts up top despite Harrison’s goal on the weekend as he is my cup striker and it’s not like he’s a bad second choice. I don’t even know who’s second choice anymore but never mind. Exeter are in bad form in the league but have beat Reading and Liverpool to get here so I’m cautious. We have beat them already so this game could easily go either way.
17 minutes is how long it takes before either team gets a chance after a Tillson clearance falls to Eardley who passes sideways to Freckles. He gives it to Stewart who finds Palmer in the box. Ollie turns and hits it just wide of the left hand post. In the 28th minute, Rowe dinks a ball short which Palmer scissor kicks at the keeper with some power. It’s palmed into the air but the keeper collects the rebound. How Palmer managed that volley, I’ll never know but if it went in, I’d be out of superlatives to describe him.
Another 10 minutes pass until an Anderson and Palmer 1-2 releases Palmer on the left. A great save stops us taking the lead and Rowe is unable to connect properly with rebound. In the second half, I bring on Pett for Rowe and push Stewart onto the wing. There’s quite a few small chances for Palmer and Pett but nothing substantial. I bring on Green and Knott for Freckles and Stewart in the 77th minute. Knott’s impact is almost instant as he puts a great ball to back post which Palmer can only direct into the side netting. No further action as the game requires extra time to decide a winner. I’m annoyed as another half hour of football is the last thing already tired legs need but it’s better than a full replay next week I guess.
Five minutes into extra time, Wilson hits the crossbar with a header from a corner and just before the end of the first half, Knott dummies the ball to beat his man. He can’t quite wrap his foot round the ball enough to find the goal however. Exeter are definitely playing for penalties. Considering they’ve already beat Liverpool in a shootout and we currently have a 0% penalty conversion and penalty save rate, they probably fancy themselves. I tell the lads to really push for a winner in the last 15 and that’s what they do.
In the 113rd minute, Pett wins a throw in. He throws to Anderson who could not have placed a more perfect cross to the front post for Green to nip in front and put a bullet header past Pym in goal. Finally, we are 1-0 up and my trademark fist pump is passionately released. As Exeter now have to attack, I tell the lads to sit back. With two minutes to go, Exeter are caught out by a great ball from Matt Green over to Anderson. He controls it and sidefoots it into the path of Ollie Palmer on the edge of the box. He takes a touch with his right before twatting it with his left across goal. It bounces in off the underside of the bar to confirm our advancement in the cup. I don’t even have to say what my thoughts on Ollie Palmer are anymore.
The last kick of the game comes after Knott threads through Green who runs the whole length of the pitch freely before messing up the finish. It doesn’t matter however as the final whistle blows and we’re into the last 16.
Our game was one of 9 that needed extra time but in amongst there were a few great games. 3-3 games between Manchester City & Barnsley and Coventry & Huddersfield. Coventry managed to get through 5-4 on pens while Barnsley couldn’t overcome the giants of Man City, losing 4-3. Shrewsbury also lost 4-3 on pens to Tottenham while my lads up north Newcastle hammered Fleetwood 5-0. It would be a dream to get them away from home in the cup. However, when the draw comes around, a League 2 side is guaranteed to be in the quarter finals when we draw Forest Green Rovers. It’s a home game which is always good; but with our recent performance against The Green still embedded in the front of my mind, I’m determined to get a different result this time.
Looking at the league table after 8 games have passed, I’m frankly ecstatic and I have every right to be. We’re in 3rd place with only 6 points separating us and the top spot. It could easily be 3 points if we beat 1st place this weekend and Luton don’t get three points themselves. Forest Green are also exceeding expectations sitting in the playoff spots but as there’s only 6 points between 3rd and 12th place, one bad result could see them drop out. And the same should be said about ourselves as it’s too early to be getting ahead of ourselves. In my eyes, a result against Notts County isn’t a nicety. It’s a necessity.