Shola Satisfaction (Episode 8: A Lincoln Legend)

He’s a cult hero in Tyneside and there he is, warming up with the intention of shitting all over my parade.

We’re almost through the slump. We’ve already played 6 games this month and it’s only the 21st. We started the month with a tough game against Luton but this is most likely a bigger ask. Notts County have the arguably better side plus the home advantage so taking into consideration our 1-0 defeat to Luton, everything should point to another defeat today. A stronger defeat too.

After Ryan Allsop’s antics in (and out) goal, most recently his assist against Mansfield, I pick him over Vickers to have more confidence in playing out from the back. Kev tells me that in all 6 matches Vickers has started, he’s kept a clean sheet so he’s yet to concede a goal in-between the posts. It’s a very impressive stat but it’s not swaying me today mate. The only other change is Pett replacing Green as a playmaker as Green’s form has dropped slightly in the last few games. The back four have a tough job keeping out the two strikers, Alessandra and Forte, as they both have notched 4 goals already.

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The first 15 minutes pass and we are in complete control. 75% of possession in the opening minutes but without any threatening chances. That is until Pett and Harrison combine to give Stewart a crack at goal but he’s off balance and puts it wide. 8 minutes later, I notice Gergo holding his thigh and wincing as he steps while setting up to defend a corner so Sam Ham warms up to replace him to avoid further aggravation. While Gergo will be a big miss for the remainder of this game, it’d be an even bigger miss if he can’t play for the next few games.

32 minutes in, a Pett effort is tipped over for corner. Harrison meets the cross well but Collin makes a good save to his right. A couple minutes before half time, Wilson bullies Alessandra off the ball and finds Eardley up the pitch. Harrison receives it on the edge of the box and plays Rowe down the right wing. He cuts back and crosses  in which Pett tries to overhead kick towards goal. Duffy blocks it and Harrison heads the rebound to Freckles who catches the volley well but it’s too central and is cleared after the keeper parries. Even though it’s 0-0, I tell the lads I’m over the moon with them. We’ve had 7 more shots, they’ve not had one on target and we’re holding the possession well with 62%. I even feel so confident to tell them to attack and push for an opener early in the second 45.

The squad have a habit of doing exactly what I ask them as four minutes into the half, Pett intercepts a poor Grant pass and gives to Harrison instantly. Harrison holds it up and plays into the run of Pett. On the edge of 6 yard box, he hits it low through the keepers legs to make it 1-0. It’s a really good finish as the keeper had closed him down well so that was the only place he could have put it. The game calms down for the next 20 minutes with the only point of interest being Stewart holding his arm and looking in pain. Anderson comes on to replace with same logic as the Lovrenscics sub in the first half.

However, in the 70th minute, Woody plays the ball over to Anderson and it looks like it’s got too much on it until Anderson stops it dead on the line brilliantly. He goes on to nutmeg a defender trying to steal the ball and passes inside to Harrison. He tries to find Pett but it’s a weak pass which luckily gets not one but two deflections. The first comes off the outstretched leg of the defender which directs it into Pett’s heel that wrongfoots the other centre back. Pett does well to compose himself before slamming into the top right to double his goal tally. Tom’s been playing extremely well in the middle of the park recently and a brace is well deserved.

Before I can even finish signing his praises to Batesy, a poor pass from Anderson is intercepted by Bennett who plays a great ball forward to Alessandra in the box. He waits to take his first touch letting the ball run close and fakes inside which takes Vasil a step away. He takes it forward and squeezes round the rushing Allsop into the bottom right to make it 2-1. I sub Green on for Rowe as he’s shattered and tell Pett to play out wide but I’m more focused on the Notts County sub bench. Who else but Shola Ameobi is preparing to come on, correcting his shin pads and pulling up his socks. Over 300 games for Newcastle with a decent amount of his goals coming on as substitute or against the Mackems. He’s a cult hero in Tyneside and there he is, warming up with the intention of shitting all over my parade. I contemplate going over to beg him for forgiveness but he’s already jogging towards the centre spot. Please Shola, for me just leave it out.

The 90th minute arrives and 3 minutes is shown on the fourth official’s board. We’ve been under persistent Notts County pressure for the last 15 minutes before Vasil slides in to block a certain tap in goal. I loudly shout and clap as this is the last chance of the game. Get this out and we become the first team to beat the league leaders. The corner is a powerful one towards the front post and my heart drops. Shola Ameobi, who’s lost Freckles with his movement, arrives to sidefoot a volley into the back of the net. I very nearly celebrate as it’s a force of habit after witnessing a 90th minute Amoebi goal in a black and white shirt. Eardley was on the near post and moves out the way as it was heading for his face which frustrates me. We’d defended valiantly for so long and all our hard work is undone by Shola bloody Ameobi. However, I can’t help but smile seeing a 36 year old Toon legend be piled on by his team mates. The game restarts with a Harrison back pass but it’s too late. 2-2 is the final score and if you offered me a point before the game, I would have took it. And, if I’m honest, after seeing Shola rescue a match in the dying moments, I’ll still take it.

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Luckily, my instincts paid off as Stewart has only bruised his shoulder and will only miss the Barnet game midweek. Gergo has bruised his femur and is out for a week with the physios predicting he’ll be a 50/50 chance for the Grimsby game. Two big players out for a game is never a good thing but when the team you’re playing is bottom of the league, you don’t worry too much.

Barnet have had 5 draws and 4 losses so far this season and they are 1 of 3 teams without a win so far, joining Carlisle and Swindon Town in the not so prestigious club. Chapman asks to start so he come in alongside Freckles. Pett gets another start, this time on the left with Anderson on the right. Palmer starts with the intention of bringing on Harrison for his pace against heavy legs later in the game. Vickers gets the nod in goal.

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10 minutes in,  Akinde latches onto the loose ball after a battle between Eardley and Coulthirst. Wilson gets dragged over and leaves Nicholls free to receive a pass but he hits a yard wide. Our first chance comes 5 minutes later when a quick passing counter attack comes together. Pett puts a ball to the back post which Palmer can only head over the goal.

The game from here on out is a similar story as it’s back and forth. We keep trying to break Barnet down but to no avail. It’s only the 68th minute when I lose patience and bring on Harrison and Woody for Pett and Rowe. We change to a narrow 4-3-1-2 with Green staying in attacking midfield to try and pass through the drilled back four. 10 minutes later, Eardley is almost dying so I bring on Wharton and switch to a 3-4-1-2 and go all out attack. Sam Ham goes on the left with Woody playing in the unfamiliar position of right midfield.

We can’t break through and in the last minute, Nicholls turns Wilson on the edge of the box and shoots. It deflects off Chapman and just as I’m about to snap my clipboard over my knee, it rattles off the crossbar. The final whistle arrives and it finishes 0-0.  We were nowhere near clinical enough with the few chances we had today.

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In more positive news however, Wilson and Gergo called up for Wales and Hungary retrospectively. I’m happy that they both have been called up as it shows how solid our defense has been so far. We’ve conceded the least amount of goals in the league so it’s nice for parts of that defense to get recognised by their national sides.

Our next match is against Grimsby who are just 4 points behind. Sitting just outside the playoff spots, a win would put them right in the mix while a win for us would push more of the competition down the table. Wharton comes in for Vasil who hasn’t recaptured his pre call-up form after returning from national duty. Hence why he hasn’t been picked again for the games this week. It’s a similar story for Green who is benched with Knott getting a start. Harrison is back up front with Stewart and Gergo both returning to the squad after being given the green light by the medical staff.

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6 minutes have passed when Stewart collects a header from the goal kick and does so well to hold off Dembele and find Freckles. He plays Eardley on the touchline who puts a great pass into Knott. He checks over his shoulder as he collects and plays a great reverse ball through to Harrison. Ellis runs close and sidefoots his shot off the inner thigh of the keeper. It bounces up and crosses the line just before Boto can volley it out. He runs over and slides on his stomach in front of Lincoln away fans. 1-0.

Another chance doesn’t come until the half hour mark when Harrison bursts into the Grimsby box and turns before squaring to Knott. He hits it first time but his shot is blocked well by a sliding challenge. Up the other end, Jackson is released down the right side and outpaces Wharton. He can only find the side netting with his effort though. We go in 1-0 up after 45 minutes.

We win a free kick 20 yards out early not long after the restart. After my image of a Pirlo free kick curling round the wall is played in my head, an awful free kick from Stewart barely gets off the ground and goes out for a goal kick. I remind myself to have a word with our scouts as we need a set-piece specialist.

We press for the next half hour and can’t find a goal.  We win a corner and I bring on Sam Ham and Pett to try and confirm a victory with a second goal. The very same corner is put into the box by Freckles and Wilson climbs to fire an unstoppable header into the top right. I’m pretty sure flames were coming off that ball with the power he got on that. It was a bullet.

Grimsby try to attack more in the last 10 minutes which leaves them open at the back when Freckles crosses play to Woody. He finds Harrison with a great ball who chests it down and puts the game to bed with a tidy finish into the bottom left. We emerge as 3-0 winners and it’s a great win to get after two hard to swallow draws. We’ve got through September with 11 points out of a possible 21 and while we’ve had a couple losses, over half of the points available and advancing in the cup is a successful month in my opinion.

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The first day of October is a hectic one as George Kelly bursts into my office at 3 minutes past nine. “Boss, I’ve found them. Well I’ve found one and been told about the other but I’ve found them.”

“You need to find the knocker on my door too but I don’t lecture you about it.” He looks at me in a deadly serious manner. “Right, who’ve you found mate? Give me the briefing.”

George tells me about his own discovery first: 17 year old Joel Cooper. He promises me that if we handle him right, he can be an established first team player by next season. Standing at 5’10, Joel is right footed attacking midfielder and with Green recently celebrating his 31st birthday, he could slot into our team soon. He gets my nod of approval as he sells Joel to me well and I trust his judgement. But he’s not done he tells me. This next lad has drawn comparisons to Napoli winger Lorenzo Insigne. And he even has the satisfying Italian name to match. Valerio Esposito. A 5’8 right sided winger who is also 17 years old. Kelly tells me he’s absolutely rapid and doesn’t need much improvement on the physical side of his game as he’s already strong and has fair bit in the tank. He dares to say that he could even surpass Insigne with the potential he has. Two great new prospects that George can’t talk up enough. Both are signed into the youth set up but I think I’ll leave them there for now. I don’t want to prematurely promote them to the senior squad just yet as they need time to develop in the youth academy first.

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There’s a media crew at the door a few hours later to award Freckles the September Player of the Month award and have a little interview with myself too. 2 out of 2 POTM’s so far, surely we have a few Team of the Year candidates already? Or is that getting ahead of myself?

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Morecambe is the Checkatrade Trophy is our first game of 7 in October. A few big games against strong Cambridge and Cheltenham sides as well as a Round of 16 cup tie against a Forest Green side that have already beat us this campaign. As with last month, they’ll be plenty of rotation in the matches this month.

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This rotation starts straight away as I want to use the Checkatrade as a chance to give younger/lesser squad members a run out. Allsop starts in goal with Sam Ham and Long as the wing backs like in the Mansfield game. Wharton comes in for Vasil and Chapman pairs up with James Hugo, 17 year old who came and asked for a chance in this game. He’s a decent height at 6’1 so hopefully the two young lads can do a job in midfield today. Anderson is on the right, Pett’s in the middle with Jordan Williams, a loanee from Rochdale getting his first Lincoln game time on the left. I decide to give Green a start in his preferred position as a striker to see what he can do up there. Hopefully, he can rediscover some form up top.

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5 minutes in, Green justifies his selection with a great distance strike that wins us a corner. Wharton reacts quickly to bicycle kick the corner but it’s blocked and then cleared by the man on the near post. 25 minutes pass until there’s a breakthrough when Long clears all the way to Williams on the left. He passes first time to Green who runs and controls the bounce in his stride very well. He uses the outside of his boot to knock it past the flat footed Winnard and lashes it past the keeper to make it 1-0.

A few minutes later, Chapman’s late challenge earns him his first yellow of his career. It’s a positive though as I see him have a word with Hugo asking him to cover for him as he can’t commit to tackles anymore. Maturity oozes out that lad. In the 40th minute, Green tries to get his brace with a chipped effort from a Pett through ball but it floats down onto the roof of the net.

There’s a few half chances for both teams in the second half but nothing serious until the 65th minute when Green weaves in and out of 3 defenders. He messes up the pass so much, the deflection manages to return to him so he can simply play Pett who smashes home on the penalty spot. 2-0.

Over the next 10 minutes, I make all my subs with Knott, Harrison and Eardley taking to the field for Pett, Williams and Wharton. Sam Ham gets put in the middle of defense while Harrison plays out on the left. We win a corner which is punched clear to Chapman. He finds Anderson out wide who sees Green free in the middle. He takes a couple touches to try fake out the defenders before calmly slotting it home to make it 3-0.

The last chance of the game is a Lincoln one when Knott counters on his own and crosses to an open Green in the D. His touch lets him down as the ball rolls away from him and the resulting shot is easy for the keeper parry over. The corner amounts to nothing and we see the rest of the game out with comfortable passing. This game was a demonstration of how to dominate a team. We had 19 shots compared to Morecambe’s 3, one of which was on target. Chapman played really well with Hugo going basically unnoticeable. Maybe that’s a good thing for a holding midfielder, just doing the job. Green picks up Man of the Match with 2 goals which really states a case for him to be a third striking option instead of a playmaker. It’s not a bad decision to have but it’ll rack my brain for sure.

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Port Vale contact me regarding Elliott Whitehouse, a 23 midfielder who hasn’t had any game time due to the emergence of Chapman. They originally offer £180’000 but I negotiate up to £230’000 for a deal that would finalise on January 1st. Morecambe must of caught wind of the deal as they come in to match the offer. It’s up to Elliott now to decide where his future lies but I’ll be sure to give a chance in the team before he leaves if he decides to.

Wilson and Gergo are off on international duty for our matches against Chesterfield and a big game against high flying Cambridge. The next round of the Checkatrade Trophy draws us with Fleetwood away from home, our first League One opponents. We can definitely beat them though, even with our second squad we’ll give them a good game. In regards to the league, we currently sit 3rd on goal difference with a 5 point safety net before we drop out of the promotion area. Of course, that safety net doesn’t mean we can be complacent.

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