Building Momentum (Episode 9: A Lincoln Legend)

Yes, there’s still 34 games to play but a win like this can define a team’s season.

The next couple weeks are gonna be tough as Batesy isn’t going to be down on the touchline with us. I’ve give him some time off as he’s completely overworked and even though he’s been doing a great job, he needs to spend time relaxing with his family. That means I either spend the next fortnight without a guiding pair of hands on the touchline or I become the guiding pair of hands myself.

“Hiya mate, you alright?” He sounds a bit dull and under the weather. He’s a serious bloke regardless but he just sounds in a bad way.

“Listen, I’m giving Kev some time off. He’s getting really stressed like you know when he gets that vain popping out his neck? Yeah, turns out he’s got a second vain too, he just hadn’t reached his final form yet. Anyways, I just wanted to know if you…wanted to er, join me in the technical area until he’s back.”

In an almost scary manner, the call is hung up and I try to ring again but it goes straight to voicemail. Ten minutes later, like when Rachel got off the plane, Michael Bostwick appears at my office door. The smile strung across his face is mirrored by my own. “Let’s get to work then gaffer.”

The squad really take to Bostwick being assistant manager/coach. I ask for some help from the other coaching staff with training and it’s a good learning experience for both me and Michael. We agree on a Palmer return to the starting line up for our next match against 23rd place Chesterfield. Pett also comes back into the side behind Ollie. Our strongest side starts otherwise.

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Bostwick’s stint as assistant gets off to a great start as 5 minutes in, a lethal counter attack starts when Eardley finds Rowe with a good ball over the defence. He sprints forward and cuts back to Palmer who knocks it into acres of space for Pett who controls before finishing past the keeper. 1-0 up and off to a flyer. Another 5 minutes pass before our next chance as Palmer plays a ball into the box from the edge of the D. It looks easy for the keeper to collect but he misreads it to Pett’s surprise and he can’t react quick enough to slide the ball into the net.

In the 20th minute, Palmer gets the ball in the box and draws a silly challenge from Maguire by backing into him. The ref points straight to the spot for a penalty and Maguire picks up a yellow. Ollie Palmer takes it and despite it not the best penalty, his sidefooted effort finds the right hand side of the goal as Anyon dives the wrong way. 2-0 up and yet another Palmer masterclass is well underway.

The last chance of the half is a Chesterfield one as Maguire collects a clearance from a cross and passes to Dodds who’s open on the edge of the box. He touches forward and hits it across goal but it’s just wide. Bostwick takes charge of the team talk and it’s a very casual affair. The lads seem a bit too relaxed so I come in with a bit of a hard hitting finish before sending them back out.

There’s a couple early chances for Palmer and Freckles from consecutive corners in the second half but the first real point of notice is on the hour mark when Pett picks up a yellow for a bad tackle. He’s quite tired so Knott comes on to replace him for the next half hour. Billy’s impact is almost instant when he finds Palmer after brilliant footwork to get past two men in a tight space. His effort however, is acrobatically saved by Anyon. 10 minutes later, I make a double substitution with Anderson and Long coming on from Stewart and Sam Ham retrospectively.

The final chance arrives in the 81st minute when Chesterfield pushing leaves them exposed to the counter attack. Anderson is released down the left and uses his fresh legs to burst away down the left. As he reaches the box, he squares it past the diving keeper for Ollie Palmer to put the game to bed with an open goal. He grabs his brace and confirms our third 3-0 win on the bounce. We’ve been playing amazing football recently and today is no exception.

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Whitehouse comes to me the next day and confirms Port Vale is his preferred destination when the January window comes around. Dorrian tells me £160’000 of his transfer fee will be put into the transfer kitty for any recruitment in the winter.

Now I’m not normally one to exaggerate but this Cambridge game is a six pointer. Yes, it’s only October and yes, there’s still 34 games to play but a win like this can define a team’s season. We haven’t beat the two sides above us but if we beat everybody beneath us, we don’t need to. After dropping points last game however, they’ll definitely want to bounce back. On top of this, Notts County also dropped points so there’s a lot of pressure on us keeping momentum and closing the gap on the top two.

Vickers gets a start in goal as I can only avoid his stellar clean sheet record for so long. Wilson asks Ryan Giggs to return for this game so him and Vasil start at the back. Gergo is starting for Hungary so he couldn’t come home and frankly, didn’t want to. Pett has been in great form recently so he plays behind Harrison up front.

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We get off to an encouraging start as patient play from kick off finishes with Rowe hitting a volley just over the bar. On the 10 minute mark, Woody picks up the ball after Harrison and plays it sideways to Freckles. Harrison is back up and moving forward so Lee plays him 25 yards out. He waits for Pett to overlap before playing him into the box. He opens up his body and hits it low to the right. The keeper manages to clip it with his foot but it only pushes it further into the bottom right. A simple salute is his celebration as I smile and give him a thumbs up. Pett’s been on another level recently.

8 minutes later, we’re on the attack when Pett has space to shoot from 25 yards but decides to pass inside to Rowe instead. This decision surprises Rowe as his first touch is abysmal. He makes up for it with a perfect pass into Harrison who curls it bottom right with his first touch. It’s a great little finish to make it 2-0. The game dies down a bit for the remainder of the first half with the only other chance of note coming a couple minutes before the break. A few lucky bounces and poor clearances leaves Waters open to have a crack from 20 yards which clips the post before rolling out for a throw in.

We come out fighting in the second with some great sliding challenges early on. In the 52nd minute, Harrison goes on his own before playing Stewart at the last minute. He can’t quite get the whip needed to find the far corner but he was offside regardless. That fight very much subsides for the next half hour with literally no opportunities for either team. I bring on Long, Anderson and Green with 10 minutes late to rest heavy legs.

With a minute of normal time to go, a strong effort from Harrison is matched by a great save. In the final minutes of added time, Harrison dispossesses Taft with a good tackle and the loose ball is picked up by Green. He runs across both Ledge and Carroll before merging into the box and tucking it into the bottom left to confirm yet another 3-0 victory. We’re well and truly on fire.

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In more good news, Notts County drew against relegation spot holding  Barnet which inches us even closer to the top 2. And our next game is one that should be business as usual with our current form. Swindon Town are the only team to not register a win 13 games into the league and we play them away on a Wednesday night.

I make Eardley captain for the day as Ellis Chapman returns to the starting eleven next to Woody. Green and Anderson replace Pett and Stewart with my main man, Ollie Palmer up front despite Harrison’s recent form.

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A couple potshots from Palmer and Green tell me that this game is here for the taking. I get the message out to play on the front foot and attack after a promising first 10 minutes. We control the game without creating anything clear-cut until the 38th minute. Palmer and Rowe play a 1-2 with the latter whipping a ball back post. Anderson comes in to volley towards goal but the keeper parries it away. Green can’t get to the rebound before it’s hoofed clear.

The second half comes and I tell the lads to really push after hearing Notts County have went 1-0 down to Crewe. If we can get a win here and that result stays the same, we’ll jump right over them into 2nd. Swindon have a bit of a spell entering the second half but we play some of our best football on the counter attack. Rowe valiantly blocks a shot and gets us forward by finding Chapman with a pass. He runs to the halfway line before playing it up for Green. He holds it up for Palmer to make his run. Menayese is slightly behind Palmer so Preston drags over to support. Ollie sees the space and cuts onto his right past both men. He gets level with the right hand post and lashes a shot into the top right to give us the lead. A bit of magic for Palmer gives us the upper hand in what was feeling like one of those games.

Ollie has got the taste for goals when just a couple minutes later, his header from a delicate Rowe ball loops just wide. Eardley is already shattered and I’d hate for him to pull up so I bring on Sam Ham. Wilson is handed the armband by Eardley’s own decision so I trust his judgement.

65 minutes in, Green curls an effort wide from 20 yards after beating two men with one body faint. Up the other end, Gergo blocks a McDermott strike with a desperate slide across goal. I bring Stewart on before the corner is taken. It’s headed clear by Gergo and the first time effort from Woolery is hit very well but it flies past the goalpost.

With 12 minutes left, Swindon start pressing aggressively. This causes Palmer to slide in with dedication to get a pass to Green who passes out wide to Anderson. He holds before playing Green through on goal. He takes a great first touch to avoid the challenge from the centre half  but Vigouroux comes out to block the effort well. I use my final sub not long after with Freckles replacing Vasil. I move Woody into left back so he can take his usual position with Habergham filling in at centre back.

A few minutes after Freckles arrival, he intercepts a pass and pings it forward to Green who releases Palmer with only the keeper to beat. He runs the whole half of the pitch before lacing his shot past the keeper and rattling the crossbar. He’s unlucky to score there as he was just too tired to focus his effort. Luckily, it’s the last shot of the game and we get the three points. It’s not the 3-0 scoreline we’ve become accustomed to but beggars can’t be choosers.

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As well as Crewe managing to hold on to 3 points against Notts County, Luton ended their own winning streak with a draw to Exeter. We jump up by one point into 2nd place with mid-table Cheltenham our next guests at the Sincil Bank.

Batesy is itching to get back for his time off but he looks a lot better for it. Michael is extremely thankful for the experience but has to take off for a week to visit some star physiotherapist in Switzerland. Anything that gets him back training is welcomed. James Hugo comes to me and asks to start on the weekend. I’m not going to lie, he wasn’t in the picture before but with one eye firmly on the Round of 16 cup game midweek, he slots nicely next to Freckles in the starting line-up. Allsop is back in goal with Long at right back. I decide to rest Wilson and play Wharton at the back. Knott comes in behind Harrison with Anderson out on the right.

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Straight from the off, Cheltenham pressing leaves a gap for Hugo to fill. Knott passes back and he sets himself before hitting a travela shot round the defender and just past the post. Almost a worldie of a first career goal from him there. The game stagnates in the midfield for the first half hour until Bozhikov gives away a free kick from a dangerous position in the 34th minute. The first man fakes over it but the second hits it well with the ball only just missing the crossbar.

We have an attempt a few minutes later when Knott threads through Harrison who hits his effort wide. Five minutes later, Harrison is played on the shoulder again and forces a good save from the keeper with his leg. When half-time comes around, I’m sympathetic. I know I’ve banged on about my human/twat management but these lads have give their all for the first 3 months. I mean we’re fucking second in the league, they deserve a bit of slack. They deserve to enjoy themselves. So that’s what I tell them.

It almost backfires straight away when a deflected cross off Long falls to Morrell who hits a powerful volley at Allsop. He pushes it well away but it’s not my idea of fun. Fortunately, a few minutes later, Knott receives the ball inside from Hugo. He gives it to Harrison who basically walks forward while Knott runs into the box. Ellis knocks it into Knott who swings his left foot at the ball while being tackled off balance. He gets an unreal amount of curl on the ball as it nestles into the bottom left.

We come close to adding a second twice in the next 20 minutes with a Harrison cross being punched clear for Freckles to lay off to Hugo. He gets a good connection but it’s too central. The other chance comes when Knott feeds Stewart on the wing. He runs inside and chips into the middle for Harrison to run onto and nod home. Only he’s denied by an outstanding reflex save by Flinders who had to dive back on himself to keep them in the game. Pett replaces Stewart out wide with Rowe and Eardley coming on not long after.

In the 74th minute, Rowe goes on a great run before slotting an even better ball into the box for Harrison. He slides it under the keeper but it takes a bump of his waist which slows the ball’s momentum. Boyle heroically slides in clear off the line to deny us a second goal. We sit back slightly from that point onwards and see the game out comfortably.

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I point to one of the small sea of hands below me and up stands a quite stubby man with round spectacles. “What are your feelings towards Forest Green after the last meeting? Is this very much a tale of revenge or is it a game in which you can only beat what’s in front of you?”

I clear my throat. “I would say a mixture. Don’t get me wrong, leveling the series to 1-1 on such a stage would be amazing but at the end of the day, they have got to this point. With all due respect, they’re exceeding expectations too. In and around the play off’s, round of 16 in the cup it’s a massive achievement. I have nothing but admiration and mutual respect for everybody at Forest Green but I’d love to get one up on them. And that’s what we’re going to get come tomorrow.”

With Batesy back in the fold, I look to his 4-1-3-2 formation, the same one that guided us to glory against Brighton. Only change from that game is Woody and Freckles swapping places as Woody can run for a lot longer all over the park. Harrison and Palmer are leading the line. We have to be careful of Reece Brown as he’s in great form and Christian Doidge who’s scored a few in this competetion and in the league. Forest Green are playing a 5-3-1-2, The defensive set up counters our lack of power up front with just two forward players so I ask the lads to attack straight away to try get bodies forward and foil their plan. A place in the quarter finals and a game on TV awaits the victors.

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We start strong with lots of early pressure. So much pressure that Forest Green would rather kick it out of play than play actual football with us. 6 minutes have passed before a switch across the field falls to Eardley. He plays it inside with great vision to Palmer who touches it neatly into Woody’s run on his right. He drills it low from the edge of the box into the bottom left to make it 1-0. He runs over and knee slides in front of away following. Woody is a great player at any time but in the cup, he really steps up his game. Is a different league and cup captain a thing that’s been done before or?

Just before the half hour mark,  Forest have come back into game a lot. They’ve held possession and really tested our defence. However, the next chance comes when Harrison plays Palmer on the right hand side. He does a tidy ball roll inside his man but can’t quite find the far corner with his shot. Shortly after, a Woodyard cross is headed away to Freckles who controls and unleashes a venomous strike right back into the defenders face. He stumbles backwards, probably with some whiplash, and Ollie Palmer tries to hit the target with his back to goal but it’s well wide.

Final chance of the half comes after a crunching Eardley tackle in the 42nd minute is played forward to Stewart. Palmer and Harrison give and go with Palmer having a shot which he can’t get out his feet properly so it’s a yard wide. As we head in at half time, Coventry are throwing it back to the late 1980’s as they lead West Brom 1-0. Wigan are getting battered 3-0 by Man United with an hour gone but the only scoreline that matters is ours and we’re in the running for a League Cup quarter-final.

Apart from a couple dirty tackles from both sides, the first 20 minutes of the second half are quiet until the 66th minute when Gergo reminds everyone why he won August Player of the Month. He picks up ball inside his own half on the other side of the pitch you’d normally see him and runs past 3 men. The fourth touches the ball past the fifth and Gergo uses pace to collect and strike. It’s just wide of right hand post but what a goal that would have been for him. Pett comes on for the shattered Stewart before the goal kick.

In the 78th minute, Gergo keeps us aware his sudden reemergence when he overlaps for Rowe. He whips it to Woody on the edge with his cross. He gets his head to it and it’s goalbound when it hits the ducking  frame of Palmer and bounces towards the other corner. The goalkeeper does well to react and get over to save it. Chapman and Sam Ham jog on for the tired pair of Gergo and Freckles. Woody drops back into holding midfield and we play defensive for last 10 minutes.

As I keep saying, counter-attacking football is our bread and butter. So with 4 minutes of the 90 left, Wilson smacks a clearance up to Palmer. He plays an inch perfect volley pass in between the last two Forest defenders through for Harrison. He’s not offside as he’s just inside his own half before he bombs into the box and opens up his body to whip his shot into the far corner. I throw my clipboard and sprint over the away stand with most of the substitutes to join the celebration. As I try to slow myself before the huddle, I slip over and skid on my arse through the gap into the middle of the group. Hands cover my face and head and it’s a good minute before I can even stand up. I throw my arms up in front of the Lincoln fans and readjust my tie before walking back to the technical area. That’s one of those plays where you need to watch it over to appreciate the intricacies of it. The perfectly weighted pass that allows Ellis to use his pace, the run couldn’t be an inch further or else he’d be off. The finish was emphatic too. The game finishes and when I’m told the stats, Forest didn’t even have a shot at goal. It felt a lot closer but who the fuck cares? We’re through and we’re going to be on the tele. Look at me now.

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Coventry managed to keep another lower league team in the competition after winning 2-0 against West Brom. Newcastle came back from 1-0 down to a 2-1 win in extra time so my hope of a St James’ Park tie is still alive. Watford came back from 2-1 down to shock Manchester City 3-2 in an extra time win away from home. Bournemouth and United also advance. Looking at our fixtures this month. we haven’t conceded a single goal with Crawley Town the last team standing in the way of my Manger of the Month award with 4 out of 4 wins so far. I’m not normally one for personal accolades but surely I deserve it.

The cup draw is the next day and the whole team is watching after a late night training session. Coventry draw Bournemouth first with a tasty North London Derby next out the pot. Our ball is the next ball out. There’s only 3 other teams in there and Newcastle United is one of them. Ian Wright sticks his hand in, slightly worried look after the Arsenal draw still on his face, and pulls out number 3. The cafeteria goes from silent to eerily silent due to a mix of dread and excitement. Nobody knows what to think, never mind what to say. Manchester bloody United. After a good few seconds, Vasil stands up and in perfect English says “Well that is going to be shit.”

The changing room all look as Vasil was so quiet, we weren’t sure he even spoke English yet.

“Yeah, you can say that again mate!” says Woody.

“Well that is going to be shit.” Everyone turns to Vasil before bursting out into laughter at his misunderstanding. I sit back and smile. We’ll be fine.

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