Moving On Up (Episode 17: A Lincoln Legend)

I don’t know who the fuck you lot are but you’re not my team.

I don’t tell anyone about my dream the other night. They don’t need to know I’m scared. I can’t help but think that it was some sort of sign but I’m confident in this side and our position suggests we’ve already got one foot in League One but when you support Newcastle, it’s easy to become a football pessimist. I’ve already had meetings about our plans for next season, which revolve around remaining in the third tier. Everybody is expecting. That’s why I’m scared.

Valerio asks to start against Morecambe which I happily agree as he’s really found his footing this last month. Wharton is also starting as he’s back from serving his three game suspension. Knott is behind Palmer to complete what is a pretty strong Lincoln City side.

After two very satisfying games of football, we were due some boring and frustrating time on the pitch. The first 25 minutes are exactly that. Both teams fire a couple warning shots but nothing of real note until Morecambe have the ball on the edge of the D with Thompson. He’s double marked by Sam Ham and Bostwick with the latter sticking a foot in to tackle. Morecambe get a very lucky bounce through to Campbell who easily sweeps it past Vickers. It’s a disgusting goal to concede as it’s complete luck but a goal’s a goal and we’re 1-0 down.

We do come back looking for an equaliser before half time as we have a throw in on the far side in the 33rd minute. Sam Ham flicks it over his head to Bostwick who pings it to Valerio. He takes a good touch to set himself but his curling effort is a yard wide.

With five minutes to go, a clearance from a Morecambe cross lets Stewart release Palmer down the left. He tries to cross after his run down the wing back to Stewart but Old clears with a diving header. It only goes as far as Palmer who lays it off for Knott to hit a great shot from the edge of the box into the top right. It’s a great time to bring the score level as we go in tied at half time. Anderson replaces Valerio in the second half as he’s really tired. He got the start he wanted but I don’t want him to pull up and miss the final few games of the season.

10 minutes into the second half, Stewart and Palmer play a 1-2 once and yet again. Stewart finishes the move with a short ball over for Ollie to flick on with his head but it’s saved well by the keeper. The rebound is put back in by Knott straight to the head of Palmer who mistimes his leap and just misses the ball. We should be up there.

In the 68th minute, Wharton wins the header from a clearance but it goes to the Morecambe left back Conlan. Anderson tackles him and passes to Knott. A lovely body feint tricks his marker but his awful shot is well well wide and over. Pett comes on for Stewart and Eardley makes his return to the away fans audible delight with Sam Ham coming off.

Neal picks up from where he left off when Anderson passes for him to flick on brilliantly up to Pett. He plays it delicately into Palmer who changes direction quickly for a big man but can’t get his shot on target. There’s no further action apart from a yellow card and Morecambe get away with another point from us and there is no tick next to their name as of yet. It wasn’t a good performance but it wasn’t a bad one either. Shades of mediocre.

Confirming what we’ve known for sometime now, we’re officially guaranteed at least a play off spot so even if we lose every game from this point onwards, we’ll still have a crack at promotion. This gives us a new focus on competing for the league and catching Luton.

Speaking of which, we’re 4 points behind Luton after our draw with Morecambe but before we can play again on the weekend, they draw with Barnet on Thursday night which means we haven’t gave them a cushion at the top yet.

James Hugo comes to me on Friday asking for more game time and even though I say I’ll try to fit him in, I really can’t afford to be putting him in ahead of established players who have done us so well this season. A white lie never hurt anyone.

Big rotation is needed for our next game away to Chesterfield. They are down in 21st place, fighting against relegation so we have to be careful. They’re really gonna be up for this.

Eardley is back in the starting eleven at left back with Sean Long on the opposite side. Wilson also returns after his duty for the Welsh national team. Freckles is the captain today next to Woody and Jordan Williams also starts. Ollie Palmer leads the way with one eye on that golden boot.

Just 4 minutes in, Williams intercepts a pass inside the Chesterfield half and passes up to Pett. Tom plays Palmer in who does very well to get a shot off from under his feet but it’s straight at keeper and cleared out for a throw. I decide to go attacking to get an early goal and build on this pressure.

We have a couple chances in the space of two minutes with the first coming in the 11th minute. A counter attack leaves Palmer open after another Pett ball behind. He jumps to volley a shot midair and the keeper has to get across his goal well to make the save. Ollie was offside anyways but we come back just a minute later when Williams turns his man before toe-punting a ball to Palmer. He sees Valerio’s run inside and finds him with a neat pass but Esposito can’t finish with the keeper getting a strong hand to his shot and stopping it hitting the roof of the net. The resulting corner is easily claimed by the keeper.

In the 24th minute, Pett is released by Williams and tries to square across to Palmer. A vital touch by Hird takes it to Maguire who clears as far as Williams. He lays it back to Freckles who, obviously competitive with his midfield partner that has a few goals in his locker, lets fly from distance and rattles the far post. It’s very close to a screamer and a brilliant way to break the deadlock.

For the rest of half, we dominate Chesterfield in every area of the park but we are unable to grab a goal. They’ve had no shots to our 8 and I rightly tell them that a goal will come if we keep it up in the second half. As well as actually trying to score, we’ve been passing at a more accurate rate, we’ve won multiple corners. We’re the side in control here. Palmer is looking dangerous and making the right runs so I tell him to keep his head up. I replicate my sub from the previous game with Anderson on for Valerio.

The intensity doesn’t carry over into the second half so in the 58th minute, I bring on Knott for Pett in an attempt to inspire something. It does work in the 63rd minute when Palmer and Knott exchange possession. Ollie is open after to cut onto his right past Maguire but can’t wrap his foot round the ball properly, sending his effort a few yards wide.

The last chance of the match comes in the 78th minute when Palmer gets the ball to his feet after we pass it round the edge of the box. He taps it round the right back but his shot is easily saved by the keeper. Williams is beaten to the rebound which is booted out for a throw just in our own half. Palmer is tired so Green replaces but fails to make an impact as the game ends 0-0. We should have buried this game in the first half but it just wasn’t our day. Two poor draws when you’re chasing the title isn’t good enough.

Our next game is Exeter, a team who sit just outside the playoffs and with the 6-7 teams involved in that battle, they will be desperate for a win to give them the edge. In regards to our own league position, we’ve finally caught up in terms of games played. Every team has played 39 games, leaving 7 games for each team in the league. We’re 4 points behind Luton which isn’t bad but considering the ground we had on them at one point and their recent results, I can’t help but feel this has been a chance wasted.

For the Exeter match, Bostwick is back captaining the side next to Woody. Our main back line returns and I give Allsop a now rare start in goal. Green starts as the lone striker today. There’s no Matt Rhead in the Exeter 18 today as he’s recovering from a dislocated knee.

In what is far from a bright start, both Stewart and Pett pick up silly yellow cards within the first 6 minutes. With our squad finally returning to somewhat full strength, another suspension wouldn’t be welcomed with open arms to say the least.

The power of the first 10 minutes seem to take the wind out of both teams as it’s the 32rd minute before any real opportunity surfaces. Pett makes a great run into their box and puts the ball up for Stewart. He leaps to nod it down but it’s well held by the keeper. It’s the only chance of the first 45 in what is the third back to back half of mind-numbingly boring football. It’s totally unlike the team I’ve came to know and love in the prior 37 games. I bring on Valerio and Knott for Pett and Anderson to try and bring some spice to the second half.

It miserably backfires as we don’t see anything from either side until we win a free kick from 30 yards out with 20 minutes to go. It’s passed to Gergo who plays it over to Stewart on the opposite side of the box. He scoop turns the approaching defender gracefully but can’t whip it round into the far side of the night. I change to 4-2-2-2 and take Stewart off for Ollie Palmer.

In the dying embers of the match, Green steals it from a docile defender and bombs forward. He crosses it into the pocket of space where Valerio is waiting to flick a header just past the far post. It’s another bore draw from the Lincoln lads as the whistle blows once the goal kick is taken. If I wasn’t getting paid to watch this game, I would have left at half-time.

Luton lost to Colchester so we did gain something, just three points away now with 6 games left. Luton offically confirm their promotion to League One despite their loss so congratulations to them. Even though, they’ve been our main rivals this season, there’s no taking away from their achievement. However, just three points behind them, we could also confirm promotion in our next game if results go our way. That thought is echoed throughout the training ground plenty to give the lads encouragement.

Alessandra finally found his shooting boots again after not scoring for almost 10 games as he picked up a brace. This puts him back in pole position for the golden boot with 21 goals. Ollie Palmer hasn’t scored since his hat-trick against local rivals Grimsby and he’s visibly frustrated by that. Every time he finds the back of the net in training, he’s emotionless.

McDermott from Swindon Town picks up the March Player of the Month so he can join Luton in the line of congratulations. To finish the trio of acknowledgement, Harrison’s former side Bristol Rovers lifted the Checkatrade Trophy after a 2-1 win at Wembley over Portsmouth. Still being in touch with Darrell Clarke after buying Ellis in the summer, I give him a quick phone call to say well done which he appreciates highly.

Carlisle away is the game that could see us into League One football today so I want as strong a team as possible. Wilson asks to be rested and considering he hasn’t had a rest since before international break, I start Blackburn loanee Wharton. Eardley and Gergo are out in the wing back positions together for what I think is the first time since Gergo was injured. Anderson replaces Valerio with Palmer up top trying to break his duck. My final words before they head out: “Let’s try and score this time, ey lads?”

I’ve never seen a team so blantantly ignore their manager as we literally have no chances in the entire first half.  Neither do Carlisle but still, we should be at least threatening? When everyone gets into the dressing room, I break the silence with a simple question.

“What the fuck has happened to us?” No answer. “I don’t know who the fuck you lot are but you’re not my team. Attack. Press. Sort it out. Now.” I storm out the dressing room to headbutt a wall for the remaining 13 minutes of half-time.

Nothing. A whole fuck ton of absolutely nothing. Even our away fans are walking out early. In the 77th minute, I bring Knott, Williams and Esposito on in a triple sub to try and make something happen.

The fourth assistant holds up his board with 2 minutes of added time to a stadium that’s not even a quarter as full as it was at the start of the match. Carlisle have to push for winner to keep themselves in the play-off scrap. A low cross is cleared upfield by Gergo deep into our opponents half. Palmer seals out Parkes who falls over as Ollie touches the ball down. He runs into the box and lashes across goal into the top right. I breath a massive sigh of relief with a composed shake of my head. 1-0 and the main man has to save us from another bore draw. Thank fuck for that.

Luton also won their game 1-0 so no ground gained on the top spot. We’re also not yet promoted with our next game being a fitting tie to hopefully see us up: my first competitive opponents Wycombe. We are at home and with our recent form, attendances have dropped massively so I’m hoping the momentum of the win brings a big crowd back to Sincil Bank.

We have a week rest before the Wycombe match for the first time in a while which is both good and bad. It’s good because we obviously need a rest; our performances have dropped and everybody is tired. It’s bad however as we finally win to get back on track and we have to wait a week to play again. It also means we can start a big team so Knott behind Palmer and Sam Ham over Eardley are the only notable changes as it’s our best side otherwise. Akinfenwa isn’t selected today but I’m not complaining. Let’s go clinch promotion.

5 minutes have passed  when Palmer tests the keeper with a skimmer across the pitch but it’s pushed into the ground and up into the air. Anderson tries a rebound volley  but it’s a awkward height and angle for him so he can’t direct it anywhere but wide of the goal.

It”s looking like it’s gonna be another trademark boring half of football until Cowan-Hill is played down the left on the half hour mark. Gergo is well out of position so he has time to get into the box and cut it back for Carvallo who scuffs his shot wide of a open goal. We’ve been massively let off and we shouldn’t take that for granted.

With a couple minutes before the break, Bostwick passes up to Knott who does a 360 spin to keep his man at bay before passing to Palmer. He touches and hits a strike off the near post which is followed by an irked exhale around the stadium. Ollie makes up for it right before half time as he nutmegs Anthony Stewart with a pass for Bostwick. He knocks a simple return pass to a now unmarked Palmer who controls and blasts it into the top right for his 22nd goal of the season. 1-0 at half-time and Ollie back to scoring in continuous games again. This is more like it.

We come out fired up and on the hunt for a second when a Sam Ham early cross is headed down at the far post by Woody but the keeper gets down at his near post to push it out for a corner. It’s put into the area for Vasil to leap high and nod across goal but it’s blocked by the man on the post before being cleared.

In the 65th minute, we finally double our advantage and put League One in sight when O’Nein’s awful touch from an overhit Anderson pass lets Knott nip in to steal. He sprints at the keeper before squaring back to Palmer to slot past the defender on the line into the bottom right. It’s a calm finish from our star striker. Anderson’s questionable pass is his last input of the day as Pett replaces him before the restart.

In the final 10 minutes, I bring on Eardley and Stewart for Gergo and Esposito. With chants of ‘we are going up’ booming round the ground, a Stewart clearance is flicked on by Palmer to leave Knott with an entire half to run unchallenged into. He gets within 15 yards before deciding to shoot but puts it a yard wide. It doesn’t matter in the slightest as the ref brings the game to a close and confirms our second promotion in as many years. It’s a magical moment as fans flood the pitch to celebrate their first time in the third division of English football since the turn of the millennium. I don’t rush on myself, I just watch the fans burst past the stewards who in all honestly aren’t even trying. Some even join in the celebrations and run on themselves. I shake hands with Gareth Ainsworth and watch as 10’000 fans flood onto the turf. This is football at it’s finest. And with Luton drawing 1-1 away to Yeovil, we are only 1 little point behind them.

Michael Bostwick pulls a speakerphone out of nowhere and begins a chant that repeats for almost an hour until we’re forced off the pitch.

“We’re coming for you. We’re coming for you. Luton Town, we’re coming for you.”

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