Cat and Mouse (Episode 18: A Lincoln Legend)

We’re only half an hour away from immortality.

*Meta-Note: Sorry about the wait for the next episode, I have had a couple rough weeks and needed time to myself. Thanks for your patience, I know some of you guys are really into this series. Enjoy the return and end to the season!*

In football, it’s easy to get carried away with yourself. Your team wins the first three games of the season and you’re already thinking about the captain scoring the title winner on the last day of the season. No matter how many times you hear an overachieving manager say the words “We’re taking it one game at a time”, they never are. They are thinking of the glory, the reputation, the status they’ll receive.

Before our second trip to Wembley this season, we have a task of keeping the pressure on Luton’s heels with a win away to Port Vale. Luton play Crewe at home and should be expecting something from that game. Most probably a win as Crewe are down the bottom half of the table so we need to keep pace.

Allsop gets a go in goal with Eardley and Sam Ham as our two wide defenders. Anderson plays over Valerio on the right. Palmer is up front today and he’s currently tied top scorer on 23 goals now so he’ll be eager to get back in front. Whitehouse starts in the middle for Port Vale today and before the game, we have a good little chat. He seems very happy with his transfer and the game time he’s getting under his belt as a result of it. He comes in to our changing room and has a joke with the lads about us bottling the title. It’s obviously meant to be a bit of light hearted banter but I can see some smiles get lost when he leaves the room. We’re riled up now.

7 minutes have passed before Lainton claims a corner confidently before kicking to Barnett. He nods into Kay who brings it down before playing Fabiano in behind Eardley. He runs until he’s level with the 6 yard box and cuts back. Eardley slips slightly which gives him time to set himself and shoot. It’s a easy angle to cover but there’s plenty of power behind the shot so Allsop can only parry it to edge of box where Elliott Whitehouse volleys a yard of two wide. The miss is met with wild cheers of sarcasm from the away fans.

We have to wait another 20 minutes before we get our first real chance when two brilliant back to back blocks from Sam Ham and Wilson enable us to start a counter. Bostwick passes short to Stewart who pings it up pitch for Palmer to chase. Abdullah chests it down straight to Ollie who calmly passes sideways to Pett. The return pass is spot on from Tom and Palmer’s first effort is blocked but his second bite of the apple is a powerful half volley at the keeper. He can’t hold it but it’s cleared quickly.

In the 38th minute, some delightful Stewart trickery down the left hand side is followed by a cross to Bostwick who heads to Palmer inside the 6 yard box. There’s too much power to control it properly and it bounces off his chest for a goal kick. We stay level until half time whereas Luton are 1-0 in their match at the break. I move our boys up front around with Valerio replacing Pett for the remaining half, Anderson swapping wings and Stewart going central. Esposito’s debut was against Port Vale and he was truly unplayable that day so it’s only fair to give him a chance to light this game up and unlock what’s been a solid Port Vale defence.

3 minutes after the restart, Anderson knocks a Sam Ham pass across to Stewart. He plays it up to Palmer who pushes a pass with the outside of his left boot into space for Anderson to outpace Whitehouse and shoot. A good low save across goal kills the chance but Stewart keeps pressing and wins the ball from a weak challenging Knops. He wastes no time in crossing into Valerio but Raglan both wins the header and clears in one motion as he falls to the ground.

10 minutes later, a poor Palmer pass from a Eardley clearance is collected by Whitehouse. He kicks it up to Barnett who rolls it into Whitefield. He hits a curling effort to Allsop’s near post and Ryan needs to reach full extension to save. In the 65th minute, I make a double sub with Stewart and Anderson making way for Green and Lovrencsics. Valerio moves over to the left with Gergo up on the right. I tell Green to play right behind Palmer as a second striker while dropping deep to make things happen.

My tactical nous is evident after just four minutes when a goal kick is passed short to Eardley. Woody makes himself an option and immediately lays it to Gergo. He plays it into Palmer’s feet who exposes the Port Vale captain Middleton with a simple reverse ball to Green. Matt runs into the box and lashes it home at the near post. It’s awful goalkeeping as he really should have that angle on lock but I’m not going to complain at him. 1-0.

In the 77th minute, some saliva-inducing one touch passing finds Gergo on the half way line. Port Vale are putting pressure on the ball holders so he only has a short amount of time to play it into their half for Palmer but he manages it. A perfectly weighted ball from him leaves Valerio with a half chance but still a lot to do. He flicks inside with his first touch before faking a shot back outside, completely bamboozling his flat-footed opponent, and smashes across goal to make it 2-0. It’s brilliant composure from the Italian which should confirm another 3 points for us. 2 goals and 8 assists in just half a season in outstanding for a winger and that’s just in the league too. Lest we forget his goal against Manchester United, just days after his debut.

With 5 minutes to go, Port Vale have bodies forward as Bostwick blocks a Whitehouse strike and gives it to Green. He passes it up to Palmer and even though it’s slightly weak, Ollie does well to hold off his man and play it back to Green on the right. Smith commits to a slide tackle leaving Green with the whole right hand side of the pitch to run into. He stops the ball dead on the edge of the box to get rid of the covering centre back and takes a couple touches inside. He plays a tiny pass to Palmer who continues to amaze me still. He controls, pulls off a tidy drag back to baffle Middleton and takes a couple small touches before hitting from the edge of box across into the left hand side of the goal. Of course he had to get his goal today. it wouldn’t be a Lincoln romp without one. Game over.

Matt Green is given Man of the Match despite Ollie’s goal and 2 assists but it’s actually a decision I can’t argue with. He completely changed the game once he came on and has gave me some major food for thought before our FA Cup game next week.

Unfortunately, Luton scored another in added time to win their match 2-0 so we still sit a point behind. Palmer is back at the top of goal scorer charts however with a healthy 8 assists to his name too. Surely he is the player of the season. Knott and Harrison are both tied first in the assist table with 9 so far. Vickers is just 1 clean sheet behind Stech of Luton so I promise to give him back his spot in goal to try and win the golden glove.

In some more good news, Harrison is back in training but it’s another 2 weeks before he’s fully fit. I cannot risk him for the Burnley game which, understandably, really upsets him. It’s almost comical how much he persists throughout the week to ask for a place in the team. He even goes to get notes from the medical staff stating he’s okay to play. I can only push him away for so long so I compromise. I’ll put him on the bench and promise he will come on regardless of the score. In the other semi-final, Tottenham pummel Huddersfield 4-0 to reach their second domestic cup final this season which has clearly affected their league form. They were really challenging for the title only a few months ago but now they aren’t even in the top four.

Focusing attention back on us, this is undoubtedly our biggest, yet winnable, game of the season so far. It’ll probably remain like that all season depending on if the league goes our way. Vickers comes back in goal with our strongest back four supporting him. Batesy’s 4-1-3-2 is the formation of choice with Bostwick sitting in front of the defenders while Woody covers the park. Esposito and Stewart are on the wings with Green and Palmer up front. It’s the first time Matt and Ollie have been strike partners since the start of my tenure so I’m really going out on a limb by starting them now.

The Lincoln fans are down in force today and it’s not hard to comprehend why. It’s not the usual Northern/Midland teams this far in the cup but Wembley will always fill in the FA Cup. Burnley line up with a simple 4-4-2. The Italian Acerbi partners Tarkowski to complete an intimidating defence. Robbie Brady is playing right back which actually scares me even more. Why is he there? What don’t I know about this Irishman?

Tottenham loanee Nkoudou is out wide with the Icelandic Gudmundsson on the opposite side. My dream striker partnership of Callum Wilson and Chris Wood are up top. It’s time to see if my prediction in the summer about Callum being the ‘steal of the window’ is correct first hand. Please prove me wrong.

Things look grim as just 3 minutes in, Gergo’s sloppy control of a Eardley switch lets Nkoudou steal and play Wood down the left. He times his ball to perfection as he just misses James Wilson’s jockeying foot in order to find Callum Wilson who laces a bullet off the inside of the near post and across the goal out for a goal kick. It’s a massive warning sign so while Vickers checks for a dent in his goalframe, I tell lads to calm it down, keep it low and sit back slightly. I look to Batesy who raises his eyebrows and blows out his mouth in a exasperated manner. We’re in for a bumpy ride.

But all bumps have peaks. Four minutes later, Stewart wins a throw on the far side. Palmer comes short to receive and drills a ball into Bostwick who passes to Valerio. He shows some great agile dribbling to maneuver Jack Cork and hits a sizzling effort round. It’s only an inch wide of the post but it’s a great reply. We fire back.

It’s end to end stuff as Cork holds Woody at bay in the 11th minute and plays Jeff Hendrick. Bostwick tries to block him from shooting but he hits a shot destined for top left if not for a borderline orgasmic fingertip save from Vickers. Another performance like the Spurs game at Wembley would be appreciated hugely. Just without conceding the 3 goals.

The game is calm for the next 20 minutes until Tarkowski clears our corner up to Wilson. He uses his blistering pace to evade a Woody tackle and leave Vasil for dead on the left. He plays it inside to Nkoudou who taps it on once more to Hendrick who has half a goal to aim at but scuffs his shot a yard wide. To be fair to him, it was under his feet slightly but a Premier League player should finish them all day long. We got off lucky there.

We go in at half-time with the scoreline somehow still 0-0. While it’s been a great first half for a neutral, I’ve already had two heart attack’s and a seizure. No shots on target for us yet which is disappointing but on the other hand, we’ve had our even share of possession and a few shots in general. We’re still very much in the game.

We don’t exactly get off to a great start when five minutes in, Wilson comes to collect a ball at the half way line and bursts away. He plays a 1-2 with Gudmundsson to give him a free shot inside the box but he rattles the crossbar. We really have to be more careful with him as he’s proving a real handful for our two centre backs. I push our two wing backs in slightly and tell Eardley to refrain from getting forward so we always have at least three men behind the ball.

Similar to the first half, the pace dies down after the first couple exchanges of possession. Burnley have the majority of the ball during this period but in the 71st minute, some simple, short, across the pitch passing leaves Gergo with acres to run into. He takes it right up to edge of box before playing into Woody who tries to open his body and finesse with his left but he miskicks it off his standing foot straight to the keeper. I throw on Anderson and Sam Ham for Stewart and Esposito while pushing Gergo forward again onto the right of midfield.

5 minutes later, Gudmundsson plays a ball behind for Wilson on the right. He’s definitely offside but no flag is raised despite heavy protests from myself and the fans. A dangerous ball to the back post finds Nkoudou but it’s fast and bouncing up to waist height. He manages to get a toe to it but puts it a few inches wide. Again, we ride our luck. Just as I’m about to sub on Freckles for Woody, Harrison starts kicking off. I really want some defensive energy but I am a man of my word. To stop a fight with our number 9, I put Gergo into the middle next to Bostwick and change to our usual 4-2-3-1. Harrison comes onto the left hand side with Green playing as our attacking midfielder. Just before  he takes to the pitch, I grab his shoulder and yank him back, “Don’t make me regret it Ellis.”

With 7 minutes remaining, Eardley is played wide with the Burnley players caught ball watching. Anderson has all the space in the world to receive the ball and spur on the attack. He has Acerbi for pace and puts a perfect cross in between the two centre backs for Palmer to rise… and head a tame shot straight into Heaton’s hands. Anywhere but there Ollie and you’re the hero. Neither team really push for a winner in the final minutes so extra time is required again. We have no subs left so we have to stick with the lads we’ve got. I want us to play on the counter with the ball and defend for our lives without it. We’re only half an hour away from immortality.

In the 100th minute, Green picks up a headed clearance and cleverley backheels to Bostwick. He gives it back to Green who dinks a ball over for Harrison who tries to replicate the 2014 World Cup Final goal with a chest down and scissor kick but it sails just over the bar. You’re not quite Mario Gotze yet. With a minute of this half left, a deep ball from Westwood is ‘dealt with’ in a sarcastically relaxed manner from Wilson. His sidefooted pass catches Vasil out, allowing Callum Wilson to nip in and play Tarkowski through. He beats Vickers but connects with the outside of the near post. Thank fuck it was him as neither Chris Wood or Callum Wilson would have missed that.

When I said we play on the counter, we play on the counter. Straight from that woodwork deflection, Sam Ham seals out Wilson and hoofs forward to Palmer who has a slight knock but has to play through the pain. He seems relatively unfazed as he heads it onto Green who runs across the Burnley back line before giving it back to Ollie. An outstanding take on the spin gets him past Brady and provides him with an open run to goal. He gets into the box with Tarkowski chasing and hammers it across his body. It’s a good height for Heaton to save and the rebound bounces just over the open head of Harrison before it’s cleared all the way back to Vickers. The ref blows his whistle not long after and penalties is looking extremely possible yet again. I want us to park the bus and actually play for penalties here as everybody is way too tired to push for a winner. I’d never thought I’d say that but penalties is our best shout at a cup final.

In the 114th minute, Gergo’s pressure on Westwood causes a poor pass in which he can intercept. He knocks it inside to Palmer who play a first time return ball over the top. Gergo puts a great cross in for Ollie who watches it drop over his shoulder as he leaps up to bicycle kick the ball off the crossbar. The shout/groan is almost deafening as Anderson dives in for the rebound header but Heaton gets down to stop the ball finding the bottom right. So, so close to a dramatic winner but no. There’s not another chance and the weight of a shootout hangs over Lincoln’s shoulders once more. It’s been undoubtedly even so penalties is probably deserved.

Green is taking first again with Harrison second. Gergo and Ollie will follow with Sam Ham given the 5th spot. We win the coin toss and Burnley will take first with Chris Wood placing the ball down. He takes three strides back before starting his run up. Vickers steps to the left and then dives up to the top right corner to save brilliantly. A great start to say the least, we just need to capatilise.

Green steps up and confidently sends the keeper the wrong way with a tidy penalty into the bottom right. 1-0 up and we’re got the upper hand now. Sam Vokes, the quiet subsitute has to reply. He steps to the left once before putting it in the same corner as Matt. Vickers went the right way but not the right height as he went to the same top right as last time. He very nearly saves it with his trailing foot but it squeezes through.

Ellis Harrison: his record with pens is awful. Whether they’re top left, bottom right or down the middle, he cannot score one. So putting him second is a huge risk. He seems composed before he runs up and hits a good pen to the bottom left but Heaton dives down and pushes it round the post. You couldn’t write his luck. I can’t help but feel my heart burst as the claret half of the stadium erupts. Not because we missed. Because he missed.

Callum Wilson is up next and he’s the first to stutter his run up slightly. Vickers steps right but dives to the very bottom left and palms away. It’s an amazing save that somehow stitches the bits of my heart back together. We need Gergo to pull one out of the bag for us now. After the ref blows his whistle, he steps back once before rifling a penalty into the side netting with Heaton diving the wrong way. A great penalty from the Hungarian.

Robbie Brady, the transformative wing back, is up as the first left footer. If he misses, it’s all on Ollie Palmer to take us through. The Lincoln fans behind the goal are jumping and shouting to put him off. The raucous distractions must work as Vickers dives right but Robbie goes left. Too far left. An inch wide of the post left.

Ollie looks over to me as he places the ball onto the spot. I don’t move anything. I remain motionless. I can’t celebrate yet. He waits a second before running up, swinging his foot back lacing it to the top right. Ping. The ball flies back past Ollie’s head after smashing the crossbar as Sean Dyche fist pumps in elation. Fucking Ollie Palmer jeopardising the shootout again. Acerbi has to score and he does so with a great penalty into the top left. It’s going to happen isn’t it? Sam Ham could be the hero as he takes a step to his right…runs up…hits it bottom left but a finger tip pushes it away. Sudden death it is. Batesy’s nearly in tears, biting down on his entire fist.

Aaron Lennon is up next. Vickers jumps to his right but Aaaron cheekily rolls it straight down the middle. Neal Eardley is the man to keep us in it which he does with a simple pen into the right hand side of goal. Heaton went left. Jack Cork is up to reply and he also goes down the middle but in much more style as he twats it into the roof of the net.

Captain Bostwick is up now and he wastes no time in running up and smashing it into the net past a static Tom Heaton. Phil Bardsley is next up. Vickers dives left but he goes right…and hits the post! I nearly bite my tongue off in excitement. James Wilson with the chance to win it. He walks back to outside the box but hits an awful penalty just to the left of Heaton which is easily saved. Oh no, oh no, oh no.

Westwood follows suit with the central penalty theme as Vickers dives to his right. The score is currently 5-4 and Anderson is tasked with keeping cup final hopes alive. He sidefoots a penalty perfectly into the bottom right but Heaton dives early and gets a hand to it. Heads immediately drop with most of the team collapsing collectively. My head falls into hands as I drop onto my back and don’t get up. The distant cheers echo all around me. A good two minutes have passed before I get back up with tears in eyes. We rode our luck for large parts of this game, we could have stole it a couple times and we should have won it in the shootout. Fuck this game.

That result obviously sets up a Tottenham – Burnley final. Dorrian is upset but tells me that we’ve received over 2 million pounds in TV money for that game alone. I’m upset myself but looking back, alone with a glass of whiskey, I’ve succeeded so far. I really have but I can’t help but I feel I need the title to confirm our greatness this season. Luton won their league fixture while we were preparing for Wembley so we need to win our next game otherwise, the season is over with a game spare.

Our now game in hand is against the already relegated Accrington. While we should beat these, they are not to be taken for granted as they can play any style they want, they’re relegated. Also, morale is really low after we had one hand on the FA Cup twice so Accrington could really kick us while we’re down. Then again, a win would fire us all up for the final day of the season in a couple days time.

Sam Ham and Wharton slot into our defence for Eardley and Bozhikov. Harrison plays behind Palmer as a shadow striker with Anderson and Valerio on the wings. I only ask the lads to do one thing for me today: get the job done.

We seem like we’re going to do just that when 6 minutes in, Palmer tests the waters with a shot from outside the box but it’s deflected over for corner. It’s whipped in to the penalty spot where Wharton climbs to head goalwards but it’s caught nicely by the goalkeeper.

Five minutes later, Gergo tackles Conneely and plays it  up to Harrison. He flicks it forward to Palmer who controls with the the instep of his left foot, rolls the ball back round Rodgers and hits an exquisite strike with what those two cringey football blokes on Youtube call ‘swaz’ into the far side netting. It’s an amazing goal from an amazing footballer for his 25th of the season. Not only is that a vital goal but it’s an instant morale boost.

In the 19th minute, Gergo is down the right touchline again before playing it up to Valerio. He cheekily flicks the ball inside and chips a ball over for Harrison. The keeper rushes out to put him off but he coolly places it over the keeper. However, it clips off the underside of the bar and bounces on the goal line before a defender gets in to smack clear. It’s Barcelona-esque from the lads and it really deserved a goal.

10 minutes later. a rapid counter attack starts as Ellis plays over to Woody. A complacent touch from Hughes lets Woody get the ball and shoot on the edge of the box but a reflex save from the keeper pushes it past the post for a corner. We’ve been electric so far. The corner is put in by Valerio and cleared poorly. It’s passed around until Valerio has space on same side as the corner. He Cruyff turns Clark and releases a great shot on his weaker foot but hits the near post. It bounces out to Anderson to tap home the rebound but celebrations are cut short by the linesman’s flag. Correctly offside.

In the 33rd minute, Palmer flicks a Sam Ham ball on for Harrison who tries to curl an effort home but it’s parried out for another corner. It comes to nothing but we keep pushing for another goal. Five minutes later, Gergo starts the move again with a dedicated interception and a lovely curling ball round for Palmer. He cuts it back to Ellis who uses some great footwork to avoid a tackle and play to Anderson. Wilson gets a slight touch on the pass which is enough to mess up Anderson’s plans as he blasts it into the arms of the keeper.

We really should be two, three, maybe even four goals up in a half of football we have dominated. We’ve had 13 shots compared to a single striker from Accrington. Luton are currently 2-0 up against Forest Green so we need to finish more of the chances to avoid an undeserved upset.

We start with intent as a string of give and go passes from Ellis and Ollie accumulate with Palmer trying to place a shot into the bottom left from 8 yards out but it’s saved and cleared for a throw. He should have just put his laces through it but he’s not made to dwell on that mistake for too long. In the 52nd minute, Woody seizes the ball from a Bostwick header down and passes out to Esposito. He lays it back for Harrison to power into Ollie’s feet. He passes sideways to Valerio and rolls his man to claim the return pass. He tries to shoot through the keepers legs but it hits his leg and bounces up kindly. Ollie gets back up and beats Hughes to the ball to tap home from a yard out. Hughes was blocked by his keeper getting back to his feet but I don’t think there was much he could have done without a team-mate to hurdle either. 2-0.

Accrington come back on the hour mark and show they aren’t going to just lie down when Kee has a close range attempt blocked by Vickers. Woody passes it out to Bostwick but he’s tackled from behind. The ball rolls back to Kee to have a second chance from just inside the box and finds the bottom left nicely. I bring on Stewart for Anderson as Harry’s panting a bit.

I use my last two subs in the 78th minute with Knott and Eardley coming on for Anderson and Gergo. I switch our attention to defensive duties to see out the victory. Just a couple minutes later, Bostwick gives away a free kick from the middle of our half which Kee puts up into the box.  Harrison thumps a clearance header all the way up to Knott who has nobody in front of him except the keeper. He sprints forward into the box before squaring across to fellow sub Stewart to smack into an open goal. 3-1, done and dusted.

Or so you’d think. In the last minute of the match, Kee puts a low ball across the face of goal which Sam Ham slides in to stop Jackson tapping in. Unfortunately, it falls to Accrington sub Francis to punt home over the head of Wilson. We kick it all the way back to the keeper from kick off and the full time whistle releases the anxiety as Vickers boots it clear. It could have been very nervy at the end there with another couple minutes but we were by far the better team today. 3-2 is a very flattering scoreline for the losing side today but all that matters is we get another three points on the board.

While we’re storming on towards the 100 point tally, Luton aren’t showing signs of pulling up any time soon either. They won their game 3-1 meaning they are still 4 points ahead. Our last two games of the season are both at home and if we beat Colchester on Wednesday, they’ll be one point in it with one game left. If not, our title push is as good as over.

Our captain gets himself concussed in training the day before the game so he’ll be out of the squad for Colchester but back for Yeovil on the weekend. In a more positive light, Vasil Bozhikov picks up the award for April Player of the Month which I’m over the moon about. Him and Gergo would have been amazing signings for, dare I say, a million pounds each but we got them both for just under 20 grand a week. Envious eyes are all over these league as our squad picks up award after award. Just not the manager of the month award.

Taking a look at the league table, things are still very close in both the relegation and play off spots. Up the top of the table, it’s between Notts County and Mansfield as to who gets the remaining promotion spot. A Notts County win takes them through but a draw or loss with a Mansfield win sees them drop into the play offs. Cambridge are guaranteed a fifth place finish so their last game doesn’t have too much importance. With regards to the play-off spots, it’s a battle between Crewe, Wycombe and our next opponents Colchester for 6th and 7th place. Colchester need to win their game in hand, against us, to confirm their play off spot so there’s a lot on the line for both teams today.

Wharton comes in for what will be his last start during his spell at Lincoln unless there’s an injury to Vasil or Wilson . Freckles is captain in Bostwick’s absence with Green playing behind Palmer, who’s looking to confirm his golden boot today.

The stakes are high in this game and it’s obvious as tackles from both teams are flying in. In the 9th minute, Valerio gives a free kick away which our new summer signing Dickenson takes. It’s a short lofted ball to Mandeville who chests it down then tees Wright for a shot. It’s well blocked by Vasil and out for a corner. It’s a poor corner that Vickers claims at the back post before pelting a throw quickly up to Green. He nods it out wide right for Esposito to ping a powerful pass to Palmer who holds off Jackson with ease and plays Freckles on overlap. He evades an Eastman slide with a good change of direction and holds up to return to Palmer but his strike is saved down low and cleared for a throw which doesn’t become much more than just a throw.

The game becomes a bit tedious until half an hour has passed. A cheeky Gergo backheel gives Valerio the space to cross but he puts it just behind Palmer. Green swoops in to beat the defender to control but hits a wild swing yard wide of top right. We’re not disheartened as Stewart and Palmer play a 1-2 in the 36th minute. Ollie makes a run to the near post to volley home but Inniss swipes his legs before he can connect with the ball to give away a clear penalty. Gergo wants to take it at first which I’m happy with but Ollie is determined to show me he can take a good penalty. There’s not much debate from either me or the team so Gergo hands over the ball. However, I wish he hadn’t as it’s a poor shin height penalty right down the middle which the keeper catches easily. How can he score 20+ goals from open play but not score from the spot?

In the last few minutes on the first half, Gergo continues his rediscovery of form with a bombing run down the right before passing inside to Green. He has to really stretch to win the ball over the opposition and passes first time. He’s fouled in the process but the ref plays the advantage as Gergo gives it to Palmer. He wrong foots Jackson and forces a strong save across goal from our other future signing, Sam Walker. Stewart has to hit a rebound volley at an awkward height and angle but can only direct it a yard over

The ref is walking around with a whistle in his mouth when Palmer is fouled after trying to bring down a Green header. Green takes it quickly and passes back and forth until Ollie spots Esposito’s run into the box. He blasts it towards the roof of the net but a big hand from Walker keeps it out and keeps the game level at the break. It’s a similar story to the Accrington match as we’ve had eleven shots compared to their one but we haven’t even scored yet. I’m confident we’ll win if we carry on as we are but I bring on Tom Pett for Valerio before the game restarts.

It takes 15 minutes before either team has a chance and it’s a rare one from Colchester. Mandeville cuts past Stewart and waits before playing in Wright. He takes the ball delightfully on the spin and hits it low to the near post. Vickers just gets a toe to it to push out for a corner in whats a world class save. Palmer hasn’t been on form today so I signal to Harrison to warm up. After the corner is cleared, I make the change which angers Ollie a fair bit. He sulks a little on the bench but he knows he hasn’t been up to scratch today.

With 20 minutes of the 90 left, we demonstrate some neat passing which finishes with a Woody, Green 1-2. Green tries to curl home from 20 yards but it’s about a yard wide. Anderson comes on as a attacking fullback for Gergo as we need further focus on attacking to keep ourselves in the title race. Walker plays a short goal kick to Eastman who has to pass to Kent quickly due to Harrison’s pressure. It’s a hard pass from a short distance which means a poor touch. Ellis pounces, takes the ball forward and waits until Walker comes out of his goal slightly before curling a beauty into the top right. Thank fuck for that and thank fuck for Ellis Harrison. That goal could be worth his £600’000 price tag alone.

In the 85th minute, Colchester are really pushing to confirm their play-off spot so when we win possession, Pett uses his fresh legs to pace away on the counter. He plays a little ball into the box for Harrison who volleys over his shoulder but it’s another good save from Walker. It’s been a promising display from our future goalkeeper but we still need a win so another goal would be ideal. An Eastman header in the final minute threatens but it’s headed away by Wharton.

The game ends shortly after which confirms one thing. The final game of the season will decide the champions of League Two.

As long as we win on Sunday, we’ve done our part. But whilst we play relegation candidates Yeovil Town, Luton visit 3rd place Notts County. We’ve got the upper hand despite the point difference. I’d never thought I’d say this but I hope Lewis Alessandra finds his shooting boots and bangs a hat-trick past them.

However, Yeovil are currently 20th with only three points between 19th and 23rd so all the teams down there will be up for a fight. Including our final opponents of the season. Notts County are currently two points clear in 3rd place and follow us as the other promoted side as long as they don’t lose. Luckily for us, that’s exactly what we need as a Luton win means they go up as champions. A win isn’t a necessity as if Luton lose and we draw, goal difference will take us top of the table. But where’s the fun in that?

In what’s a very risky call, I go with a brand new formation today: 4-1-3-2. Loanee Allsop gets the nod in goal before returning to his parent club. He has served us really well when he’s been called upon, the highlight of his time being his lone assist. Bostwick is back in front of the defence with Palmer and Harrison up front together for the first time in months. Batesy will sit with earphones in listening to Luton match. Come on Notts County, do us a favour.

The crowd are against the referee early on when he gives a couple questionable fouls against us in the first five minutes. Palmer decides the best way to avoid fouls is take the ball yourself. He takes it right into their box on his own and squares to Knott. The first shot is blocked and his second attempt is volleyed way over the crossbar but it gets Sincil Bank excited.

The excitement slowly filters to worry when the football becomes very cagey. Misplaced passes, hard tackles, dodgy bounces. There’s not some actual football until the 39th minute when Harrison plays the ball down the line for Palmer but it’s a tad overshot. Ollie manages to bully Donnellan off the ball and run it into the middle. The keeper is closing him down so he tries to chip it over him but it hits his chest and goes to a Yeovil teammate.

It’s been a quiet half in our game but far from it in the Luton match. They’re 2-1 up at half time which means they are currently champions. We need to win to at least show we did all we could on the day.

There’s nothing happening in the first 10 minutes of the half and while I’m usually calm, this is the time to be impatient. We can’t wait for a chance, we have to force one. We switch to our usual 4-2-3-1 formation with Valerio and Sam Ham coming on. I can’t shout attack much more as we really need a goal incase Luton slip up.

5 minutes after the changes, Sam Ham shows he’s up for it with an outstanding challenge to block a cross. The loose ball however is crossed with no problems by Fisher. Gobern lashes a close range volley towards goal but an amazing reflex save from Allsop holds back the tears. He gets up quickly to jump back down on the ball to rid of any rebound opportunity. I scream my appreciation to Ryan who gives me a cool thumbs up before booting upfield.

In the 71st minute, just as I’m starting to really panic, Sam Ham clears a corner up to Harrison who flicks it to Anderson. His first time ball to Palmer is spot on. Ollie shields and runs back on himself to play the overlapping Anderson. He passes into Harrison who holds off Smith, turns and hammers past the face of the keeper to make it 1-0. What a time to score and it’s the Welsh number 9 being piled on after a vital goal again. Wharton comes in for Vasil to help defend our lead with some fresh legs.

5 minutes later,  Knott switches play to Gergo who passes inside to Harrison. He rolls it behind to Palmer who touches with his right, flicks it on with his left for Anderson to latch on and tuck home from close range. 2-0 up and that should confirm that we’ve done our part. If Shola Ameobi ever had to score a goal, it’d be right now. Forgot about the derby’s, forget about the winning goals off the bench. Snatch a point for me Shola.

In the 83rd minute, a Palmer header sets Harrison off. He gets himself into the box but smashes wide from a position where he really should be scoring. As I look down in disappointment, Batesy jumps up and almost knocks himself out on the dugout roof. He takes a while to get to his feet but runs out of the dugout to face the fans.

“It’s 2-2! Luton are bottling it!”

I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened in the last 10 minutes of our game. I’m occupied. Eyes fixated of Batesy, waiting for anything. A noise, a face, anything. In the last 30 seconds of our game, he slowly unplugs his earphones and looks at me with heartbreak in his eyes. He can’t even say it. He just mouths it over the loud cheers of a stadium full of clueless Lincoln fans.

“3-2 gaffer. Luton’s 3-2.”

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