Thursday, 25 October 2012

FC Halifax Town 0-2 Lincoln City

Before I write about the normal drivel, a little story; are we sitting comfortably readers? Then we shall begin...

The date is the 26 of January 1999 and we are on our way to watch the Imps take on Halifax town away at the Shay in the Nationwide division three (today’s league two) Mr Del Colle is at the wheel and we are aimlessly driving round an out of town shopping area on the edge of Doncaster. A younger, single, fresh faced future blogger, sith lord, and Guinea pig trainer is slouched in the back nursing a hangover; the result of drinking pretty much all of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the Anchor Inn.

After spending what seemed like an eternity trying to get out of the car park with plenty of hand gestures from Felice to other drivers and plenty of honking of horns a calming influence appeared out of nowhere.  From his position in the passenger seat Baz reached under his seat and collected his bag. After a short rummage he presented a huge bowl of very tasty homemade trifle left over from Christmas along with three spoons. Their effect on the passengers in the car was every bit as dramatic as when Hot Rod opened the matrix in Transformers the Movie (the cartoon version). Soon afterwards hangovers and road rage were forgotten as we tucked into the taste treat.  At that moment a Retford Imp’s legendary moment was born. The game itself was a huge let down. City lost 3-0 due to some shocking marking by Dave Barnett and Stuart Bimson. In fact the main taking point in the game was the strange decision by the then Chairman/Manager John Reames to substitute striker Lee Thorpe a minute before halftime when he wasn’t injured. Although the game was shit the legend of the trifle on the way to football was born.
That was the last time the three of us had been to the Shay. I did go the season after on the train when a Steve Holmes last minute header rescued a point for City. This game was memorable for me as I was incredibly drunk but that’s a story for another day. As this is the first time back at the Shay for all of us, we decided on the way back from the first match between the sides on Saturday, that Baz would again make a trifle to commemorate that cold boxing day game 13 years ago.  As it happened the trifle didn’t appear but he did bake us a rather nice selection of cakes.

The last time we were at the Shay we were stood on the impressive terrace behind the goal. When the Shay’s redevelopment started, the Halifax Blue Sox Rugby League club were competing in the Super League. Following the club’s relegation and the well documented problems at the football club, building work stopped for a while. Now however as the club has risen from the ashes, the Shay now has a smart new stand along the far side to the one the away fans are seated in. The mixture of old and new stands gives the stadium a real charm and it’s great to see a ground that has been redeveloped without making it look like something that a 11 year old kid made with a Lego set. This is a real football ground. Tonight the City fans were housed the newest area of the stadium with admission being £13 and a programme coming in at £3. Now this may seem a tad expensive but we need to pause here because it is worth every penny.
I have been attending football matches since 1994 and collecting programmes just as long. In all my time collecting them I don’t think that I have seen as comprehensive a section on the away side as what I did in the Shaymen Shout.
Firstly you get two pages giving an oversight of the club at the moment. Then you get some very detailed pen pics of all the Imps squad and not just a couple of brief lines. Then you get a whopping  6 pages on the club’s history highlighting all the highs and lows of the clubs history right the way back from 1884 through to last season. I thought I knew a fair bit about City’s history till I read this. The rest of the programme is of a very high standard with plenty of interviews, blogs and information from a range of contributors which gives it a very diverse feel.  This programme wouldn’t look out of place in the Premiership. I don’t impress easily when it comes to writing but this did impress me. Amazingly I heard one or two chunters at its price. Yet another case of somebody opening their mouth without looking at what you get. You get what you pay for in life but on this occasion you get a bargain. And remember, they only had three days to put it together and off to the printers. Contrast that to ourselves last year when we didn’t issue anything for our FA Cup replay three days after the first game.
We were a tad peckish so headed over to purchase some snap. I went for the hotdog and Bbovril to wash it down. The dog was tasty enough with a decent sausage and nice crispy bread. Baz selected the meat and potato pie and was very impressed with it. So much so he went back for a second one.

City took to the pitch in their white shirts but twinned with the black shorts giving us a distinctly Fulham look. Quite ironic seeing how Baz had been lording it up in Harrods on Sunday afternoon. On the pitch City started a lot better than we did on Saturday (not that that would be hard it has to be said) We lined up 4-4-1-1 with Alan Power playing behind Jamie Taylor. The main talking point was Jake Sheridan’s inclusion ahead of Nicky Nicolau who has been one of City’s better players this term.  On 13 minutes the gaffer’s choice seemed to pay off as Jake Sheridan finished off a neat City move to put the Imps ahead.
The goal was created by Adam Smith who has had his critics this season, but today he was central to all of the good stuff that City produced. This goal rattled the home side, whose crisp neat passing, much in evidence at Sincil Bank in the first game, disappeared. When they did get on the ball City pressed them and forced them into mistakes. In short we did to them what they did to us in the first game.  The rest of the first half passed by with City being well in control. We didn’t create many chances but we didn’t have to. The home side didn’t really change their formation after going behind which suited Lincoln just fine. My companions got all giddy when they discovered that Celtic had taken the lead in the Camp Nou (although they weren’t so chirpy when the halftime scores came in) Funny that. I spent the halftime break giving a newbie a starter tutorial on the game “Fish Live” on our Smartphones.

It wasn’t until about ten minutes after the start of the second half that the Shaymen forced Imp’s keeper Paul Farman into his first real save of the game. The game started to open up and became much more end to end. Although the home side did improve they went to a more direct style and sent plenty of long balls into the City box which were easily repelled by the Lincoln Centre backs; Boyce and Miller.
Lincoln killed the game off in the 76th minute, when Mo Fofana picked out Jamie Taylor who picked his spot and fired past Glennon in the Halifax goal. The Shaymen keeper had indulged in a spot of trash talking in the press before the game. As he lay there with the ball in the net and his side 0-2 down he was probably contemplating whether to have whipped or fresh cream with his post match humble pie. It could have been even worse for the keeper when Colin Larkin’s shot from a tight angle struck the foot of the post with the keeper well beaten.  Lincoln saw the rest of the game out easy enough and won our first FA Cup replay in normal time since 1997’s victory over Gainsborough Trinity.
Overall this was a very professional performance from Lincoln. We looked steady all night and never really looked like losing. Yes the early goal did help things greatly, but in truth Halifax looked a shadow of the side they looked at Sincil Bank where they maybe should have beaten us. However as a club they are most certainly on the way back. That Blue Square North title race is going to be a real battle royale.

Things we learnt tonight

1) Nelson’s column is as high as the central mast on the Victory.
2) There are no kebabs shops in Halifax
3) Teams must play to the whistle and not switch off in the 94th minute. Like a certain Scottish side did in Spain. Or you may go home with nil points.
4) We are in the first round proper of the FA Cup.

Lincoln City 0-0 FC Halifax Town

The  Football Association Challenge Cup. The oldest and most famous knock out competition in the world. Fans of all clubs have special memories of this famous old beast.  Be it giant killings such as Hereford United v Newcastle in 1970, or Colchester’s famous win over Leeds United in 1972 through to Ryan Giggs’ fantastic goal v Arsenal in the 1999 semi final replay.  Every club has its memories.
Unfortunately for myself my memories of Lincoln City are rather bleaker. As a club we are more often than not the side that gets beaten by lower ranked opposition, rather than doing a spot of giant killing ourselves. Since I have been following the Imps we have graced the 3rd round just three times; Crystal Palace away (1994/95), Sunderland home (98/99), and most recently our trip to Bolton Wanderers in 09/10.
However my most vivid FA cup memories are much more sombre affairs. Taking two games to scramble past Gainsborough Trinity in 1997/98 (after being totally outplayed in the first match) landed us with a home tie against Emley. A 97th minute equaliser from Terry Flemming earned us a replay and I remember listening in on the radio for updates from Huddersfield in the replay. The Imps went 2-0 up and were all set for a money spinning 3rd round tie at West Ham. We then fell 2-3 down, got it back to 3-3 only to lose on penalties. Other low points in the Cup include a keeper howler in the last minute to give then non league side Dagenham and Redbridge a 1-0 win at Sincil Bank in 2000/01. And more recently losing to Kettering Town in a replay at home under Jacko (whatever happened to them?) Not to forget last year’s two dreadful performances against Alfreton town.  As a rule of the thumb for Lincoln, the FA in FA cup really means the fook all cup.

Today’s opponents were FC Halifax Town who are going well in the Blue Square Northern Division this season which meant their confidence would be pretty high. As is normal with these kind of matches, the club only opened the Echo and Co-op stands and admission had been dropped to a very reasonable £12 in all areas. This gave us a rare chance to view the game from the side of the pitch. It’s a good few seasons since we went in the top tier of the stand so it made a nice change. It also gave us chance to check out the bar area beneath the stand that looks like it’s had a lick of paint since we were last in here. The club have moved some of the collection of classic City shirts that were in the Trust Suite and hung them on the walls in here. Although they do look quite smart and brings back some great memories the place still looks a little empty yet another sign of the club’s sad decline. Years ago when we sat in this stand regularly this place used to be packed but today it was like a ghost town with all but a handful of folk watching the Spurs v Chelsea match on the small TV screen.
Just like kids on a school trip, Baz and I made a mad dash to the back row of the stand. Felice had been shopping at Toys R Us and joined us later although he seemed disappointed that the Lego Helicopter that he has had his eye on for the last couple of weeks wasn’t in stock. Chin up mate I am sure Santa will bring you one for Christmas.

On the pitch however, Halifax were in no mood to give out any presents to the Imps. Although they set up in a quite defensive formation they looked to break out wherever possible and had the better chances in the first half. They were aided by some wayward passes from Lincoln who were very sloppy and failed to move the ball around quick enough.  Jamie Taylor has been the main man for goals this season however, lumping high balls up to somebody who is about 5’5” isn’t going to yield much success against three big centre halves. He was supported by Conner Robinson but he too was getting few chances from the Halifax backline. Adam Smith on the wing put in plenty of effort but often lost the ball when trying to beat one man too many.  For me it was pretty obvious what the pattern of the game was and it looked odds on that we would all be making our merry way over to West Yorkshire on Tuesday evening for a replay. As the first half drew to a close the boos in the crowd grew louder and left the natives wondering just how we had managed to slam four past Wrexham on their own turf last weekend.

The second half was better than the first. Ok it wasn’t hard to be an improvement but at least it was interesting with a slight chance of a goal. City had a little 10 minute spell in which we had an effort hacked off the line and were almost the benefactor of an own goal. The Halifax goal keeper was doing an awful amount of flapping and it looked as if one of his many handling errors may lead to a City goal but by hook or by crook he got away with them. After this little spell though, Halifax settled and if anything looked the more comfortable on the ball and they had a great chance to win it at the death when a cross was sent over to the back post but thankfully from a City point of view the ball was blazed over with just the keeper to beat.
So there we are. Our dreadful record in the FA Cup continues. Hopefully we will be at Halifax Tuesday evening and as a special incentive Baz has offered to make a trifle for us to consume en route. This is what football is all about my friends. Should we somehow find a way past our opponents Tuesday evening, another football powerhouse awaits us in the first round proper. Walsall at home is the prize for the victors.
Magic of the cup my arse.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Sheffield FC 0-1 Lincoln City

Tonight’s match was a bit of a Brucie bonus. Since City dropped out of the Football League the club resigned from the reserve league to save costs and when they needed to give a few squad players a run out simply arranged a game against local opposition when it suited them.  I first got wind of the game early on Monday morning, I informed my chums and plans were made.  Again only the three of us, as Lee had another cock and bull excuse  a very valid a reason for missing the opportunity of ticking off yet another new ground.
Sometimes for some daft reason, games like this are played behind closed doors.  I for one have never seen the point of doing this. Earlier in the morning a report on the local radio station had said that the match was to be played behind closed doors.  Thankfully due to the power of Facebook I was able to contact Sheffield FC and they told us that the game was NOT to be played behind closed doors and that fans were more than welcome. A first class response that was prompt and very helpful. This was in stark contrast with Lincoln’s promotion of the match as there was no mention of the match on the official website, Twitter account, or Facebook page.  The club’s social media has improved a bit this season but with incidents like this it shows that there is still a way to go.
 The good thing about games like this is that you don’t have to worry about what side we will put out or whether we will win or lose. As I have said before, when it comes to friendlies the result really doesn’t mean anything. Tonight was simply about giving some of the City players who haven’t had much match time recently a game, while also giving a triallist and a few first year pros a run out.  The only real dilemma was that with this game being a 7.00pm ko, whether to have a kebab pre or post game. In the end we elected to dine post match.

Sheffield FC don’t actually play in Sheffield in fact they don’t even play in Yorkshire. They are based in Dronfield; just over the border in Derbyshire. At the helm of the oldest club in the world we find last season’s assistant manager Curtis Woodhouse (which could explain how this match came about) They have had a decent start to their season in the Evo Stick division one south, and currently sit in a playoff position in 4th place with games in hand on the leaders. I didn’t recognise any of the Sheffield players apart from one; striker Vill Powell was a big part of Retford United’s success in the early 2000s and I am pretty sure he scored something daft like 70 odd goals for the club in a short space of time as United won the Central Midlands League treble. I can’t recall the season, 2002/03 maybe?
I must say that I was a little surprised that “Club” had held the gate price of £6 for this match but at least the club had provided a free programme and team sheet for all. Even charging this price I am pretty sure they would have made a loss on the game as only 40 or so souls attended. There were several factors for this; Lincoln’s poor advertisement of the game being one of the biggest, along with the Poland v England international game that was scheduled to be played. We all know about the farce that happened in Warsaw that night, and plenty has been written about it. All I can say is that I am glad we decided to attend the Imps game tonight instead of heading off to the pub to watch the match.
Sheffield’s ground is a rather smart effort and one that befits a club with such a proud history. First port of call was a trip to the food hut for a quick snack to tide us over until we got to the kebab shop later on. I purchased my first portion of pie and peas of the season which came in at £2.50 and was a fine effort. I know that I may sound like a little porky pig having pie and peas and a kebab in the same night but in my defence all I had had to eat that day was a Bombay Bad Boy pot noodle for dinner at work that day so I was a tad on the hungry side. And anyway I needed to try them to tell you lot who haven’t been to Sheffield FC what they are like.  So that’s my defence your honour. 
Most of the names on the City team sheet we recognised but the number 11 was totally unknown to us and I am pretty sure the stadium announcer was hoping that he wouldn’t score.
City were decked out in the 125th  green anniversary shirt, they took control of the game early on and looked to knock the ball around. You could tell that some of the City players were a tad rusty but that was why this game had been arranged. As it was rather cold I didn’t take many notes on the game or “Tweet” much, so it’s a brief match report. The goal that settled it came in the 20th minute when Jake Sheridan fired home from close range. City did have the better of the chances but managed to fluff their lines all too often.
We did have the ball twice in the net in the second half, but both were ruled out for offside (the second one looked a very close call). Sheffield did do better in the second half but keeper Jake Turner in the Lincoln goal was more than up to whatever they could throw at us. Although he didn’t have a huge amount to do, he organised the defence well and came out well to collect the high balls that Sheffield pumped into the box. It’s been a while since City had two decent keepers but it looks like we are now in that position. Elsewhere Nutter looked steady and it was good to see Alan Power continue his comeback having got injured in the Alfreton home match.  It was also good to see Jeff Gouvia get a game because he seems to have disappeared since his appearance at Newark Town in pre season.
As for the triallist; Mr Francis Ugochukwuanyanu? Well it was he who had the two goals disallowed. He looked a large unit up front and looked lively so he is worth another view in my eyes. It would almost be worth signing him to see the name would fit on the back of the shirt. 
On the way out i did bag three extra programmes that were sat on the turnstile on the way out (They are just a single folded piece of paper) But if anybody wants one give me a shout. Don't all rush at once though.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Lincoln Ladies season review 2012

Review Lincoln Ladies season 2012

As ever when a side’s season ends, it’s only normal that fans pause, look back, and reflect on what happened, why it happened, what we did well, and what we did wrong. It’s a week since the curtain came down on Lincoln Ladies’ 2012 season so now that the dust has settled I thought that it would be a good time to look back on the season and share a few of my thoughts and observations about the season just gone.

Keeping them out

Pic thanks to Rob Waite.
The side only used one keeper during the season; Nic Hobbs, and for my money she was as solid as any keeper in the league this season. Her finest game was probably in the 3-3 draw at home to Arsenal when she made a string of fine saves during the last 20 minutes when the gunners were really turning the screw. She had some rotten luck at times this season with a couple of wicked deflections costing us at times (Liverpool and Everton) And of course the unfortunate back pass incident v Liverpool in the Continental cup.  Lincoln, at times, struggled to defend corners (as did most other sides in this league it has to be said) this was due partly to us defending very deep and with lots of bodies at the back, so it often made it hard for Nic to claim the ball and quite often when the ball was punched clear our defence failed to pick up the loose ball. This can look bad on the keeper when in reality there isn’t a whole lot more they can do.
Her finest save of the season came in the defeat at Doncaster when she pulled off a fantastic one-on-one save when the Imps were 1-2 down thus keeping the game alive.  In my view Nic has done more than enough to be our number one again next season but I would like us to have the reserve keeper on the bench should Nic get injured or sent off.

The case for the defence:

Going into the season the defensive aspect of Lincoln’s squad was very impressive. Both Casey Stoney and Sophie Bradley are seasoned international defenders and with the addition of another international central defender; Laura Alleway, over the winter, it seemed that the Imps had a very strong core to the defence which is vital to any team. However Sophie Bradley’s ankle injury which kept her out of the first few games was a blow for both the Imps and England. It looked as if Lincoln would be fine though as Laura Alleway put in a fantastic performance in the FA Cup game at home to Arsenal alongside Casey Stoney. However shortly after this, problems soon emerged with Laura’s VISA which meant that she was unable to play for almost two thirds of the campaign. This did give a chance to another of the new signings; Meaghan Sargeant , who came in and slotted into the backline with ease for the next few matches. While we struggled for consistency in personnel at centre back, the full back positions were pretty well set for the season with Sophie Walton at right back and Rachel Daly at left back. The latter’s pace being a real asset when going forward and helped to set up many a Lincoln attack. Sophie is much more ‘a stay at home’ full back but had a very steady season and was on the end of one of the worst refereeing decisions of the season when she collected a red card in the last game of the season.
One of the highpoints of the Lady Imp’s season was the 4-3 away cup win against Arsenal and again this saw another makeshift back line, as Casey Stoney was on the bench due to injury. Ironically without their three first choice central defenders Lincoln won the game, with Sophie Barker dropping back into the defence. Casey returned for the next game with the Gunners which saw another good performance from Lincoln in a 3-3 draw. Sophie Bradley made her return to first team action from the bench in the next game against Doncaster, and from then on she and Stoney were the first choice partnership in the centre of the defence. As you can imagine with all the changes to the back line the Imps struggled to keep the goals out; conceding two at home to Birmingham, three at home to Arsenal twice, and two to Doncaster, who up until that point were yet to get a win. Even with the first choice back line in place Lincoln still conceded on a regular basis and only managed to keep two clean sheets all season (1-0 away at Bristol and 2-0 at home to Chelsea) At home the Imps seemed a little sloppy at the back with Bristol scoring three and Liverpool also getting three on two separate occasions. Thankfully though Lincoln had no problem in finding the net at the other end.
 It’s really hard to say why we let in so many goals.  Some were down to pure bad luck; the two own goals v Liverpool for example, or we were on the receiving end of great strikes from the opposition.  You can’t just blame the back line and keeper though. Sides defend and attack as a team and this Lincoln team was a very attack minded side with plenty of players that liked to get forward. So I believe this is why we conceded quite a few goals.  Our positive attacking outlook certainly was a hit with the neutrals. If you wanted to see games with goals in, then Lincoln Ladies were the team for you.

The middle of the park:

The midfield area of the side saw some of the best individual performances of the season.  Remi Allen and Lucy Staniforth both had excellent seasons and were central to the campaign. Remi is the side’s ball winner and the workhorse in the Imps midfield. It would be wrong just to think of her as a defensive midfielder and ball winner though as she has grabbed a few goals from open play, and her penalty kicks are right up there with the very best in the FAWSL. Her work rate is first class and looks like she can hardly walk at the end of the game due to the amount of effort she puts into her game.  If a youngster wanted to know how to be a midfielder, I would simply say watch Remi Allen and learn from her. You won’t go far wrong.
Lucy Staniforth was the side’s set piece specialist and a real class act. Her corners and free kicks were a major weapon in Lincoln’s arsenal and caused other sides problems.  The ones that stand out were those against Arsenal; when the gunners defence was all over the place at corner kicks with some of the corners whipped in right under the crossbar, the finest of which being the one that set up Meaghan Sargeant’s header in the 4-3 win. She, like the rest of the Lincoln midfield, also notched a few goals from open play, with her long range screamer against Everton being best.  For much of the first part (of the season) Remi and Lucy were joined in the midfield by Megan Harris and Australian international Collette McCallum. Megan will go down in Lady Imp’s history for scoring that winning goal against Arsenal and giving the club probably its best ever win. She seems to have found the knack for scoring goals and chipped in a few along the way. It took Collette a few matches to adjust to the pace and style of the game in the FAWSL but when she did her left foot added some real balance to the midfield. It was a shame to lose her and break up a unit that had served the side so well during the first part of the season.
Her departure was a bit of a head ache and the midfield was never as settled for the second part of the season. After the break for the Olympics, you never really knew who was going to be playing in midfield for a while. In the end Sophie Barker got the nod and the Imps picked up in the last few games once the midfield was settled. Bonnie Horwood had a stop start season but did little wrong when she did play and scored a good goal away at Birmingham City. Along the way this season youngsters Emily Roberts, Martha Harris, and Holly Crosby also got on the field of play and didn’t let anybody down.

Attack Attack Attack!!!
Looking at the balance of the squad at the start of the season the one area when I felt we were a little light was in the striking department. We had Jess Clarke and Carla Cantrell from last season. New signing Precious Hamilton form Doncaster and young New Zealand striker Katie Rood.  The first choice pairing being Precious and Jess for much of the season.
I know that I am going to sound like a bit of a fan boy here, but there is no other way of putting this. Jess Clarke is in my view the key player for Lincoln Ladies Football club. If she plays well (and more often than not she does) then Lincoln Ladies play well.  She is by far and away the quickest player we have, her pace has given other side’s defensive nightmares all season long. Alex Scott of Arsenal is seen by some as the best full back in England, but Jess took her to the cleaners three times this season turning her inside out on each occasion, so much so that after starting in the 4-3 match she was dropped for the following league match and only came on once Jess had gone off injured. The way many sides seem to try and stop her is simple. Foul her. Time and time again she has been singled out for rough treatment and given little or no protection by the referees, with those at  Arsenal and Birmingham being the most cynical. After the injury sustained against Arsenal in the league, the Imps form dropped off both in terms of performance and results. We won one out of the four league games that she missed which is a lot when you only play 14 league games. With Jess gone the only real pace in the side was that of Rachel Daly at full back. In Jess’ absence Carla Cantrell joined Precious Hamilton up front.

Carla is a good target player and is a great finisher (see her goal of the month at home to Chelsea) but in some ways she is very similar to Precious. Precious herself suffered from Jess being out of action as her main source of service dried up. Once Jess came back the goals started to flow again. Although both Carla and Precious worked their socks off for the team we just didn’t seem to have the cutting edge up front and at times both of them dropped off too deep to be a threat.  I would have liked to have seen a little more of Katie Rood this season.  From what we did see she looked to be a quick, nippy kind of striker who harassed defenders. Although from only getting 10-20 minutes worth of action here and there it’s hard to give a real assessment. I certainly feel an opportunity was lost by not giving her the whole of the second half v Bristol when the Imps were 1-3 down and looking toothless up front.  That game also saw the most sheepish re-emergence of a team at halftime I have ever seen. It would have been very interesting to have been a fly on the wall during that halftime break.
Precious finished as the side’s top scorer and had a great season. It was a great piece of scouting and research to sign her from Doncaster where she only bagged the one goal all season long. She is powerful, can hold defenders off and has a great finish. She is also the side’s maverick player as you are never totally sure as to what she is going to do.  She certainly has got a great partnership with Jess going and together the two of them work very well. More of the same next season please.

Summing up

At the start of the season the Imps had aimed to finished second and thus get into the Champions League. Why did we fall short? Well in my view it’s down to two things. Firstly the fact that we couldn’t field a settled back four for the first third of the season, and secondly the injury to Jess. If you look at the league as a whole you would have to say that Arsenal were clearly much better than everybody else, with Birmingham just a bit behind. You then had four sides; Everton, Chelsea, Bristol, and Lincoln who were pretty well matched and kept tripping over each other. I really don’t think there was anything to choose between the four of us.  At the bottom we find Liverpool and Doncaster and the missing points that cost Lincoln. Both were poor sides (although Donny did pick up a tad towards the end of the season) But Lincoln only managed to gain 4 points from 12 available against the basement sides.  The home game with Liverpool was a real hammer blow. We went 2-0 up then they go it back to 2-2. We then took the lead again but went on to concede a penalty deep into added time to make it 3-3.
Something else that didn’t help us was playing seven cup and league home games on the trot, thus giving the fixture list a lopsided look and really putting the pressure on the team when we had a run of away games towards the back end of the season.
On the plus side the best thing about this side was the team’s never say die attitude. Even when everything was going against us, the girls never gave up and gave it 100%. You could not fault this side for effort at any point during the season. This is a very young side with only one player over 30 but the potential is simply huge. And it has been a pleasure to follow them along the way.
Best and worst of.
Player of the season (my own view)
1) Remi Allen
2) Sophie Bradley
3) Rachel Daly

Young player of the season
Meaghan Sargeant

Best games seen this season

1) Lincoln 4-3 Arsenal
2) Lincoln 3-3 Arsenal
3) Chelsea 2-3 Lincoln

Goal of the season.

1) Megan Harris v Arsenal
2) Precious Hamilton v Birmingham 
3) Lucy Staniforth v Everton.

Best opposition player seen this season. 

1) Jess Fishlock (Bristol)
2) Leandra Little (Doncaster)
3) Rachel Yankey (Arsenal)

My Lincoln Ladies team of the season.

1) Nic Hobbs
2) Rachel Daly
3) Sophie Walton
4) Remi Allen
5) Casey Stoney
6) Sophie Bradley
7) Lucy Staniforth
8) Megan Harris
9) Collette McCallum
10) Jess Clarke
11) Precious Hamilton

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Chelsea v Lincoln highlights

So for the last time this season we have the highlights from a Lincoln Ladies match. Enjoy all the goals and drama from the season's finale against Chelsea. Some cracking goals and saves but i am still not sure that the red card was justified
 On a more sombre note, Lady Imps manager Glen Harris was relieved of his duties on Tuesday, but is still with the club and will head up the highly successful Centre of Excellence. I was surprised when this news broke and i would like to thank him for his efforts this season and for producing a very entertaining side to watch. He is a great football man and a total gentleman. Thank you Glen.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Chelsea Ladies 2-3 Lincoln Ladies

More often than not, end of season games with nothing riding on them can be quite tame affairs with player's minds more focussed on where they are going on holiday instead of the game in hand. What we had here was the total opposite, with no quarter asked or given. If you had just walked in and not seen the League table or knew nothing about ladies football you could quite easily have thought that the League title was up for grabs and not the honour of finishing in 4th place in the FAWSL. Up until a few weeks ago i hadn't planned to attend this game but i had such a whale of a time at the Arsenal away match a few weeks ago, that i decided to have another fun day out in the Capital. Again i used the train as it gave me the opportunity to sink a few beers after the game and hopefully catch one of the big European games in the evening.
Chelsea Ladies play their home matches at Wheatsheaf Park; home to Staines Town FC. I have visited this ground once before when they took on the Imps in pre season a couple of years back. This was the first time that i had made the journey by public transport. While the journey takes a little longer than the one to Arsenal it is still simple enough to do. Once you get to Kings Cross simply get a zone one and two underground pass and jump on the Victoria Line to Vauxhall. From there you catch the train out to Staines from platform 6 with the journey taking about 40 minutes.(return ticket £9) When you leave the train station turn right and head down Gresham Road until you arrive at the T-junction with Laleham Road from here turn left and keep walking until you see the turning for Wheatsheaf Lane on the right. The ground is a short walk down the Lane on the right. The walk from the station takes under 15 minutes and although there are a couple of shops along the way there are no pubs which is always a bit of a let down.

Thankfully there is a clubhouse at the ground to satisfies the thirst of the weary traveller; which is situated just outside the ground. As you approach the turnstiles you will see a small door on the stand to your left. The clubhouse is upstairs in this building which over looks the seated area of the ground. The bar is quite smart and has a big screen showing which ever football game is on (Celtic v Hearts in this case). Given the quality of the game on the large screen i decided to watch the start of the player's warm up from the windows of the bar area.
Entrance today was £5 with a smart looking programme on sale for £2. The programme was very pleasing on the eye but there wasn't a huge amount to read in it. Not the worst in the League but not the best. The only boo boo i found was the pen pic of Sue Smith in the away players feature (she left the Imps for Doncaster in pre season). Also on sale were raffle tickets for £1 so i bagged one of those. I was one ticket out from winning £800 at the Nottingham Panthers on Friday night, so i figured my luck would change sooner or later (it didn't).
Next stop was the snap hut to check out the gourmet delights on offer. I went for the cheeseburger which came in at £2.60. I must admit that i have had better but it went down ok, didn't come back up and kept me going till i got to a kebab shop in London, so it did its job. The other hot food on the menu consisted of hotdogs and bacon cobs (or baps, or rolls, or sandwiches, whatever you want to call them!) Bacon is one of the few foods that i can't stand so that option was of no interest to me. There was also a decent range of hot drinks and chocolate which seemed to go down well with the punters.
As for the ground, it isn't too shabby. The large seated stand is very impressive and offers a great view of the action. I viewed most of the game from the opposite side of it standing, on the covered terrace.
This is the third time the clubs have locked horns this season. The first meeting here at Staines was a Continental Cup group match in which the Imps ran out 2-1 winners. The second match at Ashby Avenue saw the Imps win 2-0. After the game the Chelsea caretaker manager made a few remarks that maybe in hindsight he would have been better off not saying. It certainly fired a few of the Lincoln players up after the match. To refresh yourself about what went down that day click here. Since that eventful day Emma Hayes has stepped into the Chelsea hotseat, and in doing so is the third Chelsea manager that the Lady Imps have come up against this season. Before kick off Chelsea sat in 5th place in the table with 17 points and a goal difference of -2. The Imps were a place back on 15 points and a goal difference of -3

There were no great surprises in the Lincoln line up; Nic in goal, a back four of Walton, Stoney, Bradley, and Sargeant, midfield consisted of Allen, Harris (Snr), Staniforth, and Barker, with Jess Clarke and Precious "goal machine" Hamilton up front. Lincoln only named three subs today those being Laura Allaway, Bonnie Harwood and Martha Harris. It was slightly concerning that we didn't have an out and out striker on the bench with Katie Rood being injured and Carla not making the trip.
Normally when given the choice i watch the action from behind the goal but today i chose to stand near the group of Lincoln fans behind the away team dugout. Before the game, Imps gaffer Glen Harris came over and had a chat to the fans and thanked us for or support which was a great gesture, and it was nice to have a brief chat with him.
Lincoln started brightly and got their passing game going right from the start. Pressuring Chelsea high up the pitch forced the home side into several mistakes at the back, and Hamilton and Clarke's pace was causing them problems. Chelsea did have the first effort on target but the long range effort was well gathered by Nic in the Lincoln goal. The game was a bit stop start in the first half, but neither side were really able to produce anything from the resulting free kicks. As often this season, Lincoln's main threat came from Jess Clarke running at the defence and taking players on. Both sides were looking good on the ball and to a large degree cancelling each other out. Lincoln did have a fright after half an hour when Nic's clearance was intercepted by Chelsea, but the Imps defended it well and the ball was soon back in the Lincoln keepers hands.
This led to a little spell of pressure from Chelsea with a couple of efforts flying wide of the posts and a couple of corners scrambled away by Lincoln. Then on 42 minutes Lincoln missed the best chance of the game when Precious Hamilton went on a great run, held off a defender, then rounded the keeper, sent the ball across the box for Jess Clarke to finish, but her shot was blocked on the line. It was fantastic defending from Chelsea but from a Lincoln point of view it should have been 1-0. Not to worry though because shortly after it was.
Lucy Stainforth collected the ball in the middle of the park and passed it forward to Remi Allen whose flick on was collected by Precious on the right hand side of the box, who then unleashed a low shot right into the far bottom corner of the Chelsea goal. At times in the first half the Imps' passing had been top notch and this goal was the icing on the cake.
At half time there was a penalty shoot out competition between Stamford the Lion and some of the Chelsea ball girls who were involved in Chelsea's "Right to Play scheme"; a charity which Chelsea support and which does a lot of great work around the world. I would love to tell you more about it, but unfortunately the PA system was playing up and i could only pick up about one in every three words being said, which is a shame because it is obviously a great cause. Chelsea raffled off a signed ladies shirt and ball so hopefully they made a few quid. I can confirm though that Stamford the Lion needs to brush up a bit on his goalkeeping.
After a close first half the game really roared into life in the second half, which had pretty much everything. On 49 minutes the Imps doubled the lead when a corner was flicked on from Casey Stoney, collected by Remi Allen who kept her composure, to blast the ball past Carly Telford and high into the Chelsea goal. Chelsea came roaring back but Nic got her timing spot on to gather the through ball right on the edge of the box before the Chelsea player could connect with it.
Then on 54 minutes Lincoln went further ahead. Lucy Staniforth made some space for herself in the box before firing home. Although a huge amount of credit goes to Lucy for the goal (and rightly so) this was a great team effort that involved several passes.
Again Chelsea came straight back at the Lady Imps An effort was fired in by Dunia Susi and looked to heading for the top corner. This drew a fantastic save from Nic Hobbs to keep the blues out. Nic has pulled of some fantastic saves this season and this one was right up there with the best of them. Maybe a second to her 'one on one' save away at Doncaster.
Hands up if you are the best keeper in the FAWSL!
 The home side did get on the score sheet in the 60th minute, when Helen Lander fired home a pinpoint effort from about 18 yards out right on the corner of the box, low into the far corner. It was a very tidy finish but Lincoln will be disappointed to have let the ball run across the box.

Then on 64 minutes the fireworks started. An incident happened on the far side between Sophie Walton and Chelsea's Dunia Susi. A challenge went in, and a face to face confrontation ensued, which lead to Sophie Walton getting a straight red card. What happened I don't know, simply because it was on the far side of the pitch. I know I sound like Arsene Wenger  here  but I genuinely couldn't see what happened. So i will have to wait till the highlight show. A Chelsea fan stood about two foot to my right (who knew her stuff) asked me if i had seen what had gone off so it wasn't just me who didn't have a clue what had gone on. A group of Chelsea fans to my left seemed to think "She laid one on her" which i highly doubt. Having seen most of the games this season, i would say that Sophie is one coolest players in the Imps squad and certainly not one to lose her rag over a few words. Hopefully it will all become clear and the ref will spit out the reason for brandishing the red.
As you can imagine the Lincoln bench weren't too impressed with the decision, and let their feelings be known. However this drew a dreadful response from a man in a tracksuit on the Chelsea bench, who i assume is their assistant manager, who took it upon himself to launch into a foul mouthed rant at the Imps bench; all of which could be heard by all around. Now i am no prude, in the industry that i work in you rarely hear a sentence that doesn't contain a swear word, but this wasn't the time or the place to hear such filth.
However the FAWSL and its clubs have had a huge push on getting families and young girls in particular to attend games, and this kind of outburst goes against everything that they have worked so hard to achieve. Had I have been the Father of one of the ball girls stood around the pitch i would certainly have questions for the bloke about his conduct and ability to control himself. I must point out that the Chelsea manager did her best to calm him down and seem embarrassed by his actions. Ultimately the referee is charged with controlling the players on the field of play and both management teams so the question has to be why he failed to act in this situation
On the field of play The Imps switched to a 4-4-1 with Jess Clarke breaking forward when possible. Chelsea did knock the ball around well, but the Imps kept their shape with Stoney and Bradley immense at the back. Plenty of balls were slung into the box but thankfully from a Lincoln viewpoint, many of them were straight down Nic's throat in goal. It would have been very easy for Lincoln to have felt hard done by and lose their rag, but thanks to great leadership form the bench and skipper Casey Stoney, this didn't happen. Lincoln did have a couple of chances on the break; the best being when Jess Clarke ran with the ball from deep inside her own half, beat three players, only for her effort to be hacked off the line for the second time in the afternoon.
Given all that had gone on during the second half, i was surprised  that the 4th officials board only showed that 3 additional minutes were to be played (although pleasantly surprised it has to be said). In the last minute of this Chelsea added a second goal when the Lincoln defence tried to play offside and Dunia Susi looped a header over Nic into the goal.
Thankfully that was pretty much the last of the action and the Imps notched up their third away victory of the campaign. Thankfully tempers had cooled down and it was handshakes all round at the final whistle. A few of the other Imps fans and myself hung around after the final whistle as the girls did a brief warm down and listened to Glen's post match debrief and speech. Glen's speech was full of praise for the girls and rightly so. They had been up against all sorts of things in the second half and plenty of sides would have let the red mist get to them and not hold on for the win.
Did we deserve the win? Yes in my view we did. Some of the passing and movement from the side was first class and if i had to pick a player of the game it would be Jess Clarke. How she has managed to go through the whole campaign without scoring is anybody's guess. Watch her go and bag a couple now in the opening day of the 2013 season.
After the game i went back into central London to sink a few beers, watch some more football and reflect on the afternoon's action. This game had everything; goals, sendings off, good football (from both sides), and two teams desperate to win. I think its fair to say that next season's Lincoln v Chelsea games will have more spice in them than a Chicken Vindaloo from the Mogal-E-Azam Curry house in Nottingham City centre (well worth the trip if you haven't tried it).
As this is the last match day blog of the season. (I plan to do a best of/ worst of the season review at some point next week) Its only right that i thank a few people. Firstly i must thank the CEO of the Lady Imps for letting me do this and publishing the write ups on the official site. Huge credit must also go to the management and players for giving me something to write about, and for the most part it has been a pleasure writing about this side. Although i love writing, my spelling and grammar is dreadful so huge thanks goes to my other half for acting to as my proof reader. A hat tip also to the people who have given me lifts to the games this year, and to all the people i have had the pleasure to meet at games along the way.
And a huge thank you to all of you, who took the time to read these entries and shared them on twitter, facebook etc. Alas now the season is over its back to blogging about 3rd rate Non League football for me. Never mind though, it will soon be March and the start of the 2013 FAWSL season!

Come on you Lady Imps!!!!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Lincoln United 0-4 Buxton

FA Trophy 1st Qualifying round.

With City playing on the Friday night it opened up the possibility of doing a random game on the Saturday. Well i need to correct myself there, as City didn't really "play" much on Friday night. It was more of a case of turn up, watch Forest Green Rovers walk all over them, and surrender the three points in a 3-0 win for the home side.

I did have a few options for games. Gainsborough Trinity were at home, and there was a tempting Nottingham derby with Radcliffe Olympic squaring off against Radford, but in the end i went for Lincoln United, as i could get some ideas for Christmas shopping in the morning and also get some Guinea pig food on the walk back from the ground to the train station after the match.

So far this season United have found it really tough going  in much the same way as neighbours Moorlands, and to a lesser extend City, have. So far they have played six matches in the Evo Stick division one south and all they have to show for their efforts is a solitary point, which was gained at Market Drayton Town in their last match. In all fairness the score lines have become a lot closer in recent weeks but with the club three points adrift of the safety line, wins are needed sooner rather than later.
After gaining that point last week you would have hoped that confidence would have been on the up after the run of straight defeats. However Buxton (who play their football a division higher in the Evo Stick premier) were in no mood to take United lightly. United are managed by one of my all time favourite City players Terry Flemming, who is a real battler and isn't the kind to back down from a challenge. He will need all his fighting spirit as he attempts to lead this young side United up the table.

I arrived at the ground in good time so had i had chance to sink a couple of pints in the clubhouse before the game and watch some of the Arsenal v Chelsea game. Quite a few away fans had made the trip from Derbyshire which was good news for the United coffers. 

Admission for this top class footballing encounter set you back £7 which is standard for this division. The programme sets you back £2 but that does include 3 "free" raffle tickets (naturally i didn't win). The programme is well presented and does the job, but i was disappointed with the lack of a Manager's column  and the League tables. There is plenty to read in it though, easily enough to fill the half time break. Being the porky pig that i am i headed over the tea bar to check out its many delights, but i was a tad disappointed to discover that there were no chips on the menu; unfortunate, as they used to fry a great chip at Ashby Avenue (Or the NTR stadium on Ashby Avenue to give it its full title). I did however bag a cheeseburger and a cup of tea that came in at £4 and was tasty enough, although not quite up there with the ones that the stadium's other tenants the Lincoln Ladies serve up. I also learnt that putting mustard on a cheeseburger doesn't really work.

I have always had a soft spot (I sound like Felice there) for Lincoln United. Back in 1998 United were one of the first non league grounds i ever visited when they played host to Whitely Bay, so it was here that my interest in non league football started. Ever since then i like to get down a couple of times a season and keep an eye on their results. So i take no joy is saying that they were poor today and the scoreline is a fair reflection of the game.

Up until the first goal United were in it. However they conceded a poor freekick in a dangerous position which the visitors tucked away to give them the lead and from there on you got the feeling that the tie was dead. With just minutes to go before half time they added a second when a corner was taken short and a shot was taken from a tight angle that beat the keeper and doubled Buxton's advantage

Buxton made sure of their place in the next round just after half time with a scrappy effort from close range and also went on to add a fourth. You couldn't fault the effort from the United boys but they never really tested the visitors keeper. As somebody wanting United to win this was pretty hard to watch, hence the short match report. United are known for being a pretty stable and well run club and i just hope that they stick with Terry because i am sure he can turn it around. He still plays as well as being the manger and he was a cut above all the other United players out there. What with City lurching around in the bottom third of the table in the BSP and both Moorlands and United at the foot of their respective divisions, its dark days for Lincoln football. We do have the Lady Imps doing us proud though, but their season finishes on Sunday. 
What will we do then?