Monday, 31 December 2012

December in Impdom

I haven’t written a blog about City since the away trip to Dartford. There are a few reasons for this; the main one being Christmas, but I have also been working on articles and projects for the New Year. Although I can’t go into detail about these hopefully all will be revealed in January and yes they are football related.
After the great win at Dartford, City made the short trip to Mansfield for the FA Cup second round replay, the game was live on ESPN. Nothing to do with the appeal of the game itself, it was more about the prize to the winner; a home tie with Liverpool.

Well as you pretty much all know by now, Mansfield won 2-1. However despite the result I still managed to enjoy the night. For a start it felt like a proper football match. The Imps were backed by just under 1400 supporters who created the best atmosphere at an Imps away match since the playoff years. It also felt strange to be packed in together. Normally at away games over the past few years in this league you are never short of a seat but not on this night. Even when the Imps went 1-0 down thanks to a gaff from Paul Farman in the Lincoln goal the fans never stopped chanting.
Although Farman was at fault for the Stags goal, he made up for it by pulling off a great double save to keep Lincoln in the tie. The stags were slightly the better side and created the better chances but Lincoln held on. Just before halftime Lincoln grabbed an equalizer when Adam Smith sprung the offside trap and produced a great finish to draw the Imps level. His first goal for the club and all the sweeter for him as it was against his former club. In the second half City started like a house on fire and really took the game to their hosts, but unfortunately we failed to capitalise, and the Stags forced their way back into the game and took the lead about ten minutes before the end of the game. At 1-1 the next goal was always going to settle it and that, as they say, was that.

Although Lincoln had come up short the tie was very closely fought. As my good friend Mr Rob Waite wrote, the stags shaded the match something like 53/47. The main difference being that they had a little bit more pace up front than us.  We have faced the Stags three times this season and all three have been close with score lines of 0-0 3-3 and 2-1. Last season Mansfield were far better than Lincoln and totally outplayed us in both games. This season though, at the moment at least, the gap has narrowed somewhat. Whether that’s down to an Imps improvement or a Stags decline is open to debate; personally I think it’s a bit of both.  So good luck to the Stags v Liverpool, although the game is live on TV I won’t be watching. Sheffield United Ladies have an FA Cup 2nd round game v Durham Wildcats at Retford United’s Cannon park so I will be attending and writing that one up 1.00pm kick off if anybody is interested in joining me.

Anyway swiftly moving on; the Imps were without a game the following weekend as torrential rain meant that the Imps game at Macclesfield was called off. The game has been rescheduled for the 5th March. So hopefully the weather will be much better by then and we can enjoy the delights of the Hollingworth Kebab house on the way home.
The next stop for the Imps was a Boxing Day bout with local rivals Grimsby Town at Sincil Bank. Again I missed out on this one. Myself and my friends have a long standing tradition called the boxing day massacre which basically involves going out at 2pm and staying out till no more beer can be consumed. Although a close friend was unable to be with us as he has recently moved to Hereford thus making it tough to get back. He did however receive a drunken phone call just for old times’ sake. I am fully convinced that distance was the key issue here and not the fact then he owed me £10 for the Pittsburgh Steelers victory over the New York Giants. See you in February mate ;-)

 As usual a fun time was had by all, but in my case the first part of the afternoon was rather shit due to the Imps defence leaking goals, this did however speed up my drinking pace. Lincoln City Football Club, driving men to drink since 1884, if you haven’t heard the score then Google it. I am sure as hell not writing it on here. Bloody Codheads.

After the dreadful cod defeat, a few days of Twitter spats between various fans and players erupted; all very entertaining but not particularly helpful to anybody.  One thing however shone through; everybody was jolly pissed off and the players were desperate to put things right in the next home match v Gateshead.
It’s looking like this game could well be my only football of the holiday period (can’t say that I have missed it though). For this game my regular cohorts were unable to attend due to showing a poor level of fiscal budgetary control over the festive period. Pre game was spent chowing down on Fish and Chips at £4 (very nice they were to, may I add) and sinking a few pints in the City Vaults public house before making the short walk to the stadium.  And given the days weather I am glad that it was a short walk. Several games had already fallen victim to water logged pitches but thankfully the Sincil Bank pitch held firm. It had been drizzly all day and it was another one of those days that made me so glad that I packed in stewarding.
The Imps have made several team changes to the starting eleven. Keeper David Preece replaced Farman in goal (who had had a nightmare v Grimsby by all accounts), leading striker Jamie Taylor was on the bench and a surprise inclusion for me was the choice of Paul Robson at right back. When I texted Felice this piece of information he replied with one word; “Shit”. Not a huge fan of Mr Robson is Del.

Although all of this was quite interesting, it wasn’t top of Mr Barlow seniors mind as he had just had the good news that he would soon be able to gain entrance for the concession rate at Sincil Bank; a trick for Baz to try maybe? It definitely felt like the match was a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’ show’. Over 4,000 Imps fans attended the Boxing day game. Today the crowd was less than 2,000.
The performance on the pitch reflected that of the weather conditions; dull and dreary, the Imps unable to get into any sort of rhythm with moves of more than three passes hard to come by. In Lincoln’s defence however, they did lose two players to injury in the first half. First Peter Gilbert left the field of play with a groin injury, this lead to Lincoln reshuffling the backline with Scott Garner coming on and going to centre back alongside Andrew Boyce, Tom Miller going to left back and Paul Robson shifting to his more natural left back role. Soon after this Gateshead should have taken the lead when a great through ball split the Lincoln defence and was picked up by Jamie Chandler who rounded David Preece in the Imps goal. Fortunately for the Imps however he took a touch too many which gave Andrew Boyce time to get back and produced probably the best goal line clearance that I have ever seen. The only one than comes close to it was Paul Morgan’s effort away at Mansfield in the 2001/02 season. Gateshead looked good in possession of the ball but failed to create any real chances and work the keeper, other  than the previous one described. The Imps created very little and were in my view lucky to get to halftime goalless. The second Imps player laid low in the first half was Imps’ skipper Gary Mills, who picked up a bad knee ligament injury; this lead to the Imps making a second change with Connor Robinson replacing him.  The latest I have heard is that Mills could be out for up to 5 weeks. We of course wish him all the best for a speedy recovery.

The second half didn’t really get much better. Gateshead opened the scoring when Carl Magney was tripped in the box for a penalty. The striker was going away from goal but drew the foul smartly. The resulting spot kick was despatched with ease by Josh Gilles right into the top corner. You won’t see many penalties better and he gave the keeper no chance at all; 61 minutes gone and 0-1 to the “Heed”.
The is an old saying in football, (well actually there are loads of bollocks old sayings in football) that a team is at its most vulnerable when they have scored. Thankfully on this occasion this turned out to be true as just two minutes later the Imps were back on level terms as Connor Robinson latched onto a loose ball to fire a low shot through a Gateshead defenders legs and into the bottom corner. This lead to the best period of the game for Lincoln as we mounted a 10 minute period of pressure; but the closest we came to taking the lead was a Jake Sheridan header. As the game petered out it looked like both sides would settle for a point which is exactly what they got.
I must admit to being a tad disappointed with not gaining the three points but on reflection with so many players unavailable and the injuries taken in the game a point isn’t the end of the world. We now need to dust ourselves down for the return match with Grimsby and see what reinforcements arrive in the January transfer window.
As this is the last blog of 2012 I would like to wish all the readers out there a happy and successful New Year. I hope to have some great Lincoln Ladies, Lincoln City, and Nottingham Panthers victories to share with you all in 2013. Hopefully it will be one hell of a ride.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Hull Stingrays 1-3 Nottingham Panthers

Something a little bit different today. As it was FA Trophy second round day, Lincoln City didn’t have a game. I could have taken in some random game but I decided that the only place to be was the Hull Arena to watch the Elite League leaders the Nottingham Panthers take on the Hull Stingrays. Over the past few years I have started to get into ice hockey and I like to try and get to about 6-8 Panthers games a season. While it will never replace football I do thoroughly enjoy watching the Panthers and it makes a nice change not only to watch but to write about. As a lot of people reading this are maybe not familiar with the rules of Ice Hockey I will try and go through the basics in this write up. I don’t know all the ins and outs of various penalties etc but I do have a grasp of the basics. I am far from an expert but I do enjoy the game. In Ice hockey as in any other sport you have the “Haves” and the “Have not’s” the top league in Britain is known as the Elite League and has sides form all four corners of the United Kingdom taking part, Four each from Scotland and England and one each from Northern Ireland and Wales. There is quite a difference in terms of crowds that the clubs draw. The largest club is the Belfast Giants (the reigning league champions,) we have our very own Nottingham Panthers and the Panthers arch rivals the Sheffield Steelers (Boo Hiss). Panthers and Giants often get well over 5,000 for a Saturday night game with the Steelers getting about 3,000 on average. Contrast that with some of the other clubs who do well to get 1,000 through the gates. It’s perhaps no surprise that the league title has been contested between the “Big three” for the past few seasons. Although sides like Coventry and Cardiff have challenged and won the title in the not too distant past it is getting increasingly difficult for them to compete with the large Arena sides over the course of the season.
Nottingham’s history is one of crushing disappointment. Although they are the oldest English side in the league (and the best supported) we have failed to win a league Championship since 1956. That’s not to say we Panthers haven’t tasted success, far from it in fact. The Panthers have claimed the Challenge Cup for the past three seasons and won the last two end-of-season playoffs. However the big prize still eludes us much to the amusement of the rest of the league. Panthers also have a reputation for being the best side to watch in the league. Packed with attacking talent but also prone to drop points against the so called lesser sides. To use a football comparison the Panthers are somewhere between Liverpool and Spurs. So far this year the Panthers sit at the top of the standing however a shock defeat at home to bottom of the table Edinburgh had started the first whispers of “Same old panthers” blowing it again. A win against the Stingrays was badly needed to get back on track ahead of a huge home game with Belfast the next night. This was our second visit to Hull this season as we also took in a game earlier in the season in the challenge cup group stage when the Panthers won 4-2. The two sides also clashed last week in the league with the Stingrays taking a shock 1-3 lead at the end of the first period. Thankfully the Panthers woke up and ran out 8-4 winners. However the ice at Hulls game is smaller and the fans are much closer so it was going to be a very different game in Hull.
We arrived at Hull in good time and purchased our tickets at £15 each. As the Stingrays never sell out you don’t have to sit in a specific seat. Unlike in football it’s not uncommon for fans of rival clubs to be sat side by side, the away fans at Hull do tend to congregate at the far end of the arena behind the goal and one of the blocks along the side. Before we went to our seats though, we sampled the food in the cafe after hearing rave reviews about the famous spicy Hull Chips. After a 15 minute wait I was eventually tucking onto my cheeseburger and spicy chips and while they were palatable they didn’t really live up to the hype and not worth the long wait. After eating we collected the match night programme (£3.50 but it was a joint issue for this and Monday’s game) and wandered over to find some decent seats. The thing I like about Hull is that you are right up close to the action; we had a decent view last time so we sat there again this time. This was a mistake.
Last time we were here the Panthers pretty much packed the far blocks out. That was the first game of the season and a lot more Panthers fans had made the trip. Whereas last time we were surrounded by other Panthers fans this time we were the only two in Panthers colours in our block with Stingrays fans in front and behind us. The game was meant to face off at 6.30pm but ice hockey games never face off on time. The normal agenda for starting a game is as follows 1) Away team enters onto the ice 2) Home team enters onto the ice 3) Home players individually introduced to the crowd. 4) The National Anthem is played 5) The two side’s starting lines start the game. To Hulls credit they actually get a bloke to sing the anthem where as in Nottingham it’s just played over the PA system without the words being sung. I do prefer Hulls way of doing it to be honest. Hull’s game plan became quite apparent early on. Try to rough up the Panthers and stop them playing Hockey. After about 5 minutes, we had our first fight which resulted in a player from either side being thrown out of the game. At any one time you should have 6 players on the ice; a net minder and 5 outfield skaters. They are normally on the ice for not longer than a minute or two, and then they are replaced. Again using a footie comparison it’s like having rolling subs. If a player commits a foul then more often than not he is sent to the sin bin for 2 or 5 minutes and the team plays on with 4 outfield players. For serious offences players can be thrown out of the game and that’s what happened in the first fight. As the main fight was going on there was plenty of other skirmishes for the refs to try and sort out. When order was restored a Panthers player went to the sinbin for 5 mins meaning we had to dig deep as we faced a 4 v 5 for 5 minutes.
Thankfully we kept them out, but as soon as we were back to full strength it all kicked off again, but this time the Panthers were far more aggressive and ready for Hull’s wind up merchants. This then led to an elderly Hull fan in front of us to start shouting “Nottingham Scabs” and telling his grand children all about the miners’ strike. Not really the time and the place in my view and we made the decision to go round and sit in the block where the main body of Panthers support was sat for the 2nd and 3rd periods. However not before the Panthers broke clear and took the lead with a fine strike from Matt Francis which seemed to slip under the home side netminder. This goal settled the Panthers down and now meant that Hull would have to play hockey instead of just look to break up the Panther’s play.
The second period was much calmer and although the Panthers had the better of it they continued to waste chances till Kelsey Wilson doubled the advantage when the Panthers were on the power play (hockey speak for a time when the other team is down to 4 outfield skaters). If you are the on penalty kill then your team is down to 4 players, or even three players as the Panthers were on two occasions tonight. Between the intervals the Stingrays mascot strolled around the stadium and was greeted to a burst of the Youtube sensation “One pound Fish” song from the Panther’s fans. Christmas number one maybe?

 Just a few minutes into the final period it was game on again as the Stingrays got it back to 1-2. This then lead to a foghorn blasting out over the pa system and the home fans really getting behind their side. It was also a sign for the Panthers to step up a gear and they played their best hockey of the game and looked more composed than they had done all night. They rounded off the scoring when skipper Jordan Fox scored from close range to wrap up the game and an important two points for the visitors. However there was still time for some drama; Hull had goal disallowed and the Panthers missed a great chance right at the death but in the end the right side won on the night.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Dartford 2-4 Lincoln City

Over the last week cup fever has swept across Lincoln City. Ever since the draw with Mansfield in round two, and the following news that the winners of the replay with face Liverpool , City fans seem to have talked about little else. On Tuesday night however the Imps were brought crashing back down to earth as Woking arrived at Sincil Bank and took away all three points with comparative ease. They notched a penalty after 5 minutes and that was that. Nobody was really surprised that they added a second in the second half as the Imps never looked like scoring. A huge slice of reality pie had been dished out to fans and more importantly to players.

Next up for the Imps was a trip to the BSP surprise package this season; Dartford FC. Before the match the Darts sat in 5th place in the division. This was going to be a real test for the Imps and if they were to get anything out of the match they would need to be at the top of their game and totally focused on the match and not be thinking of Mansfield/Liverpool.
It’s a while since we have done a long distance away day with City and with this one being pencilled in as a must do a few weeks ago, it was one that we were all looking forward to, alas Lee had yet another cock and bull excuse to add to his ever growing list of reasons for missing games. We will find out the real reason why he missed the game Wednesday. That is if he makes it....we shall see.  After a quick sausage sandwich and the fantastic news that England were on the brink of another fantastic test match win in India. We left for Dartford at just gone 9.45am.

The trip down the A1 was the hardly the most inspiring of journeys that will a man will ever undertake and food options on the way down were a little limited but at least the traffic was kind. Just outside of Stansted airport we made a pit stop at a service station.  To me service stations are only really good for relieving your bladder and bowel. Yes you can get a coffee or something to eat, but only if you are prepared to take out a second mortgage to pay for it. I was tempted to get a stupid Christmas hat for the away game but I had a word with myself and refrained from doing so. They only other thing I would have been interesting in buying would have been a local paper but I was unable to locate one. I was tempted to buy Thursday’s issue of USA Today but decided against it.  Baz however went for a trendy Starbucks coffee at a price of £3.50. Yes you do read that correctly £3.50 for a cup of coffee. I can say that I have never bought a coffee in a Starbucks/Costa whichever coffee chain, nothing to do with the recent taxpaying scandal; I just don’t see how anybody can pay over £3 for a cup of coffee when you can watch red hot Central Midlands League football for the same price! And in some cases you get a free programme for your money!! Anyway after waiting for the staff to make the thing and for to Baz sup it with pinkie extended in that arty farty way that only he can, we were on our merry way. We did see a handful of other Imps milling around and as we pulled out of the services the Imps supporters coach pulled in so it looked like we would have a decent following at the match. Amazing what a few wins does for a club.

To get to Dartford you have to go over the Dartford bridge (strange that) going onto the bridge you have the standard three lanes but there are about 18 toll booths. Once on the other side the road again goes back into three lanes which means you see quite a lot of wacky races style driving manoeuvres  as everybody battles to get back in lane. Once over the bridge you pass into Kent (or the garden of England as it seems to be known) and it’s only another ten minutes or so to the ground. A pretty simple journey overall and we rocked up at the Dartford FC car park at just after 1.00pm.
Dartford’s ground is a new build and it seems to be part of a regeneration project, as there appears to have been quite a bit of building going off in the area around the stadium. There doesn’t appear to been any pubs around the ground but Kent Police had kindly “Tweeted” during the week that there was a bar at the away end for Lincoln supporters to use so we had no worries over getting a beer or three. As we had plenty of time, we had a stroll around the ground and my impressions of the ground were very positive. New builds aren’t everybody’s cup of tea but the club have done a cracking job with this and managed to avoid making it look bland. The reception area looks smart, as does the balcony area that overlooks the outside of the ground. I would imagine that this is a cracking area to sink a couple of pints before a game at the start/end of the season but maybe not so much at a game in the middle of December. From here we strolled round to the club shop and I must say it is certainly one of the better ones in the division and has a nice range of stuff on sale. The match day programme was on sale for £2.50 and was an above average production with plenty of stuff to read in it with a decent section on the away side.
After learning that the bar for away fans is inside the ground we made our way round to the away turnstiles, parted with our hard earned cash, and entered the ground. As we got into the ground a friendly steward directed us to the bar which is on your left hand side as you enter the ground. 
One thing that we have discovered in the year and a half that we have been playing in this division is there seems to be two very different ways clubs treat away fans. Most of the traditional non league sides seem to treat a visiting former league side as if they are a group of Viking invaders and as such don’t want them drinking in their smart clubhouses. Yes you get the odd one welcoming you, like Southport but more often than not clubs such as Tamworth, Braintree, and Woking etc aren’t interested in the custom of fans from the larger clubs. With this in mind it’s so refreshing to see Dartford providing a great bar for away fans to have a few pints before the game. The bar is heated, quite spacious, and has a large screen showing the day’s early kick off.  Not only did they provide this but a group of Dartford officials made time to come in and welcome the City fans and have a quick chat about all things football. The chairman explained to us that this was the first time the bar had been used and asked us what we thought of it. It’s the little things like this that gives off such a positive image of a football club and if more clubs were this welcoming and friendly, the game would be so much better for all of us.  Just for the record City also welcome fans of all clubs in our club bar.
The chairman of Dartford Football club has a lot to be positive about at the moment as the club has had a fantastic time over the past few years. In 2007/08 they started their rise when the club won the Ryman League division One North (the same level that Lincoln United play at). Two seasons later in 09/10 the club won the Ryman Premier Division championship. In 2011/12 the club won its third promotion in 5 years when they won the Blue Square bet Southern playoffs with a victory over Welling United.  The club’s good momentum has continued this season and they have surprised many with their great start to the season. Before kick off the Darts sat in 5th place in the division seven points ahead of Lincoln. And although Dartford have hit a sticky patch recently, Lincoln would still have to play very well to get anything out of the match.
We finished our pints and headed out into the stadium. In a way it reminds me a bit of Burton’s ground as you get three sides terraced with the main stand to our right with seats in it and a director’s area above it. Behind each goal was an identical terrace with a stretch of terracing to our left. In this stand about halfway down was a wooden man which forms part of the support structure for the stand. Again full marks to the club for building a ground that has character to it. The Imps normally get good support at matches in the south east and today was no exception. Given the FA cup run and it being nearly Christmas I did think that it could be a low turnout, but the Imps faithful turned out in good numbers and were out in force.
The major talking point for City fans was the amount of changes made to the line up. The major one being the decision to drop keeper Paul Farman and replace him with recently signed David Preece in goal. I had been “tipped off” about this happening in midweek  and I must say I felt very sorry for Jake Turner who has been reserve keeper all season and in my opinion should have been used in the trophy game and I felt should have been given a chance today. With Jamie Taylor suspended thanks to his last minute booking against Woking, Colin Larkin led the line for Lincoln.
Lincoln started the game attacking the goal that most of their supporters were gathered behind (we did have a small section of seating down the side as well) and we didn’t have to wait long for the first goal. Colin Larkin broke free on the right and won a corner. The delivery was first class and aimed at the near post. Dan Grey, up from the back, lost his marker headed the ball into the net from close range. It was a very well worked goal and a throwback to the John Beck era; the Imps now one up in seven minutes.  The Darts did seem a little rattled by that goal and never really got going in the first half. They did win a free kick on their next attack but they thankfully wasted it by blasting it straight at the City wall.
City’s second goal again came right out of the John Beck coaching manual. The Imps won a long throw which Dan Grey hurled into the box; the ball was flicked on by Tom Miller, and fell to Colin Larkin who made no mistake from six yards out. 24 minutes gone; Lincoln 2-0 up, and the home side all over the place.  The second goal was our signal to check out the food on offer with Baz going for a pie and myself checking out the cheeseburger. The burger was your standard offering at £3.20 and I will award it with a solid and standard 7/10. Baz seemed to be very impressed with the pie and said it was better than many he has had this season. The catering did seem to be very varied and had items such as sandwiches on the menu which makes a nice change. The jewel in the crown however was the fact that they sold cakes and Baz had wasted no time at all tucking into a slice of Bread and Butter pudding which he thoroughly enjoyed. I didn’t have a cake myself (watching my figure and all that) but I did sample the Bovril which was spot on.
Anyway back to matters on the pitch. Adam Smith has come in for a fair bit of stick from City fans in recent weeks, some justified some not in my opinion. On his day he is great but sometimes tries to take on one man to many. Today though I thought he was on his game and his cross in the 32nd minutes, which Larkin got on the end of to head home, was as good as any I have seen this season.  3-0 to City and the game looked over. Dartford had looked ok on the ball and had knocked it around quite well but had looked all over the place at the back. What chances they did create were snuffed out by Grey and Miller at the heart of the Imps defence. In the middle of the park big Mo was running the show. The chap was badly missed Tuesday night and this game once again how important he is to the City midfield.
Unfortunately we also saw the not so good side of Adam Smith shortly afterwards. City mounted another attack which led to a great effort form Nicky Nicolau, which drew an equally fine save from the Darts goalkeeper as he got his finger tips to the ball to turn it round for what looked to be a corner. Unfortunately the ref had missed the save and signalled for a goal kick. This then led to Smith racing up to the ref and taking his protests too far and thus receiving a yellow card.  Over the course of a season players will pick up bookings here and there, some warranted some not so. I have no problems with bookings if players collect them trying to do the right thing and maybe mistiming a challenge or something, but collecting this sort of cheap booking is a real bugbear of mine. Quite why, when a side is 3-0 up away from home and playing well, he felt the need to gob off quite so much over a corner only he will know. What it did mean was he was treading a fine line for the rest of the game due to collecting a yellow that he could so easily have had avoided.
A minute before the halftime whistle City added a fourth.  The Imps were awarded a free kick just outside the area that Gary Mills struck well and drew a decent save from Bettinelli in the Darts goal. However the Dartford defence was slow to react and Colin Larkin was first to the ball and drove the ball home to complete his hat trick and put the makeshift Lincoln team 0-4 up.
HT 0-4
In the second half we got to see something that you don’t often see in football these days. For the first half the Dartford fans that had made most of the noise were behind the far goal which they were attacking.  For the second half they made their way round to our side of the pitch, to the end they were now attacking on the left hand side of the City supporters.  Even though they were 0-4 down they still made an impressive amount of noise, and really got behind their side.  This then led to a decent amount of banter between the two sets of fans which improved the atmosphere.  The home fans were given something to cheer about in the 50th minute when Crawford collected the ball 20 yards out then fired a pin point low shot straight into the bottom hand corner giving Preece no chance at all. This really fired up the home side and they were the better side for pretty much all of the second half.  The Imps were indebted to Gary Mills as he hacked a Dartford effort of the line following a corner. City did try and get forward but all of a sudden we seemed rather nervous and the Darts upped their game. Nobody was really surprised when on 72 minutes Crawford notched his second of the game when he sprung the Imps offside trap and slotted home past the advancing Preece in the City goal. Squeaky bum time with just over 20 minutes to go.
This then lead the Dartford fans to break out a chat about us being Northern scum. I have always considered Lincs to be in the Midlands but there you go. Maybe geography isn’t a strong point in Dartford. Even though this song was a tad baffling, I must say they were one of the loudest sets of fans I have heard this season and they can be proud for the most part of how they got behind their side.  Dartford weren’t getting many shots away but the Imps were indebted to Preece whose reading of the game was first class (as you would expect from a keeper with 600 league games) and snuffed out many of the Dartford attacks by coming out and claiming the ball early. At the other end City were pretty much anonymous which added to the pressure on the City backline. Thankfully though, the Imps had enough in the tank and were pretty street wise at winding the clock down and collected the three points.
FT 2-4
I will take a 4-2 away win every day of the week and with so many changes to the line up it makes the win all the more impressive. Dartford are a good side (as their league position shows) and will have better days. Having initially questioned the inclusion of Preece in goal I have to eat humble pie today as he had a very good game and was a huge factor in Lincoln taking home the three points. I would say that only Larkin with his hat trick was ahead of him for the Imps man of the match award.
Sometimes when you travel around the country you visit clubs that you are not to fussed about if you don’t go back to again. This is not the case for Dartford. The club struck me as being very well run, treats both sets of fans well, and is really on the ball with everything. I think it’s safe to say it is definitely going on the “must do away games” list for next season. I wish them well for the rest of the season (apart from when the visit Lincoln of course!)
On the way back we had the “pleasure” of the 606 football phone in show with Robbie Savage and Johnny Vaughn on Radio 5 live which was dreadful from start to finish. It strikes me that to get on the Radio these days and talk about football you just need to be a pratt and talk utter tripe. Think I should get my CV in. If these muppets and many more like them can host a show.....

Friday, 7 December 2012

Lincoln City 3-3 Mansfield Town

FA Cup second round

Saturday was the start of a crazy few days for both Lincoln City and Mansfield Town; two mid-table BSP sides who fought out a thoroughly entertaining draw in the second round of the FA Cup. Obviously a draw meant another replay for the Imps (our third of this cup run) but the magnitude of the replay wasn’t really fully realised until the Sunday when the draw was made for the third round. I had fully expected it to be crap as it normally is when Lincoln is concerned; a Brentford/Bradford at home draw for example. However I think fans of both sides were pretty stunned when the name of Liverpool FC came out of the hat. Although they aren’t the club they were in the 80’s they are still considered a big name in football and would guarantee a full house and a hell of a lot of media interest for the winner. For the loser in Lincoln’s case it would be a trip to Ebbsfleet United and for Mansfield a date with Woking down in London awaits should they lose out.
The first game between the two sides this season was as poor (crap) a game as you will see all season. It was so poor that even I would have struggled to have written anything positive about either side, hence no blog entry for that game. It finished 0-0 which neither keeper being overly troubled; the polar opposite of which we saw Saturday. Such is the beauty of football that two sides can generate a fantasy game after producing a steaming pile of doggy do do just a couple of months earlier.
As today’s game kicked off at 1.00pm it meant an early start. This led us to be sat the pub at 11.30 supping a few quiet pints with Psy’s smash hit Gangnam style blaring out of the juke box. Just the tune to get you in the mood for football I am sure you will agree. Although a large crowd was predicted it didn’t really feel like a big game. Baz however was determined to get into the atmosphere of the big game and was enjoying the chilli flavoured sambucca, and why not at only £1 a shot I say. I just stuck to lager, boring I know, but I needed to pace myself as I was going to have a few in Ordsall after the match and an early kick off meant more post match drinking time. After a quick stop at the chippy to stuff our faces it was off down to the Bank for the big game.

As we approached the ground you could tell that the crowd was going to be alot bigger than anything else we have seen since relegation day against Aldershot. Mansfield had sold around 1,200 tickets and looked as if the “Magic of the cup” had brought out a good few of the City faithful who have stayed away for various reasons over the last season and a bit. We even had to queue up for 5 minutes to enter the famous old ground. As in the last two rounds, admission was the same on all four sides of the ground so we went in the same stand as we did in the last two rounds. However, unlike the last two rounds, the stand was quite full. There were some free seats towards the end of the stand but the central blocks were pretty “chocka” after some dodgy tunes including yet more Gangnam style the two sides entered to a great reception.
Just before kick off there was a minute’s applause for a player who has his own place in Lincoln folk law. Bert Linnecor had recently passed away but will go down in history for scoring a hat-trick for the Imps at Anfield in 1960 when the Imps ran out 3-1 winners against Bill Shankly’s Liverpool.  Both sets of fans embraced the moment fully.

The Stags backed by over 1,000 fans were quick out of the blocks and had the better of the opening exchanges. The Stags have invested quite a bit in the squad over the past year or so but like many sides in the BSP have been inconsistent this season. Some sections of the Stags fan base aren’t overly impressed and manager Paul Cox has come in for a bit of stick and a midweek defeat at Matlock Town won’t have helped the mood.  They seemed to put all this behind them however and fully deserved to take the lead when forward Matt Green latched onto a poor back pass from Boyce and rounded Paul Farman to roll the ball into an empty net. Lincoln had looked nervous up until now but even going 0-1 down didn’t shake them up.  Mansfield had a great chance to go two up when Green again broke free on the right, Farman came rushing out and Green read his movement and slipped the ball past him. Thankfully from a Lincoln point of view the ball went about a foot wide of the post, had it gone in then the Imps FA cup chances would have been dead and buried.
This did seem to be the kick up the arse that Lincoln needed and we started to get our act together. Although we didn’t force the Stags keeper into any real saves we did at least manage to string more than two passes together. Then a minute before halftime the game changed. City won a free kick when Jamie Taylor was fouled by the Stags centre half. Alan Power took the kick and promptly blasted it into the back of the net. The wall wasn’t great and the keeping even less so. To quote commentators I think the keeper will be “disappointed” with that. Ironically we had just been talking about a belter of a free kick that I blasted past Felice in the Retford 5-a-side league many moons ago.  It goes without saying that this really fired up the City players and fans as they were level in a match that they had been second best in for much of the first half.

Two minutes into the second half the game had really turned on its head.  City had made good progress up the right hand side and won a throw in. This was hurled into the box and was met by the head of Andrew Boyce who got the flick on. Redmond in the Stags goal saved his effort but only succeeded in pushing the ball into the path of Jamie Taylor who made no mistake and gave the Imps the lead. So from being 0-1 down in the 43rd minute, City lead in the 47th.
The lead didn’t last long as the Stags came back on the attack and put the Imps under pressure. Matt Green drew Mo Fofana into fouling him. The free kick was cleared but it fell to Louis Briscoe who brought the ball down via his chest and sent a fantastic volley right into the top corner. 53 minutes gone and the scores level at 2-2. After such a flurry of action the game calmed down a bit as both sides looked to regroup.  After this short lull both sides sensed that the game was there to be won and we had a real cup tie on our hands. We had to wait till the 66th minute for the next goal. A Stags attack broke down, and after a couple of quick passes Jamie Taylor sprinted forward for a shot, but his effort was saved, however Alan Power was on hand to bury the rebound and give Lincoln the lead.  The Imps did have a couple of chances to kill the game off; Tom Miller’s volley that crashed against the bar being the best of them that let Mansfield of the hook. As the game entered its last few moments Mansfield threw everything they had at us. In the 3rd minute of added on time Farman made a smart save at the expense of a corner. From the resulting corner Matt Rhead rose above everybody to head home and condemned the Imps to another replay.
Normally I am gutted at letting in a goal so late in a match but this somehow felt different. In a way I expected it. The game had been a fantastic advert for this level of football with a draw being the fair result in my humble view. Mansfield could have wrapped it up in the first half as City didn’t really get going till Alan Power scored a moment before halftime.
After the game we headed I headed into Ordsall to sample a few drinks and reflect on the afternoons events with a Stags fan (who bailed out when it was his round no less) and very nice it was to. At the end of the night I got a lift home with the official Mind of an Imp taxi driver and ended the night with a swift drink in the old Sun and a yoghurt kebab. A culinary delight if ever there was one. For those who haven’t had one, it’s served in a box; a layer of chopped up pitta bread is laid in the bottom and covered in a spicy tomato sauce, the box is then filled with Lamb donner meat, which is then covered with lashings of fresh yogurt and more tomato sauce. Believe me people this is just what you need after watching a fantastic game of football. ESPN is screening the replay so my advice is to order one sit back and enjoy a great night of FA cup football.

PS. As of the time of publishing this write up (7-12-12) The Imps had sold 903 of their 1200 ticket allocation. So get in quick if you want to go.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Continental cup draw

Although the start of the WSL season is still several months away, preparations for the new season continue apace. Yesterday the draw was made for the Continental cup (The WSL's answer to the league cup) The format for the competition is the same as last year. The eight sides are split into two groups of four. Each side plays the others in their group with the top two from each section advancing into the semi finals. The semi's are hosted by the group winners, with the final played at a neutral venue; in last years case Barnet's Underhill stadium.

Unusually for a competition that uses a group format, there is no seeding system. Naturally this leads to a great probability of a "group of death" and that is exactly what we got in Group One.

Group One
Lincoln Ladies
Arsenal Ladies
Bristol Academy Women
Birmingham City Ladies

Group Two
Chelsea Ladies
Doncaster Belles Rovers 
Everton Ladies
Liverpool Ladies

Group One is pretty much as hard as it gets, whichever way you look at it. Firstly you have the two sides who finished in the top two places in the WSL in 2012. Not only that but the two clubs also won all three of the trophies available last time out. It has also reunited the four sides who all made the semi finals last season. In 2012 Lincoln and Bristol topped their groups which underlines how tough this group will be.

From a Lincoln view point there are fascinating subplots to each game which will keep headline writers busy. First up we have Arsenal; who Lincoln not only beat in the group stage 4-3 in dramatic fashion but gave them plenty to think about in the league encounters last year recording a 3-3 draw at Lincoln and a narrow 1-2 defeat in London. Then we have Birmingham City; the side who knocked Lincoln out at Lincoln in last years semi final in a game that the Lady Imps didn't really do themselves justice. Then to complete the trio of opponents we have Bristol. This match will see the Imps come up against a familiar face in the Bristol ranks in the form of Lucy Stainforth who recently made the switch from Lincoln to Bristol.
I expect this group to be incredibly tight and it could well go down to the final round of matches. In such a tight group like this home advantage will be vital. As you only play each club once it means some sides will play one home game and others two. At the time of writing this it has yet to be determined as to who plays who where, but this could have a huge factor in who advances.
Although you can make a case for all four sides going through i have a feeling that the key match in this group will be the Lincoln v Birmingham clash. If i could cherry pick the fixtures this would be the one i would like at home most. If you were to force me into a prediction i will got for Arsenal and Lincoln in Group one with Chelsea and Liverpool emerging from Group two.This would then give Lincoln a semi final with our old chums from Chelsea.Get through that and its a Lincoln v Arsenal final.

Let battle commence.
Former Imp Lucy Staniforth takes a corner against Arsenal in last years 4-3 group stage win for
the Lady Imps over Arsenal.