Oh dear. Andy Morrell suggested this was our worst performance under his management, and I’m struggling to come up with an alternative. He also described it as “inept”: it was a day when his vocabulary was a good deal more sophisticated than his team.
He did well to find the right word to describe the performance, as it was a tricky one to put into words. The French usually have the right way to put things, and in cycling they talk of a jour sans, a “day without” in which, for some unfathomable reason, a rider simply can’t get going. That seems to sum things up nicely.
First things first: Lincoln were impressive. They smothered our midfield with energetic pressing, with Mamadou Fofana and Jon Nolan ubiquitous, and we therefore found it difficult to get going. It was obvious from the start that Ben Tomlinson was going to cause problems up front, and was no surprise that he had two goals to his credit by the end of the game.
The first half was a soporific affair which you felt happy with as long as we were level. We didn’t threaten, didn’t get the ball down properly in midfield and didn’t get our passing going, but we were solid in defence and were keeping Lincoln at arm’s length. The way our season’s been going, a nice mundane 0-0 and a clean sheet would have been welcome.
But then we lost Stephen Wright, and within two minutes we were behind. Junior Ntame failed to win the first header, Clowes let his man get across him at the near post and that was that.
The worry for Morrell is that, while on paper he has a decent squad, too many of them are prone to injury. The loss of Stephen Wright is an illustration of that: he made his 300th career appearance last Saturday, which is ridiculous when you think of how long he’s been in the game. He ought to have made a good hundred appearances more, but his record shows he can’t go too long before breaking down. I’m not sure what our best back four is, but Wright’s a part of it, and the problem is that we’ll probably do well to get thirty starts from him.
From the outset the scrap between Wright and Tomlinson looks likely to be crucial, and although the striker was testing him, Wright was coming out on top of a well-balanced scrap. Once Wright was out of the picture, Tomlinson ran riot with Waide Fairhurst constantly looking to create in the hole. Ntame suddenly looked lost, his worrying habit of constantly allowing the ball to drop behind him making him look vulnerable, while Clowes was what he is: a promising young centre back who at this point in his development looks more secure with a senior partner next to him.
The second half saw a subtle reconfiguration in midfield as Rob Evans took over the holding role in the trio from Joe Clarke, but it made no difference so fiteen minutes after the break the management team made a more drastic change. Johnny Hunt and Jow Anyinsah replaced Kevin Thornton and Bradley Reid, and we flattened out to a 4-4-2. The change worked too, opening up a window of opportunity for us. Hunt was particularly impressive, and both wide men stretched Lincoln’s defence. Not that we created all that many good chances, although Brett Ormerod ought to have done better after an excellent driving run in from the flank by Hunt set him up. but the fact that City were forced to reshuffle their side was proof that we’d taken them out of their comfort zone.
And then we were undone by Dan Gray’s long throw. which we hadn’t dealt with convincingly all afternoon, as Ntame again failed to win the first header, our dreaming of snatching something from the game was halted and a proper perspective was restored to the scoreline.
It was a flat performance on a warm Summer’s afternoon and we’ll need to show more energy on Saturday. In trying to work out why we’d put in such a poor performance I couldn’t help reflecting on the number of strong characters missing from the side. If Mark Creighton, Dean Keates, Jay Harris, Wright and Morrell himself had all been out there perhaps we’d have stood up to a strong team with a little more gumption. Let’s hope the occasion isn’t overwhelming on Saturday, because those players won’t be there to fall back on again. We can’t afford another jour sans in the derby!
Lincoln City (4-2-3-1):
Farman; Gray, Boyce, Brown, Newton; Fofana, Nolan; Sheridan (Miller 86), Fairhurst (Foster 73), Rowe (Dixon 73), Tomlinson. Unused Subs: Preece, Jordan.
Wrexham (4-3-3): Mayebi; Tomassen, Ntame, Wright, Ashton; Thornton (Hunt 63), Clarke, Evans; Reid (Anyinsah 63), Bishop, Ormerod. Unused Subs: Coughlin, Ogleby.
Referee: Richard Wigglesworth