The Imps started 2024 as they ended 2023, with a defeat.
Michael Skubala named a few changes to the side that fell to defeat against Northampton Town on Friday night, with more injuries once again creating headlines. Lukas Jensen started in net, with a back three consisting of Alex Mitchell, Adam Jackson and TJ Eyoma. Lasse Sorensen and Dylan Duffy started as the wing-backs, with the Irishman earning a recall to the side. Ali Smith and Ethan Hamilton started in the middle of the park, with Ted Bishop taking up a more advanced ‘number ten’ role behind Jovon Makama and Hakeeb Adelakun.
City couldn’t name a full bench. Jaden Brown returned to the matchday squad – the left-back has only been in one matchday squad since a 3-0 win over Cambridge in November. Jack Vale and Mide Shodipo were the only attacking options named amongst the substitutes, while promising youngster Bola Okewoye was hoping for a debut. Oisin Gallagher, recalled from his spell at Peterborough Sports, went straight into the squad – showing the level of our injury issues at the moment.
9 first team players were unable to make the squad at Bloomfield Road. Lewis Montsma, Paudie O’Connor, Sean Roughan, Jack Burroughs, Ethan Erhahon, Reeco Hackett, Danny Mandroiu, Ben House and Tyler Walker were all injured or suspended.
Our recent form and injuries combined with Blackpool’s impressive home form, meant we were always going to be up against it and any chance of getting a result was slim. December was a really tough period for us, the reaction to a new head coach came in the first few games and now that has worn away, the issues are more clear and we’ve struggled for form. We’ve had good periods in games but conceded and not been able to reply with sort of attacking threat. It hasn’t been an easy month of games in terms of fixtures either, Derby, Wigan, Bolton and Blackpool are tough sides to play and three of them games were away from home. Northampton came into the game against us with a bit of momentum, while we had the opposite and Reading was just a tough day all round. This isn’t an excuse for the way we’ve performed, but it’s not as simple as we haven’t been good enough.
I thought we started the game well on Monday. The first 45 minutes was an example of how good the squad can be, we controlled the game with a good performance, but as usual we lacked the cutting edge. The first big moment of the game was a big call from the referee. Matty Virtue elbowed Lasse on the touchline – a very similar incident to the one Paudie got sent off for on Friday night. The former Imp didn’t even pick up a card, before getting a card for a bad foul on Hamilton. He could’ve also had another card for a foul on Duffy but luckily for Blackpool, their midfielder stayed on the pitch.
It was a slightly different system to the one we saw on Friday – further backing up that Skubala is trying to change our fortunes. Dylan and Lasse were instructed to play much higher, with a narrower front three. Ted played in the number ten role, while Haks and Jovon played as two strikers, with the former adding width when needed. We looked dangerous too, Haks and Ted were linking up well in the middle and Jovon was playing much better than we’d seen him in recent weeks. One moment I enjoyed from the young striker was in the 16th minute when he won the Imps a corner from just hard work alone. Jovon is such a young player, and he’s still learning but to see him doing things like that is a positive after a tough few games for him. It wasn’t just that, I thought he played with his back to goal well and used his physicality when needed. It was his best performance since he first came into the side. Jovon was a positive yesterday, and hopefully once we get some players back, the pressure won’t be all on him.
We had some chances in the opening half, although not clear cut. Dylan fired a free-kick over the bar after earning it with a lovely bit of skill on the edge of the box. There was a big chance for Alex too, following a free-kick. Ted’s ball into the area was cleared but Lasse headed back in over the defence. Alex beat the Blackpool offside trap but the central defender fired over the bar from close range with no pressure around him. It sounds like a bad miss, but it’s one of them chances that is much harder than it looks.
After a really positive opening 30 minutes at Bloomfield Road, we were undone by a simple set piece. I thought we could’ve got the result, but Blackpool getting the opening goal really hurt us, as it’s done in recent weeks against the likes of Northampton. The news got worse for City, Freddie Draper came off injured for Walsall away at Grimsby. Not only is it our current squad getting injured, but it’s now our loanees away from the club. Michael can’t catch a break at the moment.
Despite going the goal down, I felt we could’ve got something in the second half, maybe a point from a scrappy goal etc. However, Blackpool upped the levels in the first ten minutes of the half and we just had to whether the storm until we could get back into the game. I felt we did that well, but we lost yet another player and this time it was a big less in the context of the game. Lasse went down, came off with an injury and he was our best performer in the game up until that point, so it was a big loss.
It was still a pretty even game though. Jensen had to make a couple of saves, but I felt as if we were still in the game and we weren’t being blown away by the Seasiders. We utilised our small bench, with Shodipo and Vale coming on to freshen up the attack. We didn’t have too much threat going into the final 20 minutes, but we already know where our issues are and how we can change the situation.
Blackpool put the icing on the cake with a second goal, although 1-0 was probably a fair reflection. TJ has had an exceptional few months since Skubala came in and once again he was my MOTM yesterday and for him to make that crucial mistake late on was a bit harsh on him as it will impact people’s opinions of his performance. He slipped and CJ Hamilton raced through on goal and despite an onrushing Jensen, he tucked home to seal the game for Blackpool.
Despite a better performance than what we’ve seen previously, it still goes down as a loss at the end of the day and the only real positive is the 12 days we now have for Skubala to get out on the training pitch, welcome back some of the injured players and hopefully attack the transfer window early. I saw enough from Monday’s performance to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but there’s still a lot to do.
January will be a tough month, there isn’t a game that is seen as a “winnable game” but that could suit us. Two big afternoons at Sincil Bank against two tough sides, hopefully with Jack Moylan and a few other new recruits in the matchday squad. This time in two weeks, I really hope I’m writing about a Lincoln City side that Skubala’s had the time to have an impact on.