City picked up their first point of 2024 on Saturday, thanks to a last gasp equaliser from Ethan Erhahon.
Michael Skubala named multiple changes to the side that lost to Blackpool over two weeks ago. The head coach changed the system to a four at the back, with Lukas Jensen starting in goal ahead of Adam Jackson and Alex Mitchell. Jack Burroughs and Sean Roughan started as the full-backs, with both players returning to the side after missing New Years’ Day due to injury. Erhahon was fit to feature in midfield, alongside Ethan Hamilton. Lasse Sorensen and Dylan Duffy provided the width on the flanks, while Joe Taylor made his debut alongside the returning Freddie Draper.
Two weeks of no action, and a number of changes to the squad saw an exciting bench named. Reeco Hackett returned to the matchday squad for the first time since Tom Shaw’s first game in charge against Fleetwood as interim boss, while there was also a place for Jack Moylan, following the completion of his transfer from Shelbourne. Ted Bishop dropped to the bench after 5 consecutive starts, as did TJ Eyoma despite an impressive run of form at the back. Ali Smith, Jovon Makama and Jordan Wright rounded out the bench.
Optimism was in the air ahead of kick-off, with our new look attack after a tough festive period. The optimism was for good reason too, over the break Draper returned from Walsall, we signed Taylor from Luton on loan, officially completely the transfer of Moylan and received positive injury news with the likes of Erhahon and Reeco returning to training. It’s the most excited I’ve been for a game in quite a while because something felt different. In recent weeks, we’ve not lacked effort but we had lost our way in the final third because of the injuries we picked up. When you don’t score goals, you don’t go into games looking to attack because that leaves you open and if you concede you’ll lose. Like I said, something felt different on Saturday. We had a threat.
When team news was announced, not many people were too sure on the system we’d start with. The tactical flexibility of the players we have meant we could’ve started with either a four or a five. It ended up being with a four, which from what I’ve seen is Skubala’s preferred way to do things. TJ was an unfortunate casualty of the change in system, but I’m hoping it may be a case of picking the defence based on the opponent. Mitchell and Jackson are our most physical options, and when it comes to dealing with a team like Wycombe and a centre-forward like Sam Vokes, you need that physical edge. Lasse played a slightly more advanced role on the right, but he was also afforded some freedom to move into midfield too. The biggest news of the day though was Taylor and Draper in a front two. They’ll be lots of teams jealous of that partnership, and it’s one I hope we see a lot more of in the future.
Despite all the optimism, we started the game like a team that hadn’t played in a few weeks. Wycombe had the better of the play in the opening exchanges, and the first chance of the game went the way of the hosts. Garath McCleary was a threat down the Wycombe right, and his cross found Vokes in the box but the former Stoke City striker’s header was easily dealt with by Jensen.
Once we settled down into the game, we showed glimpses of attacking threat and our first effort on goal came just before the 15th minute. Lasse tested Max Stryjek in the Wycombe net after some neat play including the returning Draper. Like I mentioned previously, we looked good in patches but you could see the confidence growing throughout the team, and we had another dangerous attack just a few moments later. Lasse tried to get Taylor involved in the game, and City’s new number nine caused problems out-wide after latching on to the Dane’s ball in behind. Taylor fizzed an early cross into the box, aiming for the feet of Draper but just before the teenager could latch onto it, the ball was cleared.
Wycombe were still firmly in the game though, and it was the hosts that took the lead. The move for Wycombe started when we fell asleep from a throw into Vokes on the edge of the box. The striker played the ball back to Jack Grimmer on the edge of the area, and the full-back’s delivery was headed back across goal for Dale Taylor to finish past Jensen. It was a deserved lead for Wycombe, we had battled well and showed some promise but the hosts certainly had the better of the opening 45.
We could’ve been level just before the break though. A long ball up field wasn’t really dealt with by Wycombe, and Duffy picked up the second ball. The Irishman made space for himself and hit an effort from 25 yards out, which rattled the left post. The rebound from Lasse was fired over the bar, although it was from a difficult angle when it arrived at the Dane’s feet.
City started the second half well, and Taylor nearly got on the scoresheet but his effort following Lasse’s cross just bounced wide. Similarly to our home fixture against Wycombe, it was all about the substitutes changing the game. After weeks of lacking options, Skubala found himself with all sorts of options from the bench and he opted to go with Bishop and Reeco, with the latter making his first appearance since October. The system was tweaked slightly, with Lasse going into right-back with Burroughs coming off. Reeco went onto the left-hand side and Bishop took up an advanced role on the right, which allowed him drift in-field.
Reeco wanted to make an impression on his return to the side and the Saint Lucian international certainly did that, bringing us back into the game. A series of dangerous crosses into the box from the former Pompey man were putting Wycombe under pressure, and we looked a threat with both Draper and Taylor in the mixer.
We found our equaliser in the 72nd minute. Well, at least we thought we did. A ball put into box from a corner was flicked on by a Wycombe head into the back of the net. The goal looked perfectly fine, but to everyone’s surprise (including everyone involved with Wycombe) the linesman put his flag up, and the goal was disallowed. Skubala disagreed with the decision in his post-match interview, and although some have argued Taylor interferes with play, I think it’s an awful call by the officials, who I thought didn’t get too much else wrong over the course of the game.
Reeco was really showing his class, and nearly forced an equaliser himself as we entered the final ten minutes. The winger picked up the ball and drove into the area forcing a save. All the talk about Tyler Walker and Ben House made people forget the loss of Reeco, and it was probably the biggest loss out of all the injuries based on his impact today.
I thought Bishop had a great game off the bench. He looked to pick up the ball deep and drive forward. Regular readers know exactly what I think of Bishop, he has the ability to emulate what Jorge Grant did for us a few years ago, and today he reminded me exactly of Grant in the way he drove us forward. I don’t know exactly where Bishop fits in this team, with Hamilton and Erhahon but I really hope Skubala finds a place from him, as we are a better team with him in it.
More attacking changes came from the bench, Moylan came on for his debut and Makama replaced debutant Taylor up front. When Skubala was appointed, he promised that we’d throw everything at games to try and get something from them, and I saw evidence of that on Saturday. We poured forward in our numbers, Draper headed over, Bishop had an effort blocked and we looked dangerous from corners following our disallowed goal earlier in the game.
Moylan nearly had the perfect debut as he forced Stryjek into a diving save. No matter what we did, Wycombe managed to clear it away and they were taking so much time out of the game. The six minutes added on were ticking past, and to be fair to the referee, Scott Oldham, he allowed for more time to be played.
There was time for one last attack from the Imps. A scramble in the area fell to Erhahon, who placed a really smart finish over the goalkeeper. City grabbed a deserved draw on the road, with an excellent second half performance that showed us exactly what a Michael Skubala team will be about.
I want to mention Jovon for the goal too. He’s taken lots of criticism from some sections of the fanbase over the past few weeks, but I thought he had a good impact on Saturday, especially in the goal. I don’t think he actually touches the ball in the build-up to our goal but he creates a nuisance of himself in the penalty area and that allows Lasse to pick up the ball and put it back into the area. It’s something that might go unnoticed, but I thought Jovon deserved the recognition after a turbulent few weeks for the 19-year-old.
The first half wasn’t great, there were a few flashes of quality but for the most part it was disjointed. The second half was the complete opposite though, we came out fighting, got the deserved equaliser and could’ve even got a winner if a perfectly good goal hadn’t been disallowed.
Erhahon looked back to his best today, and really deserved his goal. I lost count of how many times he picked up the loose ball on the half-way line following a corner and recycled the ball for us. For the most part he’s been immense for us since coming in last year, and today he was excellent.
Taylor and Draper showed signs of being good players for us. The latter battled really hard on his return and looked a changed player to the one we saw over a year ago at Chippenham, while the former showed some good touches and didn’t look scared to get into the box to get on the end of balls in. Both of them will score goals if we play like we did today, and with Moylan, Hackett and Bishop having such a big impact from the bench, there are plenty of positives to take.
I’m looking forward to the back-to-back home games that are coming up. We all like a big game at Sincil Bank, and them two are exactly that. There should be packed out away ends for both, with a massive atmosphere inside the stadium and I fancy us to pick up a good result in at least one of them games based off what I saw on Saturday.
It felt like a turning point in the second-half, not just in the game but in the Skubala era. We have potential to be a force in this division, and hopefully this is the first step towards that.