City extended their unbeaten run to seven games on Saturday with victory over an in-form Exeter City side.

We came into the game unbeaten since January, but it wasn’t just us in a spell of good form. The visitors had been on a good run of late, lifting themselves out of trouble in and around the bottom four. Gary Caldwell’s side had won their last three away fixtures, with impressive victories over Bristol Rovers, Barnsley and Wigan.

Michael Skubala made a few changes to the side that battled to a 1-1 draw with Charlton Athletic on Tuesday night. Lukas Jensen started in goal, behind Sean Roughan, Paudie O’Connor and Alex Mitchell. Lasse Sorensen and Dylan Duffy starting as wing-backs, with Reeco Hackett out of the squad with an injury. Ethan Hamilton made his return in midfield, as did Conor McGrandles, who was ineligible to play on Tuesday. Ethan Erhahon made it three Scots in the midfield. In attack, Ben House and Joe Taylor were given the task of leading the line.

Credit: Graham Burrell

Ted Bishop dropped to the bench, after coming off with a suspected injury on Tuesday night. Freddie Draper missed out, with Skubala confirming post-match that the striker will be out for a few weeks, as will defender Adam Jackson with his broken nose.

The first half offered little, but it wasn’t a bad performance by either team. Exeter like to get on the ball, and I thought we showed our strength on the ball yesterday too. The first-half for City was bleak in terms of clear cut chances. A few long shots dragged wide, and plenty of balls into the box. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, but we weren’t getting the chances we needed to take the lead. That’s no surprise though, Exeter have been good on the road lately and you only do well away from home if you’re good defensively. They are good at what they do, so it was always going to be a tight game. 

Credit: Graham Burrell

Our first chance of the the game was a free-kick on the edge of the area just under ten minutes in. O’Connor was taken out following Lasse’s long throw, giving City a set-piece in a good area. Hamilton stepped up and fired his effort low. It went wide, thanks to a deflection, but apart from that chances were few and far between for both teams.

We lacked a final pass to unlock a defence; something we’ve seen Bishop do in recent weeks. We were working hard, but had nothing really to show for it. We missed Reeco on the left side of the attack, and that’s with no disrespect to Duffy as I thought he was one of the hardest workers on the field. 

The game wasn’t a 0-0 written all over it by the end of the first-half, but it felt like if we didn’t improve as the home team it would go that way. Exeter came out fighting in the second and could’ve had themselves two goals fairly quickly after the restart. Luke Harris showed some pace and power to test Jensen with a weak effort and then a bigger chance came for the visitors a few minutes later. Chelsea loanee Dion Rankine set up Jack Aitchison in the area, the latter’s powerful effort looked destined for goal, but a big hand from Jensen diverted it onto the crossbar. 

I felt like that woke us up. In the final 30 minutes, we looked like the only team that would win it. McGrandles and Lasse linked up well on the right-hand side, finding House in the area. City’s number 18 forced a great save out of Viljami Sinisalo, before a rebound from Hamilton was also kept out by the Aston Villa loanee.

Credit: Graham Burrell

The next turning point from the bench. Bishop was introduced by Skubala, replacing Duffy. Within just a few minutes of being on the pitch, the former Ipswich Town man created the goal. Erhahon and Hamilton were involved in the build-up, as was Taylor up front. The ball fell to Bishop, who played a great ball in behind to put Taylor one-on-one. A golden chance to put the Imps into the lead, and he took it, dinking the ball over the keeper and into the back of the net.

From that moment on, the game look won. Exeter offered nothing, I was thinking they’d have period in the game where they pushed us but they didn’t. We controlled play, and didn’t give the opposition anything. 

Jack Moylan came on in a more natural position than we saw him play on Tuesday and had a good impact. Bishop lifted the ball through to the Irishman, who raced past a tired Pearce Sweeney. The Exeter defender looked like he pulled down Moylan, leaving the substitute on the floor. The referee didn’t do anything and waved play on. It’s either a yellow for simulation or a foul on Moylan. It’s frustrating as a goal for Moylan would’ve been great for him and his confidence going forward and it would’ve truly wrapped up the game. It’s poor refereeing but I thought overall they had a good game and as we won, it doesn’t matter too much.

The final whistle went making us seven unbeaten as well as completing back-to-back home wins for first time since August. Everyone had a good game today, but it feels fair to mention McGrandles. He was excellent, he’s just come back and fitted right in like he’s never left and that’s testament to his ability as well as his character. Bishop as well, came on and changed the game, that’s the sort of thing we all know he can do and he’s showing it on a regular basis. He is a key part of this team, and in his position you don’t get many better players at this level.

Credit: Graham Burrell

House and Taylor were really dangerous up front, especially in the second-half. I’m really pleased for Taylor getting his first goal. It’s been coming and now he’s got that first one, I can see them flowing from now on if he keeps getting the opportunities in front of goal. House once again showed why we’ve been missing him so much this season, off the ball he is the best player I’ve seen at Sincil Bank and he has real ability on the ball too. It does leave you wondering, what if he’d been fit the entire season? 

We’ll never know the answer, but what I do know is that we are still in the fight. We have something to play for this season. 11 points off the playoffs is a large amount of points to overcome but if we keep winning games then why can’t it be possible. We just need to keep pushing and grinding out results, we have two big games ahead of us now and if we take 4 points at least out of them, we go into a massive game against Stevenage with one eye at them playoff places. 

Onto Port Vale now, for another manager’s home debut.

Credit: Graham Burrell

By Joe Briley

AllLincoln Site Owner.