The Imps made it four wins in five games on Saturday against Port Vale, as Michael Skubala’s side continue their impressive unbeaten run.

Skubala was forced into a few changes to the side that faced Exeter City last weekend. Lukas Jensen started in goal after keeping his 12th clean sheet of the season against Exeter. Alex Mitchell, Paudie O’Connor and Sean Roughan retained their places, with Adam Jackson still out of action. Lasse Sorensen started his 31st League One game, while Reeco Hackett returned to the side after missing out last weekend with an injury. Ethan Erhahon started in midfield alongside Ted Bishop and Conor McGrandles, with Ethan Hamilton missing out on the squad because of another injury scare. Danny Mandroiu came into the side, looking to support Joe Taylor in attack.

Despite all the positives of late, there were a few bits of disappointing selection news pre-match. Hamilton will be going to see a specialist next week because of an injury that was picked up during his return to the side against Exeter. Freddie Draper missed out again as he looks set for a few weeks on the sideline. The biggest bit of news though was Ben House missing out on the squad, due to a late illness. House missing out was a bitter blow, but luckily it’s the sort of thing that will only see him miss a single game.

I wasn’t confident we’d beat Port Vale convincingly. It felt a little bit like when we travelled down to Charlton. It was Darren Moore’s first home game and I thought it would be similar to what we saw when we faced Charlton for Nathan Jones’ first home game, but it was the complete opposite. The home atmosphere lasted for no more than 2 minutes, thanks to an early Imps goal from a Port Vale error.

Vale won a free-kick in their own half. A fairly routine pass across the defence turned into disaster for the home side. Nathan Smith rolled the ball straight to Taylor, leaving the striker with one of the easiest goals of his career. Credit to Taylor though, it wasn’t as simple as it looked. That goal put the game completely in our control, and the atmosphere in the stadium turned. 

Credit: Graham Burrell

Port Vale aren’t in a good situation, there seems to have been no upturn in performances since Moore has come in, which is a worry for a manager on a 5 year deal. They would’ve seen Saturday as a winnable game and with Fleetwood on Tuesday, there’s real pressure to get a result. I don’t seem them staying up to be honest, I saw more from Charlton and Fleetwood to suggest they could but Port Vale offered nothing throughout the game and the individual errors they made were things that get you relegated. 

We weren’t at our best yesterday but we didn’t need to be. Winning games when you aren’t at your best is the sign of a good team. We aren’t the finished article, but we are now seeing what Michael Skubala will be able to create at Sincil Bank. 

The game wasn’t a classic, far from it. I’ve seen claims that we were poor but I wouldn’t use that word in all honesty. If you ask me what a poor performance looks like I’d mention Northampton at home or Blackpool away. We did what was needed yesterday and there were actual positives to take away from the game. One of them positives for me was our out of possession game. Over the Christmas period, we drifted away from solid defensive base with some silly errors but we’ve got back now. 

Credit: Graham Burrell

O’Connor, Mitchell and Roughan were all really good. Roughan is improving with every minute he plays at the moment and he’s really suited to that left-sided centre half/left-back role that we use. I like the way he steps into midfield in possession too, I want to see more of that going forward and that’s something we could see on the other side with TJ Eyoma or even Lewis Montsma if he’s here next season. People have called the back-five system negative over the past 18 months, but I stand by my view that if it’s used right, it can be a dangerous and attacking system that hurts teams. Pep Guardiola uses a back three at Man City – it’s something that is becoming really popular at the top of the game. 

Talking of the system, I think the midfield three is the way to if we continue playing with the back five. Mark Kennedy’s 5-2-3 got overrun in midfield on several occasions but if you add another midfielder in, especially with the quality we’ve got in the middle, you can control games. We didn’t control the game in possession as much as Skubala probably would’ve liked on Saturday, but we did control it out of possession from the midfield. Erhahon, Bishop and McGrandles worked so hard throughout the game, and Bishop in particular was a constant driving force to try and get the ball up field. I was particularly impressed with McGrandles though, he does the simple things so well and his experience has been vital in the small amount of games he’s played so far. He’s a level head that can get his foot on the ball, and slow the game down when needed. I can’t help but think if we didn’t have McGrandles, we’d be talking about how much we miss Hamilton more than we are now.

Credit: Graham Burrell

The game lacked action, but there were a few moments worth picking apart. The first was a penalty shout in the first half. Reeco got pulled down by a Vale defender, on first viewing it’s a penalty and after seeing it again I still think it’s penalty. Bishop nearly had his 3rd goal of the season from almost 40 yards out after a mistake from Conor Ripley. The Vale keeper just managed to get back in time though to clear off the line. The resulting corner saw O’Connor nearly head home the second but another save from Ripley denied the Imps.

Jensen had another good game, he made a big save in the second half from The Valiants only big chance of the game, and he was strong in the air with his claims. The Dane is a top goalkeeper, and we’re lucky to have such a reliable number one. We’ve been fortunate to have such good goalkeepers over the past few years and now we’ve got a top goalkeeper who we own. That save he made yesterday won us the game, and that deserves plaudits.

Credit: Graham Burrell

Dylan Duffy come on and had an impact, winning a penalty in the dying moments. The Irishman got in behind before being pulled down in the box. It was a stonewall penalty, just like the one in the first-half but this time it was given. Hackett stepped up, with our usual penalty taker not on pitch, and tucked it home sending the keeper the wrong way.

It was three points on the road, it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t clean but all that mattered was the result. We’ve moved to just 9 points behind the playoffs with two massive home games this week. Oxford and Stevenage aren’t on great runs lately, the former have a tough run of games with Pompey and Bolton over the next few weeks and we play the latter next weekend. We couldn’t, could we?

Credit: Graham Burrell

By Joe Briley

AllLincoln Site Owner.