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Lincoln, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom
Senior news reporter at the Grimsby Telegraph, UEA History graduate, former BBC Kick Off sports reporter & Lincoln City fan.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Cunning Canaries enjoy slice of luck to add to Blackburn woes

Norwich City 3-3 Blackburn Rovers
Carrow Road, 29th October 2011.

Last-gasp penalty deprives Blackburn of first away win of the season as pressure mounts on Steve Kean.

Written by Matt Scrafton.

On Wednesday night, Blackburn Rovers almost conspired to lose a game in which they were 2-0 up after 93 minutes of normal time. They eventually came through that compelling cup tie against an in-form Newcastle side, but lightning struck twice on Halloween weekend as Steve Kean’s men were once again pegged back on Saturday afternoon - drawing 3-3 with Norwich City - surrendering a two goal lead once again.

Yet we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Norwich City really are the masters of the comeback. The Canaries garnered a reputation for themselves in the Championship last season, based on snatching crucial last minute winners to aid their automatic promotion to the Premier League. However, Norwich were most certainly given a helping hand with this particular fight back.

Despite a bright first half in which the home side dominated the majority of possession, it was Rovers who took the lead in the dying seconds of the opening period. Unsurprisingly, it came from the right boot of highly-rated winger Junior Hoilett, who was Blackburn’s only real bright spark of the first half. The 21 year old Canadian starlet lashed the ball into the top corner of the net away from the desperate dive of John Ruddy. 
The lead was perhaps a little harsh on the tenacious home side, who had worked a number of promising situations only to lack the final ball. Nonetheless, Blackburn were far more assured in the second period and were unfortunate not to come away from Norfolk with all three points.

Despite this, it was the hosts who were back on level terms shortly after half time - courtesy of tireless striker Steve Morison - who lashed in a sublime volley from just outside the area. From here on, you’d be forgiven for expecting the momentum to shift in the Canaries’ favour, given the vulnerable state of the relegation-threatened Blackburn side.

Conversely, Blackburn soon raced into a surprise two goal lead courtesy of a quick-fire double from Yakubu and Christopher Samba. Samba nodded in at the back post after a delightful cross in from a Morten-Gamst Pedersen free-kick by the left flank, after Yakubu - the former Everton striker – had struck past Ruddy at the near post after the Norwich ‘keeper struggled to get down to the rasping drive.

A period of keep-ball followed from the away side, and it looked like the away side would play out the final 20 minutes of the match to secure their first away win of the season. Somehow, Norwich clawed themselves back into the game. Bradley Johnson’s hopeful long range effort deflected off Rovers defender Jason Lowe and looped over stranded ‘keeper Paul Robinson, who had no other choice but to watch the ball fly over his head and nestle in his net.

There was now a sense of inevitability that Norwich would grab a third, and in the 94th minute a questionable penalty was awarded for an alleged handball by Steven N’Zonzi. Grant Holt stepped up and dispatched the ball into the corner with aplomb, wheeling away to celebrate with the elated Carrow Road faithful.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Struggling Lincoln without a manager once again

A perfect opportunity for a new dawn at Sincil Bank, or just another plummeting drop within the viscous cycle of managerial instability?

Steve Tilson and his assistant Paul Brush were dismissed from their duties on Monday afternoon after an utterly disastrous 48 games in charge of the now non-league outfit.

The ex-Southend boss was responsible for the Imps' relegation to the Blue Square Premier, the first time the Lincolnshire club have not been in the football league since 1987. This occurred despite Tilson's men needing only 4 points from the last 11 matches of last season's League Two campaign. And things didn't pick up in the Conference either, with the Imps narrowly hovering above the drop zone after a terrible start; collecting just 12 points from 14 matches.

The 4-0 thrashing at the hands of semi-professional Tamworth last Saturday was to be Tilson's last game in charge. If anything, I'm expecting you to question why the man wasn't sacked much sooner.

And you'd probably be right. Ideally, Tilson should have been sent his marching orders as soon as the final whistle blew on our devastating 3-0 defeat at home to Aldershot on the last day of the season; a game that was held in front of 8,000 spectators and one where we only needed to match Barnet's result against Port Vale to guarantee our survival in the league.

Steve Tilson enjoyed a meagre 13 victories during his year as City manager

Of course, that's easy for us to say now looking back with hindsight, but bar a run of 6 straight victories at the beginning of 2011, there's never really been a point during Tilson's reign where even the thought of being optimistic was a realistic possibility. Seemingly, we went from one week to the next having to endure the feeling of constant disappointment after yet another capitulation to such household names as Accrington Stanley and Morecambe (no offence, if anything this is a compliment).

Oh, the Imps lost again. That's another week ruined.

Our wives/girlfriends/mothers (delete as appropriate) would ask, "how did it go?" as we returned from the game, to which we would mumble an inaudible reply and then go fetch the rope from the garage.

But Tilson is out of the door now, long gone. It says a lot, that when I was made aware of the news, I replied with a shrug of the shoulders, almost as if I was saying "oh well, there's another one gone". That now makes it four managers in five years since the heady days of the Imps' last successful manager (relatively speaking), the late, and utterly great Keith Alexander.

So where does the club go from here? On the face of it, the Imps are left with a handful of uninspiring candidates who have thrown their names forward. Ex-Rotherham boss Ronnie Moore has declared his interest, while Martin Foyle and David Holdsworth were spotted at Lincoln's game at Alfreton on Tuesday evening. Without too much investigation into how their careers have fared thus far, I'm nailing my colours to the mast - I don't want any of them three. Phew, that was a difficult choice.

Then again, it could be worse. Ex-Lincoln "legends" (the Lincolnshire Echo's words, not mine) Steve Thompson and Mick Harford have stated that they would be prepared to join the Imps on a short-term basis. Not that it should come as too much of a surprise, good ol' Thommo applies for every job going in the lower leagues (and was unsuccessful in his application last season, before Tilson was appointed).

Bizarrely, certain elements of the City support have expressed their support for the pair. According to some, the pair will "install passion", and "provide leadership". Well I could do that, doesn't make me a football manager does it? How about a manager who wins football games, eh?

Thompson's last couple of stints in management haven't been the most frivolous of occasions. He left Notts County in 2007 languishing towards the bottom of League 1. He was also the man in charge at Cambridge United as they plummeted out of the football league in 2005. As for Mick Harford, let's just say he's mostly remembered by Luton fans as a legend on the pitch, and not off it (16% win percentage at Rotherham, 27% at Luton and 12% as acting caretaker at QPR).

Ex-Lincoln and Luton striker Mick Harford (left), and current Radio Lincolnshire summariser Steve Thompson (right)

It's been an interesting week for me personally, and not only because of the sacking of Steve Tilson. I interviewed Tilson's predecessor, Chris Sutton, for the student newspaper in Norwich on Saturday afternoon. If only the interview had taken place after Lincoln's heavy defeat at Tamworth, and after Tilson's sacking on Monday; then it have provided an intriguing insight of the thoughts of the ex-Blackburn, Chelsea and Celtic striker.

Undoubtedly, Sutton struggled at times during his reign at Sincil Bank. But surely, as a guy experiencing his first taste in management, we should have expected that? Once again, with hindsight, didn't the England capped ex-striker deserve some more time in the job?

With Tilson, I think most supporters are in full agreement that he deserved to go (and as previously mentioned, may have left sooner). But what about John Schofield? What about Peter Jackson? We all look back on these "era's" with scorn, yet surely we have to question the reasons as to why their reign's were so unsuccessful. None of these managers have been in the job for much longer than a season, doesn't take a rocket scientist does it?

We must rid the club of the shackles that threaten to plunge the club even further into trouble. I know a lot of fans (not only Lincoln) have suggested that there's little chance of the Imps being relegated down another tier. But who knows!?

When will Lincoln reach their zenith, and escape from their seemingly never-ending nadir? And who will be responsible for it (if it ever happens)? These unanswered questions remain on the lips of all Lincoln fans (albeit not worded in such a pretentious manner), and arguably have been there for their entire lives.

This coming week is a crucial point in the direction of the club's future. If Bob Dorrian fails to deliver, the blame will fall solely on his shoulders.