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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, 26 December 2011

Boxing Day blues for the Imps

Lincoln City 1-2 Grimsby Town
Sincil Bank, Saturday 26th December 2011.

Second half sucker-punch from the Mariners secures derby win in the lunchtime kick-off.

Written by Matt Scrafton.

If ever there was a game that defined the oft-cited phrase “a game of two halves” – today’s match-up between Lincoln City and Grimsby Town would be the textbook illustration. The Mariners battled to a 2-1 victory in the Lincolnshire derby, but were made to fight for the three points they took back down the A46 after what proved to be a rare entertaining Blue Square Premier fixture.

Despite the Imps’ sterling first-half performance, the Mariners secured the win with a ruthlessly effective 15/20 minute period after the half-time interval. Scott Garner and Liam Hearn were the goalscorers, but it was a complete turnaround and a combined effort from Grimsby that turned the tide in their favour.

But the Grimsby we saw in the second period couldn’t have been any further from the side that was chasing shadows in the first. But this isn’t a criticism; it was through no fault of their own. Lincoln were just better – they were industrious, tenacious, first to every ball, whilst showing glimpses of uncharacteristic skill, guile and craft that seemed so out of place for a non-league game. Alan Power – being deployed just behind the striker, Francis Laurent, due to Jamie Taylor’s late withdrawal from the squad – was the puppet master, pulling the strings exquisitely and showing a first-touch we’re more accustomed to seeing from more ‘established’ players from up the football league ladder, so to speak...

As you can probably tell, I haven’t seen much of Lincoln recently, hence my excitement at a couple of one-two’s. My last excursion to Sincil Bank – through no fault of my own – was the 1-0 defeat to Kidderminster back in August. The side that played today seemed like an alien form compared to that joke of a Steve Tilson team, and it was a delight to watch a Lincoln side play such attractive football that haven’t been seen since the early days of John Schofield’s reign.

Before I get too ahead of myself and encircle myself completely in sensationalism, I’ll calm myself down and state that we were only 1-0 up at the break. But the goal was entirely befitting of my previously devious description of our first-half performance. Conal Platt skipped past a number of challenges, raced into the box from the halfway line and poked the ball home when under pressure at the vital moment. The Grimsby players stood there like statues, but the mazy run by the on-loan Cambridge winger had just provided a telling moment of quality.

This wasn’t a Lincoln side that was happy to sit on its laurels though, and they maintained their high-level performance throughout the half. The Frenchman Laurent showed explosive bursts of pace, shrugging off one Grimsby defender, two...three...then four. He slalomed his way behind the visitors defence on a number of occasions, but the absence of Sam Smith was telling – that final touch and finish just wasn’t there. Otherwise, the game would have been out of sight before the Mariners even managed their first attempt on goal. And perhaps Lincoln should have had another goal before Platt eventually put them in the lead – as they were denied what seemed to be a clear shout for a penalty when Power was felled in the box early on.

But to be fair to the away side, they did rally towards the end of the half and caused a few problems in the City defence, with ex-Boston striker Anthony Elding heading across goal and wide after finally working out how not to be offside. Some things never change...

The above phrase actually proved to a perfect description of Lincoln’s second-half performance, which is what I have become accustomed to during my 15/16 years of supporting the Imps. While it would be overly harsh to label the Imps’ second-half ‘performance’ as a “collapse”, the positivity and adventure of the opening period had completely vanished. But let’s not take anything away from the visitors, their joint-managers had obviously given their side a good talking to (maybe they took it in turns?) and they re-appeared out of the tunnel as a rejuvenated side. Now we had a game on our hands, and now I could see why Grimsby had been on such good form coming into this match-up.

And it certainly didn’t take long for the Mariners to get back on level terms. In the 52nd minute, a corner was swung in by Michael Coulson, and substitute Scott Garner made the simplest of runs across his defender – directing a bullet header past Paul Farman in the Imps’ goal. The momentum had completely swung, and now it was Grimsby’s turn to make the most of their good spell, and Lincoln were back-pedalling further and further back towards their own goal with each passage of play.

Just eight minutes later, the final blow struck when the Mariners’ top scorer Liam Hearn was found in space behind the Lincoln defence, and he composed himself well, taking a touch before slipping the ball past Farman to give his side the lead for the first time in the match. Whilst the two sides seemed fairly evenly matched on the face of things, the away side were far better in front-of goal. This was evident in the final stages of the game, as the Imps went in search of that all-allusive equaliser, but struggled to find a way through.

The game petered out as Grimsby efficiently went about their business, and secured a win that made it 13 points from a possible 15 in their last five fixtures as the final whistle blew to the delight of the 1,800 travelling fans. Lincoln may feel slightly hard done-by, but they have the perfect opportunity to gain revenge on their rivals as they meet Grimsby again at Blundell Park on New Year’s Day.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Foursome from Yakubu lifts Rovers off the bottom

Blackburn Rovers 4-2 Swansea City
Ewood Park, Saturday 3rd December 2011.

Yakubu scores four times to sink the Swans, but continuing protests overshadow the much-needed victory.

Written by Matt Scrafton.

Yakubu fired in four crucial goals against Swansea to hand his side only their second league win of the season in Saturday afternoon’s pulsating and soggy affair.

Despite the win lifting Blackburn off the foot of the table, the three points failed to alleviate the pressure on under-fire Rovers boss Steve Kean. A small group of fans remained in the ground after the final-whistle to protest against both the current owners and manager, whilst throughout the game the chants of “Kean Out” became more and more evident as the match wore on.

On the pitch, the game was a highly entertaining encounter. After a lacklustre opening period which saw little goalmouth action, Rovers took the lead on the 20 minute mark after clever work between Yakubu and Gael Givet, with the former starting and finishing the move and then delightfully guiding the ball into the top corner away from the desperate dive of Michel Vorm.

The Swans got back on level terms with an equally well-worked goal, after patient build-up play in midfield, Mark Gower chipped a delightfully weighted cross to Leroy Lita, who did well to head across Paul Robinson as the ball went in off the post.

Just when it appeared the two sides would go in to the half-time break on level terms, Blackburn took the lead – and it was that man Yakubu again. A corner was lofted in by Morten Gamst Pedersen, and the Nigerian striker nodded in from close range after Simon Vukcevic struck a vicious volley back across goal.
And when Yakubu clinched his hat-trick soon after the interval, it looked as if the hosts would coast to the three points at Ewood Park. This was strikingly similar to his second; heading in from close range after Chris Samba nodded back towards goal, with the visitors evidently struggling with Rovers’ noticeable height advantage.

But this wasn’t the end of this frantic game, and Swansea were soon back on the scoresheet. Paul Robinson flapped at Wayne Routledge’s dangerous cross, and substitute Luke Moore smashed home the rebound.
With ten minutes left on the clock, the defining moment finished off the game for good - and it all happened in the space of a minute. Firstly, midfielder Joe Allen was given his marching orders after a second booking for a badly timed challenge on Junior Hoilett. As play re-started, Vukcevik was brought down by Swans left-back Neil Taylor just inside the area, and Yakubu cooly disposed of the resulting penalty to score his 9th league goal of the season.

Despite the win, Steve Kean’s job still hangs in the balance. With three crucial fixtures coming up against Sunderland, Bolton and West Ham - the next few weeks could well determine not only the direction of Blackburn’s season, but Steve Kean’s job – which will come under even more scrutiny despite Saturday’s morale boosting victory against Brendan Rodgers’ Welsh side.