Tuesday, 17 May 2011

2010-11 the relegation season review

Let’s face it – a review of a relegation season is not going to be pleasant reading.  You have been warned!  But I don’t want this to be a depressed, whinging review, or one that proclaims that the world and everything to do with the club is in a state of abject turmoil and all the players and management should be lined up and shot.  I want this to be a genuinely frank and personal appraisal of a season that was ultimately terrible, but came so close to being merely on the poor side of average.  I also want to look forward to think about what the future holds for the Imps.

Let’s be honest from the outset, this relegation didn’t start on May 7th 2011 against Aldershot.  It didn’t even really begin on August 7th 2010 against Rotherham.  This slippery slope to relegation started a few years ago.  It started after Keith Alexander left, even though most agreed it was time for the Imps and Big Keith to part company.  Through the successive reigns of John Schofield, Peter Jackson and Chris Sutton, City have been slowly edging their way into obscurity, gradually slipping further and further away from being a team that inspired any real expectations of greatness from fans.  Sadly, under the reign of the current incumbent, Steve Tilson, the Imps have also failed to show any spark of creativity or togetherness.

Having said that, this season could so easily have remained just another season of bottom half of the table drudgery.  In fact, with a dozen games to go, nobody really expected the Imps to fail to pick up the handful of points required to guarantee safety.  I would ascribe the end of season collapse to a number of things (in no particular order):

1) The season-ending injury to Delroy Facey, the hardworking and bustling striker who had inspired the mid-season revival that so nearly put City safe.

2) The departure of Scott Kerr to York in January.  Whatever the reasons behind it (and I’m sure that idiot fans constantly moaning that he wasn’t good enough didn’t help), the loss of our one and only committed and battling midfielder had a massively detrimental effect.  Although the team’s good run of form happened after Kerr left, I’m certain that his qualities would have shone through when backs were to the wall.

3) The lack of one single, consistent goalkeeper for the season.  One that actually knew what he was doing.

4) The inability of the management team to instill a sense of fight in the team before the situation became desperate, and the complacency of the players when they should have realized that they were slipping down the league and needed to fight harder.

5) The return of loan players to their parent clubs, and the fact that their replacements in the team were lacking both confidence and match practice.

6) The suspension and injury to Grimes, which seemed to put an end to his goalscoring touch.  For the final few games, Grimes looked unable to score, and by the very end seemed desperate to be anywhere but Sincil Bank.

Looking back over the ebb and flow of the season though, it’s easy to forget that City, although in the bottom half of the table all season, spent decent chunks of time a good few points and places above the relegation zone.  The chart below shows how far away from the teams in 23rd and 24th places City were over the course of the season.

Click to view full size

It’s immediately obvious just how far from danger City’s revival had put them, and equally how static they were for the remaining dozen games.

In terms of memorable moments, sadly it’s the massive home hammerings that stand out.  Having been beaten 5-0 by Bury, 5-1 by Shrewsbury and 6-0 by Rotherham, it’s not surprising that players and fans alike were filled with an amount of trepidation when home games came around.  Of course, the reaction of the fans to poor home results and performances was cited by some players as a reason for their continuation.  I can see both sides of the fence here.  I understand fan frustration at poor performances, and let’s not forget that these players are professionals – being paid to do a job that they are supposedly good at, and getting paid more each month than the average fan in the crowd, even at their lowly league level.  However, footballers are only human, and confidence plays a big part in being successful.  If players are afraid that trying and failing a particular pass or shot will result in groans and boos, then they are more likely not to play it.  It’s a two-way thing in football, and both players and fans need to be pushing in the same direction for success to be achieved.  That will be more true than ever next season.

One issue that perhaps hampered the season, especially towards the end when the pressure was on, was the lack of experience in the team and the lack of leaders, especially when Facey and Kerr were no longer playing.  The team would play OK at the start of games, but would then make a defensive error, lose confidence and stop playing football, leading to more pressure and more goals conceded.

Next season the most important thing must be being hard to beat.  A team of hard working, well organized players is a better foundation than malcontent primadonnas, even they do have a bit more talent.  Get a core of committed players and then start to add more flair to it, not the other way round.  We might not get promotion at the first attempt, but we will stop the rot and provide a solid foundation to build upon.  We absolutely cannot afford to get a load of players in this summer that are mere journeymen on one year contracts.  We need hungry young players that we can depend upon for the next two or three years at least, tweaking the team each year not rebuilding it again from scratch as has been the case for the last 3 or 4 years.

Of course, the summer will be full of transfer rumours, as every released player is linked to us in the media, especially if they have ever played for, or even holidayed in, Southend.  Some will be exciting, others depressing.  Some, no doubt, will be wildly optimistic.  One thing all fans need to remember is that the budget will be tighter than ever, and splashing it all on a few big signings is not likely to be the first step on the road to success.

Many fans will point to one obvious weakness that needs addressing in the summer – the goalkeeper.  We’ve been blessed with keepers in the past at City. With Barry Richardson, John Vaughan, Alan Marriott and Rob Burch we’ve had a succession of very solid stoppers.  This season we’ve had 3, all of whom have been shakier than the Millennium Bridge and have inspired absolutely zero confidence in the defenders in front of them.  I’m a firm believer in building from the back in football, from the ‘if you keep a clean sheet you’re guaranteed at least a point’ school.  Getting a good, confident shot stopper who can command his area must be the first item on Tilson’s shopping list.

Off the pitch, change is required too.  I’m not one for knocking the board, but they have to find funds from somewhere to enable the squad to be rebuilt.  Obviously, the amount of money coming in from the football league will now drop, and difficult decisions have to be taken.  Personally, I think that the existence of the youth programme has to be very carefully weighed up.  With few exceptions, such as Jack Hobbs and Scott Loach, the youth team has produced very few gems for us over the years, and the sale of such players to higher clubs has not reimbursed the club for development costs.  The two players mentioned above didn’t even really grace the first team before leaving, meaning that as a team, Lincoln benefitted very little.  If hundreds of thousands of pounds can be freed up to strengthen the first team, then I believe it must be top of the agenda for consideration.

So, to sum up, it’s been a strange season but I want to end on some things to be positive about:

1) We have a chance to rebuild.  Let’s face it, if we’d have survived on the last day, next season would have been more of the same - a poor basic squad supplemented with loanees struggling along near the bottom.  I don’t believe for a second that a playoff push was realistic.  Like Oxford, Exeter and others before us, we have a chance to put the club back on the right track and not only come back into the league, but do it on a wave of new optimism.

2) We still have a club.  Let’s ask Chester City fans if they’d like to swap places with us, shall we?

3) When we get knocked out in the first round of the FA Cup we can officially consider it ‘a cup run’.

4) Despite the fact that we may never have heard of some of the teams we’ll be playing, next season does offer something new from the usual trip to Torquay and visit from Hereford.  And of course, that leads onto the biggest positive:

5) We actually have some derbies again!  Granted, we’d all prefer for our local teams to be back in the league, but at least the games against Mansfield and Grimsby give us some good atmospheres to look forward to.  It’s almost a shame that Boston didn’t manage to get promotion too.

Player reviews

1. Joe Anyon

City’s starting keeper during the early part of the season was sidelined by injury in January after some shaky performances.  He was replaced by Trevor Carson and never regained his place, going out on loan to Morecambe in March.  Although still in contract, he’s been made available on a free transfer and I don’t think many City fans will be sorry to see him go to be honest.  He wasn’t here long enough for anyone to form an emotional tie to him, and he simply made too many mistakes. After this season’s goalkeeping shambles, a completely fresh face between the sticks is essential.

Season rating: 4/10
Contract status: still in contract.  Made available on free transfer
Chance of being here next season: low

2. Paul Green

The injury prone but versatile defender causes debates among Imps fans.  I’m in the camp that has valued his service over the years.  After not playing for much of the season, Paul returned to the starting 11 in mid April and kept his place until the end. Steve Tilson has decided not to offer him a new contract, though Oxford are rumoured to be interested in signing him.  Although he has problems with injuries, I will be sorry to see him go and wish him all the best.

Season rating: 6/10 purely for his effort in the final few games
Contract status: out of contract.  Not offered new contract
Chance of being here next season: none

3. Joe Anderson

City’s left back is another player who has divided fans this season.  Dropped as soon as Tilson could get a replacement in on loan, Anderson only came back into the side at the end of the season.  Often caught out of position, it was clear on a number of occasions that any team with a pacey right winger would cause havoc against us.  To be fair, Anderson occasionally looked a decent player, but for me that was not often enough.

Season rating: 4/10
Contract status: out of contract.  Not offered new contract
Chance of being here next season: none

4. Adam Watts

Adam Watts has sadly not been the same player since he broke his leg in the season before last.  He has been an honest, hardworking defender though, and I’m still a little unsure why Watts and Hone weren’t a more solid defensive pairing this season.  Although guilty of a few costly errors, Watts would always have been in my starting 11 this season, and I’m a little surprised to see him made available on a free transfer as I think he can still offer a good return as part of a more stable defensive unit.

Season rating: 6/10
Contract status: under contract.  Available on a free transfer
Chance of being here next season: low

6. Danny Hone

It seemed as if Hone’s Lincoln career was over at the start of the season under Chris Sutton as he was sent out to Darlington on loan almost immediately, to general disbelief from fans who had seen the youngster make such a solid start to his professional career.  He returned to City in January and took his place in the starting lineup for the rest of the season.  He was unbelievably dropped for the fateful Rotherham game (for the appalling Kanyuka) and the result says volumes about Hone’s importance.  He has been offered a new contract and I really hope he signs, but wish him well if he doesn’t.  He is one of the few players who can hold his head high this season, and is one of the few who I’m sure the relegation will really matter to.

Season rating: 7/10
Contract status: out of contract.  Offered new contract
Chance of being here next season: fair

7. Mustafa Carayol

At the start of the season, Carayol looked to be a player that City were right to fight to have.  With Carayol and Jarrett, City seemed to have ability and pace on both wings.  As the season went on, Carayol slipped in and out of the side, and seemed to lose his ability to really deliver an end product and harm the opposition.  I think most fans can imagine that Carayol could cause some problems for opposing fullbacks next season, but as it seems that he wants to go, and Tilson no longer wants him, it’s probably better for all concerned if he leaves.  Hopefully somebody will be willing to offer some money for him to recoup our losses.

Season rating: 5/10
Contract status: still in contract.  Put on transfer list
Chance of being here next season: low

8. Clarke Keltie

I have to confess that I have something of a love/hate relationship with Keltie.  I thought he was shocking when he first arrived at City, and was outraged that we actually gave him another contract last summer.  After his long injury layoff this season though, he came back into the team for the final few weeks, and actually looked like he gave a crap.  That made me slightly re-assess my opinions of him, but ultimately I still think we can, and must, get players of a better calibre at the club.

Season rating: 4/10
Contract status: out of contract.  Not offered new contract
Chance of being here next season: none

9. Gavin McCallum

Looking back of McCallum’s season, it seems to have been one of two halves.  He was in and out of the side at the start, as he didn’t seem to be willing to put in the effort and play to his potential.  During the second half of the season his attitude changed and he deservedly started most games, though he still failed to deliver enough in terms of decent crosses and goals.  I was surprised to see him transfer listed as I thought he might be useful next season.  The only negative point for me was his comments regarding the fans in April.  Perhaps he has the tendency to look for excuses and Tilson has decided that he is better off without that kind of influence at the club?

Season rating: 6/10
Contract status: still in contract.  Put on transfer list
Chance of being here next season: low

10. Drewe Broughton

Ah, Drewe Broughton.  What to say about the footballer who has had more clubs than Tiger Woods?  When he was re-signed by Sutton in the summer, it seemed that he also intended to sign David Somma, or someone of his ilk, to feed off Broughton’s hold-up play and knock-downs.  Without that other striker, Broughton has looked old and tired, and has sadly added nothing to City’s season.  Ironically, of course, he went on loan to in-form AFC Wimbledon in February and actually scored twice.  I don’t think there are any surprises that Drewe is being cut loose, especially not with the rumours surrounding his salary.

Season rating: 1/10 (an extra point for winning a few headers)
Contract status: out of contract.  Not offered new contract
Chance of being here next season: none

14. Josh O’Keefe

I confess to being slightly surprised that O’Keefe is being offered on a free transfer.  He was not the worst of our midfielders last season and always seemed solid enough to me to be in the squad.  I don’t think, with the number of players that we need to buy over the summer, that we’ll get many better, and O’Keefe always seemed to have a good attitude and ability to support the strikers.

Season rating: 6/10
Contract status: under contract.  Available on free transfer
Chance of being here next season: low

15. Luke Howell

Luke Howell was perhaps the one good signing for Lincoln this year, and I very much hope he re-signs.  If that does happen then Tilson has to learn from last season and play him as a central midfielder, not as a winger where his passing ability is lessened.  I have been impressed by Howell’s touch and workrate this year, and I hope he will be our midfield lynchpin in the Blue Square Premier.

Season rating: 8/10
Contract status: out of contract.  Offered new contract
Chance of being here next season: fair

16. Julian Kelly

After arriving in January, the Reading fullback was a constant in the starting 11 until the end of his loan spell.  Looking back, I suppose that he did a steady job overall, but I am always slightly disappointed when players supposedly worthy of playing at a higher level don’t particularly stand out.  Kelly had a reliable enough spell at City, I don’t remember him making any particularly horrendous errors, but likewise I don’t remember thinking that he had ever done anything special either.  He came in, did a job, left, and I think we can find a fullback who is equally as good for next season.

Season rating: 5/10
Contract status: none.  Returned to Reading
Chance of being here next season: none

17. Karl Cunningham

The youngster had his first taste of the first team when he was an unused substitute against Crewe on 16th April.  Strangely, despite us only naming 6 subs in subsequent games, he never got on the bench again.  Maybe Tilson thought he wasn’t sitting right?  Whatever the reason, it’s impossible to assess his impact, and I’m unsure as to his contract status.  However, as a youngster with historic family connections to the club, if he has enough talent to do a job for us next season, then I’d gladly welcome him being given a professional contract.

Season rating: N/A
Contract status: Released?  Still on youth contract?
Chance of being here next season: ?

18. Delroy Facey

I almost feel that I owe Delroy an apology.  When he first signed I groaned slightly, expecting him to be a slightly over the hill striker trying to hang on to the last vestiges of his playing career.  As it turned out, the energy and workrate shown by Facey has been exemplary, and his appointment as captain certainly Tilson’s best decision so far as manager.  It was obvious to all that Facey took his role very seriously, cared about the team, and was prepared to lead from the front.  Sadly, a dislocated shoulder in March in the dying minutes away at Macclesfield ended his season, and ended Lincoln’s good form.  I confess to being shocked and disappointed that he hasn’t been offered a new contract, as I’m singularly unconvinced that Tilson can find a player as physical and committed to replace him.

Season rating: 8/10
Contract status: out of contract.  Not offered new contract
Chance of being here next season: none

19. Jamie Clapham

Clapham was in and out of the side during the season, as may be expected from a player of his age.  However, Clapham showed his experience and professionalism on more than one occasion, always giving his best whether he was being played at left back, where his lack of pace was clear to see, or in midfield, where his brain was obviously still working.  Ironically, the last game of the season was probably Clapham’s best game, and it was plain to see that he was working hard to create things for the team.  It’s perhaps not unsurprising that Clapham is not being offered a new playing contract, but he has lots of experience which the side is sorely lacking in, and I wonder if a move into coaching wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Season rating: 5/10
Contract status: out of contract.  Not offered new contract
Chance of being here next season: none

20. Paul Musselwhite

City’s ageless goalkeeping coach spent another season sat on the bench as reserve goalkeeper, until Anyon returned from loan to warm the bench for him.  I’m unsure as to the state of Musselwhite’s contract, but it may well be that a goalkeeping coach is a luxury we can’t afford in the Blue Square Premier.  If I was being cruel, I would suggest that whatever coaching was being done to our goalkeepers this season was far from successful.  However, with so many players to buy, will buying two new goalkeepers prove too expensive?

Season rating: 0/10
Contract status: coaching contract?
Chance of being here next season: good

22. Andy Hutchinson

The young striker is still relatively unproven, having been given few chances in the first team this season.  When he has played he has shown energy and a few nice touches.  He has been offered a new contract, which I imagine he’ll accept.  Where else would he go?  I would worry if he was a starting striker next season, but he’s eager enough to have earned a place in the squad and deserves more of a chance to show what he can do next season.

Season rating: 3/10
Contract status: out of contract.  Offered new contract
Chance of being here next season: high

23. Stephen Hunt

The fullback arrived in January, on loan from Notts County, and was ever present in the side during his loan spell.  Although he never did too much wrong and his distribution was competent, I always felt that we could do better and have a fullback that offered more in terms of supporting the wings when attacking.

Season rating: 5/10
Contract status: none.  Returned to Notts County
Chance of being here next season: none

24. Elliott Parrish

As football league debuts go, Parrish’s first game, the 6-0 home defeat against Rotherham in March, must rank as one of the worst.  Although I wouldn’t even particularly hold the youngster responsible on the day (the defence in front of him didn’t really give him much chance), it set the tone for the rest of the season, in which Parrish failed to keep a single clean sheet, and was responsible for a number of goals through poor positional play.  He may go on to be a dependable keeper for someone, and I actually hope he does, but for the Imps, having an untried young goalkeeper with no confidence between the sticks for a relegation battle was close to suicidal.

Season rating: 2/10
Contract status: none.  Returned to Aston Villa
Chance of being here next season: none

25. Cian Hughton

Cian Hughton is a player who fell out of grace under Chris Sutton and struggled to regain his place in the starting 11 under Steve Tilson, only coming back into the side at the end of the season when the loanees had returned to their clubs.  Although often played as a full back, Hughton’s strength for me was in a more attacking role, and I wish we had seen more of him on the wing this season.  It was little surprise when Hughton was not offered a new contract, but I still feel he could have been a useful squad player.  Hughton gave us an interesting insight into the retention process when he tweeted that he had only found out that he was not being offered new contract on a website.

Season rating: 4/10
Contract status: out of contract.  Not offered new contract
Chance of being here next season: none

26. Tom Kilbey

Pompey loanee Kilbey’s first game was against Rotherham in March and he played a fair quantity of games from then on, though was occasionally dropped, most notably for the final game of the season.  I had high hopes for Kilbey when I heard he was coming – thinking that we had obtained a big, strong central midfielder to be a ball winner and inject some grunt into the midfield.  Sadly, considering he’s from Portsmouth, he didn’t really show anything for me in terms of physical presence or ball skill.  Even though he’s young and it must have been tough coming into a struggling side, he didn’t really show any signs of higher league quality, and by dropping him for the final fight, I think Tilson was acknowledging the same.

Season rating: 5/10
Contract status: none.  Returned to Portsmouth
Chance of being here next season: none

27. Ben Hutchinson

Ben ‘million pound’ Hutchinson has, I think it would be fair to say, a less than heroic status among Lincoln fans.  His lazy style and lack of goals have caused frustration amongst supporters, a situation not helped when Hutchinson made derogatory comments to some fans during a match.  Basically Hutchinson is a luxury that few teams could afford, especially ones fighting for survival.  Celtic will be less than delighted to have him back, and it will be interesting who they manage to ship him out to next.

Season rating: 4/10
Contract status: none.  Returned to Celtic
Chance of being here next season: none

29. Ashley Grimes

Ashley Grimes was almost this season’s David Somma – a loan striker who single-handedly scored the majority of the team’s goals.  Sadly, unlike Somma, Grimes’ goals were not enough to save City.  His 17 goals earned him Player of the Season, but it was disappointing not to see him reach 20 goals, especially as the last 3 goals could have been more important than many of the other 17.  His best spell of form occurred in the good run after Christmas, and especially when Facey was there to support him.  Towards the end of the season, although disrupted by injury and suspension (caused mainly by Grimes’ petulant streak), it looked at times like Grimes was incapable of scoring.  If I was cruel I’d say that he seemed to drift off when the going got tough.  It’s undeniably true that without his goals we would have been in dire trouble a lot earlier, and I feel ridiculous criticising our top scorer, but I have a nagging suspicion that once he knew the game was up he switched off, and that’s unforgivable for me (Gary Taylor-Fletcher I haven’t forgotten you either!).  His goals for City have not been able to secure him a new Millwall contract, so his future next season is uncertain, but seems likely to be at least with a good League 2 side, if not in League 1.

Season rating: 8/10
Contract status: none.  Released by Millwall
Chance of being here next season: none

31. Ali Fuseini

Fuseini arrived in January, signing a contract until summer 2012.  Regular readers of this blog will know that I have had little patience for Fuseini and saw him as a weak link in the side.  His passing was occasionally acceptable, but he required far too long on the ball and gave possession away too easily.  I would be very disappointed to see him here next season as I don’t think he is good enough even for the conference.  Hopefully someone is willing to take him off our hands.

Season rating: 3/10
Contract status: until summer 2012.  Put on the transfer list
Chance of being here next season: low

39. Scott Spencer

The former Southend striker arrived in January and has barely featured in the first team.  Evidence from the few times he has appeared seem to show the reason why – he is absolutely terrible.  Why Tilson signed a player who he must have known was awful is beyond me, and Southend must have been laughing at our utter desperation.  His most memorable moment was the miss in the dying moments against (ironically) Southend, when he fluffed his shot over the bar.  Basically, Spencer is not a footballer, he never had an impact on the games he was involved in and was, in short, a complete waste of valuable wages.

Season rating: 0/10
Contract status: out of contract.  Not offered new contract
Chance of being here next season: none

40. Patrick Kanyuka

Football fans like to compile lists from time to time, especially concerning the best and worse players ever to wear the shirt.  City’s team of shame is not short of players, but I feel that Kanyuka may well have guaranteed a spot in the starting 11 after this season.  He arrived in January, on a season long contract. Thankfully his appearances were limited, but his most memorable moments were in the defeat to Rotherham, where he stood out as the most horrific participant in a terrible performance, by being personally responsible for 4 goals and then getting sent off.  Players like Kanyuka makes me seriously worried about Tilson’s ability to spot ability in players.  Another complete waste of a wage and a player that no fans will bemoan the loss of.

Season rating: 0/10
Contract status: out of contract.  Not offered new contract
Chance of being here next season: none

Trevor Carson

Carson arrived in January to replace the injured and out of form Anyon.  Despite a shaky first few games he settled in OK, and was in goal for the good spell of form after Christmas.  His record was slightly marred, however, due to the nature of his departure.  After Sunderland withdrew him because of a supposed lack of goalkeepers, they instantly sent him straight back out on loan to Brentford.  How much the player knew about it is not known, but the introduction of Parrish before the Rotherham defeat set the tone for the rest of the season, and may even be seen as a catalyst for the collapse.

Season rating: 7/10
Contract status: none.  Returned to Sunderland
Chance of being here next season: none

Scott Kerr

I think I’ve already made it quite clear that I have rated Scott Kerr during his time at City.  It was obvious this season that the games in which he was left out (as he was by a succession of managers) left us weaker than the games he played.  On a number of occasions, the return of Kerr to the side after a few matches absence led to an immediately improved performance.  We will see Kerr again when we play York next season, and I hope that he doesn’t feel the need to prove anything against his former team.

Season rating: 7/10
Contract status: none.  Already released by mutual consent
Chance of being here next season: none

Albert Jarrett

Albert Jarrett might possible represent the fastest fall from grace in City history.  At the start of the season, it seemed that Jarrett was one of the better pieces of business we had done in a while.  A pacey and skilful winger, who had played well against us the season before, and whom Barnet seemed reluctant to lose.  The early part of the season seemed to confirm that feeling, as Jarrett’s ability to take on his man and deliver dangerous crosses were causing opposing teams severe headaches.  The only trouble was that at that time our strikers were not of a calibre able to take advantage of the service they were being provided with.  As time went on, Jarrett seemed to become more frustrated, and by the time that Facey and Grimes were playing well and desperate for decent crosses he was out of form, and in and out of the side.  Tilson sent him out on loan to Aldershot for a month in February, and with rumours of Jarrett being a disruptive influence his time was up, his contract terminated by mutual consent soon after his return.

Season rating: 6/10
Contract status: none.  Already released by mutual consent
Chance of being here next season: none

Moses Swaibu

So much has happened since Moses Swaibu was in the team that it barely seems like it happened this season.  Thinking back on it now, it was a bizarre sequence of events.  On the playing side, Moses was responsible for a number of costly individual errors, but he wasn’t alone in that.  It was an off the field incident that seems to have affected his concentration, and ultimately led to his departure.  A certain chicken related supermarket incident made newspaper headlines (far too many to be honest) and affected Moses’ performance.  It was a shame for his City career to end in such a fashion after being a reliable servant for a number of years, but he was becoming a liability.

Season rating: 3/10
Contract status: none.  Already released by mutual consent
Chance of being here next season: none

Gavin Hoyte

Arsenal loanee Hoyte was undoubtedly a contributory factor to City’s good run of form, and had injury not cut his season-long loan short, I would even venture to suggest that we wouldn’t have conceded the number of goals we did towards the end.  A solid fullback, rarely flustered on the ball, with good positional sense and work ethic, Hoyte was a player that actually looked to be of a quality above League 2.  I hope he finds first team football somewhere at a higher level.

Season rating: 8/10
Contract status: none.  Returned to Arsenal
Chance of being here next season: none

Josh Gowling

I’ve rarely been sadder to see a loan player return to his parent club than when Gowling went back to Gillingham after they suffered a defensive injury crisis.  He only played 6 games for the Imps but made a big impression in those games.  We took a player that Gillingham didn’t want, got him playing really well, then gave him back only to have him score against us.  Gowling was released by the Gills at the end of the season, and was of course instantly linked to the Imps.  As much as I would dearly love our central defense next season to feature Gowling and Hone, I feel that the fluffy-haired defender will, sadly, find himself a club at a higher level.

Season rating: 7/10
Contract status: none.  Returned to Gillingham
Chance of being here next season: none

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Lincoln City v Aldershot Town, 7 May 2011

Venue: Sincil Bank, Lincoln
Attendance: 7,932
Final score: 0-3
Well, there it is.  The horrible inevitability of relegation has been confirmed.  An absolutely appalling run of results at the end of the season has seen City slip from a position of relative safety to the dreaded second to bottom spot, failing to pick up more than a single point in the final 11 matches of the season.  The feelings are, to be honest, worse than I thought they’d be.  Although I foretold relegation a few weeks ago (I hate it when I’m right), to be honest most City fans went into today’s game with at least a little chunk of optimism.  No matter how poor City were, Barnet still needed to get a result in their match to survive.  Sadly, of course, Barnet beat Port Vale 1-0 with a penalty at the start of the second half to secure their place in League 2, showing a desire and resilience that, quite frankly, City players could have learned a lot from.

I want to keep my thoughts on the season as a whole, the players, board, fans and manager out of this post if I can, as I intend to do an end of season review post.  That, however, will only be when I can view things with a tad more objectivity than I am able to at the moment.

This is the second relegation I have experienced as a Lincoln fan, but to be honest the first one hardly seems to count.  It was the relegation back to the basement division after our single season foray in the league above.  Needless to say, despite that season going to the final game too, the feelings then were nothing compared to what I and probably you are feeling now.  Listening to Radio 5 this evening, hearing fans describing their agony at being relegated from the Championship made me think that they should really swap places with Lincoln or Stockport fans.  Being demoted to officially being a ‘non-league’ club carries a blow to the pride that I don’t think any other relegation can deliver.

So what happened this afternoon?  City had played Aldershot as recently as February, fighting out a well earned 2-2 draw and with the ‘Shots having nothing to play for, City saw a win as a not unrealistic possibility.

City’s starting lineup had to be changed from the defeat against Oxford, due to the suspension of Danny Hone.  Paul Green moved to the centre of defence, Cian Hughton dropped back to fullback, and Jamie Clapham returned to the side after a long absence in central midfield.

The good folk of Lincoln had turned out in force, die-hard fan and casual supporter alike, to try and cheer the team on to victory, and the noise was impressive as the Imps kicked off.

The Imps started brightly enough, with McCallum getting a long range shot on target early on, and the team generally knocking the ball around well.  Some nerves were visible however, particularly when Aldershot had the ball.

Despite Aldershot causing a few jitters in the Imps’ defence from set pieces, the away side offered little threat in the opening period, and it was the Imps who could have taken the lead on a number of occasions.

City were causing more trouble from corners than they had done all season, and Grimes twice came close to opening the scoring either side of the half hour mark.  His first shot was deflected wide and his second put over the bar.

The best chance of the half fell to Aldershot a few minutes before the break.  Parrish did well to rush out and tackle Hylton but the loose ball fell to Vincenti, whose shot was blocked at close range.  The ball again ran loose, and this time found its way to McGlashan, who had a clear sight at goal with Parrish still trying to scramble back into position.  Thankfully for the Imps, Clapham was there to block what seemed a certain goal.  Clapham’s first half performance was ironically one of his best in a City shirt, the veteran player showing commitment, intelligence and some nice passing.

City had given the large home contingent cause for hope as the halftime whistle sounded, and with Barnet also drawing 0-0, the Imps were still a league side.

The second half had barely kicked off when news filtered around the ground that Barnet had taken the lead against Port Vale through a penalty.  The pressure was now on City to get a result, or to hope that Port Vale could muster an equalizer.

Aldershot had obviously been spoken to at half time and began the half on the front foot.  Green had to header a looping shot off the line after a few minutes, before a controversial incident almost single-handedly doomed City.

McGlashan cut inside Anderson and into the area, but the ball bounced away from him.  As Clapham came across to clear the ball McGlashan went down, and the referee pointed to the spot.  It seemed a soft penalty to give in such an important match, and the tension and disbelief in the crowd were palpable.  The fans behind the goal did their best to distract Hylton, but they couldn’t stop the Aldershot man putting the ball past Parrish.  As if the goal weren’t enough, Hylton further endeared himself to the City fans by goading them with his celebration in front of them, grinning when he was met by a chorus of boos.  Charming.

Sadly for City, the season now seemed to be slipping away, as scoring one when the score was 0-0 was still possible, scoring 2 was not something City had proved good at at Sincil Bank.  It was looking more and more like Port Vale would have to be the Imps’ saviours.

It was obvious to all that the City players’ confidence had taken a major knock, and Aldershot were now full of self belief.  On 69 minutes Gutteridge was allowed an embarrassing amount of time and space, and duly fired home from the edge of the box.

The game was now effectively dead as a contest, as City could only muster the occasional foray into the opposing half, with increasingly lacklustre play.

When the third goal came, on 86 minutes, it hardly made any difference.  Connolly collected a long ball on the right wing, and fed Gutteridge, who had made an unmarked run to the edge of the box.  He fired a clinical first time finish into the bottom corner.

When the final whistle sounded there was still time to play at Barnet, but few fans held out hope.  As the crowd filtered out the final confirmation came through, and it seems that City’s faith in Port Vale had been misplaced.  Having had a massive win last week and needing another one to have a chance of making the playoffs, City hoped that Vale would be hungry.  It seems, however, that once Barnet had taken the leas, Vale had ceased to put up a fight, leaving Barnet to stroll to victory.

Although many City fans and commentators are criticising the way in which City went down without a fight, I would have people remember that City played well in the first half and that the harsh penalty turned the game.  Had City taken one of the first half chances they created then they had every chance of holding out for the win, making Barnet’s result meaningless.

Ultimately, I have to say congratulations to Barnet.  The points they picked up towards the end of the season, and the fight they obviously showed right to the death leaves me unable to shake the feeling that they deserved to stay up.  Rather than blaming misfortune, or pressure from the Lincoln fans, the City players (wherever they next show their faces) would do well to learn from Barnet’s example.

As I said at the start, watch this space for my thoughts on the season as a whole at some point in the next week or so.

24 Elliott Parish
25 Cian Hughton
2 Paul Green
4 Adam Watts
3 Joe Anderson
8 Clark Keltie
19 Jamie Clapham
31 Ali Fuseini
15 Luke Howell
9 Gavin Mc
29 Ashley Grimes
27 Ben Hutchinson for Fuseini (71)
10 Drewe Broughton
14 Josh O'
26 Tom Kilbey
39 Scott Spencer
40 Patrick Kanyuka
1 Joe Anyon

1 Jamie Young
2 Ben Herd
15 Aaron Morris
6 Anthony Charles
21 John Halls
17 Jermaine Mc
4 Luke Guttridge
11 Anthony Straker
12 Danny Hylton
9 Damian Spencer
23 Peter Vincenti
19 Reece Connolly for Spencer (71)
8 Ben Harding
16 Clayton Fortune
24 Doug Bergqvist
25 Tim Sills
35 Adam Mekki
31 Jordan Clement