Lincoln City 0
by ROB McNICHOL
ARGYLE and Lincoln City will need to do it all again in the FA Cup after battling out a 0-0 draw at Sincil Bank – but if this first game is anything to go by, it won’t be a dull matter.
Both teams showed intent to claim the game at the first attempt, as the game generated chances aplenty. Argyle finished the game with the impetus, with class and fitness showing, but Lincoln held on to earn a trip to the South West on Tuesday week.
Argyle boss John Sheridan made two changes for the trip to Lincolnshire; one that we were told on Thursday, and one we could have guessed before the home game with Northampton concluded the previous Saturday.
The foretold switch was ‘in nets’, as the gaffer puts it. Jake Cole replaced Luke McCormick, who has not only become Argyle’s regular goalkeeper, but has put in a string of acclaimed performances. Cole would likely get into the majority of Sky Bet League 2 sides, but has had to settle for bench duties for most of the season. This was his fifth start – the fourth in cup competitions. You could argue that rather than being a number two number one, the number one is actually 1a. If you get our drift.
While Shez had told the world’s – or at least Plymouth’s – press this news directly on Thursday, it was on the previous weekend when he offered a major hint to the second change. Against Northampton, Guy Branston picked up his fifth caution of the season, meaning he needed to be replaced somehow. Given that Curtis Nelson, employed in midfield in the last two games, is a natural centre-back and that post-Cobblers our manager had raved about Luke Young’s cameo, that switch seemed more odds-on than the words ‘magic’, ‘romance’ and ‘banana-skin’ being used all the live-long weekend.
Would a Lincoln win be considered an upset here? Well, the division’s gap between the sides would suggest so. As would the gulf between Argyle having a home game in front of 6,000+ people at Home Park last week, while today’s visitors were losing 1-0 at Welling in front of just 736 souls.
On the other hand, Lincoln just doesn’t feel non-league. Their ground would not be in the 10 worst stadia in League 2, should they be elevated, and isn’t that long since they dropped beneath the top four tiers. Plus, only twenty places separate the teams. Stourbridge and Dorchester on the other hand...
The best way, it seemed, would be if Argyle simply won the tie and thus render the conversation moot. Keen, one assumes, to avoid embellishment to the hellish recent record, Argyle started brightly, playing balls around Lincoln territory and forcing two early corners. There were certainly an air of ‘we’re the bigger boys and this is our playground’ about Argyle in the first five minutes.
There is a tendency in a fixture such as this to be patronising to the supposedly lesser of the two teams, so this report will attempt not to do as such with Lincoln. That said, it seems fair to describe this as a big game for them, and it showed with the purpose in which they battled and hit back. Firstly, they did so with a brace of corners of their own, and then a free-kick from 25 yards which admittedly didn’t stretch Cole. Still, both teams had made a statement that they intended to pitch their positions and scrap for their territory.
A quarter hour in, and Argyle produced the first real chance. Lewis Alessandra latched onto a throw-in and teased the Lincoln goalkeeper Paul Farman with a ball that skimmed his six-yard area. As Farman opted not to come, Jamie Reckord decided that he would gamble on it, but he would likely be accustomed to being that position when trying to save his own goalie, and therefore his scuffed effort ended up being harmless.
Within two minutes, Argyle broke with confidence and gusto via Conor Hourihane, who clipped a ball into Reuben Reid. The forward’s deft touch put Rommy Boco in a good position, only for the Beninois to shoot just wide.
Since the FA Cup seems to be still replete with tradition and, therefore, superstition, it seems right to analyse the omens one could garner from the referee, Mr Scott Duncan. Aside from the double Macbeth reference in his name, indicating tragedy, signs seemed to be good. He had never previously taken charge of Argyle, but had done so four times with Lincoln, and on no occasion had The Imps won. In fact, he refereed their first round tie last season, and they drew 1-1.
Hang on, though: his record this season showed that he had given seven penalties in his 13 outings in the middle to this point. That’s a stat that could go either way...
With that in mind, hearts were in mouth when Maxime Blanchard appeared to make contact with Marlon Jackson in the box, and the latter took a tumble. It was neither a foul, nor a dive, but with a referee with a predilection of giving penalties on hand, it was a little, if just nervy for a second.
Ten minutes before half-time, Reckord burst down the left flank, as he had done umpteen times to that point. The fact that he was brought down in the area is indisputable; whether or not his marker, Miller, played the ball was what was in question. The referee decided in the affirmative, and gave a corner. For someone seemingly prolific at pointing to the penalty mark, the referee seemed to be happy to spurn opportunities. Out, damn spot-kicks.
Lincoln frequently offered reminders that they were a threat. The industrious Nick Wright was proving a particular menace, and he brought a sharp save out of Cole after a direct and effective run.
Imps’ left full-back Sean Newton was also eye-catchingly competent, and after a mazy dribble where he beat two then shot over the bar, he then played a cunning ball across Argyle’s defence which Wright and Jackson just failed to connect with.
At the other end Luke Young clipped a free-kick wide as an honestly fought game continued to yield opportunities. It was a game that, it truth, Lincoln had grown into.
Argyle started the second half as they had begun the first; looking lively and far more cohesive than their opponents. It was City, though, that created the first chance of the half. Miller’s floated cross found Jackson in considerable acreage, but a combination of his head and shoulder simply served the ball to Cole.
From the other flank came more danger. A cross from the left found Wright, but Cole dived right and got it right. It was a save of military precision.
With a little over half an hour remaining, Sheridan introduced Tope Obadeyi, signed on loan on Thursday from Bury. The new man nominally took the place of Boco, who went off, and positionally of Alessandra, who dropped into midfield.
The impact of Obadeyi – a player that Sheridan had declared was the quickest he had ever seen – was sudden. With his first meaningful involvement he drove at Miller, committed the defender with a step-over and squared for Alessandra, who asked the most serious question of Farman to that point.
A minute or two later, after a long free-kick was half cleared, Obadeyi quickly found half a yard and fizzed an effort not too far over the crossbar.
Luke Young then whipped in a tough-to-defend corner that Alessandra headed towards Reid, but the ball was nipped from his toe. This was soon followed by another corner, this time played short to Hourihane and clipped across, with Trotman and Nelson both just unable to finish.
With nine minutes to go came the best move of the game. Young was pivotal, receiving the ball twice in the build-up and eventually being played through by Reid’s sublime chip. He got across the last defender, but couldn’t impart enough power on the shot, which was cleared for a corner as it trickled goalwards.
From that corner, Young delivered and Trotman’s header was well blocked. And from that corner, Young delivered and Trotman’s header was well blocked. And yes I did mean to write that twice.
Argyle were rampant, but couldn’t find the finish. Berry got beyond the weary Imps and was in position A to cross, but couldn’t pick out a man. Obadeyi then shot wide from just outside the area, before Alessandra took aim from further out but his radar was off. The rate of chances was increasing, but so the time on the clock seemed to be running down with equal pace.
Indeed, the full time whistle sounded as Lincoln were in the midst of clearing an Argyle long throw.
See you a week on Tuesday, Imps.
Argyle (3-5-2): 1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson; 2 Durrell Berry, 16 Luke Young, 8 Rommy Boco (26 Tope Obadeyi, 58), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 28 Jamie Reckord; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 9 Reuben Reid.
Substitutes (not used): 23 Luke McCormick, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 15 Paul Wotton, 18 Tyler Harvey, 20 Hamza Bencherif, 27 Andres Gurrieri.
Booked: Reid 47, Hourihane 89.
Lincoln City (4-5-1); 1 Paul Farman; 2 Tom Miller, 5 Andrew Boyce, 23 Nat Brown, 3 Sean Newton; 22 Marlon Jackson (12 Jake Sheridan, 71), 19 Jon Nolan (6 Mamadou Fofana, 75) 4 Todd Jordan, 8 Alan Power; 11 Ben Tomlinson; 10 Nick Wright (17 Bohan Dixon, 79)
Substitutes (not used): 31 David Preece, 7 Waide Fairhurst, 15 Dan Gray, 27 Luke Foster.
Booked Power 62, Miller 65.
Referee: Scott Duncan
Attendance: 2,924 (412 away)